Godwin, Paul H.B.
Development of the Chinese Armed Forces
Air University Press. Alabama: June 1988

Chapter 11
Strategic Forces

The decision to develop an independent strategic nuclear force was made no later than early 1956 and was to be implemented within the Twelve-Year Science Plan presented in September 1956 to the Eighth Congress of the CCP. A September 1977 report by the National Defense Scientific and Technological Commission (NDSTC) stated that the twelve-year program placed "emphasis on the rapid development of atomic energy and rocket techniques." There can be no doubt that the decision to enter into a development program designed to produce nuclear weapons and ballistic missile delivery systems was, in large part, a function of the 1953 technology transfer agreements initiated with the USSR. The decision to develop nuclear weapons stands in contrast to China's widely distributed public commentaries that such weapons were of far less significance than the United States declared them to be. Beijing's public attitude toward nuclear weaponry between 1945 and 1954 was generally disparaging, but in October 1951, when the Korean War was going badly for the Chinese, a Xinhua statement indicated that Beijing's view of nuclear weapons was not as derogatory as it often appeared to be:

Now we understand more clearly that only when we ourselves have the atomic weapon, and are fully prepared, is it possible for the frenzied warmongers to listen to our just and reasonable proposals.

The Soviet Connections

Sino-Soviet cooperation in the development of nuclear research facilities began in 1953, although this cooperation followed the March 1950 formation of the Sino-Soviet Nonferrous and Rare Metals Company, which located and extracted radioactive materials in Xinjiang. In February 1953, a delegation of scientists led by Qian Sanqiang (Ch'ien San-ch'iang), director of the Institute of Physics of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), went to the USSR specifically to discuss collaboration in atomic research. It is quite possible that the purpose of the delegation was to conclude the final technical agreements associated with an earlier agreement, for in March 1953 the USSR gave an atom smasher to China and assisted in organizing a number of nuclear research laboratories. Thus, when the First Five-Year Plan (1953-57) announced the peaceful uses of nuclear energy as the first of its ten tasks, it is reasonable to assume that the Soviet Union had agreed, at least in principle, to supply the technology required to reach that goal. This assumption is supported by a series of Soviet actions and agreements through which the USSR gave China technological assistance and the materials necessary for the research and development programs associated with atomic research.

In August 1954, the Chinese and the Soviets reported that they were establishing a joint organization to study the military applications of nuclear research. Agreements establishing the basis for scientific and technical cooperation signed in January and April of the following year provided for the supply of isotopes for nuclear research, construction of a 6,500-kilowatt heavy-water-type atomic reactor in Beijing, a 2,500 electron-volt cyclotron, and a betatron. In July 1955,the USSR also agreed to construct atomic reactors in Lanzhou and Baotou, which were to be completed in 1960. Chinese scientific collaboration with Soviet scientists began no later than 1956, when Chinese scientists were sent to Dubna, outside Moscow, to participate in the Joint Institute of Nuclear Research. In the final year of the First Five-Year Plan (1957),the Institute of Atomic Energy was established within the CAS. In September of that year, the academy recommended establishment of a Northwest Center for Scientific Research at Lanzhou, where China's first nuclear bomb was constructed.

The Chinese strategic weapons program experienced a crucial year in 1957 when the USSR agreed to supply a sample atomic bomb and to provide technical assistance in the manufacture of nuclear weapons. The agreement to transfer both a bomb and construction technology was followed in December with further agreements in which the Academy of Sciences of both countries approved the construction of nuclear reactors in Chongqing (Chungking), Xian, Beijing, and Shenyang.

Collaboration between China and the USSR for both the peaceful and military uses of nuclear energy was extensive, and by June 1959, when the Chinese claim the Soviets unilaterally abrogated their agreement to assist China in the manufacture of nuclear weapons, the Chinese were well on their way to the development of an R&D program capable of independent growth. Development of the nuclear weapons program, however, cannot be discussed without a review of the internal debate from which it emerged.

Nuclear Weapons and China's Defense Policies: 1954-59

Because China had no nuclear weapons arsenal of its own and was dependent on the USSR for defense against the US threat of "massive retaliation," any public discussions by the Chinese of nuclear doctrine and strategy were necessarily tied to Soviet concepts. In the early 1950s, however, the USSR was going through its own doctrinal debate. With the death of Stalin in 1953, George Malenkov advocated a doctrine of essentially minimum deterrence in which he argued that the mere possession of nuclear weapons was sufficient to deter an American attack. Other members of the Soviet leadership, most notably Nikita Khrushchev, contended that total reliance on nuclear weapons was an error, but that nuclear war would not mean the end of civilization. Toward the end of 1954, the debate clearly moved in favor of Khrushchev when the USSR publicly declared that a nuclear war would not mean the end of civilization but would result in the destruction of capitalism and the survival of communism. In these early years, China's position was pegged to the Soviet position, which was extremely fluid. Nonetheless, it was unlikely that Beijing would enunciate a doctrine prior to an understanding within the Kremlin on what Soviet doctrine would be.

By the spring of 1955, however, the Chinese had began their own internal debate over the significance of nuclear warfare to Chinese military doctrine. Why this debate emerged at a time when China was without its own nuclear weapons and could not anticipate any operational weapons in the near future is a matter for speculation. Possibly, issues of military modernization and the implications of such modernization for the PLA joined the debate over just how China should respond to the threat of nuclear war, as Alice Hsieh has suggested.

Two schools of thought that appear to have emerged in the summer of 1955 seemed to pit Marshal Peng Dehuai, minister of national defense, against Marshals Liu Bocheng and Ye Jianying of the PLA General Staff Department. Peng evidently argued that because of the Soviet nuclear umbrella, China had no reason to fear a surprise nuclear attack from the United States. The PRC would need to maintain only a small standing army since it could rely on the mobilization of trained reserves after the actual outbreak of war or in the event of a national emergency. China could reduce its direct military expenditures and concentrate on the development of a strong economic infrastructure a choice that would, in the long run, create a stronger and more self-supporting defense establishment.

