China’s Nuclear Force: Modernizing from Behind (2018)

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Despite modernization efforts, China's nuclear force remains less capable and much smaller than the US arsenal.


China has been improving the quality and increasing the quantity of its nuclear forces since its first test of a nuclear-armed missile in 1966. The pace of these improvements has been steady but slow, especially when compared with the growth of China’s economy. Yet, after a half-century of effort, China’s nuclear arsenal remains smaller than the US nuclear arsenal was in 1950.

Unless the United States dramatically reduces the size of its nuclear arsenal, the limitations of China’s current nuclear weapons modernization program guarantee an overwhelming US superiority in number and capability of nuclear forces.

The most effective means to allay US and allied concerns about the future size and capability of China’s nuclear force are to:

  • Prevent China from producing more of the fissile materials needed to make nuclear warheads.
  • Prevent China from testing new nuclear warhead designs.

Both can be done using arms control agreements.

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