No, China Does Not Have 3,000 Nuclear Weapons

A study from Georgetown University incorrectly suggests that China has 3,000 nuclear weapons.The estimate is off by an order of magnitude.

By Hans M. Kristensen

Only the Chinese government knows how many nuclear weapons China has. As in most other nuclear weapon states, the number is a closely held secret. Even so, it is possible to make best estimates of the approximate size that benefit the public debate.

A recent example of how not to make an estimate is the study recently published by the Asia Arms Control Project at Georgetown University. The study (China’s Underground Great Wall: Challenge for Nuclear Arms Control) suggests that China may have as many as 3,000 nuclear weapons.

Although we don’t know exactly how many nuclear weapons China has, we are pretty sure that it doesn’t have 3,000. In fact, the Georgetown University estimate appears to be off by an order of magnitude.

Fissile Material

The most fundamental problem with the 3,000-warhead estimate is that there is no evidence – at least in the public – that China has produced enough fissile material to build that many warheads. Not even close.

An arsenal of 3,000 two-stage thermonuclear warheads with yields of 300-500 kilotons would require 9-12 tons of weapon-grade plutonium and 45-75 tons of highly-enriched uranium (HEU).

Based on what is known about China’s inventory of fissile materials, how many nuclear weapons could it build?

According to the International Panel on Fissile Materials, China has produced an estimated 2 tons of plutonium for weapons. Some has been consumed in nuclear tests, leaving roughly 1.8 tons. The estimate is consistent with what the U.S. government has stated and theoretically enough for 450-600 warheads.

Total production of HEU is thought to have been approximately 20 tons. Some has been spent in nuclear tests and research reactor fuel, leaving a stockpile of some 16 tons. That’s theoretically enough for roughly 640-1,060 warheads.

Another critical material is Tritium, which is used in thermonuclear weapons. China probably only produces enough Tritium at its High-Flux Engineering Test Reactor (HFETR) in Jiajiang to maintain an arsenal of about 300 weapons.

The U.S. intelligence community concluded in 2009 that China likely has produced enough weapon-grade fissile material to meet its needs for the immediate future. In other words, no vast warhead expansion is in sight.

Nuclear Warheads

With this stockpile of fissile material on hand, how many nuclear weapons might China currently have?

First, it is important to keep in mind that nuclear weapon states do not convert all of their fissile material into nuclear weapons but use part of it for weapons and leave the rest as a reserve for future needs. Therefore, one cannot simply translate the amount of fissile material into weapons.

Second, nuclear warheads need nuclear-capable delivery vehicles, missiles and aircraft that can bring the warheads to their intended targets. Delivery vehicles can give a better idea of the size of a nuclear arsenal. Most of China’s ballistic missiles are conventional or dual-capable, but the Georgetown University study includes all missiles in its 3,000-warhead projection, including short-range DF-11 and DF-15 missiles and medium-range DF-21C missiles.

Taking those and other factors into account, our current estimate is that China has approximately 240 nuclear warheads for delivery by nearly 180 missiles and aircraft. Nearly 140 of the operational missiles are land-based. Less than 50 of those can reach the continental United States.

The 240-warhead estimate also includes warheads produced for China’s ballistic missile submarine force (which is not yet operational), weapons for bombers, and some weapons for spares.

Our estimate is consistent with the estimate made by  the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency in 2006: “China currently has more than 100 nuclear warheads.”


With its ongoing modernization of its nuclear forces, which includes deployment of three new ICBMs, China will be placing a greater portion of its warheads on ICBMs. The portion of those that can strike the continental United States, according to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency, “probably will more than double…by 2025.” That doesn’t mean the total warhead stockpile will “more than double,” only the portion that is on ICBMs. Only time will tell to what extent that happens, but the U.S. projection for Chinese nuclear weapons has been wrong before.

Indeed, the DIA estimated in 1984 that China had 360 warheads, including non-strategic warheads, and projected that the arsenal would grow to 592 warheads in 1989 and 818 warheads in 1994. This projection never materialized.

