Strategic Weapons: The Chinese Paper Tiger

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December19, 2006: While China has had nuclear weapons for four decades now, they have never built a force that could have much impact on the United States. For most of that time, China's nuclear missiles were pointed at Russia. During the 1970s and 80s, relations with Russia were decidedly frosty, and there were several border skirmishes, that produced hundreds of casualties. Even today, after more than a decade of better relations with Russia, China only has twenty missiles that could reach the United States. These are liquid fueled, take hours to get ready for launch, and spend most of their time off-line. And even if these missiles were made ready, they could only threaten the Western United States.

Meanwhile, the United States has over 800 missiles that could reach China, and most of them are ready to fire 24/7. How many of those missiles are aimed at China is a well-kept secret, but China has about 200 nuclear warheads, while the U.S. has over 9,000. Even with planned reductions, and expected growth in the Chinese arsenal, in the next ten years, China will have perhaps 300 warheads, and the U.S. will still have about 5,000. By then, China may have as many as a hundred missiles that could reach all of the United States. This assumes that China finally figures out how to build a SSBN (ballistic missile sub) that actually works reliably, and then puts them on patrol off the west coast of North America.

Perhaps China realizes that the chances of the United States using, or even threatening to use, nuclear armed missiles against China are slim to none. In that case, why should China spend a lot of money trying to match the American arsenal.

 


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