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China’s Cyber Ability Seen As Risk to U.S.

China’s cyber capabilities have advanced enough to pose a “genuine risk” to U.S. military operations in the event of a future conflict between the two countries, according to a recent report released by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Timothy Farnsworth

China’s cyber capabilities have advanced enough to pose a “genuine risk” to U.S. military operations in the event of a future conflict between the two countries, according to a recent report released by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

The report found that the Chinese military has conducted “joint information offensive and defensive operations” that are geared toward disabling communications and logistics command and control systems and that Chinese “information warfare weapons are increasingly being coordinated with conventional weapons units.” They would likely be deployed pre-emptively, that is, prior to any direct U.S.-Chinese conflict, the report said.

The report also found that the United States lacks a policy to determine “appropriate response options” to a large-scale cyberattack in which “definitive attribution is lacking.” China could use this vulnerability in order “to create delays in U.S. command decision making,” the report said.

The report, “Occupying the Information High Ground: Chinese Capabilities for Computer Network Operations and Cyber Espionage,” is a follow-up to the commission’s 2009 report. It includes updates on developments in China’s cyberwarfare strategy and examines new issues related to cybersecurity. Northrop Grumman Corp. prepared both reports on behalf of the commission, which was created by Congress in October 2000 to monitor, investigate, and report to Congress on the national security implications of the relationship between China and the United States.

Several U.S. officials have said the United States needs to improve its cyberwarfare capacity. Last month, Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter said during a speech in Arlington, Va., that the Pentagon needs to do more to increase its cyberwarfare capabilities and that the United States has fallen behind some other countries.

ACA Senior Fellow speaks about Territorial Missile Defense at Paris Conference



Prepared Remarks by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association, delivered March 6, 2012 at the Salle de la Commission de la Defense in Paris at a conference sponsored by the: Institute for Peace Research and Security Policy at the University of Hamburg; Institut de Relations Internationales et Strategiques; British American Security Information Council; and Arms Control Association.


Territorial Missile Defense and
Reassurance of Flank States

Prepared Remarks by Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association

“NATO’s Future Deterrence Posture: What Can Nuclear Weapons Contribute?”
Paris, France
March 6, 2012

The Lisbon Summit Declaration of November 2010 included a decision “to develop a NATO missile defence capability to provide full coverage and protection for all NATO European populations, territory and forces…”  And it invited Russian cooperation in this task.  The stated target of these systems was “the increasing threats posed by the proliferation of ballistic missiles.”

Evolution of U.S. Missile Defense Objectives

I am going to begin with some blunt talk about the achievability of territorial defense against ballistic missile attack, based on the American experience.  The United States has, at various points, vigorously pursued such defenses.

Missile defense was first directed against Soviet attack; then it was reoriented as a defense against a much smaller Chinese attack; then population defense was dropped, in favor of defending ICBM fields.  The U.S.-Soviet ABM Treaty, signed in 1972, limited the number and location of such defenses and specifically prohibited deployments designed to provide defense of the national territory.   Although the U.S. “Safeguard” strategic missile defense system was compliant with that treaty, it was scrapped for cost-effectiveness reasons only nine months after becoming operational.

During his two terms as president, Ronald Reagan revived America’s interest in missile defense with his dream of “rendering ballistic missiles impotent and obsolete.”   Reagan launched his “Strategic Defense Initiative” in 1983 and promised the exploitation of new technologies, including the use of exotic space-based weapons.

His administration buttressed its case for the weapons by pointing to Soviet violations of the ABM Treaty and by portraying Soviet missile defense research and development efforts as evidence that the Soviets were themselves preparing to break out of the treaty.

Soviet Missile Defenses

For their part, the Soviets had long sought to defend their capital and national leadership against U.S. air attack – targeting first bombers, and later ballistic missiles.  In the 1960s, they began deploying a ring of strategic missile interceptors with nuclear warheads around Moscow.  Yet they never succeeded in creating a reliable and effective missile defense; U.S. warheads and the options for countermeasures were too numerous and the radars on which the Moscow system relied too vulnerable.  The Reagan administration’s depiction of Soviet R&D development efforts on energy weapons turned out to be greatly exaggerated.  Moreover, when the Soviets were caught building the Krasnoyarsk radar – a major, albeit technical, treaty violation – they were ultimately forced to dismantle it.