Analysis of projections made by the U.S. intelligence community during the past decade for the growth in Chinese ICBM warheads shows that they have so far been too much too soon (see figure below). The Central Intelligence Agency’s 2001 projection of 75-100 ICBM warheads deployed primarily against the United States by 2015 will not come true unless China increases its production and deployment of the DF-31A missile or begins to deploy multiple warheads on its ICBMs. China will probably only do so if the U.S. deploys a ballistic missile defense system that can nullify the Chinese deterrent.

U.S. projections for Chinese ICBM warheads have generally been too much too soon. Click image for larger version.

Satellite Imagery Interpretations

Another issue with the Georgetown University study concerns some of its analysis of commercial satellite imagery. One of the case studies is a series of buildings in a valley south of Kunming in southern China that the study concludes make up an underground deployment site for the DF-31 ICBM (see figure below).

The Georgetown University study suggests that this valley near Kunming in southern China is a DF-31 deployment site. The facility looks more like a munitions depot. It is located at these coordinates: 24.545262°, 102.584378°


No evidence is presented for this conclusion and the source appears to be a post on the Chinese language web site Sina Military Forum (the link to the story no longer works). “Tunnel portals” in the valley apparently are thought to be for use by DF-31 launchers hiding inside the mountain. Yet the facility does not have any of the characteristics of Chinese DF-31 deployment sites and a minimum of analysis indicates that the portals and roads are too narrow to be used by DF-31 launchers (see figure below). Instead, the buildings in the valley look more like a munitions depot.

This image shows two of the so-called “tunnel portals” identified by the Georgetown University report as being part of a DF-31 deployment site near Kunming. An image of a DF-31/DF-31A launcher is superimposed to illustrate the difficulty it would have turning at the site. The dimensions of the roads indicate that the facility is not for DF-31 launchers, but looks more like a munitions depot..


The Georgetown University study has collected an impressive amount of scattered information from the Internet about Chinese underground facilities. That is obviously interesting in and of itself, but in terms of assessing Chinese nuclear capabilities, it does the public debate a disservice by disseminating exaggerated and poorly analyzed information.

Readers can obviously read into the report what they want, but a quick Google search for news article headlines about the report shows the damage: “China may have 3000 n-warheads;” “China’s nuclear arsenal ‘many times larger’ than previously thought;” “China ‘hiding up to 3,000 nuclear warheads in secret tunnels.” Many people will not remember the details, but they tend to remember the headlines. A misperception will stick in the public consciousness that China has 3,000 nuclear weapons hidden in tunnels.

But China does not have 3,000 nuclear weapons. It neither has produced the fissile material needed to build that many, not does it have delivery vehicles enough to delivery that many warheads. The Georgetown University study warhead estimate appears to be off by an order of magnitude.

China is in the middle of a significant military modernization and it is important that it is not hyped or exaggerated but analyzed and understood for what is actually happening.

This publication was made possible by a grant from Carnegie Corporation of New York and Ploughshares Fund. The statements made and views expressed are solely the responsibility of the author.


29 Responses to “No, China Does Not Have 3,000 Nuclear Weapons”

  1. yousaf December 3, 2011 at 11:33 am #

    As always — excellent piece.

    Just one nit: I think “nullify”-ing China’s deterrent will never happen via missile defense, but it would sufficient for China to be concerned — and raise its stockpile — if a missile defense system raised uncertainties about whether any Chinese nukes could be possibly neutralized.

    In fact, the bipartisan strategic posture commission says this may be happening already, probably at some slow pace.

  2. TBull December 3, 2011 at 11:45 am #

    Very interesting and logical. Using production of fissile material is a good basis for estimating the number of weapons. However, another aspect must be considered and that is how efficient is their manufacturing systems. In my experience working in the nuclear weapons manufacturing for thirty years is that the rejection rate of finished products, from pit fabrications to final assembly was significant. Therefore, estimates based on the available amounts of fissile material must be factored by the failure rates experienced during the manufacturing process.

  3. Arthur Borges December 4, 2011 at 7:21 am #

    Yes, Pearltree, the article has a “CYA” paragraph.
    Nonetheless, 250-300 warheads is the arsenal size that reasonable, budget-minded generals of most of the world’s nuclear powers consider to be adequate for deterrence. Only Russia and the USA are way over the top; the Georgetown study is symptomatic of the American condition.

  4. Jim Seymour December 4, 2011 at 8:30 pm #

    In the international context, China does not have many. But the most likely target would be India, vis a vis which China looks impressive.