Opposition to Peng's views appeared in Marshal Ye Jianying's July 1955 speech to the First National People's Congress. He referred specifically to the growing capabilities of the US Air Force and, by implication,to the integration of battlefield nuclear weapons into the US ground forces order of battle. Ye Jianying raised the image of a nuclear war against China that would be both tactical and strategic, and he continued earlier Chinese concerns about US defense treaties and bases in Asia, which in 1954 Beijing had said were designed to give the US Air Force the capability to encircle globally both China and the USSR.

Marshals Ye and Liu pressed for strong forces in being, including a capable air force and a ground air defense system to strengthen China's ability to defend against a surprise attack. Their position implied a need to purchase foreign weapons presumably from the USSR to fill the gap until China's own defense industries could take up the slack. They had no enthusiasm for Peng's post attack mobilization strategy or for his desire to place more emphasis on the civil sector of the economy.

This first public debate over the implications of nuclear weapons for China's military strategy came at a time when intensive modernization of the Chinese armed forces was proceeding under Soviet guidance and when China's collaborative efforts with the USSR for a nuclear R&D capability were beginning to bear fruit. China was becoming more and more dependent on the USSR for both its emerging defense industries and its nuclear weapons program. Even as this dependence was growing, modernization of the Chinese defense establishment was creating both doctrinal and economic problems, and the USSR's role in China's military affairs was becoming increasingly controversial. Thus, the strategic debate was linked to other issues of increasing discord.

The debate over the role of nuclear weapons in warfare and their implications for Chinese defense policy continued, even though the basic policy for modernization of the armed forces had been established weapons and equipment modernization would take place in coordination with the overall development of the national economy. This was essentially a "long-haul" policy, and the strategic weapons program was to fall into this pattern of military modernization. There was a lull in the public debate from the fall of 1956 until the summer of 1957, when editorials about Army Day speeches indicated that the long-haul approach was still an issue, and that the extent to which China would rely upon the Soviet nuclear deterrent as the centerpiece of China's defense policy remained a question among some senior members of the defense establishment.

The summer and fall of 1957 also saw dramatic developments in the Soviet strategic weapons program developments that had a definite impact on the situation in China. In August, the Soviets tested an ICBM. In October and November, they launched earth satellites. Official Chinese commentary immediately stressed the military and strategic significance of these tests. After his visit to Moscow in November, Mao Zedong declared that a shift in the world's "balance of forces" had occurred; but he tempered his remarks with the warning that in particular situations the military power of the West had to be carefully weighed." Other Chinese commentaries continued the pattern the new Russian breakthroughs had neutralized the military effectiveness of Strategic Air Command bombers and US bases in Asia, because both the United States and its Asian bases were subject to ICBM attacks against which all forms of air defense were ineffective. Soviet achievements, as interpreted by Mao and the Chinese press, could easily be seen as supporting those whose argument for the long-haul approach was dependent on the Soviet deterrent. In the summer of 1958, it became apparent that those who opposed the long-haul approach were insisting on the rapid development of an independent nuclear capability and were still defending their position.

From May to July 1958, the Military Commission met to try to settle some of the issues facing the defense establishment; but at the conclusion of the conference it was evident that issues dividing the Chinese leadership remained. Attacks on PLA "professionalism" appeared in the press, this professionalism being linked to those who had criticized the CCP apparatus in the PLA and those who had stressed the role of nuclear weapons in modern warfare. The clear implication of these articles was that there remained in the military establishment a core of senior officials who believed it essential that the PLA be rebuilt more quickly than current policy permitted and that the doctrine and strategy of the PLA had to be modified to adjust to the realities of nuclear warfare.

These Military Commission meetings also addressed the upcoming campaign against the offshore islands of Quemoy and Matsu, occupied by Chinese Nationalist forces. The threat to the KMT islands came after Beijing had argued that Soviet ICBM developments had changed the world's balance of forces decisively in favor of the Communist bloc, but it came when the reliability of the Soviet deterrent was being questioned within the Chinese defense establishment. Essentially, two questions were being asked: Was the USSR willing and able to deter the United States from attacking China? Was the Soviet Union willing to assume the role of protector when the security interests of China clashed directly with those of the United States? These questions were more than simply abstract issues. In the first Taiwan Strait crisis of 1954-55 the USSR had been quite ambiguous in its support for China's campaign to "liberate" Taiwan, whereas the United States had indicated that it was willing to use tactical nuclear weapons in defense of the island. During the crisis, it became evident that the USSR was not going to be drawn into a war with the United States that was not of its own choosing; and by March 1955, the PRC had called off its military operations against Quemoy. The PRC could claim a limited victory because Chinese Nationalist troops had withdrawn from Tachen Island during the previous month. Even as the crisis ended, however, the Nationalists began to reinforce Quemoy and Matsu, and the PRC began to build up its military capabilities across the strait.

The military situation in the strait began to look more favorable for the Republic of China (ROC) in 1956 and 1957, a result of improvements in the Nationalist forces due to US military assistance and of the 1957 agreement between the United States and the Republic of China that placed Matador missiles on Taiwan. These surface-to-surface weapons were capable of carrying conventional or nuclear warheads up to 600 miles. Such developments, when combined with the US reduction of its representation to the US-PRC Geneva talks from ambassador to charge d'affaires in early 1958, may well have led the Chinese to believe that the situation in the strait was menacing.

Khrushchev's visit to Beijing between 31 July and 3 August 1958 is quite interesting when seen in this context, for the shelling of Quemoy on 23 August, shortly after Khrushchev left Beijing, marked the beginning of the second Taiwan Strait crisis. Khrushchev's talks with the Chinese leaders were probably designed to alleviate their concern over the USSR's failure to prevent US and British intervention in the Mideast crisis of that summer. If the Chinese discussed with Khrushchev their concern over developments in the strait and their objectives regarding the offshore islands, it is likely that he recommended caution (although in his memoirs Khrushchev states that he was in favor of liquidating the islands in preparation for an attack on Taiwan itself). Once the shelling began, the United States made it clear that it would support the ROC in the defense of the islands. The PRC responded to this American commitment by indicating that it was willing to enter into ambassadorial-level talks with the United States in order to arrange a conclusion to the crisis. Not until Beijing signaled its intention to limit the level of military commitment to the strait did the USSR make an unambiguous statement in support of China. In a letter to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Khrushchev wrote that an American attack on China would be viewed as an attack on the USSR. On 5 October 1958, Khrushchev reiterated this position in an interview with a Tass reporter. The following day, Peng Dehuai offered to negotiate a peaceful settlement with the nationalists and announced that the PRC would suspend the bombardment for one week.

