Regulating US Air Force Contacts with China

The U.S. Air Force last week issued updated guidance both to foster and to limit contacts with Chinese military personnel, based in part on classified Defense Department directives.

“With the rise of PRC influence in the international community and the increasing capabilities of the Chinese military, Air Force military-to-military relationship with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN), and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) is becoming more crucial than before,” the Air Force document stated.

See Conduct of USAF Contacts with the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Government of the Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the PRC, Air Force Instruction 16-118, August 5, 2015.

The Instruction provides a framework for conducting reciprocal US-PRC visits to each other’s military installations.

“The success of these visits, whether US or PRC-led, directly affects relationships between the US and the PRC, as well as our relationships with our allies and partners, and is thereby important in support of national and regional politico-military objectives.”

But the Instruction also identifies numerous topical areas that are likely to be off-limits for USAF-PRC military contacts.

“[P]rohibited contacts… may involve: force projection operations, nuclear operations, advanced combined-arms and joint combat operations, advanced logistical operations, chemical and biological defense and other capabilities related to weapons of mass destruction, surveillance and reconnaissance operations, joint war-fighting experiments and other activities related to a transformation in warfare, military space operations, other advanced capabilities of the armed forces, arms sales or military-related technology transfers, release of classified or restricted information, and access to a DoD laboratory.”

The new USAF Instruction implements two classified DoD Instructions, which have not been released: Department of Defense Instruction (DoDI) C-2000.23, Conduct of DoD Contacts with the People’s Republic of China (PRC), and DoDI S-2000.24, Conduct of DoD Contacts with the Government of Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the PRC.

The Congressional Research Service produced a related report on U.S.-China Military Contacts: Issues for Congress, updated October 27, 2014.

China’s Science of Military Strategy (2013)

Updated below

In 2013, the Academy of Military Sciences of the People’s Liberation Army of China issued a revised edition of its authoritative, influential publication “The Science of Military Strategy” (SMS) for the first time since 2001.

“Each new edition of the SMS is closely scrutinized by China hands in the West for the valuable insights it provides into the evolving thinking of the PLA on a range of strategically important topics,” wrote Joe McReynolds of the Jamestown Institute.

A copy of the 2013 edition of the Science of Military Strategy — in Chinese — was obtained by Secrecy News and is posted on the Federation of American Scientists website (in a very large PDF).

“The availability of this document could be a huge boon for young China analysts who have not yet had the chance to buy their own copy in China or Taiwan,” said one China specialist.

An English translation of the document has not yet become publicly available.

But an overview of its treatment of nuclear weapons policy issues was provided in a recent essay by Michael S. Chase of the Jamestown Institute.

“Compared to the previous edition of SMS, the 2013 edition offers much more extensive and detailed coverage of a number of nuclear policy and strategy-related issues,” Mr. Chase wrote.

In general, SMS 2013 “reaffirms China’s nuclear No First Use policy…. Accordingly, any Chinese use of nuclear weapons in actual combat would be for ‘retaliatory nuclear counterstrikes’.”

With respect to deterrence, SMS 2013 states that “speaking with a unified voice from the highest levels of the government and military to the lowest levels can often enhance deterrence outcomes. But sometimes, when different things are said by different people, deterrence outcomes might be even better.”

SMS 2013 also notably included the first explicit acknowledgement of Chinese “network attack forces” which perform what the U.S. calls “offensive cyber operations.”

In a separate essay on “China’s Evolving Perspectives on Network Warfare: Lessons from the Science of Military Strategy,” Joe McReynolds wrote that the SMS authors “focus heavily on the central role of peacetime ‘network reconnaissance’ — that is, the technical penetration and monitoring of an adversary’s networks — in developing the PLA’s ability to engage in wartime network operations.”

On July 28, the Congressional Research Service updated its report on China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and Issues for Congress.

Update: The Union of Concerned Scientists has published a detailed review of the 2013 Science of Military Strategy, including translations of some key passages.