  5. Frank Shuler December 5, 2011 at 1:39 pm #


    If China demonstrated “concern” for the Russian and American missile defense systems by increasing their strategic nuclear inventories, wouldn’t that just play into the Kremlin and Pentagon’s hand? By such a reaction, would not Russia and the United States only increase their inventory of these “low cost” and “extremely capable” ABM weapons at China’s expense? The cycle would only continue. And continue.

    Frank Shuler

  6. Derek December 5, 2011 at 2:35 pm #


    There is probably also an element of Chinese hedging against US policymakers overestimating their own BMD capabilities. American public statements on the issue (not to mention the BMDR) can hardly have assuaged this fear.

    Li Bin basically said as much here:

    “Consequently, even though this missile defense system is unreliable in actual warfare it may bring American decision-makers to err in judgment, causing U.S. decisionmakers to imagine they have a comparative strategic advantage and blindly adopt a policy of nuclear coercion.”

  7. Tron December 5, 2011 at 4:04 pm #


    中國所實行的睦鄰政策,可說是徹底的失敗。中國現在的領導人奉行鄧小平那套所謂的 韜光養晦 政策。但其實,這只是一種逃避挑戰的鴕鳥政策。當今中國所面臨的惡劣國際環境,則決定了這種鴕鳥政策必然失敗。







  8. paul seyfried December 7, 2011 at 1:07 am #

    As the author points out, “Only the Chinese really know how many they have.” Fact is, China is certainly capable of operating clandestine nuclear sites, just as Iran and North Korea has done- and is likely doing right now. U.S. intelligence estimates across the board are historically low and late. We underestimated the size of the Soviet arsenal by nearly 100%. It would certainly be a stunning blow to American officials during a confrontation with China to suddenly find out they had many times more warheads- and delivery systems than we previously thought. Such a revelation at the right time might prove very useful to the Chinese. Having learned a few things from friends in the American nuclear program, I am inclined to believe that the Chinese only let us see a fraction of their strategic efforts.

    During the Korean War, MacArthur arrogantly and foolishly dismissed a steady stream of reports from troops in the field about the interception of a significant number of Chinese troops behind our lines. He believed that the Chinese would not enter the war. He was wrong. The ChiComs threaded many divisions, complete with artillery support deep behind our lines and the Americans woke up with 300,000 Chinese troops in their pockets.

    Then there was that Chinese diesel-electric submarine that surfaced about a half mile from an American carrier a few years ago that sent shock waves through the U.S. Navy admiralty. Do NOT continue to underestimate the Chinese. We do so at our peril.

  9. Elizabeth Skinner December 7, 2011 at 10:43 am #

    Great discussion, and an important one. I haven’t yet read the Georgetown study, just heard about it last night on NPR, but I’ll go find it now.

    Strategic deterrence is a mind game more than a numbers game, and uncertainty is its chief weapon. I think it’s hard for us older Americans to shake off the assumptions and alarms of the Cold War and its arms racing. Kennedy and McNamara used that uncertainty to launch a massive strategic weapons build-up, claiming we were on the wrong side of an enormous “missile gap.” It wasn’t true, but it achieved the purpose of silencing dissenters and giving the green light to a remarkable shift of decision-making power (not to mention treasure) to the Pentagon.

    There is no question that China is doing everything in its considerable power to rival and surpass the United States, both militarily and economically. But the Chinese have the benefit of hindsight, and the cautionary example of the USSR. I believe Arthur and Derek have it essentially right: Beijing does not need 3K weapons, and they know it. Cyberspace is where they’re putting their money. But it serves their purposes to keep us guessing, on the assumption that we will make bad decisions based on our past experiences.

  10. yousaf December 7, 2011 at 8:17 pm #

    Derek and Frank,
    Ted and I wrote a detailed paper on this — here:

  11. Distiller December 11, 2011 at 1:34 pm #

    I think China is well aware that it pretty much needs to jumpstart its ICBM business, if it intends to enter it.

    Having no strategic capability to threaten CONUS has its benefits – for some time at least, as in case of an armed conflict at a later point (~2025+ time frame) there is no guarantee the US wouldn’t launch a first strike.

