Report: Trump Nuclear Posture Review Overstates China’s Nuclear Arsenal Modernization Plans

Chinese Arsenal Significantly Smaller, Less Capable Than U.S. Arsenal

Published Feb 1, 2018

WASHINGTON (February 1, 2018)—A leaked draft of the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) misrepresents the status of China’s nuclear forces, according to a white paper released today by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

“China has made slow but steady incremental improvements to its nuclear arsenal,” says paper author Gregory Kulacki, China Project manager at the UCS Global Security Program. “But the gap between China and the United States is too wide to argue that the United States is lagging behind in any meaningful way. In fact, the exact opposite is true. By any measure, the U.S. arsenal is far superior.”

Regardless, the leaked NPR draft erroneously states that the United States needs new nuclear weapons because “China is expanding and modernizing its considerable nuclear forces” and is pursuing “entirely new nuclear capabilities.”

Among other things, the paper points out that:

  • the U.S. arsenal of 4,480 active and reserve nuclear warheads is more than 10 times the size of the Chinese arsenal;
  • the United States has 400 ground-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, at least four times more than China’s 75 to 100 ICBMs; and
  •  12 U.S. nuclear-capable submarines currently carry 900 warheads while China’s four ballistic missile submarines carry none.

“There is no evidence that nuclear weapons are becoming more prominent in China’s military strategy or that China has changed its longstanding no-first-use policy,” says Kulacki. “Chinese military sources emphatically state that China’s only security objective with its relatively small nuclear force is to retain the ability to retaliate in the event of a nuclear attack.

“If the Trump administration were truly concerned about limiting the size and capability of China’s nuclear forces,” he added, “it would ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which China signed in 1996, and negotiate a fissile material control treaty, which China supports. Doing so would cap the size of China’s nuclear arsenal.”