Behind the Buildup: Explaining Chinese Motivations for Nuclear Modernization




Haynes, Susan Turner

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Since the end of the Cold War, China is believed to have doubled the size of its nuclear arsenal, while the other NPT nuclear weapon states have cut their forces in half. My dissertation explores the motivations behind China's decision to diverge from its NPT counterparts and buildup and diversify its nuclear force. To identify contributing variables, I analyze a variety of Chinese language sources, including government reports, journal articles, news articles, public speeches, conference notes, and military manuals. These sources indicate that China views the unipolar world structure helmed by the United States as a direct threat to China's national security. China must thus manage its "smaller" regional deterrence relationships in the context of US-dominated world order, and it must base its security decisions on the security decisions made by the US. Specific decisions by the US over the past twenty five years have not alleviated China's concerns. In particular, China finds US missile defense and US advancements in conventional high-precision weaponry to be indicative of a larger shift in US nuclear strategy from limited deterrence to maximum deterrence. In consideration of the inimical consequences of a this kind of shift to Chinese interests and regional stability, China has responded by reconsidering its own nuclear strategy and nuclear force structure, moving away from minimum deterrence and toward limited deterrence. This transition and China's requisite force growth have also allowed China to display a growing capacity for technological and scientific innovation and for it to narrow the qualitative gap between China's nuclear force and the forces of the nuclear superpowers. This gap will likely continue to lessen and China's nuclear force will likely continue to grow unless US action is taken to mitigate Chinese concerns.



International relations, China, Nuclear deterrence, Nuclear strategy, Nuclear weapons