China had deliberately kept the military confrontation at a low level, at no time indicating that the military action directed at the offshore islands was in preparation for an assault on Taiwan. Beijing thereby avoided the risk of a strong American response to its actions and gleaned two messages from this second round in the strait. One message was that the USSR could probably be relied on to deter the United States from an unprovoked attack on the mainland, but not as a nuclear shield for PRC expansion into the Taiwan Strait if that expansion required a conflict with the United States. The second message was that as long as the PRC relied on the Soviet nuclear umbrella, the USSR would limit Chinese military actions against US interests to those that suited Soviet goals and objectives. Such dependence provided a strong argument that China needed its own independent nuclear forces.

According to the Chinese, further problems were emerging from their security relationship with the USSR. The Chinese have stated that the USSR "put forward unreasonable demands to bring China under military control." Beijing's allegations indicated that the USSR was demanding that nuclear weapons, to be built with Soviet assistance, were to be placed within a dual Sino-Soviet control system. The Chinese refused to accept the Soviet demand. This, and a number of other disagreements led to the termination of Soviet assistance for the Chinese nuclear weapons program. The Chinese were criticizing Khrushchev's "peaceful coexistence" policies toward the United States, and the USSR was uncertain about the PRC's future course of action toward Taiwan and the offshore islands occupied by ROC forces, now clearly under the protection of the United States. These disagreements and uncertainties led to the unilateral abrogation by the Soviets of the 15 October 1957 agreement by which the USSR was to supply China with a nuclear bomb and technical assistance in the production of nuclear weapons. After 20 June 1959,the PRC had to continue its strategic weapons program without direct assistance from the USSR.

Indirect assistance did continue, however, for Chinese scientists remained at the Dubna nuclear research facility until 1965, and the rockets shipped to China just before the break were of considerable assistance in the PRC's booster development program. By the summer of 1960, when the USSR severed essentially all of its economic and technical assistance programs, China had already created the critical infrastructure of a nuclear weapons program, including the basis for a ballistic missile delivery system.

The Lin Biao Era

When the Sino-Soviet break occurred, Chinese analysis of its national security and defense policies had to be grounded in the reality that, with the possible exception of an unprovoked attack on the mainland by the United States, the Soviet nuclear umbrella was of no value. This may in part explain the emphasis that was placed on the nuclear weapons program in the years immediately following the break. Over the years 1961-63, a 25-million-electron-volt cyclotron was built in Beijing; a small research reactor was completed in Shanghai; and in Gansu province, a gaseous diffusion plant in Lanzbou and a 600-megawatt plutonium production reactor at Yumen were erected. The extensive nuclear weapons research program, when compared with the relative neglect of the general purpose forces, indicates that a decision was made to concentrate the available human, technical, and financial resources on the development of atomic weapons and ballistic missile delivery systems. Because China had insufficient resources to continue the modernization of all three technology-heavy branches of the armed forces (strategic weapons, air, and naval forces) without Soviet assistance, the decision to concentrate on the strategic weapons program is of singular importance.

Determining what strategic concepts were dominant in the early years of Lin Biao's tenure is difficult, but one source of great interest exists. On 5 August 1963, the Department of State released a collection of documents from the Chinese military publication Gongzuo Tongxun (A Translation of the Bulletin of Activities of the People's Liberation Army- hereafter cited as Bulletin) published from 1 January through 26 August 1961. The Bulletin was published by the PLA General Political Department and distributed to party cadres at the regimental level and above. Its primary purpose was to send Military Commission instructions to senior cadres in the field. Containing no detailed analysis of Chinese strategic thought, these copies of the Bulletin do contain a few appraisals of nuclear warfare and some analyses of the tactics and strategy to be adopted by the PLA when faced with nuclear weapons.

The Military Commission was concerned about two levels of nuclear warfare: (1) a sudden strategic attack followed by a conventional ground attack, and (2) a conventional assault in which tactical nuclear weapons were used on the battlefield. Chinese military leaders saw a sudden nuclear attack as a likely strategy but believed that the adversary could not achieve victory without launching a conventional ground attack. They also believed that the effect of tactical nuclear weapons on the battlefield could be significantly reduced if the battle lines were brought close together through night attacks and close combat. The overriding impression left by the Bulletin's discussion of nuclear warfare was that: (1) the military leaders understood that devastation would result from a strategic nuclear attack, (2) ICBMs would form a major component of their offensive strategic forces, and (3)the initial problem to be resolved by the PLA was how to survive; the second was how to defeat the invading forces in the conventional/tactical nuclear battle that would follow the strategic nuclear strike. The basic concern was how to defend China in the nuclear era.

Chinese nuclear weapons were not discussed at any great length, but the PLA Military Science Academy was identified as having responsibility for developing doctrinal and strategic principles for their future employment. The only hint of an offensive doctrine was a statement that the armed forces must "utilize skillfully the effect of atomic surprise attack."

In the latter part of 1961, Marshal Ye Jianying addressed a Military Commission meeting on military training. Ye indicated that he was familiar with the debate within the United States over the proper balance between nuclear and conventional force structures. "At present some foreign military theoreticians,including some American military theoreticians, maintain that in future wars the final solution will still lie in conventional weapons." Ye may well have been referring to Gen Maxwell Taylor's The Uncertain Trumpet, first published in 1959, in which General Taylor argued that US force structure was wedded to the uncertain doctrine of massive retaliation. He maintained that the basic military doctrine of the United States should be changed to one of "flexible response" through the upgrading of conventional general purpose forces. No doubt the judgments expressed by Marshal Ye also reflected Mao's views of the importance of "man over weapons," for he presented the case that even after a strategic strike had destroyed major sectors of China's industrial base and significant political centers, the actual conquest of China would require destruction of its armies. He also observed that China was going to develop its own nuclear forces that even though the army in the early 1960s was required to fight with the weapons it had on hand, the future PLA would have nuclear weapons with which to fight the enemy.

