On 28 July 21, most leading newspapers in the world published the news of Federation of American Scientists, stating that China is building a second field of nuclear silos for launching nuclear missiles. If true, this development would constitute the most important expansion of Chinese nuclear arms, till date.
On completion of the Hami and Yumen silos and if their stocking too is completed, Chinese ICBMs will outnumber that of Russia and be equal to half of silo-based arsenal of United States.
The US based scientists came to this conclusion after studying the commercial satellite photographs and pinned the location to be near city of Hami in Eastern Xinjiang province, which may contain 110 silos. Hami is approximately 1683 aerial kms away from Leh.
Earlier, in June this year, a similar discovery was made near the city of Yumen in western Gansu province, where construction of 120 missile silos was noted.
The numbers of silos under construction are a significant increase as China was believed to have only 20 silos for its liquid fuelled DF-5 ICBM. On completion of the Hami and Yumen silos and if their stocking too is completed, Chinese ICBMs will outnumber that of Russia and be equal to half of silo-based arsenal of United States. After the Cold War era, construction of 250 ICBM silos by a nation is a very significant and worrying development.
Though the number of ICBMs that will be deployed in the new silos is unclear and the purpose of construction maybe to decoy, it will give China the ability to double its 250-300 nuclear warheads, which it maintains as a “minimum deterrent”.
On the face of it, this new construction appears to be a logical reaction by China in the power race between QUAD nations and China in South and Central Asia and in Indo- Pacific. The reader will recall that this is a very volatile region with nuclear armed India confronting nuclear armed China and Pakistan in a ‘no war, no peace scenario’. In addition, Iran is in earnest pursuit to become a nuclear armed nation and the power struggle in Afghanistan is making its South and Central Asia neighbours, nervous.
This development calls for an urgent initiative on the part of US or US – Russia combines to invite Beijing for “arms control talks”. US and Russian leaders have confirmed the wisdom and sagacity of their predecessors by renewing the last arms control treaty, moments before it expired, when in January 2021, they renewed “New START” till February 2026. During their 16 June 21 meeting at Geneva, US and Russia reaffirmed their nation’s belief that a nuclear war is a sure recipe for “mutually assured destruction” and that there are no winners in a nuclear war,
US today treats China as the primary threat to the world order and is withdrawing / scaling down its commitments in Afghanistan, Iran and Syria, to focus on China.
Even before Intermediate Range Nuclear Force (INF) Treaty terminated in August 2019, there was an effort to include China in the INF renewal talks. Chinese representatives did attend the last rounds of meetings in June 2019 but they remained firm on their stand that they will officially join an arms control talks with US and Russia, only if they are both willing to reduce the size of their nuclear arms to the level of China.
Since China announced its arrival in the nuclear arms arena in 1964 and strengthened its position in 1974 by launching its first nuclear powered submarine, the world has been worried about China’s rise as a militarily powerful nation. It’s claim on Taiwan, Senkaku islands and the Nine Dash line in South China Sea, coupled with its policy of String of Pearls to dominate the Indian Ocean and its Belt Road Initiative, has made China a nation which appears to challenge the existing rule-based order prevalent in the world since the end of World War 2. US today treats China as the primary threat to the world order and is withdrawing / scaling down its commitments in Afghanistan, Iran and Syria, to focus on China. It has given an impetus to the security group of QUAD when the US President, for the first time, convened a meeting of the QUAD leaders on 12th Mar 2021.
There is an apparent likelihood that a crisis with China may precipitate into a nuclear war, if the conventional losses threaten the nation.
Chinese belligerence in South China Sea, its growing influence in the Western Pacific region and rapid modernisation of its Armed Forces (Xi has put a deadline of 2027 to modernise the PLA to the level of the US armed forces) including ongoing nuclear weapons modernisation efforts have prompted US Senators to call for modernisation and increase of US nuclear warheads and delivery means.
US till now has resisted from taking major steps in modernisation as that would to spark a nuclear competition and an arms race between US, Russia and China would ensue, giving an impetus to North Korea, Pakistan, Israel, France and United Kingdom to join in.
But the ongoing trade war, fresh sanctions, the threat of China to leverage its monopoly in Rare Earth midstream and downstream products, arming of Taiwan, are all keeping the pot boiling and keeps the threat of a new edition of Opium War, alive.
