China’s growing nuclear arsenal is creating a new global threat and could upend 70-year-old power dynamics: expert

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China’s nuclear ambitions could lead to a tripolar landscape and increased proliferation as it seeks to put itself on a level playing field with the United States and Russia.

“It’s one thing to have some kind of bilateral nuclear superpowers knowing the world as it is now, but as we move towards a trilateral, trilateral situation, the potential for accidents and miscalculations naturally increases” , James Anderson, acting under secretary of defense for policy under President Trump, told Fox News Digital. “And that’s a shame.”

The international landscape remained in a bipolar dynamic between the United States and Russia as two dominant powers due to a policy of mutual assured destruction (MAD) thanks to their virtually unrivaled nuclear arsenals. This balance of power remained in place for more than 70 years.

Fu Cong, center, director general of the arms control department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, attends a press conference on nuclear arms control in Beijing, China, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. The senior Chinese control official of Arms denied Tuesday that his government is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal, although he said it was taking steps to ensure its nuclear deterrent remains viable in a changing security environment.  (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
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Fu Cong, center, director general of the arms control department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, attends a press conference on nuclear arms control in Beijing, China, Tuesday, Jan. 4, 2022. The senior Chinese control official of Arms denied Tuesday that his government is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal, although he said it was taking steps to ensure its nuclear deterrent remains viable in a changing security environment. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)
(AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

However, China has recently invested significantly more in its nuclear arsenal and capabilities, developing a wide range of nuclear weapons in its land, sea and air delivery platforms that aim to bring it up to par with the United States. United and Russia. John Kirby in November 2021 said “the Pentagon’s number one challenge is the People’s Republic of China”.

In 2020, the Pentagon estimated that China had an arsenal in the “low 200s,” but that number is expected to “at least double” over the next decade. A Pentagon report last year claimed that China “likely intends to have at least 1,000 warheads by 2030, exceeding the pace and size of the [Defense Dept.] planned for 2020.”

If China reached this level of power, it would disrupt the bipolar dynamic since the MAD would no longer remain effective: if two powers hit each other, the third has a lot to gain from the conflict. Mutual destruction is no longer assured, and this necessarily forces all nations to change their behavior and policies.

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The only apparent silver lining is in the difference between the American, Russian and Chinese arsenals: even with its aggressive expansion, China still has a lot of ground to catch up with its rivals.

“I think if we use pure numbers, they still have some way to go, especially on what we consider to be Russia’s spare capabilities,” said Matt McInnis of the Institute for the Study of war at Fox News Digital.

“China still has somewhere in the range of, you know, maybe around 300 or so, three or 400,” he explained. “It’s likely that they’re going to be, based on current US government estimates, up to 700 weapons by 2027, probably a thousand by 2030, and it could go north from there. … You’re not going to really probably get parity until well, until the middle of the century.”

FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 4, 2013.

FILE PHOTO: Chinese President Xi Jinping shakes hands with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) inside the Great Hall of the People in Beijing December 4, 2013.
(REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool//File Photo)

China’s aggressive expansion would lead to a potential tripolar international dynamic, in which it would be on par with the United States and Russia and offset the delicate balance and could lead to greater nuclear proliferation in other countries.

“I think that’s another potential risk that we absolutely have to consider,” Anderson explained. “It’s certainly a relevant case here, given the Indo-Chinese rivalry. They’ve been fighting border wars and clashing recently, and I think you’d be very concerned now and become more so as the PRC was embarking on this nuclear expansion.”

McInnis also pointed to the Middle East as a candidate for accelerated proliferation if China achieved its goals, but speculated that the countries closest to China – namely South Korea and Japan – would certainly consider to change their non-nuclear policies.

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“What Japan and India are doing is the more interesting question,” McInnis said. “And I think that’s something to be aware of – the risk they run if they continue to pursue other powers that radically change the nuclear balance in the region.”

Treaties remain a critical part of the bipolar landscape, but the developing tripolar landscape has not offered a clear opportunity to try to develop similar agreements: any arms control agreement would require Russian participation, which seems far with relations between Moscow and Washington at a low level after the invasion of Ukraine.

“I personally am not optimistic that now is a realistic time for [negotiations]because the Russians are obviously not interested in any kind of cooperative negotiations with us as the war rages on in Ukraine,” Heino Klinck, senior adviser at the National Bureau of Asian Research, told Fox News Digital. “I don’t think we would. I even want to address anything that looks like any kind of cooperation with the Russians.”

China's naval fleet passes through naval mine threat zone during Sino-Russian military drill

China’s naval fleet passes through the threat zone of naval mines during the Sino-Russian military exercise “Joint Sea-2021” near the Peter the Great Gulf on October 15, 2021 in Russia.
(Sun Zifa/China News Service via Getty Images)

The failure to develop meaningful arms control puts the United States at a disadvantage as it struggles to find a way to cooperate with China and control the pace of proliferation.

“If you look at Secretary Blinken’s recent speech, obviously the administration is looking for opportunities for cooperation as much as possible. [with China]”, Klinck said. “I think that even if an opportunity for some sort of cooperative arms control agreement is unrealistic … it should be part of the standard American talking points when engaging with the Chinese.”

Klinck argued that the United States is unlikely to get “any kind of positive response” from China.

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“I think they’ll just push back,” he said.

The three experts also indicated that China’s arsenal is not the only element that requires rigorous examination: any nuclear arsenal is only a posture, unless China also changes its doctrine.

A key element of MAD policy focuses on the “first strike”, which holds that a country is capable of destroying an adversary’s arsenal while surviving weakened retaliation; therefore, rendering their adversary unable to continue the war.

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In contrast, a “no first use” doctrine posits that a country will not use nuclear weapons unless first attacked by them. China has so far maintained an NFU policy and would likely change it if it planned to stand on par with the United States and Russia.

“We need to seriously think about … reassessing our own policy in this regard if we’re faced with a world power like China ready to adopt a first strike,” McInnis said. “I think we need to reflect – we need to communicate our willingness to change policy if we see China going in that direction.”

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