Since 1964, when China tested its first nuclear device, Beijing's discussions of the use of its own nuclear weapons have been cautious, emphasizing their defensive purpose and pledging "no first use." Unfortunately, there have been no systematic and definitive statements of China's doctrine and strategy for nuclear warfare. All judgments have to be inferential. Nonetheless, in the 1963 polemics surrounding the Sino-Soviet dispute, China's criticisms of alleged nuclear weapons doctrine contain some quite specific references to China's preferences for a Soviet doctrine; and these preferences may well contain indicators of Beijing's own concepts of a Chinese strategy. In criticizing Khrushchev's view of the dangers inherent in a thermonuclear war, a joint editorial published by the People's Daily and Red Flag stated:

We (the Communist Party of China) have always maintained that the socialist countries must achieve and maintain nuclear superiority. Only this can prevent the imperialists from launching a nuclear war and help bring about the complete prohibition of nuclear weapons.

In November 1963, therefore, the Chinese were clearly stating that an adversary is deterred by maintaining a superior capability, arguing that "nuclear weapons must always be defensive weapons for resisting imperialist nuclear threats." Beijing was criticizing Khrushchev's proposition that "the nuclear and rocket weapons created in the middle of this century have changed former conceptions of war," and that "central among all the tasks confronting the anti-imperialist forces in the present era is the struggle to prevent thermonuclear war." This determination to prevent a nuclear war was one of the major reasons Khrushchev gave for a policy of "peaceful coexistence with the United States." The Chinese regarded this policy as "begging the imperialists" for peace, and Beijing's polemicists continued to rebuke the USSR for failing to assume the responsibilities demanded of the leadership of the Communist bloc and of the sole communist state in possession of nuclear weapons.

Not since 1963, however, have the Chinese insisted on nuclear superiority for the "socialist camp." What remains in question is the extent to which the Chinese established a formal doctrine or logic for the employment of nuclear weapons as they entered the Chinese arsenal. Questions have been raised, most notably by John Wilson Lewis, over the degree to which Chinese concepts of nuclear strategy are similar to those of the United States and of the extent to which they believe a minor nuclear power can deter a major through "the threat of a suicidal counterattack." The issue is important because there is inherent danger in assuming that the Chinese view nuclear warfare and nuclear weapons in the same manner and with the same perspective as the major nuclear powers. Therefore, an analysis of Chinese concepts must be made within the context of the particular circumstance surrounding the development and deployment of nuclear weapons.

China's nuclear capability emerged in parallel with quite specific national security crises. First came the 1964-66 escalation of the war in Vietnam; then there was the buildup of the Soviet forces along the Sino-Soviet border, culminating in the border flare ups of 1969; and then, toward the end of this period, as China began its initial nuclear deployments, came Beijing's shift in public pronouncements that the primary threat to China's national security was the USSR.

During the initial period of testing and deployment(1964-70), there is no evidence that Beijing believed China was gaining any greater sense of national security from its nuclear weapons. With the escalation of the American effort in Vietnam, the emerging theme from China was that the United States was shifting its military emphasis from Europe to Asia. From 1967 to 1969, as the Russian buildup along the Sino-Soviet frontier escalated, there emerged the additional theme of Soviet-American "collusion" against China. After 1969, although this latest theme persisted in China's public descriptions of its defense and national security concerns, greater emphasis was placed on the growing threat from the USSR. When the Chinese demonstrated a public fear of imminent war, they stressed the threat of "sudden" or "surprise" attack and the need to prepare for war. In 1969, they began a program of civil defense that continues today. At no time did the Chinese threaten to use nuclear weapons.

Jonathan Pollack has suggested that Chinese public statements about nuclear weapons were influenced by three major sets of constraints beyond specific strategic situations: (1) the United States and the USSR were superior to China in both conventional and nuclear forces, (2) if a major change in Chinese foreign and defense policies could be linked to Beijing's acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability, the perception of China by its neighbors would be affected, and(3) such a weapons-linked change could significantly affect the perception of China by the Communist and non-Communist countries not on China's periphery. China's public statements about its nuclear weapons were designed to avoid raising US and/or Soviet hostility and to reduce the probability that neighboring states would become more fearful of China.

These constraints influenced Beijing's public statements, but had little effect on the PLA's internal evaluations and doctrinal assessments. Strategic and tactical planning was hastened by both the deployment of China's own MRBMs (1969-70) and the Soviets introduction of tactical nuclear weapons in central Asia and the Far East (1971-72). Chinese concepts of deterrence have since come into sharper focus. John Lewis has argued that China does "not normally use the term 'nuclear deterrence' except to describe the doctrines of, or the effects of certain actions on, other states." In a general sense, the Chinese have long used the term hezu liliang - the power to force inaction by frightening - for deterrence.Deterrence when applied to military strategy is discussed as weishe - to force into a state of fear. Nuclear deterrence is defined as heweishe liliang. What the Chinese appear to be objecting to is actually the concept of mutual deterrence. They do not object to deterring others, but the notion that nuclear weapons can be used to freeze both sides into inaction by mutual fear does not fit Chinese concepts of the role of nuclear weapons in warfare. But there is another side to this coin. The Chinese frequently refer to an "imperialist plot of nuclear blackmail," which, combined with their policy of developing and deploying increasingly effective nuclear weapons, can only lead to the conclusion that, no matter how the Chinese choose to define "deterrence" semantically, they believe that their possession of nuclear weapons and effective delivery systems reduces the probability that nuclear weapons will be used against them. As the Chinese develop and deploy more reliable and accurate systems, they will probably develop a nuclear weapons doctrine that is closer to those developed by the United States and the Soviet Union.