Pentagon Report: China Deploys MIRV Missile

By Hans M. Kristensen

The biggest surprise in the Pentagon’s latest annual report on Chinese military power is the claim that China’s ICBM force now includes the “multiple independently-targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV)-equipped Mod 3 (DF-5).”

This is (to my knowledge) the first time the US Intelligence Community has made a public claim that China has fielded a MIRVed missile system.

If so, China joins the club of four other nuclear-armed states that have deployed MIRV for decades: Britain, France, Russia and the United States.

For China to join the MIRV club strains China’s claim of having a minimum nuclear deterrent. It is another worrisome sign that China – like the other nuclear-armed states – are trapped in a dynamic technological nuclear arms competition. Continue reading

Is China Planning To Build More Missile Submarines?

By Hans M. Kristensen

Is China increasing production of nuclear ballistic missile submarines?

Over the past few months, several US defense and intelligence officials have stated for the record that China is planning to build significantly more nuclear-powered missile submarines than previously assumed.

This would potentially put a bigger portion of China’s nuclear arsenal out to sea, a risky proposition, and further deepen China’s unfortunate status as the only nuclear-armed state party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation that is increasing it nuclear arsenal. Continue reading

Nuclear Cooperation Agreements and Nonproliferation

President Obama this week transmitted to Congress the text of a proposed agreement with the People’s Republic of China concerning cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy.

Known as “123 agreements” based on section 123 of the Atomic Energy Act, such accords are intended to regulate international traffic in nuclear materials and technology. The agreements generally provide for physical safeguards on subject materials, require consent for transfers of materials or technology to third countries, and impose restrictions on enrichment and reprocessing.

As of early last year, there were 23 agreements under Section 123 in effect.

“We want other nations to enter into 123 agreements with the United States because our [nuclear safeguards] standards are the highest in the world,” said Daniel B. Poneman, Deputy Secretary of Energy, at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing last year. “In our view, the more 123 agreements that exist in the world, the stronger the nonproliferation controls that will apply to all nuclear commerce.” (The record of that January 2014 hearing entitled “Section 123: Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreements” was published last month.)

In practice, the picture is a bit murkier, as such agreements by definition facilitate international transfers of nuclear materials and technology with long-term consequences that cannot always be foreseen. Beneficiaries of prior 123 agreements that subsequently lapsed include pre-revolutionary Iran, Israel, Venezuela, and Vietnam.

The U.S. and China previously reached an agreement on nuclear cooperation in 1985, though its implementation was blocked until 1998. For detailed background, see U.S.-China Nuclear Cooperation Agreement, Congressional Research Service, updated April 20, 2015.

That existing agreement with China expires this year, hence the President’s submission this week of a new proposed text. Among several proliferation-related issues likely to be considered in finalizing the pending agreement are Chinese missile technology exports and its nuclear support to Pakistan.

“China’s expanding civil nuclear cooperation with Pakistan raises serious concerns and we urge China to be more transparent regarding this cooperation,” the State Department’s Thomas Countryman told the Foreign Relations Committee last year.

Meanwhile, Iran is reportedly discussing its research on neutron transport and nuclear modeling with officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency. An extensive bibliography of nuclear research published by Iranian scientists including neutron transport problems and many other topics was prepared by researcher Mark Gorwitz in 2010.

Ballistic Missile Defense and Strategic Stability in East Asia

On February 20, 2015, FAS hosted a workshop examining ballistic missile defense in East Asia and strategic stability between the United States and China. A new project led by Charles Ferguson, FAS president, and Bruce MacDonald, Adjunct Senior Fellow for National Security Technology, is examining the security implications of possible Chinese deployment of strategic ballistic missile defense. In the Winter 2015 Public Interest Report, Ferguson writes about nuclear strategic stability between the United States and China, and results from research travel to China.

Frank Rose, Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Arms Control, Verification and Compliance at the State Department, served as the keynote speaker at the workshop. Rose spoke about China’s ballistic missile program, its relationship to China’s anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons program, and how to achieve strategic stability between the United States and China.