    And that’s the reason I see for the jump start: A small strategic arsenal is more dangerous than benefitial, because it gives the US the moral absolution in case of a first strike, while China can’t reliably retaliate with a small arsenal (think strategic BMD).

    So China needs to reveal its capability at a point that threatens the US, and where a strike can’t be stopped by strategic BMD. I think that point is reached at around 450 deployed strategic warheads (counter-value targeting against the 15 largest U.S. urban areas, plus a 50% reserve against India, Russia and Europe).

    Agree that 3000 is way over the top, but your “material for 600″ fits my 450 nicely and leaves some breathing room for tactical warheads.

    Just speculation of course, though they are pretty culture-independent since its a game of chance (spiced up with primeval psychology). But others here are right! Don’t underestimate China.

    Wouldn’t worry about the DF-31, though. DF-41 is a different story …

    Reply: China has a strategic capability to threaten CONUS: 20 DF-5As and a similar number of DF-31As. It may not be nearly as much capacity as Russia, but it is potentially 30 cities annihilated in a hypothetical war. And just a reminder, assessing warhead inventories is not just about the fissile material. It has to fit the force. And there is no evidence in the public (that I’m aware of) that China has tactical nuclear weapons. It might, I just haven’t seen anything demonstrating that. HK

  12. RAJ47 December 11, 2011 at 9:37 pm #

    Kunming horseshoe rail is shaped to cover the height difference. No new data has been used.

  13. Juuso December 13, 2011 at 1:32 pm #

    So it’s confirmed that DF-31A is 16 meters (or little less) in lenght? That would make it only 3m longer than original DF-31.

    Isn’t that kinda short for ICBM?

  14. warrior December 22, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    US must be deploy by 1975 ~1,000 SuperSpartan ABMs,3,000 Vulcan ICBMs,1,000 SLAMs (26,000 1.1 mt warheads),10 4,000-ton Orion Battleships(5,000 20-megaton “Minuteman” warheads,thousands Casaba Howitzer ABM nukes),complete SR-181 system.

  15. Adam Neira December 23, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    The graph that says Chinese nuclear weapon numbers could double by 2025 could be proven wrong. If a reconvened NPT Conference was held on April 23rd, 2012 in Jerusalem with its main goal the elimination of nuclear weapons over the next thirteen years then this possibility would not eventuate. The juxtaposition of the City of Peace being the place where an agreement would be reached to eliminate the ultimate weapon of war from the realm of human affairs would be sublime. The divinely mandated timeline is : 2012 Conference – Agreements – Preparation – 2013/2014/2015 Inspections/Auditing – 2016 to 2023 Dismantlement of missiles, on a return the chips to the dealer percentage basis, to build trust. 2024 onwards ongoing monitoring. This twelve year vision would act as the fulcrum/pivot/track/umbrella for many other international trust building measures. Where there is a will there is a way. Will Isaiah’s “Swords into ploughshares” get a look in ?

  16. Mathew Lengyel December 28, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

    [Edited] China’s nuclear deterrent was designed in a defensive rather than offensive posture. Most of it’s weapons were designed to be deployed from China proper and have tactical rather than strategic ranges. For example, China has two nuclear powered submarines – one SSK and one boomer (both have experienced problems with their engineering plants, a copy of their SSK sank in 1989 with all hands aboard). China’s primary strategic weapon, the Dong Feng V, is near copy of the American Saturn V rocket from the Apollo program. This ICBM is more like a LRBM and possesses a limited FOB capability. China is also the proud owner of the world’s largest and most outdated air force, flying fighters and bombers designed in the 1970′s. While China does own some newer types (like the MIG-31 and the SU-37MK), the overall capabilities of their nuclear posture suggest a local purpose to protect it’s boarders from local actors (such as India or Russia) and to keep foreign actors from intervening in what China considers domestic affairs (like Taiwan and Tibet). US intelligence would be well served to monitor rapid increases of spending in these areas because any significant shift in the PRC’s nuclear posture would require the development of totally new weapon systems. When comparing China’s nuclear delivery systems to that of the US and Russia – one finds an absence of a true nuclear triad. China doesn’t have any B-2′s or TU-160′s, it doesn’t have any SS-18′s or LRCM ‘Peacekeepers’ and it definitely doesn’t have any Ohio or Delta IV class submarines. The 50 odd LRBM’s is more of a token force with symbolic rather than effective value. For a true nuclear ‘triad’ to be effective, it needs a few qualities: it needs to be redundant (able to function if part of the primary system is destroyed in a surprise attack thus this requires numbers and dispersion of weapons and systems), it needs to have multi-delivery methods (weapons need to be delivered by land rockets, by air forces and by rocket submarines) and those delivery systems need to have a strategic range (meaning all systems should be able to deliver their weapons to any target around the world). Only when China achieves these qualities in their strategic forces will it have attained a nuclear posture with offensive capabilities. Given the age, design and history of China’s weapons, I seriously doubt half of their rockets would even obtain orbit before breaking up. China has bigger issues – it’s people are being poisoned by rapid industrialization, rebellions have begun in the western portions of the country and the power of the central government is on the decline due to endemic corruption in the civil and political spheres. Personally i would be surprised if the PRC is still a standing communist state in forty years.