There remains the question of the degree to which political competition with the USSR influenced the development of the Chinese nuclear force. With the increasing intensity of the Sino-Soviet dispute, and the pursuit of "peaceful coexistence" by the USSR, the Chinese evidently believed that China had to create its own independent nuclear force if it were to challenge the USSR's leadership. Nuclear weapons were essential not only for national defense, but also in support of China's political challenge to the USSR. The same interpretation could apply to China's claims that its weapons programs were designed to break the nuclear monopoly allegedly sought by the United States, the USSR, and the United Kingdom when these three powers signed the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1963, a treaty signed in Moscow, which can only have added to China's suspicions of the Soviet Union and it alleged collusion with the "imperialist powers."

Any nuclear doctrine that emerges from such a complex set of potential priorities is difficult to untangle. Initially developed with Soviet assistance, China's nuclear doctrine became an integral part of the Sino-Soviet dispute. At the same time, it was performing quite specific national security/national defense functions. The emergence of China's nuclear capabilities presented difficulties for Beijing, and issues of doctrine and strategy became even further complicated when the primary threat to China changed from the United States to the Soviet Union. Even as this shift was occurring, some evidence suggested that high-technology weapons were to become a central issue in an internal debate over resource allocation a debate that coincided with the political crisis that led to Lin Biao's aborted coup plot. The so-called steel-versus-electronics debate began in the spring and continued through the summer of 1971, pitting those who supported increased resources allocation to "electronic technology" against those who argued that steel and heavy industry were the principal foundations of an industrial economy. More specifically, the debate centered on the allocation of resources between the relatively advanced high-technology components and the heavy industry sector. Because the defense industries comprise the largest component of the advanced industrial sector, they would be most affected by the outcome. The precise results of the dispute are not known, but there was a 20-percent drop in defense investment expenditures in 1972, and most of the decrease was accounted for by a reduction in combat aircraft procurement. The impact on the strategic weapons program cannot be accurately measured, but a few inferences can be made from developments in the space program, which is closely associated with the development of rocket boosters for nuclear weapons.

China's first successful earth satellite was launched in April 1970, the second in March 1971; but the third was not launched until July 1975. Since this third space shot was actually the first in a series of three satellites launched in 1975, it is possible that the strategic weapons program was affected by the outcome of the debate to the extent that satellite launchings are part of that program. Nuclear weapons tests continued, however, with detonations in 1971, 1972,1973, 1974, and 1975. Weapons and launcher tests accelerated in 1976, with detonations in September, October, and November, but the evidence is far from conclusive that the pattern was a result of the steel versus electronics debate in 1971.

The People's Republic of China tested its first nuclear weapon and moved into the missile age of nuclear weaponry while Lin Biao was the minister of national defense and de facto head of the Military Commission, but it is difficult to assign progress solely to his guidance. A commitment to the program made before he assumed office continued after his death. The resource allocation conflict in 1971, in combination with the coup plot he led in the same year, may have had the effect of slowing down the program for a few years. Indeed, articles published in 1975 and 1977 criticized Lin for overemphasizing strategic weapons and pressing for advancement of the defense industries at the expense of the civil sector. But the particular context in which these articles were written (the first by supporters of the "Gang of Four," the second in the midst of a major debate over the modernization of the PLA) casts some doubt on the legitimacy of the charges. At least two images of Lin Biao emerge from the military modernization debate. One describes a soldier who was unable to adjust to the demands of modern warfare; the other depicts a man who was willing to distort overall development of the national economy in his excessive commitment to advanced weaponry.

It is correct, however, to state that when Lin died in September 1971, China's strategic weapons program had made significant advances. This is especially notable when the limited available resources and the disruptive effects of the Cultural Revolution are taken into account.

Ballistic Missile Development

The Chinese nuclear weapons program is now 31 years old and over the years has become more and more sophisticated, both in weapons deployed and in the processes of development. Two points of view compete in evaluations of China's achievements. One can argue, as did the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in 1975, that "The PRC has a relatively small, but carefully conceived strategic program." Conversely, the Chinese program can also be viewed as low and erratic, constrained by: (1) cost, (2) a critical shortage of scientific and technical personnel, and (3) political issues and policy disagreements over the extent to which the PRC should be committed to a strategic weapons program. Official US government statements still stress the "carefully conceived" analysis of the force and its development, but evidence in support of this position is sparse.

Nonetheless, it is true that China's deployment practices since MRBMs first became operational in the late 1960s have been carefully conceived, indicating an awareness of the need for the survivable second strike force. The survivability of the Chinese ballistic missile force has been sought by dispersal, careful use of terrain features, mobility and, more recently, hardened silos. Thus, even though missile development was certainly restrained by problems associated with resource allocation and political policy issues, deployment has followed practices necessary for the survival of a minor nuclear force facing a major one.

Information on the development of China's ballistic missile force is extremely limited and difficult to verify. The technology associated with China's program is directly linked to Soviet assistance, but the intellectual core of the program owes much to the Chinese scientists who spent considerable time in the West as students, teachers, and research scientists. A central figure in Chinese rocketry is Dr Qian Xueshen (Ch'ien Hsueh-shen), who obtained his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1938 after graduating from Shanghai's Jiaodong (Chiao-tung)University in 1934 and attending the California Institute of Technology in 1935. During World War II, he was director of the rocket section of the United States National Defense Scientific Advisory Board. In 1945, he was sent to Germany with the rank of colonel in the US Army Air Corps to study German rocket technology. The Korean War and the witch hunts of Senator Joseph McCarthy led to a time of considerable official harassment, and Professor Qian was repatriated to China in 1955. Qian and a number of other scientists trained in the United States and Europe were instrumental in developing the PRC's nuclear warheads and delivery systems. Indeed, the strategic weapons program probably would not have gone as well as it did without their contributions. Thus, the Chinese ballistic missile program is an amalgam of Soviet technology, Western experience, and Chinese ingenuity.