A vestige of Moscow’s ABM system remains to this day, but the Russian Federation is now far behind in strategic missile defense technology and harbors few illusions about the feasibility of territorial defense against ballistic missile attack.

America Keeping the Faith

Not so the United States.  America retains its faith-based approach to strategic missile defense.  Having invested well over $100 billion since Reagan launched what critics dubbed “Star Wars,” total expenditures for missile defenses over the last decade have been running roughly $10 billion per year, even though the stated mission objective is now confined to dealing with “simple” ballistic threats from newly emerging, nuclear weapons states.  The Reagan era program was downgraded under the presidencies of the elder George (H.W.) Bush, and Bill Clinton, who limited yearly expenditures to around $1 billion.

But an alarmist report by the Rumsfeld Commission on ballistic missile threats in 1998 and an attempted satellite launch by North Korea using a three-staged rocket a few months later had a huge impact on public and congressional perceptions.  By March 1999, the U.S. Congress had passed a bill by large margins in both houses, declaring it to be the policy of the United States “to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack.”  Three consecutive U.S. presidents have now embraced this policy.

In the year 2000, President Clinton judged the technology not sufficiently ripe for deployment, but that turned out to be merely a bump in the road toward implementation of a territorial missile defense policy.  Ready or not, the new administration of George W. Bush wasted no time in withdrawing from the ABM Treaty and deploying the first strategic missile defense interceptors in Alaska and California by the fall of 2004.

It is important to note that the threat against which these strategic missile defenses were developed has not materialized.  The Rumsfeld Commission predicted that Iraq, North Korea, and Iran could each have ICBMs by 2003, but nine years later, none of them do.

Where are the ICBMs? -- In Russia and China, of course!

Not in Iraq.  Saddam’s ballistic missile threat had already been cut short by the First Gulf War.  Even before the March 2003 invasion, Saddam was being forced to destroy the most capable ballistic missiles left in his inventory – the short-range  al-Samouds.

Not in North Korea.  The DPRK has conducted two flight tests of the Taepo Dong 2 ICBM class system.  The first flight in 2006 failed shortly after launch.  An attempt to launch a satellite with the same booster rockets failed in 2009.  Last week, North Korea announced agreement to a moratorium on further long-range missile launches.

Not in Iran. The Islamic Republic has not yet conducted any flight tests of an ICBM.  Senior U.S. military officials have indicated Iran is currently concentrating on development and deployment of medium-range ballistic missiles with ranges of roughly 2,000 km.  Iran’s last MRBM test occurred more than one year ago.

Current ballistic missile threats from hostile proliferants come not from long-range systems, but from those with ranges below 3,000 km.  Theater ballistic missile defenses are potentially useful against such shorter-range missiles topped with high explosives – to mitigate losses to civilian populations, military forces, and infrastructure – but they do not affect the strategic balance.

Opportunity Costs

Unfortunately, U.S. determination to protect the option of deploying strategic ballistic missile defenses of the national territory, has not only diverted attention from acute threats to U.S. forces and regional allies, it has also carried heavy opportunity costs.  The United States missed two chances to negotiate significant cuts in strategic offensive arms – with the Soviet Union at Reykjavik in 1987 and, with Russia in the late 1990s during efforts to bring START II into effect.  Depending on how we handle missile defenses in the months ahead, we may be on the verge of missing a third chance.

I’ve tried to be frank in describing the nature of the ballistic missile threat we face, taking note of the exaggerations that plague our public discussion of the issue.  I must be equally frank in acknowledging that delusional thinking about strategic missile defense is now deeply engrained in U.S. declaratory policy and public consciousness.

Articles of Faith

The Missile Defense Act of 1999 remains our political charter, even if its evidentiary foundations are built on sand.  Domestic political dynamics are conspiring against rational course correction.

Opponents of New START ratification found missile defense an effective line of attack against the treaty.  Even the treaty’s recognition of “the interrelationship between strategic offensive and strategic defensive arms,” was depicted as a shameful concession to Russian negotiators.

Every defense policy shift or budget reduction is now judged by according to whether it implies a failure of commitment to the cause of strategic missile defense.  Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney last week accused President Obama of just such a failure.

But would they work?

Last October, Secretary of Defense Panetta referred to the existing strategic missile defense system as “very remarkable.”  Senior military figures have joined the official chorus attesting to its effectiveness against future Iranian or North Korean missiles.