    Reply: I think you’re downplaying the Chinese nuclear capability and its impact on other countries. Granted, it’s posture is not comparable to that of the United States or Russia at all, and China – like the other nuclear weapon states – could certainly spend its resources in more productive ways. But all nuclear weapons are offensive, including China’s; they’re designed and intended to threaten immense destruction. The old missiles are being replaced with newer and more capable ones (DF-21, DF-31, DF-31A, JL-2), all of which have the capability of threatening at medium and long range, something Japan, India, Russia and the United States are all concerned about.

    Also, note that China has four types of nuclear-powered submarines: Type-091 Han class SSN, Type-092 Xia class SSBN, Type-093 Shang class SSN, Type-094 Jin class SSBN, and is designing a fifth type – the Type-095 class SSN. The Han and Xia types are being replaced by the newer ones. I’m not aware that any Chinese nuclear submarine has ever sunk. HK

  17. Mathew Lengyel December 30, 2011 at 12:55 am #

    After reading some of the posts i have to single out ‘warrior’s’ because it’s clear the ‘he’ has been playing a little too many video games (see: Halo). Warrior, the US doesn’t posess a ‘super-spartan’ or ‘vulcan’ ICBM, much less several thousand of them. Additionally, we don’t bother to deploy nuclear warheads on battleships anymore so obviously they don’t carry their primary delivery system. You only embarass yourself when yoy attempt to be an authority in an area you know nothing about.

  18. Juuso December 30, 2011 at 11:13 am #

    It was reported that todays JL-2 test was a success:

    Reply: Thanks, do you have a better source for this? I’ve been through the site and it seems to be a bunch of bloggers claiming a successful launch but with no official confirmations or source. HK

  19. warrior January 16, 2012 at 8:42 am #

    ….Super-Spartan was supposed to carry a Hot X-ray warhead in the 50- 100mt range.
    Two ~100mt warheads were studied :
    1. Warhead for a 100Mt FUFO B-52 bomb.(total bomb ~25,000 pounds).Design finished in 1965.(for bomb =warhead+non-nuclear components).Unfortunately,Chuck Hansen only mentioned this.Super B53.
    2.>100mt missile warhead (for ICBM based on Titan3,not C). This was ordered by Mcnamara,but seems that have a small second-strike potential.Design finished probably in 1963.
    Both devices could be development tested at the yields around 1mt.So,Hot X-ray warhead could be obtained from both of them.

    Chinese ICBMs NOT armed with >100Mt warheads,so they cannot destroy modern cities,because firestorms in the modern cities are false.Book :Effects of nuclear war also false.

    50-100Mt ABM warhead too small. What about Super…..Super -Spartan :

    “Even as late as the end of 1991, certain LLNL scientists were still advocating the
    development of a “super” thermonuclear weapon with a yield on the order of “tens of
    thousands of megatons” to destroy missile warheads”.Cited in the Hansen’s Swords.

    So ,say 1,000,000 of enemy ICBMs would be reduced to the ash.

  20. Juuso February 23, 2012 at 11:56 pm #

    [Edited] How many modern ICBM’s do Chinese have in silos? In an older article Mr. HK wrote that Chinese mobile missiles are vulnerable because they can launch missiles only from prepared surfaces or they might get damaged. Most of the DF-31 articles mention only TEL’s but nothing about DF-31′s in silos.

