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A Dongfeng-41 intercontinental strategic nuclear missile on a truck. A Dongfeng-41 intercontinental strategic nuclear missiles group formation marches to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China, Beijing, Oct. 1 2019 (Imaginechina photo via AP Images).

China’s Nuclear Build-Up Could Make for a More Dangerous Future

, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021

Satellite photos recently obtained by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the Federation of American Scientists, and others appear to show that China is building vast fields of new missile silos in its sparsely populated western region. That has prompted fears that Beijing may be well on its way to possessing a much larger nuclear arsenal than anyone had expected and aspiring to rival the United States and Russia, the two countries that have traditionally dominated the global nuclear order. If this comes to pass, tripolarity will for the first time become the primary feature of that order, with concerning implications for nuclear stability. What’s more, in the current security environment characterized by heightened U.S. competition with both Beijing and Moscow, tripolarity would be especially bad news for Washington.

China first became a nuclear-armed state in the late 1960s, after it successfully tested its first nuclear device in 1964. Against all expectations, however, Beijing stuck to a quite limited nuclear posture thereafter, as Chinese leaders believed that nuclear weapons had limited utility. Their thinking rested on the belief that these weapons served only to prevent coercion and nuclear attack. So, Beijing adhered to an approach that called for possessing the “minimum means of reprisal,” or just enough weapons to provide some retaliatory capacity after suffering a nuclear attack.  ...

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