Yet none of the ongoing tests of these systems have occurred under operationally realistic conditions. U.S. intelligence officials have acknowledged that any state capable of building an ICBM can also build simple decoys to spoof missile defenses.  But U.S. strategic missile defenses have never demonstrated the ability to discriminate decoys and other clutter.  The Pentagon’s Director of Operational Test and Evaluation reported in January: “To date [the system] has demonstrated a limited capability against a simple threat.”  He also noted that the last two flight tests had failed.  The last successful test under carefully controlled conditions was in 2008; the next test has been postponed to allow for causes of the last failure to be addressed.

Russian Concerns

Moscow does not seem particularly troubled by the 30 U.S.-based strategic interceptors.  However, the advanced Aegis systems planned for the later phases of Obama’s European Phased Adaptive Approach have caused acute concerns.  Whether real or feigned, Russia has reacted with alarm to the prospect of seeing European-based and highly mobile strategic interceptors on its periphery by the end of the decade.

Moscow has demanded legal assurances that U.S. missile defenses are not intended to threaten Russia’s strategic deterrent.  For the reasons to which I alluded, such formal assurances have not been forthcoming, and if they were, they would probably be rejected by the Senate.

Presidential campaigns in the United States and Russia have not created a propitious climate for reaching political compromise.  But it may yet be possible to secure agreement on a blueprint for cooperation prior to NATO’s Chicago Summit in May.  The more cooperation that can be achieved, the less threatening U.S. missile defenses will seem to the Russians.


NATO’s upcoming Deterrence and Defense Posture Review provides an opportunity for progress.  Several of you were involved in drafting a joint letter to NATO Secretary General Rasmussen last July.  Among other things, the letter suggested the DDPR reiterate NATO’s assurance that its current and future missile defense capabilities are not “targeted” at Russia’s strategic forces and that NATO member state missile interceptor deployments would be designed and configured to address third party missile threats as they emerge.  Such a written assurance could form the basis of a missile defense cooperation framework.

There have been a number of creative ideas for making cooperation concrete.  A Euro-Atlantic Security Initiative (EASI) Working Group chaired by former senior officials of the United States, Russia, and Germany, have recommended pooling and sharing data and information from early-warning radars and satellites in Cooperation Centers staffed by U.S., NATO, and Russian officers working together.  The latest issue of Arms Control Today features in its cover story a proposal by Dean Wilkening to build a joint ballistic missile early warning radar in central Russia.

Guidelines to Consider

Let me end by listing my own conclusions on the subject of our panel.

All NATO states have enormous stakes in the success of U.S.-Russian negotiations to further reduce nuclear weapons stockpiles.  U.S. missile defense forces are more likely to be an obstacle rather than an inducement to Russian movement in the desired direction.

Russia’s attitude is not pathological.  Russia is doing what the United States did when the tables were reversed.  During the Cold War, U.S. fears about Soviet ABM systems helped stoke the large increase in U.S. ballistic missile warheads.  It was only after the 1972 ABM Treaty capped strategic missile defenses that the path was opened toward eventual reductions in deployed offensive warheads.

Russia responded favorably to Obama’s European Phased Adaptive Approach as a substitute for Bush’s “Third Site” plan.  Future deployments were tied to actual rather than theoretical ballistic missile threats and strategic missile defenses in Europe were not anticipated before the end of the decade.

But if phases 3 and 4 of Obama’s plan are truly “adaptive,” then they must be contingent on the actual progress and intent of Iran’s ballistic missile program.  This link must be made convincing and explicit to the Russians. Moscow must be able to see something other than immovable dates for the deployments and vague place-holders in the matrix showing the number of interceptors to be deployed.  As it is, Moscow sees the quantity of advanced SM-3 interceptors as infinitely expandable and NATO’s “territorial defense” language as pointing toward Russia’s strategic forces – not those coming from Iran during the next 6-8 years.

If U.S. missile defense deployments in Europe are tied to the level of threats from the Middle East, then they should not be expected to address other security concerns.  European flank states should enhance their security through other measures, which do not gratuitously provoke their large eastern neighbor.

Alternative ways to strengthen the alliance bond might include: periodic presence of U.S. and other NATO troops for training purposes; active participation in alliance institutions and activities; and greater political integration within the EU.