    Reply: According to the U.S. intelligence community (at least what it says in public), China currently has 20 DF-5As in silos. The DF-31 is only described as mobile. There are many unsubstantiated rumors on the Internet about different versions of the DF-31. I’d be very interested in good sources saying that China deploys DF-31s in silos. Can you help? HK

  21. Juuso February 24, 2012 at 6:01 pm #

    I became interested because of this older FAS article about DF-31, it mentions that Chinese did build new silo in 90′s. Did I misunderstand what kinda silo this article mentions?
    “The DF-31 is in the late stage of development following various delays, and is expected to be deployed about the turn of the century, based on the recent completion of silo construction at the Wuzhai Missile and Space Test Center.”

    Reply: Good find! I don’t know who posted that back in the 1990s, but it appears to borrow rather freely from an article in the Washington Times. The article apparently was based on a leaked intelligence report and described a multiple-warhead DF-31 that could threaten targets along the entire West Coast of the United States and in several northern Rocky Mountain states. The prediction turned out not to be accurate; the DF-31 is single-warhead, can not reach Los Angeles, and can only reach the northeastern parts of the continental United States if launched from the very northeastern tip of China (in reality the DF-31 brigades are deployed much further inland). The silo-bit is mystifying since the U.S. intelligence community has reported ever since that the DF-31 is road-mobile and only the DF-5A is listed as deployed in silos. Likewise, while rumors of the DF-25 and DF-41 certainly were repeated on the FAS web page, the missiles haven’t materialized. Perhaps they were design experiments that never made it into the field, or perhaps they – or elements of the programs – are still in the works.

    The U.S. intelligence community has for many years reported that China has been researching multiple warhead capability for missiles, and true to the record, the Pentagon’s annual report on Chinese military power stated in 2011 that it “may also be developing” a new road-mobile ICBM “possibly capable” of carrying MIRV. But, again, words like “may” and “possibly” are used to signal uncertainty about the projection. The driver for this development does not appear to be an interest in increasing the size of total arsenal, although some increase appears to be happening, but to ensure that the still limited ICBM force can penetrate a U.S. ballistic missile system. Back in 2002 the annual Pentagon report stated: “China likely will take measures to improve its ability to defeat the defense system in order to preserve its strategic deterrent. The measures likely will include improved penetration packages for its ICBMs, an increase in the number of deployed ICBMs, and perhaps development of a multiple warhead system for an ICBM, most likely for the CSS-4.” HK

  22. Anti war August 12, 2012 at 1:28 am #

    We are all living in the jungle. If the lion says the jackal (NK) is a threat it is insulting the the iq of the other animals.The lion thru its sheer size and ferocity is the biggest threat to the othe r animals in the jungle.
    China need not match the US 20000 plus nw.It needs only the minimum guaranteed to get thru the conus to inflict unacceptable damage to serve as a deterrent.The US will in all probability launch the first attack.But the problem is it wants to be immune from Chinese retaliation like ww2 when it was launching attacks on Japan with out suffering any damage to the conus.That is history and the Chinese won’t stand for their country to be destoyed without inflicting similar destruction on the US.
    Even the US with its missile shield will be unlikely to reduce damage to US assets. All the PLA has to do is increase the number of missiles in range qualitatively and in lethality.The PLA will make 100% sure the Chinese will have a secure second strike
    capability to make the US think twice before launching n strikes.
    Oh using US conventional measn to eliminate the Chines nw won’t work. The PLA will simply retaliate with nw. Of course China will be obliterated.But the US will have to endure prohibitive costs and damage.

    Reply: Just a factual correction; the U.S. no longer has 20,000-plus nuclear warheads. The current tally stands at about 5,000 in the DOD stockpile and about 3,000 other retired warheads in line for dismantlement. HK

  23. Liming August 24, 2012 at 4:31 am #

    I think the true deterrent is the biological weapons deterrent like a cocktail of highly virulent and deadly viruses which require only one hit for a whole country effect/devastation.