China as part of its nuclear arms modernisation, is reported to be replacing liquid fuelled missiles with solid fuelled missiles…
Need is to diffuse the likelihood of a nuclear confrontation and arms control talks are the only way forward. To initiate this, both US and Russia must take the initiative and invite China for serious arms control talks. Talks can be initiated by the United Nations too to prevent miscalculation and reduce risk of nuclear conflict. The UN initiative for Arms control should include not only US, Russia, China, France and UK but also India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea.
China as part of its nuclear arms modernisation, is reported to be replacing liquid fuelled missiles with solid fuelled missiles, increasing the number of multiple warhead long range missiles, putting more ICBMs on mobile launchers and increasing its fleet of nuclear-powered and nuclear armed submarines.
Modernisation of the PLA is clearly aimed to maintain a strong deterrent against US and its allies. Though the Chinese arsenal is much smaller than that of US or Russia, which are over ten times stronger but if unchecked by arms control treaties, they remain a grave threat in today’s geo political scenario.
In an interview, US Secretary of State had stated that “US will pursue arms control to reduce dangers from China’s modern and growing nuclear arsenal”.
China appears to be in sync with US and Russia in arms control talks and supports non discriminatory disarmament and minimum deterrence but they maintain their position on the need for US and Russia to make profound and purposeful reduction in the numbers of active warheads and their delivery means. This necessitates US and Russia to reduce their massive nuclear arsenal and they should and are duty bound to do so in accordance with the aim of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which aims to completely in eliminate nuclear arms from the world. China too is a signatory to NPT since 1992 and has the obligation to help end the nuclear arms race to achieve complete disarmament.
As a confidence building measure, these nuclear armed nations can ink a treaty similar to the now obsolete “Open Skies Treaty”
To enable China to participate in arms control talks, besides reducing their own stockpile, both US and Russia must adopt a more pragmatic approach and address China’s concerns. Chinese leadership, too, should respond with productive concepts, to enable arms control talks to progress towards a meaningful arms control treaty. This will portray China as a responsible and peaceful nation, contrary to the growing belief around the world.
To begin, US and Russia could initiate a nuclear security dialogue with Beijing, aimed to lay bare on the table, clarity on their nuclear posture and to establish better lines of communications, to avoid miscalculations in an emergency.
China should also be invited in developing a plan to strengthen the existing arms control related treaties such as NPT, CTBT, MTCR, Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty and the New START. These talks should be held with all stake holders who have nuclear arsenal including North Korea. As a confidence building measure, these nuclear armed nations can ink a treaty similar to the now obsolete “Open Skies Treaty”.
Importantly, a consensus to open the nuclear plants, the nuclear arsenals and their delivery means to a regime of “verifications” under the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), similar to the one prevalent in New START, must be instituted. This in itself will be a huge success and a big check on each nuclear armed nations as it is this regime of verifications that has made the New START a success (and erstwhile INF too).
A joint understanding is also required to be inked to prevent cyber warfare to disrupt nuclear Command and Control of nuclear nations.
UK, a signatory to NPT, in March 2021 surprisingly announced that it will increase its nuclear warheads from 180 to 260, a 44 percent increase. It set the tone for nuclear sabre rattling and the ongoing visit of its Aircraft Carrier-based Battle group in South China Sea is further queering the pitch.
…the world is witnessing a prelude to an impending disaster of catastrophic consequences.
This necessitates a moratorium on the numbers of the nuclear warhead and their delivery means by all nuclear armed nations and be subjected to periodic verification.
Concurrently, US and Russia should not deploy nuclear arms and their delivery means on foreign soil, to threaten each other or China. The verification mechanism must include the locations of all forms of delivery means including land, sea and air based and this information must be known to all signatories.
With ever increasing tension between China and US, China and Taiwan, China and Japan, China and India, China and South China Sea littoral nations, China and Australia and between China and NATO, the world is witnessing a prelude to an impending disaster of catastrophic consequences.
This dictates that China must be engaged in effective arms control and disarmament talks. It appears to be a difficult step but herein, the US and Russia’s leadership must show the sagacity displayed by their nations through late 1950s and till date and initiate a free and frank dialogue with China, however difficult it may be because there are no winners in “Nuclear War”.