Reasons for Hope

U.S. missile defense efforts have the potential of derailing continued progress in reducing the bloated nuclear arsenals of the Cold War.  But I see two reasons to hope for a different outcome:

-- First, fiscal pressures on the U.S. defense budget will force the Administration and the Congress to get off the Cold War autopilot.  They will create strong incentives for the U.S. military to shift resources away from political programs like strategic missile defense toward those, which can increase military capabilities that count in the real world.

-- Second, Europe is now a player at the missile defense table.  NATO has offered political support, real estate, and financial resources for the Phased Adaptive Approach.  Europe therefore has a new ability to tame some ill-considered American instincts.   I hope it will actively seek to influence U.S. policy when that policy veers in a direction, which provides a net loss to the security of the alliance.

I’ve seen it happen before with regard to INF in the 1980s.  The Europeans – particularly the basing countries (Germany, the UK, Italy, Belgium, and the Netherlands) – made it very clear to a reluctant Reagan administration that it could not have one part of the Dual-Track Decision (deploying new weapons) without the other (seeking to reduce that category of weapons through arms control).

I think we need Europe’s help again.

Thank you for your attention.

Country Resources:

Subject Resources:

China Cited by Foes of Nuclear Budget Cuts

Congress should reconsider proposed cuts to U.S. nuclear weapons spending in light of uncertainties about China’s nuclear weapons program, some lawmakers and security analysts are arguing.

Kathleen E. Masterson

Congress should reconsider proposed cuts to U.S. nuclear weapons spending in light of uncertainties about China’s nuclear weapons program, some lawmakers and security analysts are arguing.

Other analysts, however, have said there is little evidence to support some of the more threatening scenarios.

The modernization of China’s and Russia’s nuclear arsenals and delivery systems was the subject of a House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee hearing on Oct. 14. The hearing took place in the context of a recent debate over proposed budget reductions to U.S. nuclear weapons modernization efforts, which the subcommittee chairman, Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), denounced in his opening remarks as tantamount to “unilateral disarmament.”

The purpose of the hearing was to highlight what Turner and others have characterized as the potentially ominous long-term implications of simply maintaining the United States’ existing nuclear forces while China and Russia continue to modernize. With the U.S. government slated to cut defense spending by more than $450 billion over the next decade, proposed reductions for funding nuclear modernization have gained traction in Congress. However, opponents of these cuts increasingly have pointed to the opacity of China’s nuclear weapons program and the growing threat the program could represent.

In his testimony at the hearing, Mark Schneider, senior analyst for the National Institute for Public Policy, shared Turner’s misgivings. “The Russians and the Chinese are modernizing every element of their strategic triad,” he told the subcommittee, referring to the three methods for delivering nuclear warheads: ballistic missile submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and bombers.

However, Jeffrey Lewis, director of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies’ East Asia Nonproliferation Program, said that every nuclear-weapon state, including the United States, continues to upgrade its nuclear warhead delivery platforms. Lewis also told the committee that although China and Russia have focused on modernizing their means of delivering nuclear weapons, neither country has attempted to create new nuclear devices.

“Now is not the time to be reducing American nuclear and conventional deterrent capabilities, especially in Asia,” Richard Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center told the subcommittee. Citing China’s policy during the Vietnam and Korean wars, Fisher concluded that any “perceived weakness in the United States” will “embolden [China] to take risks.”

Recent concerns have arisen in the wake of the Pentagon’s latest report on Chinese military capabilities, which described a 5,000 kilometer-long series of underground tunnels used by China’s Second Artillery Corps to house China’s nuclear weapons. The Chinese military has used tunneling as a defensive technique for decades, however, so the existence of such an underground network is “hardly surpris[ing],” Jonathan Pollack, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said in a Nov. 14 interview, although he expressed skepticism about the facility’s estimated size.

During the hearing, Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo.) said the tunnels might be a “very destabilizing factor” in the nuclear world order, citing concerns that China might use the underground network to increase the size of its nuclear stockpile without being detected. His questions appeared to reflect a position held by some U.S. security analysts that Beijing is secretly planning to race to nuclear parity with Russia and the United States as Moscow and Washington decrease the number of operationally deployed strategic warheads in accordance with the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Although it is impossible to make definitive claims about Beijing’s nuclear ambitions, such a scenario is “not very probable,” said Robert Hathaway, director of the Asia program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. “I don’t think the Chinese believe they need a numerical parity with the U.S. or Russia,” Hathaway said. “Once you reach a certain level,…everything else is simply redundant,” he said. China now is at that level in number of warheads and “very shortly” will have the capability to deliver those warheads, he said. Pollack agreed, saying that nuclear parity with the United States is “not in [China’s] aspirational set.”

