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The Big China Nuclear Threat No One Is Talking About

Published by The National Interest

By Zachary Keck

One of the most consistent aspects of China’s military policy is likely to undergo a significant transformation. Since its first nuclear test in 1964, China has maintained a relatively small nuclear arsenal designed to hold adversaries’ population centers at risk. Even as it has modernized its conventional forces to “fight and win wars” against first-class militaries like that of the United States, China’s nuclear arsenal is estimated to contain just 264 warheads, far smaller than the 1,550 strategic nuclear warheads Russia and America will each deploy under the New START Treaty, to say nothing of the nearly thirty thousand warheads they maintained during the Cold War.

This smaller arsenal is consistent with China’s different perspective about the nature of deterrence, as well as its no-first-use nuclear doctrine. At the same time, a couple of technical developments are likely to propel China to undertake a significant nuclear buildup in the coming years.

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