    Nuclear weapons are a thing of the past. too expensive n too difficult to deliver

  24. chinese patriot October 16, 2012 at 3:37 am #

    [Edited] The PLA need not match the US nuclear weapon for nuclear weapons or ship for ship. The US is the most likely one to resort to using nuclear weapons. According to the secret files from Freedom of Information Act, the US had threatend to use nuclear weapons on at least three or even more occasions on China. There was talk the US could use nuclear weapons in the 1996 Taiwan crisis. Fortunately nothing happened as the Chinese realised they were the weaker party.

    Fast forward to 2012. In the event of US nuclear attack on China, the PLA are ready to hit back not the foreign bases from which the attack originated, but at the CONUS. Those countries which let the US use bases to attack China, would be sent razing. This is the stark reality.

    This is what is unnerving the Pentagon. As we all know know the US maybe able yo shock and awe SH (Saddam Hussein) but China is a different proposition. The Chinese need not have to have 3000 nuclear weapons. The PLA’s ability to destroy ten to twenty US major cities or cause catastrophic damage on the US is a deterrent to any sane President. If such a President chooses to unleash a nw to boost his chance of re election or for what for ever reason, he should be arrested and impeached and not allowed to board his air force jet.

    The war scenario painted is an extreme case but you never know. Johnson started the VW to boost his election chances and won by a landslide. Please read the US secret files about the Tonkin gulf war resolution. Johnson even conned Congress into authorising unlimited war when US warships were attacked by tiny North Vietnam patrol boats. A US navy personnel admitted they were authorised to provoke the NV. Need less to say the American public must be wary of their elected leaders.

    Reply: “Threatening” use of nuclear weapons is a very specific act and the only cases I’m aware of public information suggesting that the U.S. was at some level considering potential use of nuclear weapons against China was back in the 1950s: First in 1951-52 during the Korean War, when Chinese forces pushed the U.S. back in Korea; Second in 1954-1955, during Chinese shelling of several island in the Taiwan Strait; And third, in 1958 during Chinese shelling of Quemoy Island in the Taiwan Strait. However, “threatening” nuclear attack requires formal communication from the highest level of government, but it is important not to forget that while the military and others pushed for issuing nuclear threats at the time, the U.S. president was in fact hesitant. The Freedom of Information Act documents you refer to show this conflict of interest. In fact, I think what makes the 1950s cases particularly interesting is that they illustrate the important issue of military versus civilian control of nuclear weapons. Fortunately, civilian control has so far been allowed to rein – both in the United States and China as a matter of fact.

    But the 1950s is a long time ago and many things have changed. Today China has nuclear weapons, so any U.S. considerations of using nuclear weapons would have to take into consideration the possible obliteration of a dozen cities in the United States. Moreover, U.S. conventional capabilities today are significantly more capable than those of the 1950s, which, I think, makes it less likely than you suggest that a U.S. president would consider using nuclear weapons against China. And I’m not aware that the U.S. made any considerations about potentially using nuclear weapons against China in the 1996 crisis. HK

  25. Zbigniew Mazurak October 19, 2012 at 9:22 am #

    This entire screed is factually incorrect by a long shot, and was, of course, written by a pro-unilateral-disarmament liberal sponsored by pro-unilateral-disarmament organizations: Ploughshares and Carnegie. Thus, he has an incentive to grossly distort the record (i.e. to lie).

    And lying he is.

    China *already* has more than 75 ICBMs capable of reaching the US, and all of them are multiple-warhead missiles. These are: 36 DF-5 ICBMs, 40 DF-31s, and an unknown number of DF-41s. All of them can, and probably do, carry multiple warheads. DF-5s can carry at least two, DF-31s can carry 3, and DF-41s can carry 10.

    China thus also has far more than “less than 50″ warheads capable of reaching the US.

    China also has 5 Jin class SSBNs, each of them capable of carrying 12-24 JL-2 SLBMs, one Xia class boat carrying 12 SLBMs, and one Golf class boat that currently serves as a test platform but can carry SLBMs as well. This, excluding the Golf class boat, gives the PLAN the capacity to carry at least 72, and perhaps 132, SLBMs.

    China has more than enough delivery systems to carry well over 1,000 warheads. In addition to the forementioned ICBMs and SLBMs (JL-2s can carry 4 warheads each, the JL-1 only one warhead each), it has 120-160 H-6K bombers and at least 320 Q-5 and JH-7 theater bombers, each of them capable of carrying one warhead.