Policymakers such as Turner also have expressed concerns that Beijing is modernizing its nuclear delivery systems, most notably its ballistic missile submarines. According to the Pentagon report, however, the Chinese navy has built and deployed up to five operational ballistic missile nuclear submarines, but the submarine-launched ballistic missiles to be loaded in them are not yet operational.

In contrast, the United States “relies hugely” on sea-based nuclear warheads to secure its second-strike capability, Pollack said. Beijing’s decision to pursue a similar deterrent is not necessarily threatening, but would “represent a qualitative change” in China’s nuclear capabilities, he said.

China's Nuclear Modernization Efforts Cast A Long Shadow

An image taken from inside China's 5,000-kilometer long network of tunnels (Source: The Korea Times) By Kathleen E. Masterson The modernization of China and Russia's nuclear arsenals and delivery systems were the subject of a House Armed Services strategic forces subcommittee hearing on Oct. 14. The hearing took place in the context of a recent debate over proposed budget reductions to U.S. nuclear weapons modernization, which strategic forces subcommittee chairman, Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH), denounced in his opening remarks as tantamount to "unilateral disarmament." The purpose of the...

U.S.-China Ties Weather Taiwan Arms Deal

Although news of a $5.9 billion U.S. arms agreement to Taiwan initially caused China to warn that the deal could derail U.S.-Chinese relations, the relationship appears to be stable.

Benjamin Seel

Although news of a $5.9 billion U.S. arms agreement to Taiwan initially caused China to warn that the deal could derail U.S.-Chinese relations, the relationship appears to be stable.

Speaking in Indonesia on Oct. 23, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta commended the Chinese for handling news of the arms deal “in a professional and diplomatic way.”

Panetta noted that he had “heard nothing that indicates that [China is] taking any steps in reaction” to the deal.

China’s immediate response to the news of the deal was a statement by Vice Foreign Minister Zhang Zhijun to U.S. Ambassador to China Gary Locke on Sept. 21, warning that sales to Taiwan would “inevitably cause damage to Sino-U.S. relations,” according to a ministry press release.

Initially, China threatened to respond by cutting off military ties and canceling diplomatic meetings.

At an Oct. 11 meeting between Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell, Cui said he wanted to discuss the two countries’ differences to “prevent them from excessively interfering in the normal development of China-U.S. relations,” according to The Washington Times.

The sale includes a package to retrofit 145 F-16 A/B fighter jets with new radar, weapons systems, and structural upgrades; an extension of a training program; and parts for three types of aircrafts.

New F-16 C/D planes, requested by Taiwan since 2006, are not included. However, a senior administration official speaking during a Sept. 21 conference call with reporters said the sale of new planes “is still under consideration.”

In a press release the same day, Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) said that not selling new F-16s was a “capitulation” to China and a “failure by the Administration to live up to its obligations under the Taiwan Relations Act.”

The Obama administration has sold more than $12 billion in arms to Taiwan in the last two years. Taiwan’s current fleet of F-16 A/Bs was purchased in 1992.

China and Russia Submit Cyber Proposal

China and Russia surprised the international community last month when they submitted a letter at the UN General Assembly outlining a proposal for an International Code of Conduct for Information Security.

Timothy Farnsworth

China and Russia surprised the international community last month when they submitted a letter at the UN General Assembly outlining a proposal for an International Code of Conduct for Information Security.

The Sept. 12 proposal, which was supported by Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, came less than two months before the first major international conference on establishing international norms in cyberspace is set to take place in London.

The Chinese-Russian proposal discusses the security challenges cyberspace presents to the international community and would establish rights and responsibilities of states in protecting information networks and cybernetworks. The proposal says states should respect domestic laws and sovereignty, but also calls for a multilateral approach within the framework of the United Nations to establish international norms and settle disputes about cyberspace.

It is unclear what the next steps are for the proposed code. The proposal is being disseminated as a UN document for discussion purposes, but could be presented as a General Assembly resolution, a UN expert familiar with the proposal said Oct. 19.

