China's Evolving Nuclear Capability

Oct 31, 2013 | 15:40 GMT

A Chinese nuclear-powered submarine prepares to dive.
A Chinese nuclear-powered submarine prepares to dive.

(AFP/AFP/Getty Images)


Despite notable progress over the past few years, the sea-based leg of the Chinese nuclear triad will remain significantly constrained by geographical and technological factors. In the last week the Chinese media have provided unprecedented coverage of the shadowy Chinese nuclear submarine force. During a slew of media reports and interviews, numerous Chinese military analysts have emphasized that China's nuclear ballistic missile submarines are now capable of conducting extended deterrent patrols.

This news is not entirely surprising. In its 2012 draft to the U.S. Congress circulated in November 2012, the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission indicated that China was on the cusp of attaining a credible nuclear triad. The report came at a time when the U.S. Department of Defense had emphasized Chinese military progress, including the projected fielding of a new submarine-launched ballistic missile by 2014. While it is important to highlight such Chinese advancements, limiting factors must be kept in mind as well. For now, China must rely on its land-based nuclear arsenal as a deterrent against the West.

The Chinese sea-based strategic nuclear deterrent still lags considerably behind leading powers....

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