Rose’s remarks are available here. 

Seeking China-U.S. Strategic Nuclear Stability

“To destroy the other, you have to destroy part of yourself. To deter the other, you have to deter yourself,” according to a Chinese nuclear strategy expert. During the week of February 9th, I had the privilege to travel to China where I heard this statement during the Ninth China-U.S. Dialogue on Strategic Nuclear Dynamics in Beijing. The Dialogue was jointly convened by the China Foundation for International Strategic Studies (CFISS) and the Pacific Forum Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). While the statements by participants were not-for-attribution, I can state that the person quoted is a senior official with extensive experience in China’s strategic nuclear planning.

The main reason for my research travel was to work with Bruce MacDonald, FAS Adjunct Senior Fellow for National Security Technology, on a project examining the security implications of a possible Chinese deployment of strategic ballistic missile defense. We had discussions with more than a dozen Chinese nuclear strategists in Beijing and Shanghai; we will publish a full report on our findings and analysis this summer. FAS plans to continue further work on projects concerning China-U.S. strategic relations as well as understanding how our two countries can cooperate on the challenges of providing adequate healthy food, near-zero emission energy sources, and unpolluted air and water.

During the discussions, I was struck by the gap between American and Chinese perspectives. As indicated by the quote, Chinese strategic thinkers appear reluctant to want to use nuclear weapons and underscore the moral and psychological dimensions of nuclear strategy. Nonetheless, China’s leaders clearly perceive the need for such weapons for deterrence purposes. Perhaps the biggest gap in perception is that American nuclear strategists tend to remain skeptical about China’s policy of no-first-use (NFU) of nuclear weapons. By the NFU policy, China would not launch nuclear weapons first against the United States or any other state. Thus, China needs assurances that it would have enough nuclear weapons available to launch in a second retaliatory strike in the unlikely event of a nuclear attack by another state.

American experts are doubtful about NFU statements because during the Cold War the Soviet Union repeatedly stated that it had a NFU policy, but once the Cold War ended and access was obtained to the Soviets’ plans, the United States found out that the Soviets had lied. They had plans to use nuclear weapons first under certain circumstances. Today, given Russia’s relative conventional military inferiority compared to the United States, Moscow has openly declared that it has a first-use policy to deter massive conventional attack.

Can NFU be demonstrated? Some analysts have argued that China in its practice of keeping warheads de-mated or unattached from the missile delivery systems has in effect placed itself in a second strike posture. But the worry from the American side is that such a posture could change quickly and that as China has been modernizing its missile force from slow firing liquid-fueled rockets to quick firing solid-fueled rockets, it will be capable of shifting to a first-use policy if the security conditions dictate such a change.

The more I talked with Chinese experts in Beijing and Shanghai the more I felt that they are sincere about China’s NFU policy. A clearer and fuller exposition came from a leading expert in Shanghai who said that China has a two-pillar strategy. First, China believes in realism in that it has to take appropriate steps in a semi-anarchic geopolitical system to defend itself. It cannot rely on others for outside assistance or deterrence. Indeed, one of the major differences between China and the United States is that China is not part of a formal defense alliance pact such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) or the alliance the United States has with Japan and South Korea. Although in the 1950s, Chairman Mao Zedong decried nuclear weapons as “paper tigers,” he decided that the People’s Republic of China must acquire them given the threats China faced when U.S. General Douglas MacArthur suggested possible use of nuclear weapons against China during the Korean War. In October 1964, China detonated its first nuclear explosive device and at the same time declared its NFU policy.

The second pillar is based on morality. Chinese strategists understand the moral dilemma of nuclear deterrence. On the one hand, a nuclear-armed state has to show a credible willingness to launch nuclear weapons to deter the other’s launch.  But on the other hand, if deterrence fails, actually carrying out the threat condemns millions to die.  According to the Chinese nuclear expert, China would not retaliate immediately and instead would offer a peace deal to avert further escalation to more massive destruction. As long as China has an assured second strike, which might consist of only a handful of nuclear weapons that could hit the nuclear attacker’s territory, Beijing could wait hours to days before retaliating or not striking back in order to give adequate time for cooling off and stopping of hostilities.