The close association between the missile and space programs makes it difficult to untangle the two, for the boosters used in the space program were developed for military use. For this reason, and because of the intimate connection between the space and military programs, the following analysis will include developments in the space program as part of the development of the ballistic missile program. The primary launch site for both the ballistic missile testing program and the earth satellite program is located at Shuangchengzi, approximately 150 kilometers northeast of Jiuquan (Chiuch'uan) in Gansu province. Two other sites exist, one near Wuzhai in the northern part of Shanxi province and the other near Jingyu in Jilin province. These sites, as with the Shuangchengzi launch area, are used for both ballistic missile testing and the space program.

The Chinese claim that their first guided missile was launched 20 days after the Soviets withdrew in August 1960. It was evidently a Soviet booster, for the announcement specifically stated that the propellant was Chinese made but lacked reference to the rocket's origin. Which rockets the USSR shipped to China prior to the break USSR shipped to China prior to the break in 1960 is unclear, but they were probably either SS-2 Siblings, SS-3 Shysters, or SS-4 Sandals. The SS-2 was essentially a modified version of the German V-2 rocket, using a single RD-101 engine that burned liquid oxygen and alcohol. The SS-3 IRBM, developed from the SS-2, first appeared in the USSR in 1957. The SS-4, deployed in 1958, was developed from the SS-3. From these liquid-fueled boosters, the Chinese developed their own rockets. They used a storable liquid fuel generally believed to be the commonly used combination of nitrogen tetroxide and unsymmetrical dimethyl hydrazine (N2O4/UDMH). The first Chinese ballistic missile to become operational, designated the CSS- I by the United States and Dong Feng (DF) or East Wind 2 by the Chinese, was probably a modified SS-3. The first known test of this missile was on 27 October 1966, and it carried a nuclear warhead. Its reported range is 600 nautical miles (NM) with a 15-KT warhead.

The CSS-1 is transportable (but not tactically mobile), and Chinese photographs indicate that it is deployed in long caravans consisting of the launcher and its support and fueling vehicles. These same photographs show what appear to be an unusually large number of personnel associated with the launch process. The missile is towed on a flatbed launcher to the site. It is then elevated into its firing position through what appears to be a lengthy and complicated process. Quite likely the CSS-1 with its multiple fuel trucks was the subject of a Chinese broadcast which applauded a "fueling squadron" for reducing fueling time from 10 to 6 hours for an undesignated missile. Deployment of this system, begun in 1969-70, appears to have stabilized at about 50 weapons.

The second booster to emerge from China's program, the CSS-2/DF-3, was first tested in 1969, just as the CSS-I was going into series production. Designed to be China's first "modern" missile, it was powered by a single-stage engine. The propellant was N2O4/UDMH. The CSS-2 is capable of carrying a 1 to 3-MT warhead over a range of 1,500 NM. With a height of approximately 67 feet and a girth of eight feet, it was designed to be silo-based rather than transportable. First deployed as a missile in 1972, the CSS-2 also provided the first stage of China's first space launch vehicle, dubbed CSL-1 in the West and Changzheng 1 (CZ-I) or Long March I by the Chinese. It also provided the first stage for the upcoming CSS3/DF-4 IRBM. As a silo-deployed missile, the CSS2/DF-3 rocket would be prefueled, providing much quicker reaction time than the CSS-1. Thus, this second generation Chinese missile improved both range and reaction time.

The space booster developed from the CSS-2/DF3 launched China's first two successful space satellites. In April 1970, the three-stage CSL-1/CZ-1 launched China's first successful space satellite. The first two stages used liquid fuel, the third stage solid propellant. The CZ-1 also launched a satellite in March 1971 the last until 1975, when a new series was begun.

Between the CZ-2/DF-3 and the CSS-4/DF-5 came the CSS-3/DF-4. What the CSS-3/DF-4 was intended to be was never quite clear. Apparently, the launcher itself was a CSS-2/DF-3, but with an added upper stage designed to provide power for boosting a 3-MT warhead some 3,500 NM. Such a test was made in 1970, and continued testing and possible deployment were reported over the succeeding years. The testing programs clearly indicated that China had the potential to deploy a missile capable of reaching European Russia, but only limited deployment occurred. Deployment began in 1975-76, but only four CSS3/DF-4s were believed to be in place by 1984; and one report stated that these launchers were without warheads. Series production of the CSS-2 and CSS-1, with development of the CSS-4/DF-5 and the CSL-2, might have stretched China's RDT&E capabilities to the limit, resulting in a low priority for deployment of what may well be a marginally effective missile.

Development problems evidently precluded initial deployment of the CSS-4/DF-5 as an operational ICBM, but the space-launch version referred to by the Chinese as the FB-1 (Fengbao-Tempest) - was used as the booster for a series of five satellite shots that began in July 1975 and concluded in December 1976. A group from the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) saw the FB-I/CSL-2 on a visit to the Shanghai assembly facilities in late 1979. The workmanship and design philosophy of this two-stage, liquid-fueled, inertially guided launcher impressed the group; they compared the system favorably with the US Titan and Saturn 5 systems. The rocket uses four first-stage gimballed engines and one second-stage engine, all of which burn N2O4/UDMH. China's most recent space booster is a three-stage liquid-fueled rocket designated by the Chinese as the CZ-3. Designed to place large payloads into space, the third or upper stage of the CZ-3 booster burns liquid oxygen and hydrogen. It was used in April 1984 to boost a communications satellite into geostationary orbit.

The absence of any space shots between January 1978 and September 1981 may well have related to CSS-4/DF-5 testing as China prepared for the long range testing of its experimental ICBM. Four partial range tests were reported in 1979: 7 January, 15 July, 21 August, and 4 September, and there might have been one in October. The final test shot was fired in February 1980. Preparation for full-range tests base exercises at the Shuangchengzi site and ship exercises in the Yellow Sea began in March 1980. Finally, on 18 and 21 May, two long-range shots were made into the Pacific Ocean. There seems to be agreement that the first shot was a success, traveling approximately 6,000 miles from the launch site to an area bounded by the Gilbert Islands, the Solomons, Fiji, and the New Hebrides, with splash-down occurring at 0230 Greenwich mean time. The second shot may well have been a failure, coming down perhaps 800 miles off course.

