China’s Nuclear Strategy

In a new article in International Security, Fiona Cunningham and I examine whether China will abandon its long-standing nuclear strategy of assured retaliation for a first-use posture.

We reach three conclusions:

  • Chinese analysts worry that advances in U.S. strategic capabilities could undermine China’s ability to retaliate against a U.S. nuclear attack.
  • China is unlikely to increase dramatically its relatively small nuclear force or abandon its second-strike posture. Instead, China will modestly expand its arsenal, increase the sophistication of its forces, and allow limited ambiguity over its pledge not to use nuclear weapons first.
  • Limited ambiguity over no-first-use allows China to avoid an arms race, but it could increase risks of nuclear escalation in a U.S.-China crisis. Limited ambiguity might also energize U.S. pursuit of strategic superiority if the United States sees it as a broad exception to China’s no-first-use policy.

The full text of the article can be downloaded here.