05 December 2014
China’s nuclear arsenal has long been an enigma. It is a small force, based almost exclusively on land-based ballistic missiles, maintained at a low level of alert and married to a no-first-use doctrine – all choices that would seem to invite attack in a crisis. Chinese leaders, when they have spoken about nuclear weapons, have articulated ideas that sound odd to the Western ear. Mao Zedong’s oft-quoted remark that ‘nuclear weapons are a paper tiger’ seems to be bluster or madness.
China’s nuclear forces are now too important to remain a mystery.
Yet Westerners continue to disagree about basic factual information concerning one of the world’s most important nuclear-weapons states. This Adelphi book documents and explains the evolution of China’s nuclear forces in terms of historical, bureaucratic and ideological factors. There is a strategic logic at work, but that logic is mediated through politics, bureaucracy and ideology. The simplest explanation is that Chinese leaders, taken as a whole, have tended to place relatively little emphasis on the sort of technical details that dominated US discussions regarding deterrence. Such profound differences in thinking about nuclear weapons could lead to catastrophic misunderstanding in the event of a military crisis between Beijing and Washington.
'An important book which must be read by anyone concerned about the survival of the
planet. The author shows that China and the US could drift into a nuclear confrontation
unless both sides engage in a serious nuclear dialogue.' Morton H. Halperin
'This book systematically explores all the important aspects of China’s nuclear weapons
policy and practice. It is a pioneering effort that consciously avoids the bias caused by
the US practice of mirroring, which interprets Chinese nuclear policy according to the
security outlook and perceptions of the US.' Li Bin, Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Professor, Tsinghua University
'I had no idea so much had been learned about China's nuclear weapons programmes, policies, organisations, and diplomacy, in the decade that Jeff Lewis has been studying this crucially important and fascinating subject. Here is everything you could want to know--I'd say more, except that once you're engaged it becomes worth knowing. Meticulously documented, this is--for now!--the authentic analysis of China's nuclear status.' Thomas Schelling