Because China has not promised to provide extended nuclear deterrence to other states, Chinese leaders would also not feel compelled to strike back quickly to defend such states. In contrast, because of U.S. deterrence commitments to NATO, Japan, South Korea, and Australia, Washington would feel pressure to respond quickly if it or its allies are under nuclear attack. Indeed, at the Dialogue, Chinese experts often brought up the U.S. alliances and especially pointed to Japan as a concern, as Japan could use its relatively large stockpile of about nine metric tons of reactor-grade plutonium (which is still weapons-usable) to make nuclear explosives. Moreover, last July, the administration of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced a “reinterpretation” of the Article 9 restriction in the Japanese Constitution, which prohibits Japan from having an offensive military. (The United States imposed this restriction after the Second World War.)  The reinterpretation allows Japanese Self-Defense Forces to serve alongside allies during military actions. Beijing is opposed because then Japan is just one step away from further changing to a more aggressive policy that could permit Japan to act alone in taking military actions. Before and during the Second World War, Japanese military forces committed numerous atrocities against Chinese civilians. Chinese strategists fear that Japan is seeking to further break out of its restraints.

Thus, Chinese strategists want clarity about Japan’s intentions and want to know how the evolving U.S.-Japan alliance could affect Chinese interests. Japan and the United States have strong concerns about China’s growing assertive actions near the disputed Diaoyu Islands (Chinese name) or Senkaku Islands (Japanese name) between China and Japan, and competing claims for territory in the South China Sea. Regarding nuclear forces, some Chinese experts speculate about the conditions that could lead to Japan’s development of nuclear weapons. The need is clear for continuing dialogue on the triangular relationship among China, Japan, and the United States.

Several Chinese strategists perceive a disparity in U.S. nuclear policy toward China. They want to know if the United States will treat China as a major nuclear power to be deterred or as a big “rogue” state with nuclear weapons. U.S. experts have tried to assure their Chinese counterparts that the strategic reality is the former. The Chinese experts also see that the United States has more than ten times the number of deliverable nuclear weapons than China. But they hear from some conservative American experts that the United States fears that China might “sprint for parity” to match the U.S. nuclear arsenal if the United States further reduces down to 1,000 or somewhat fewer weapons.1)Henry Sokolski, Underestimated: Our Not So Peaceful Nuclear Future (Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, January 2015). According to the FAS Nuclear Information Project, China is estimated to have about 250 warheads in its stockpile for delivery.2)Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2013,” Nuclear Notebook, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 2013, http://thebulletin.org/2013/november/chinese-nuclear-forces-2013 Chinese experts also hear from the Obama administration that it wants to someday achieve a nuclear-weapon-free world. The transition from where the world is today to that future is fraught with challenges: one of them being the mathematical fact that to get to zero or close to zero, nuclear-armed states will have to reach parity with each other eventually.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Henry Sokolski, Underestimated: Our Not So Peaceful Nuclear Future (Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, January 2015).
2. Hans M. Kristensen and Robert S. Norris, “Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2013,” Nuclear Notebook, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November 2013, http://thebulletin.org/2013/november/chinese-nuclear-forces-2013

DOD Report Shows Chinese Nuclear Force Adjustments and US Nuclear Secrecy

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The Pentagon’s latest report to Congress on Chinese military developments cost $89.000 to prepare but no longer includes a list of China’s nuclear arsenal.

The Pentagon’s latest annual report to Congress on the Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China describes continued broad modernization and growing reach of Chinese military forces and strategy.

There is little new on the nuclear weapons front in the 2014 update, however, which describes slow development of previously reported weapons programs. This includes construction of a handful of ballistic missile submarines; the first of which the DOD predicts will begin to sail on deterrent patrols later this year.

It also includes the gradual phase-out of the old DF-3A liquid-fuel ballistic missile and the apparent – and surprising – stalling of the new DF-31 ICBM program.