    Thus, it has 440 nuclear-capable aircraft, SLBMs with a collective dellivery capacity of at least 492 warheads (120*4 + 12), 72 DF-5-deliverable warheads, 120 DF-31-deliverable warheads, and, assuming optimistically that only ONE DF-41 ICBM is deployed right now, 10 warheads attributed to DF-41s. Add to that China’s DF-3s, DF-4s, and DF-21s, and you get the capability to deliver 1076 nuclear warheads without arming even ONE SRBM with nuclear tetes.

    So China clearly has the delivery systems to deliver 1076 warheads (though not all of them to the US, only about half).

    And fissile material? According to General Yesin’s study, China has enough fissile material for 3,600 warheads, even more than the GU team estimates China has. Yesin, for his part, estimates that China has “only” 1,800 warheads, but that figure is still several times more than you, Mr Kristensen, and other China threat deniers claim.

    Your obviously wrong guesstimate, or rather, deliberate understatement, is so obviously wrong that it’s behind even the DIA’s estimate from 1984, when the Defense Intel Agency estimated China had 360 warheads. Since 1984, China’s arsenal has only grown, not shrank, and significantly so. And since 1984, China has had much time to do so, and if Chinese leaders aren’t fools – which I don’t think they are – they have done so.

    Professor Karber’s estimate is, furthermore, in line with common sense. No one in his right mind would build 3,000 miles of tunnels (whose existence is a fact) to hide only 240-300 warheads. That would be a huge waste of money and time.

    China’s 3,000-mile-long tunnel network can be intended only to hide a large nuclear arsenal.

    Last but not least is the consideration of who has an incentive to distort the record.

    Professor Karber has none. He does not oppose arms control. Neither does General Yesin, who only says that China should be included in future arms control talks and treaties.

    OTOH, Kristensen, as an advocate of America’s unilateral disarmament and a strident liberal and opponent of nuclear weapons, does have an incentive to lie, as do other arms control advocates, because Professor Karber’s facts-based study is a huge threat to their agenda of unilaterally disarming the US, as tacitly admitted by their attacks on him, their false claims about China’s nuclear arsenal, and their stubborn denial that China might have more than 240-400 warheads.

    Reply: I would normally delete this comment because it is full of unsubstantiated and incorrect information and accusations, but I find it an interesting example of how not to do analysis or debate these issues that have chosen to let it live for now. HK

  26. Mike Wong December 30, 2012 at 3:40 am #

    I refer to the reply that US conventional capabilities have improved significantly since the 50s.The PLAhave improved theirs as well. Note in the 50s up to the 1996 Taiwan crisis US carriers could arrogantly show off their gunboat diplomacy.Before then,the Chinese could watch only the brazen diplayof US po wer in trepeidation.Not anymore. In a war scenario,such carriers would be sunk .Of course it could trigger a US nuclear attack on China .
    Btw,the President would in all probability be advised the best course of action and the costs involved.
    The costs for prevailing over China has gone up and will continue to go up regardless of US advancement in weapons.The PLa aint sitting still and will surely invest in more powerful weapons designed to defeat US damage limitation.


  1. Vox Populi » Professor’s study on China’s nuclear arsenal draws heated reaction - December 13, 2011

    [...] Because of the widespread media coverage of the number of nuclear warheads Karber suggests China may have, Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project at the Federation of American Scientists, believes that the study “does the public debate a disservice by disseminating exaggerated and poorly analyzed information…Many people may not remember the details, but they tend to remember the headlines. A misperception will stick in the public consciousness that China has 3,000 nuclear weapons hidden in tunnels,” he said on the FAS Strategic Security blog. [...]

  2. PLA Watchers: Beware of Open Sources and Information Laundering | Asia Security Watch - January 9, 2012

    [...] and analysts quickly challenged many of the study’s most provocative claims about the number of Chinese warheads and fissile material production. Questions were also raised about the Chinese-language sources that [...]

  3. The Wrong Way to Argue Against Nuclear Disarmament « Hegemonic Obsessions - January 16, 2012

    [...] Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and the blog Arms Control Wonk, Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists, and Gregory Kulacki from the Union of Concerned Scientists.  Many, though not all, of these [...]

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