During an Oct. 20 discussion of cybersecurity in the General Assembly’s First Committee, Chinese Ambassador for Disarmament Affairs Wang Qun said that China submitted the code “with a view to launching an open and transparent process for developing, within the framework of the UN, international norms and rules for information and cyberspace security, which, we hope, will prompt countries to act responsibly and constructively in information and cyberspace and address concerns of all parties in a balanced way.”

The Chinese-Russian proposal drew criticism from current and former U.S. officials. According to Jason Healey, who served as director for cyberinfrastructure protection at the White House under President George W. Bush, the proposal is a way to undermine U.S. and British efforts to establish international norms for cyberspace that will protect networks and critical infrastructure while supporting global efforts to protect the free flow of information.

“The overall sense from the U.S. government seems to be that this covers old ground in an attempt to score points and regain the initiative for a more repressive Internet prior to the upcoming global conference hosted by London,” Healey wrote in Sept. 21 blog post for the Atlantic Council, where he now is director of the Cyber Statecraft Initiative.

At a Sept. 27 cybersecurity conference in Washington, Michele Markoff, a senior policy adviser on cyber affairs at the Department of State, said her “personal interpretation” is that the proposal shows that China and Russia “don’t care what we think,” according to The Huffington Post. That attitude is surprising because the United States has had “some good bilateral conversations” on cybersecurity issues with the two countries, she said.

Information Security Versus Cybersecurity

A potential obstacle to U.S. support may be the term “information security,” which is used throughout the document.

The Chinese-Russian proposal would classify information communication technologies, including sites such as Twitter and Facebook, as weapons if their use violated individual state laws. The proposal says that states would agree that they would not “use information and communications technologies, including networks, to carry out hostile activities or acts of aggression, pose threats to international peace and security or proliferate information weapons or related technologies.”

According to cybersecurity analysts, China and Russia see the free flow of information over social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook as a direct threat to their governments. Apparently in response to the Arab Spring, the two countries are tightening access to many of the social networks used by the demonstrators.

U.S. government statements emphasize that the free flow of information is a fundamental right. In its “International Strategy for Cyberspace,” released in May, the Obama administration said that many governments “place arbitrary restrictions on the free flow of information or use it to suppress dissent or opposition activities.” The document went on to say that “[p]reserving, enhancing, and increasing access to an open, global Internet is a clear policy priority” of the United States. (See ACT, June 2011.)

The Role of the State

The proposal calls on the international community to establish international norms, something that the United States and its allies have advocated. However, the Chinese-Russian approach places a greater emphasis on the role governments should play in combating cybersecurity threats.

The document declares that “policy authority for Internet-related public issues is the sovereign right of States, which have rights and responsibilities for international Internet-related public policy issues.” It goes on “[t]o reaffirm all States’ rights and responsibilities to protect, in accordance with relevant laws and regulations, their information space and critical information infrastructure from threats, disturbance, attack and sabotage.”

“At their heart, [China and Russia] seek to justify the establishment of sovereign government control over Internet resources and over freedom of expression in order to maintain the security of their state,” Markoff said in her Sept. 27 comments.

In his blog post, Healey said there are two “glaring omissions” in the proposal. First, he said, it should add language holding states responsible for cybercriminals, patriot hackers, and militias acting as agents of a state. The United States and its allies believe such criminals carry out cyberattacks against them. Healey also argued for language that applies current laws of armed conflict to cyberspace. “All nations should agree the laws of armed conflict apply [to cyberspace]; if not, then hospitals become legitimate targets,” he said.

According to the proposed code, countries should “settle any dispute resulting from the application of this Code through peaceful means and refrain from the threat or use of force.” In his Oct. 20 statement, Wang said that “countries should work to keep information and cyber space from becoming a new battlefield, prevent an arms race in information and cyber space, and settle disputes on this front peacefully through dialogue.”

The language appears to be a response to recent U.S. statements on cyberspace and cyberwarfare. The administration’s May cyberspace document declared that the United States has “the right to use all necessary means—diplomatic, informational, military, and economic—as appropriate and consistent with applicable international law, in order to defend our Nation, our allies, our partners, and our interests.”

The Pentagon’s recently released cyberwarfare strategy was an attempt to strengthen U.S. cyberdeterrence policy by defining cyberspace as a new domain within which to operate, much like air, sea, land, and space. (See ACT, September 2011.)