Like all the other nuclear-armed states, China is modernizing its nuclear forces. China earns the dubious medal (although not in the DOD report) of being the only nuclear weapons state party to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty that is increasing it nuclear arsenal. Far from a build-up, however, the modernization is a modest increase focused on ensuring the survivability of a secure retaliatory strike capability (see here for China’s nuclear arsenal compared with other nuclear powers).

The report continues the Obama administration’s don’t-show-missile-numbers policy. Up until 2010, the annual DOD reports included a table overview of the composition of the Chinese missile force. But the overview gradually became less specific in until it was completed removed from the reports in 2013.

The policy undercuts the administration’s position that China should be more transparent about its military modernization by indirectly assisting Chinese government secrecy.

The main nuclear issues follow below.  Continue reading

Chinese Nuclear Missile Upgrade Near Dalian

dengshahe-3DBy Hans M. Kristensen

One of the last Chinese Second Artillery brigades with the old liquid-fuel DF-3A intermediate-range nuclear ballistic missile appears to have been upgraded to the newer DF-21 road-mobile, dual-capable, medium-range ballistic missile.

A new satellite image posted on Google Earth from May 4, 2014, reveals major changes to what appears to be a launch unit site for the Dengshahe brigade northeast of Dalian by the Yellow Sea.

The upgrade apparently marks the latest phase in a long and slow conversion of the Dengshahe brigade from the DF-3A to the DF-21.

The 810 Brigade base appears to be located approximately 60 km (36 miles) northeast of Dalian in the Liaoning province (see map below). The base is organized under 51 Base, one of six base headquarters organized under the Second Artillery Corps, the military service that operates the Chinese land-based nuclear and conventional missiles.  Continue reading

Nuclear Modernization Briefings at the NPT Conference in New York

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By Hans M. Kristensen

Last week I was in New York to brief two panels at the Third Session of the Preparatory Committee for the 2015 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (phew).

The first panel was on “Current Status of Rebuilding and Modernizing the United States Warheads and Nuclear Weapons Complex,” an NGO side event organized on May 1st by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF). While describing the U.S. programs, I got permission from the organizers to cover the modernization programs of all the nuclear-armed states. Quite a mouthful but it puts the U.S. efforts better in context and shows that nuclear weapon modernization is global challenge for the NPT.

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The second panel was on “The Future of the B61: Perspectives From the United States and Europe.” This GNO side event was organized by the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation on May 2nd. In my briefing I focused on providing factual information about the status and details of the B61 life-extension program, which more than a simple life-extension will produce the first guided, standoff nuclear bomb in the U.S. inventory, and significantly enhance NATO’s nuclear posture in Europe.

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The two NGO side events were two of dozens organized by NGOs, in addition to the more official side events organized by governments and international organizations.

The 2014 PREPCOM is also the event where the United States last week disclosed that the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile has only shrunk by 309 warheads since 2009, far less than what many people had anticipated given Barack Obama’s speeches about “dramatic” and “bold” reductions and promises to “put an end to Cold War thinking.”

Yet in disclosing the size and history of its nuclear weapons stockpile and how many nuclear warheads have been dismantled each year, the United States has done something that no other nuclear-armed state has ever done, but all of them should do. Without such transparency, modernizations create mistrust, rumors, exaggerations, and worst-case planning that fuel larger-than-necessary defense spending and undermine everyone’s security.

For the 185 non-nuclear weapon states that have signed on to the NPT and renounced nuclear weapons in return of the promise made by the five nuclear-weapons states party to the treaty (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom, and the United States) “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the nuclear arms race at early date and to nuclear disarmament,” endless modernization of the nuclear forces by those same five nuclear weapons-states obviously calls into question their intension to fulfill the promise they made 45 years ago. Some of the nuclear modernizations underway are officially described as intended to operate into the 2080s – further into the future than the NPT and the nuclear era have lasted so far.

Download two briefings listed above: briefing 1 | briefing 2

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