Sunday, July 14, 2024

Deciphering China’s Nuclear Modernization Ambitions

Washington, DC – The rise of China is understood to be an inevitable global future. The billion-plus populated nation’s economic strength is an ever-growing fiasco. It has not stalled even after the pandemic that severely affected the global world’s economic capabilities. However, the story of China’s global rise cannot be told through the sole perspective of its economic ambitions. China’s financial loans may have been the talking point in many geopolitical circles in recent times, yet an avenue that requires our undivided attention is perhaps Chinese ambitions of a military and nuclear modernization strategy. These aspirations, however, have already entered their next phase and are currently under execution. Therefore it seems quite relevant and plausible to discuss Chinese implementation plans.

To decipher the Chinese proposition of modernization of nuclear arsenals and its military as a whole, it is important that we first dwell on the process through which the country shapes its nuclear policies. Both internal and external factors have influenced the Chinese modernization debate around nuclear armaments. Political and bureaucratic competition has ensured that the discussion around the issue remains as important as China’s global vision for hegemony. This has also enabled these groups of actors to shape the understanding around the nuclear force’s modernization plans. However, the processes and priorities have changed with the times, majorly due to changes in the Chinese nation-state, thereby also leading to the detonation of their first nuclear device on 16th October 1964.

During the Chinese premier Deng Xiaoping’s Regime, the priority was always to focus on non-nuclear force modernizations rather than nuclear ones; this led to Chinese defense policies being centered around the objectives of greater speed, greater mobility, and concealment of forces to improve the survivability of forces during attacks. The Chinese also expanded their underground facilities to protect their nuclear weapons from foreign attacks during the same period. However, the turn of the century brought enough economic advantages to Beijing to focus on the next phase of its modernization plans. In the early 2000s, China moved into a complete modernization phase of the armed forces, paving the way for a further scope for investment into expanding their nuclear arsenals. Yet China’s defense focus throughout the 90s and early 2000s was on attempting to build a ferocious maritime force that could boost its sphere of influence on the seas.

Even if the Chinese nuclear arsenal may seem smaller than the US and Russian pockets, China’s increase in production of nuclear weapons is an account that requires close monitoring due to its disorderly expansion in recent decades. Multiple reports have detailed how Chinese military power is on the path of quadrupling its nuclear forces by 2030. This is also evident in the number of Chinese warheads that have increased by a staggering 21 percent between 2012 and 2019.

In its Defense White Paper from 2006, China resolutely asserted its ‘Self Defense Nuclear strategy,’ proclaiming an assured retaliatory measure leading to inflicting unacceptable damage to the attacker. However, Beijing’s nuclear stand over the years has only deteriorated towards a far more hawkish view of the global world. In 2013, their Defense White Paper excluded mentions of a lifelong nuclear principle of ‘No First Use policy.’ This led many scholars to conclude that China was perhaps on its path to shedding an instrumental principle that had ensured peace and stability in the region and the world for decades. Since then, China has been on a war footing to diversify and modernize its nuclear-armed forces. It is on the verge of attaining the nuclear triad status, defined as all three military forces consisting of land-launchable nuclear missiles, nuclear missile-armed submarines, strategic fighter jets, and aircrafts powered with nuclear warheads. Though the country currently possesses nuclear capabilities through all three forces, it still requires a strategic bomber aircraft to fully enter the service. This has invariably led China to signal its low priority toward the air component within the modernization plans. However, this has historically remained in tune with the Chinese military and nuclear precedents of focusing upon land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles first than the others. A prominent example of this was the induction of the DF-41, a road and rail mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that is believed to be of greater operational range than any missile in the world. Deviance from such a strategy was only visible in 2015 when Beijing made significant advancements to its maritime component of nuclear warheads with the solidification of the PLA Navy by introducing the Julang-2 (JL-2), a second-generation intercontinental-range submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).

In conclusion, Chinese intentions to expand its nuclear and militaristic power are not a distant event that can be tackled later. Such acts require immediately thought-out foreign policy objectives, which can also lead to regional cooperation amongst members who find themselves at the forefront of such intimidating tactics. These nuclear modernization techniques are perhaps as emergent as the Chinese methods of wolf-warrior portrayals that are on a path of wreaking havoc in and around its neighborhood. If China doubles its arsenal by 2029 as predicted, in the coming years, the People’s Liberation Army will field as many as 24 DF-41’s with a staggering 144 warheads leading to many consequential security threats to the region. China’s actions in the South-China Sea, Taiwan, and its boundaries with India have made it clear that the leadership is willing to provoke skirmishes and clashes in and around the area of contention. Moreover, given Chinese reoccurring behavior, it would be wise to state that as much as the Chinese nuclear capabilities and weapons increase and improve, Beijing will attempt to adopt an offensive nuclear posture. Thus, the region which is witnessing such threatening nuclear augmentations must come together to tackle such challenges that China, as a nuclear state, wishes to pose in front of other peaceful countries of the continent and the world.

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