Chickens Talking With Ducks: The U.S.-Chinese Nuclear Dialogue

Talks between China and the United States on the countries’ respective nuclear weapons programs are going nowhere. Each side expresses frustration and disappointment with the other. The problem could be that the two sides are talking past each other, like chickens talking with ducks, as the Chinese say.

Gregory Kulacki

Talks between China and the United States on the countries’ respective nuclear weapons programs are going nowhere. Each side expresses frustration and disappointment with the other. The problem could be that the two sides are talking past each other, like chickens talking with ducks, as the Chinese say.

After more than a decade of discussion, the two parties cannot seem to move past the first item on their agenda: declaratory policy. U.S. security analysts and military planners discount China’s pledge not to be the first to use nuclear weapons. Their Chinese counterparts resent this derision of the nuclear taboo. Moreover, they see U.S. incredulity as a way to deflect attention from Chinese questions about why the United States is unwilling to provide the same assurance.[1]

The U.S. participants in these talks do not appear to respect anyone, from either country, who takes a no-first-use pledge seriously.[2] To them, the pledge is an expression of naïveté or mendacity. They suspect, therefore, that the Chinese individuals participating in bilateral talks either cannot or will not speak truthfully about China’s “actual” nuclear weapons policy.[3]

The Chinese participants do not understand U.S. suspicions. They mistakenly ascribe U.S. mistrust to a hegemonic arrogance that has led the United States to use nuclear threats as part of a broader U.S. policy intended to intimidate and contain China. It is difficult for Chinese analysts to appreciate why a country with overwhelming conventional military superiority is unable to make a basic confidence-building commitment that a much weaker China finds acceptable.

The U.S. response to this impasse is to search for a different set of Chinese interlocutors. U.S. security analysts and military planners scour Chinese military literature to look for kindred Chinese authors who view China’s commitment to a no-first-use policy as they do. Some U.S. analysts believe they located strong candidates in authors from the Second Artillery, the branch of the Chinese military that operates China’s land-based nuclear missile forces.[4] Obama administration officials responsible for the U.S.-Chinese nuclear dialogue are pressing to talk directly with the leadership of the Second Artillery in the belief that they will speak with a different and more authoritative voice than the officials sent previously by the Chinese government.[5]

However, the most authoritative Second Artillery source on China’s nuclear operations cited in U.S. publications—a classified textbook used to train China’s nuclear missile forces[6]—suggests U.S. analysts and administration officials are mistaken. The Second Artillery, like its civilian counterparts at the negotiating table, carries out its respective responsibilities under the assumption that China will continue for the foreseeable future to operate a small nuclear arsenal that is kept off alert and is to be launched only in retaliation after a nuclear attack. Contrary to the speculation of some U.S. analysts, there is no discernible departure from China’s declared nuclear policy in the classified operational procedures of the Second Artillery.

U.S. participants in the bilateral dialogue on nuclear weapons should accept that China’s nuclear weapons policy is fundamentally different from that of the United States and that the Chinese policy deserves U.S. attention and respect, despite understandable U.S. doubts about its viability. If the U.S. side would stop trying to choose whom China sends to the table, Chinese participants in the bilateral dialogue may come to see that U.S. doubts about Chinese nuclear weapons policy reflect legitimate differences in beliefs about what is necessary to prevent a nuclear war. Genuine mutual respect, which seems to be in short supply on both sides of the table, could break the impasse.

The Second Artillery’s Textbook

The Second Artillery is sometimes called China’s strategic rocket forces. Created in 1966 to operate China’s nuclear missiles, the Second Artillery added conventionally armed missiles in the late 1980s at the beginning of an accelerating conventional military buildup that continues today. The link between this conventional buildup and the Second Artillery’s role in imagined conventional conflicts precipitated discussions within the Second Artillery about fighting those conflicts under conditions of nuclear coercion.

The U.S. refusal to provide China with an assurance that the United States would not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a military conflict with China weighed heavily on Second Artillery deliberations.[7] Language in the 2002 U.S. “Nuclear Posture Review Report” suggesting possible U.S. first use of nuclear weapons against China in a military conflict over Taiwan aggravated the Second Artillery’s anxieties about its ability to manage such a conflict successfully.[8]

As these developments unfolded, the Second Artillery prepared to publish updated new teaching and training materials for the officers and soldiers who operate China’s strategic rocket forces. A series of books entitled The Science of Operations, consisting of a general text and more specialized texts for each branch of the Chinese armed forces, was produced at the request of the Chinese leadership as part of a decades-old process to expand and standardize all professional military education and training.[9] A classified textbook that recently attracted the attention of U.S. analysts,[10] entitled The Science of Operations of the Second Artillery, was a product of this process.

