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Current Nuclear Threats in East Asia

HKano
May 26, 2023

Current Nuclear Threats in East Asia

Physicists Coalition for Nuclear Threat
Tong Zhao
Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University;
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

HKano

May 26, 2023
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  1. Current Nuclear Threats in
    East Asia
    Tong Zhao
    Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University;
    Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
    Japan Physical Society, 9 PM US ET, Tuesday, 21 March 2023

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  2. Main changes in China’s nuclear policy
    • Change in numbers
    • Open source research:
    • For decades: ~200 weapons
    • 2015: ~230
    • 2018: ~280
    • 2021: ~350
    • 2023; ~400
    • DoD annual report to Congress:
    • 700 in 2027; 1,000 in 2030; 1,500 by 2035
    • Other estimates
    • Change in structure: nuclear triad (now publicly
    mentioned)
    • ICBM silos
    • Road-mobile ICBMs
    • SSBNs
    • Strategic bombers
    • Change in narratives
    • “lean and effective”
    • 2021: “high-level strategic deterrent… system”
    • 2022: “powerful strategic deterrent capabilities system”

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  3. Fissile materials as the main bottleneck
    • Two CFR-600 Demonstration Fast Reactors, Fujian Province
    • Described as part of “Civil-Military Fusion” program
    • Civilian Reprocessing Pilot Plant, Gansu Province
    • Stopped reporting to IAEA since 2017
    • 200 tHM/year Demonstration Reprocessing Plant, Gansu Province
    • Under construction
    • Two plants in total are being built
    • 2022 NPT Review Conference: deletion of the call for a moratorium
    on fissile materials
    3

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  4. Technical level drivers
    • New technological threats to China’s nuclear deterrent
    • Missile defense, CPGS, advanced sensors, cyber, etc.
    • Missile defense:
    • Worst-case scenario thinking; even a small U.S. homeland missile defense system could be
    threatening
    • Demise of the INF treaty
    • Limitation of technical-level factors
    • Lack of abrupt change of U.S. capability or policy
    • Silos not ideal for addressing missile defense concern (primary Chinese technical
    concern)
    • Chinese officials cited other reasons (safety and security)
    • Chinese experts not aware of nuclear buildup and do not understand the rationale

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  5. Political-level factors
    • All Chinese paramount leaders emphasized the political value of nuclear weapons
    • Mao Zedong: imperialist countries “look down upon us because we don’t have atomic bombs and only have
    grenades…therefore China should have atomic bombs and develop hydrogen bombs as soon as possible.”
    • Deng Xiaoping: “If China had not had atomic and hydrogen bombs and launched satellites since the 1960s, it would not have
    been able to be called a major power with significant influence and would not have had the international status it has now.”
    • Deng also pointed out: if China was to have a higher status and more say in the future world order, it must be backed by a
    strong nuclear power.
    • Jiang Zemin: “strive to build a lean and effective strategic nuclear force commensurate with China's great power status.”
    • Hu Jintao: “build a strategic missile force commensurate with China’s major power status.”
    • What’s new under Mr. Xi
    • He believes China’s success at achieving “great power status” today causes a fundamental problem
    • Structural force in international relations
    • Power-centric mindset
    • Nuclear weapons are the ultimate demonstration of strategic capabilities
    • Emphasis on warfighting as demonstration of political loyalty?
    • “fighting spirit”
    • New role for PLARF: “strategic balance” (战略制衡)、”strategic deterrent and control” (战略慑控)、and “strategic decisive victory” (战
    略决胜)
    • Early warning and launch under attack

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  6. Nuclear risk over the Taiwan Strait
    • Taiwan Strait conflict a growing concern for Japan
    • A new sense of urgency in China under Mr. Xi
    • A military option by 2027
    • Pushing nuclear to the forefront of China-U.S. security relationship
    • Growing Chinese interest in developing nuclear escalation management
    capabilities.
    • Departure from massive retaliation doctrine
    • Proportional retaliation against regional targets
    • More accurate theater-range nuclear systems
    • Uncertain Chinese interest in low-yield nuclear weapons
    • US W76-2 warhead yield: ~5 kt
    6

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  7. Russia-China nuclear cooperation
    • Missile defense; early warning; joint strategic bomber patrols
    • Future possibilities?
    • Mr. Xi’s visit to Russia
    • Nuclear submarine technologies (AUKUS)?
    • Sharing bases and facilities?
    • 2022 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review
    • Two nuclear near-peer competitors
    7

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  8. DPRK’s rapid nuclear expansion
    • Simultaneous development of strategic and tactical nuclear weapons
    • Ambition to acquire a secure second-strike capability against the U.S.
    homeland
    • Compare with China
    • Destabilizing impact of tactical nuclear weapons
    • Even more dangerous, as other countries (such as South Korea) also increasingly reply on
    rapid response
    • Bottleneck
    • Fissile material
    • Political costs of conducting nuclear and ICBM tests.
    8

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  9. How Japanese scholars/scientists can help?
    • Political measures
    • Understand negative impact of information/perception gap on China’s own interests
    • Promote a No-First-Use debate?
    • Only issue that China is interested in discussing, but Japan traditionally opposes
    • A limited Taiwan Strait NFU between the U.S. and China?
    • A limited Korean Peninsula NFU zone?
    • Promote a regional dialogue on tactical nuclear weapons?
    • With a focus on Korean Peninsula
    • Specific technical-level nuclear policy measures
    • Raise awareness of consequences of a nuclear conflict
    • Including the consequences for Chinese people (even Chinese experts are not necessarily aware)
    • Joint expert study on radioactive impact of a region nuclear conflict?
    • Clarify misunderstandings on specific policy issues
    • Joint expert study on Fukushima waste water discharge?
    • Joint expert study on potential lessons of Japan’s Rokkasho plant for China’s plan to build a 800 tHM/year reprocessing facility?
    • Empower Chinese experts
    • Chinese experts are increasingly marginalized in domestic decision-making
    • Joint regional expert-level dialogues (China-ROK-Japan)?
    9

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