Why China will go full steam ahead in the nuclear arms race
Cary Huang says China has the greatest incentive to boost its nuclear capabilities in the developing arms race between the world’s top nuclear powers. The build-up, however, undermines efforts towards non-proliferation and increases the chances of the weapons being used
Has the cold war made a comeback? It may or may not have, but the resurrection of a cold war-style nuclear arms race is obvious, as the world’s three most powerful militaries are all now singing the same chorus, expressing their desire to enhance their nuclear capabilities.
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Among the big three, China has greater incentive to expand its nuclear arsenal, in view of its comparative disadvantage in nuclear force, which is incompatible with its fast-rising national strength.
China has long committed to the tenet of not being the first to use nuclear weapons “at any time under any circumstances” and has pledged to never use nuclear weapons against a non-nuclear nation. China maintains a “second strike” strategy, which means “to survive a first strike and then inflict unacceptable damage on an adversary” as a nuclear deterrent.
But China, like past rising great powers, is also unlikely to accept decisive nuclear inferiority in perpetuity as it seeks to resume its historic status as a great world power. Moreover, America’s superiority and its capabilities to reduce or eliminate China’s ability to make a retaliatory strike might force Beijing to consider giving up its long no-first-use posture. China is likely to speed up its nuclear build-up and enhance its deterrent capabilities in a catch-up race, as the nuclear sabre-rattling persists.
Cary Huang is a senior writer at the Post