The next major step in China's missile development program was the October 1982 test of a sea-launched system from a submerged submarine. There have been reports of an earlier test (August 1981) that ended in failure, but the 1982 test, apparently from a modified Golf-class submarine, appears to have been successful. That the rocket apparently used solid fuel is of some importance also, and photographs of the launch published in Jiefanun Huabuo (Liberation Army Daily) show a burn pattern normally associated with solid-fueled rockets. This test of a sea-based system in combination with the sea trials of an SSBN (nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine) indicates that China is actively seeking a more survivable deterrent against the USSR. It also indicates that the PRC plans to deploy a more lethal strategic force in support of its commitment to achieve the military capability required for major power status.

Trade offs between ballistic missile development and boosters for the space program have contributed to what appears to be erratic development in both, but the result is that the People's Republic has developed the core of a capability for space-based strategic and tactical reconnaissance systems and for a satellite communications system. It is almost certain that a number of the 16 successful satellites launched since 1970 were designed to test military systems. The fourth satellite, launched on 26 November 1975 while President Gerald Ford was visiting China, was described by the Chinese as having soft-landed with a recoverable photo-capsule. This would give the PRC an initial reconnaissance capability. The simultaneous launching of three satellites from a single launcher on 24 September 1981 could be part of a military program designed to develop a multiple reentry vehicle (MRV) capability for the PRC's ballistic missile program. This possibility was reinforced by the minister of defense, Zhang Aiping, who listed this particular launch as part of the military's ballistic missile development program. China's capability to produce the sophisticated camera and electronic equipment that military satellites require in both reconnaissance and communications is not known, but should not be underestimated.

Capability of Strategic Forces

Because so little is actually known about China's missile force and its deployment, and about the military doctrine underlying this deployment, to make a verifiable assessment of its capabilities is difficult. Some reasonable assumptions about the force can be made however: (1) it is currently not targeted at any country other than the USSR, and (2) its primary military function is to contribute to deterrence of the USSR. Indeed, deterrence is the force's only possible strategic use; its limited size and the probable low accuracy of its warheads make a disarming first strike against the USSR an impossibility.

How does an unsophisticated force of some 50 MRBMS, about 60 IRBMS with a range of around 1,500 NM, perhaps four multiple-stage IRBMs with a range of some 3,500 NM, and around two ICBMs with a range of some 8,000 NM deter a superpower? Even China's 120 Tu-16/H-6 bombers equipped with gravity nuclear bombs add little to this capability, given the Soviet air defense system they would have to penetrate. The dilemma is rendered even more puzzling by the fact that the Chinese have made no attempt to deploy any single missile system in large numbers; they have chosen instead to continue an R&D program in warheads, missiles, and space vehicles.

If the basic doctrine underlying Chinese ballistic missile deployment is to contribute to USSR deterrence, then what is the strategy with which this doctrine is to be supported? Some foundation for an analysis may be derived from a review of the military threat faced by China as its nuclear capability emerged. Although Beijing's initial capability came into existence when the United States was China's primary adversary, deployment of the missile force began as China's perception of the major military threat to its national security shifted from the United States to the Soviet Union. The CSS-1 achieved initial operational capability (IOC) in 1966. Just as deployment began, the Zhenbao/Demansky Island conflict flared up (March 1969) and then spread from the Ussuri River along the border into Central Asia, raising the prospect of a Soviet strike into China a prospect supported by a widespread rumor that the USSR was considering a "surgical strike" on the Chinese nuclear testing facilities in Xinjiang. The veracity of this rumor was augmented by the appointment of Colonel General Tolubko, deputy commander of the USSR's Strategic Rocket Forces, to command the Soviet Far East Military District. Increased Soviet military deployments and realignment of the military districts facing China in Central Asia added to China's perceptions of a growing Soviet military threat. From 1965 to the end of 1969, the USSR increased its deployment of ground forces in the military districts adjacent to the Chinese border from 13 divisions to 21 divisions. This number increased to 30 in 1970 and to 44 in 1971. These forces, including two or three divisions in the Mongolian People's Republic (MPR),were supported by some 1,000 combat aircraft controlled by a coordinated air defense system that was established in the MPR sometime in 1970.

By the time Henry Kissinger visited China in the summer of 1971, dominant voices in Beijing were convinced that China faced a potentially more dangerous and immediate adversary than the United States. This shift in primary adversaries from the United States to the USSR contributed to the achievement of a Sino-American rapprochement confirmed by President Richard Nixon when he visited China in February 1972.

Although Beijing had moved diplomatically into a closer relationship with the United States, China was still faced with obvious strategic disadvantages. China had a long land frontier that was shared with one of the world's two superpowers, and the Soviet Union's military capability far outweighed that of China. The only strategic advantage held by Beijing was that a nuclear strike would be less disrupting to China than it would be to a highly centralized and industrialized society. There were (and are) concentrations of targets in specific regions that would, if attacked, significantly erode China's industrial capability. But, China was still a developing society with 80 percent of its population involved in agriculture and small-scale rural industry, and the consequences of a strategic strike would not be as devastating for China as they would be for a society dependent on highly centralized political and communications systems a condition noted by Marshal Ye Jianying a decade earlier. China's political system was centralized, but its regional military and political structures had the capability to function successfully with relative autonomy. The "worst plausible case" for China remained a strategic nuclear strike followed by a conventional ground assault. Therefore, China's doctrinal problem was how to deter such a move by its adversary while Beijing was deploying its own nuclear deterrent and how to defeat the adversary should deterrence fail. China's emerging strategic weapons deployment could contribute to deterrence, but at the same time it could also create a dangerous instability in the Sino-Soviet relationship.

For the emerging Chinese missile force to be considered a deterrent, it had to be survivable, and survivability could be enhanced through hardened silos, concealment, mobility, and dispersal. China has utilized all four techniques, emphasizing concealment and dispersal. Reliability, accuracy, and reaction time are being improved by China's strategic weapons R&D program. A solid-propellant capability will, of course, contribute to the quick-reaction requirement and a sea-based system will enhance survivability. Nonetheless, it is virtually impossible for Chinese strategic forces to catch up with the Soviets in either qualitative or quantitative terms as long as the Soviet Union maintains its current development program.

