Return to

September 13, 2012
Notes from the Pentagon

China rejects zero option
President Obama and other disarmament advocates continue to call for the total elimination of nuclear arms. This week, China’s government signaled its intention to move in the opposite direction and expand and speed up its large-scale nuclear buildup.

The People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, stated in a Sept. 11 editorial that reports about China’s recent long-range nuclear-missile tests, including a future multiple-warhead ICBM, are part of a major shift in its nuclear posture.

“China must accelerate upgrading and strengthening its nuclear deterrent and make it real and believable,” the newspaper said.

The unusual statement was followed by another alarming comment: China should use its nuclear forces to coerce its enemies.

“China should change its past nuclear image, explore the possibility of using the nuclear deterrent to change China’s strategic environment peacefully but firmly, and make China a large country that no country dares provoke easily,” the newspaper said.

U.S. officials said that China on July 24 conducted the first flight test of a new road-mobile ICBM called the DF-41 that will be fitted with between three and 10 warheads. It would be the first of China’s strategic missiles to be outfitted with multiple, independently targetable re-entry vehicles, or MIRVs.

China’s military has had MIRV technology for years, after covertly acquiring the know-how during the administration of President Clinton, when similar technology used in launching multiple satellites was transferred to the Chinese.

The Chinese editorial could expose what some experts say is a looming, but as yet undetected, strategic intelligence failure.

China has been engaged in a major buildup of strategic nuclear forces for at least the past 15 years, a buildup that has been largely ignored by the U.S. government and its intelligence community, according to officials familiar with intelligence reports.

Now that China recently acknowledged its work on the multi-warhead DF-41, U.S. intelligence agencies are expected to face the difficult challenge of holding on to their decades-long estimate about China’s relatively small warhead stockpile.

In recent months, U.S. spy agencies vehemently denied work by outside specialists who are challenging the low-warhead count for China.

One is Georgetown University’s Phillip Karber, who has said the official U.S. estimate of 300 to 400 Chinese warheads does not square with the huge size of China’s recently disclosed underground nuclear complex that includes 3,000 miles of nuclear tunnels dubbed the Underground Great Wall.

Then, in June a paper surfaced from the former commander of Russian strategic forces, Col. Gen. Viktor Yesin, who revealed that Russia thinks China has between 1,600 and 1,800 warheads, with 800 to 900 deployed — more than twice the current U.S. intelligence estimate.

The question asked by nuclear specialists in and out of government is why the congressional intelligence oversight committees have not challenged the U.S. intelligence community on the Chinese warhead estimate.

One official said the reason for congressional inaction has been the firm denials by U.S. intelligence analysts to their House and Senate overseers.

China left out of Romney campaign
The presidential election campaign of Republican Mitt Romney recently made public a policy memorandum by Harvard academic Lanhee Chen, listing what it sees as several foreign-policy and national-security failures by President Obama.

However, conspicuously absent from the list was any mention of China and the administration’s failure to coax China into behaving like a normal part of the international community.

There was no mention of China’s military buildup continuing apace in secret with no pressure from the administration for an explanation. It also ignored the current failure to halt the Chinese state-controlled press campaign to demonize the United States. It made no mention of the administration’s mishandling of efforts to prevent China from moving to control vast areas of international waters near its coasts, while alarming neighbors from Japan to India.

The lack of any reference to China reflects the pro-China bent of the formal Romney campaign advisers, such as Rich Williamson, who recently praised liberal China hand Kenneth Lieberthal, a former Clinton administration adviser who is considered a soft-liner on Beijing’s military buildup.

Observers say the Romney campaign’s focus on Russia as a major threat is designed to harken back to the Cold War when Republicans played the China card against Moscow. Thus if Russia is the problem, China is not.

John R. Bolton, an informal adviser to the Romney campaign, filled the gap. In a column this week, Mr. Bolton faulted the Obama administration for lacking a strategy to prevent China from asserting hegemony and turning international waters around China into “Lake Beijing.”

Romney campaign policy official Alex Wong contacted Inside the Ring to say that Mr. Bolton was never a “special adviser” to Mr. Romney, as reported in last week’s column.

Warning on nuclear cuts
Two senior members of Congress recently warned that the Obama administration’s failure to modernize U.S. nuclear forces is a major danger.

Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, and Rep. Michael R. Turner, Ohio Republican, stated in a recent letter to The Washington Post that President Obama is planning $370 million in nuclear-weapons cuts “with billions more to come.”

The lawmakers were responding to a Post editorial warning that the GOP platform included “scare talk” on the president’s cuts in nuclear forces.

Mr. Kyl, Senate Republican whip, and Mr. Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee, said the planned cuts are not a minor dip in spending.

“They go to the heart of the program to refurbish aging warheads and infrastructure,” they stated in a letter. “Ironically, the cut will delay or prevent achievement of one of the goals of the president’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review: reducing the number of ‘hedge’ warheads in our stockpile.”

The congressmen said the president has abandoned commitments he made to senators in late 2010 to win their support for ratification of the New START arms treaty with Russia, a pact that, after it was signed, revealed that its levels called only for unilateral U.S. warhead cuts since the Russians claimed to have already reached the treaty’s levels.

Mr. Kyl and Mr. Turner said that Mr. Obama promised to request full funding and to accelerate building a new chemistry and metallurgy research nuclear facility, but the funding cuts delayed construction from 2021 to 2028 at the earliest.

“This is all an unnecessary risk, because alternative funding sources have been proposed to the administration,” they stated.

“When we find ourselves replacing antiquated vacuum tubes with modern circuit boards, the risk of further delays in warhead-life extension is too great.”

Another major worry identified by the two lawmakers: “Our decades-old, land-based missile force remains without a proper replacement plan — contrary to The Post’s suggestion — while countries such as Russia and China deploy new missiles.”

“It is more than fair to criticize the president’s failure to honor his commitments; the future of the U.S. nuclear deterrent and extended deterrent is at risk,” they said.

Return to