China’s Nuclear Weapons Strategy

Published Mar 19, 2015


In December 2013, the Chinese Academy of Military Sciences published an updated version of The Science of Military Strategy, an authoritative text written by 35 Chinese military scholars on matters of Chinese security. The new edition assesses China’s nuclear forces and nuclear weapons policies, and articulates the military’s interpretation of how U.S. policies influence China’s nuclear strategy.

As covered at length in the text—and as revealed in a new translation by the Union of Concerned Scientists—nuclear weapons continue to play a very limited role in Chinese military strategy. The authors explicitly state that China will not use nuclear weapons to attack or threaten non-nuclear states; that China will not use nuclear weapons in response to any conventional (non-nuclear) attack; and that China will only use nuclear weapons after confirming an incoming nuclear attack.

The text’s authors are concerned about losing their nuclear capabilities to a destructive first strike. To address this, the Chinese army plans to implement some version of hair-trigger alert, enabling the rapid launch of nuclear weapons if an incoming attack is confirmed. The text includes some mentions of new early-warning capabilities, though specific details remain unknown.

Despite these developments, nuclear weapons remain a very minor part of Chinese strategy, with an explicitly limited role as a deterrent

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