China’s nuclear missile policy put under strain by US plan

February 9, 2017

CNBC

A decision by the United States to pursue a new breed of nuclear weapons could push China to reconsider its decades-long atomic policy, according to experts.

The U.S. Defense Department recently recommended the government develop tactical nuclear weapons with “low yield” results that can be deployed within smaller battlefield areas.

Tong Zhao, an associate in the Carnegie Endowment’s Nuclear Policy Program based in Beijing, told CNBC Wednesday that this more flexible form of weapon would lower the threshold of nuclear use.

“This will be seen by China as evidence of U.S. contemplating first use of nuclear weapons in a future crisis and will encourage China to consider pursuing similar capabilities that may undermine the no-first-use policy,” he said in an email.

China’s “no-first-use policy” means Beijing only demands the capability to ensure the launch of a nuclear missile, after being hit first by an enemy nuclear strike.

U.S. President Donald Trump signed an executive order on January 27, requiring Defense Secretary James Mattis to review America’s nuclear prowess.

Zhao said U.S. plans to pursue a global missile network, initiated by the Obama administration, may be viewed by China as a threat to its own small deterrent and could mean a switch to a “launch-on-warning” policy, whereby China would retaliate before enemy missiles hit land.

“The new U.S. administration seems very much devoted to developing and deploying a massive global and layered missile defense network that protects not only U.S. homeland, U.S. allies, and friends, but also U.S. bases and troops wherever they are located or deployed.

“To make sure that there would be enough Chinese nuclear weapons to survive a U.S. first strike and not be neutralized by U.S. missile defense, China may have an increasing incentive to adopt the launch-on-warning posture,” he said.

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