China's strategic force planners, operating within a permanent condition of weapons inferiority, consider the entire USSR strategic environment in developing Beijing's deterrence strategy. The confrontation between the Warsaw Pact and NATO, and the strategic relationship between the United States and the Soviet Union have formed major facets of China's discussion of its strategic environment. Indeed, for some years, China has been an avid supporter of NATO, warning that the Soviet Union is a primary "threat" to Europe, not to China. Soviet deployments in the East, Beijing editorials argue, are only a feint and, in fact, are more threatening to Japan than China. Nonetheless, assuming that the Soviet fear of China's ability to cut the USSR's lines of communication to the Far East remains as strong as that reported in 1976 by Lt Gen Samuel V. Wilson, USA, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, then the USSR must be prepared to fight a two-front war against both its adversaries.

It is evident that in their deterrence calculation, Chinese decision makers have included an estimate of the total strategic environment of the USSR. This environment, they hope, will effect the Soviet estimate of the costs of striking China, in that the Western "threat" from NATO and the United States will provide a disincentive to strike.

The second major facet of a deterrence strategy is to affect the adversary's perception of the risk of not striking.If the risk involved in not striking is high, then the incentive to attack is also high. Since China does not have the capability for a disarming first strike against the USSR, a Soviet first strike would appear implausible except under extreme provocation, but this condition could change as China deploys increasing numbers of ICBMs and as sea-based forces become operational. A destabilizing interaction could occur between Chinese deployments and Soviet perceptions of the risk involved in not striking China. Chinese public strategy, therefore, places major emphasis on the first facet of deterrence reducing the adversary's incentive to strike. The complexities of the Soviet Union's strategic relationship to the United States and NATO, including France, are emphasized constantly in China's public statements.

Deterring the Soviet Union is China's objective. This objective is sought by demonstrating a capability to target all of the major cities along the Trans-Siberian railroad system - Vladivostok, Khabarovsk, Irkutsk, Krasnoyarsk, Novo Kuzoetsk, Novosibirsk, Omsk, and so forth. The number of cities being targeted would depend on the location of China's MRBM/IRBM force and the Tu-16/H-6's ability to penetrate Soviet air defense networks. It is feasible for China to target all major USSR cities and military installations within the Trans-Siberian and Far Eastern Military Districts. To a limited extent China can even target European Russia with newly deplorable ICBMs. Such targeting would presumably be countervalue, aimed at creating the greatest level of destruction possible.

Chinese missile force deployment has been determined by both target availability and the survivability problem, resulting in an extremely wide dispersal of sites. This deployment is designed to assure a second strike capability against the Soviet Union. A very large phased-array radar system, constructed in West China, is probably the first step in establishing a ballistic missile early warning system (BMEWS) - necessary for a launch-on-warning capability. China's concern is to make its missile and air forces less susceptible to a Soviet preemptive attack. Unable to contemplate a disarming first strike, China's logic is to inflict the maximum damage on accessible targets - population centers, industrial complexes, and "soft" military targets.

Chinese decision makers must ascertain the level of deployment they can achieve without creating a Soviet incentive to strike first. While an observer cannot answer this question, the Chinese most likely believe they have passed the critical level. When the USSR-PRC strategic relationship is viewed in isolation, the imbalance is very acute; but when the total strategic environment is taken into account, the situation seems more balanced. Nonetheless, the external observer cannot determine the precise strategic values used by the Chinese in calculating the optimum size and composition of their strategic forces. China's capability appears to be sufficient to deter a nuclear strike while the Soviet Union is entangled in a complex strategic relationship with the United States, but an observer cannot determine what the USSR considers an unacceptable level of Chinese capability. Neither can an observer determine what the USSR's long-range goals are regarding China. Therefore, the Soviet Union's logic for a preemptive or disarming first strike against China cannot be known. Whether the Soviet Union launches a nuclear strike against China may have less to do with the balance of military power than with long-term Soviet objectives, one of which may well be to avoid a strategic exchange with China for as long as possible.

General Wilson's 1971-73 discussions with three star generals and above in the Soviet army, navy, and air force led him to conclude that China was a highly emotional issue for them, and that they viewed China as the number one threat, but he judged that disarming the Chinese force was no longer considered feasible by Soviet decision makers. General Wilson also believed that Soviet officers took a very "pragmatic" view of Chinese military capabilities. He judged that the Soviets saw China not as a direct military threat, but "as some sort of parasitic organism that is going to ebb onto Soviet territory . . . as opposed to an all out military thrust after cities and rail junctions and bridge lines, and that kind of thing." It was difficult for the director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, despite his intelligence sources and personal discussions with senior Soviet military officials over a two or three-year period, to define precisely the Soviet perception of the Chinese "threat," but he concluded that the USSR did not have any strong desire to implement a first-strike strategy against China. The Sino-Soviet strategic relationship may begin to enter a new phase, however, as China deploys more ICBMs and anticipates a sea-based deterrent in the near future.


The development of an independent strategic nuclear deterrent was accorded an extremely high priority in China's overall program of military modernization. After the Sino-Soviet break in 1960,it is quite possible no other military program received higher priority than strategic weapons and their delivery systems. Neither the purge of Peng Dehuai nor the demise of Lin Biao had any profound or lasting effect on the strategic weapons program. Debate and disagreement over the cost and allocation of resources to strategic weapons did occur, but none argued that the program should be dropped. Lin Biao was charged with placing too much emphasis on strategic warfare and strategic weapons, but at no time was the program itself attacked. In the midst of a debate over the modernization of the PLA in the mid- to late 1970s, strategic weapons became items of contention again, but the need for them was never questioned.

Technological and economic issues will probably determine how fast the modernization program advances. Only a major change in the global strategic structure would cause the Chinese to advance their strategic weapons program on a crash basis. China's retaliatory capabilities will remain extremely limited for the foreseeable future. Current programs are designed to improve the survivability, reliability, and accuracy of future systems. Beijing's weapons serve not only as a deterrent against the USSR, but also as a clear and unambiguous statement that China can sustain its independence in a nuclear-armed world.