Contrary to many U.S. analyses of open-source Chinese military publications, the authors of this classified textbook do not debate or call into question China’s current nuclear weapons policy. Moreover, the text repeatedly emphasizes that nuclear weapons policy is a political decision that lies with the Chinese leadership, not with the Second Artillery. As the title suggests, the textbook discusses how the Second Artillery will operate China’s nuclear weapons under the conditions set by China’s nuclear weapons policy as determined by the Chinese leadership, including China’s no-first-use commitment.

“Deterrence” Versus “Coercion”

The vocabulary of nuclear weapons policy was created and developed in the context of the nuclear arms race between the United States and the Soviet Union. U.S. and Russian arms control negotiators and defense analysts continue to dominate its usage. Chinese arms controllers imported this foreign vocabulary to interact with their peers from abroad.

In 2006, after decades of interaction, U.S. and Chinese arms control experts realized they needed a mutually agreed-on bilingual glossary to help minimize misunderstandings created by “the never-simple translation of one language into the other” and “differing interpretations of terms.”[11] Over the course of 18 months, the two sides were able to reach agreement on approximately 1,000 terms related to nuclear security. Despite extensive efforts, they were unable to reach consensus on some key concepts.

The most important concept lacking a mutually acceptable definition in the glossary is “limited deterrence.” U.S. analysts who argue that the Second Artillery may pursue a different Chinese nuclear weapons policy claim it embraces a policy of limited deterrence as opposed to the policy of “minimal deterrence” supposedly articulated by the Chinese participants in bilateral discussions. The difference, according to U.S. analysts, centers on Chinese preparations to fight and win a nuclear war. Limited deterrence imagines pre-emptive or retaliatory nuclear strikes against enemy forces and victory on the battlefield using “counterforce” targeting. Minimal deterrence imagines retaliatory strikes against enemy population centers, the political leadership, or critical economic infrastructure, otherwise known as “countervalue” targeting.

The etymology of the term “limited deterrence” makes it especially difficult to discuss in a U.S.-Chinese dialogue. Limited deterrence is not part of the traditional vocabulary developed by U.S. and Soviet arms control experts. A member of the U.S. team for the glossary project discovered the term in Chinese military texts.[12] He developed an interpretation of Chinese nuclear weapons policy based on how he believed the term “limited deterrence” was used in these texts. The Chinese participants in the glossary project rejected limited deterrence as a definition of Chinese nuclear weapons policy. Although the term does appear in some Chinese military texts, the Chinese participants informed their U.S. counterparts that it was not authoritative and that the U.S. definition of the term did not accurately describe Chinese nuclear weapons policy.

The assimilation of foreign vocabulary on arms control and nuclear weapons policy by Chinese civilian analysts, officials, and negotiators occurred at the same time the Second Artillery was developing its teaching and training materials on nuclear operations. However, the two groups never engaged in purposeful collaboration on terminology.[13] The Second Artillery materials naturally included descriptions and interpretations of the policy that guided its operations, but it did not use the same vocabulary that the Chinese participants in bilateral and international discussions did. For example, the Second Artillery uses a different Chinese word (ezhi) to describe deterrence. The Chinese word for deterrence used by Chinese nuclear policy experts and included in the glossary (weishe) is used by the Second Artillery to describe coercion. Outside observers, unaware of the difference, could easily become confused, especially if they read the materials in translation, where, depending on the word choices made by the translator, the difference might not appear.

The existence of different Chinese vocabularies does not necessarily mean that China is engaged in an internal debate about its nuclear weapons policy, especially considering the discrete circumstances, motivations, and requirements that precipitated their separate development. It is easy to understand how U.S. analysts could imagine that they were observing such a debate, unaware that the two Chinese groups rarely if ever communicated with each other. Yet, suspicions by some in the United States that the mere existence of these two vocabularies exposes a conscious Chinese effort to project a public policy for diplomatic purposes and keep a different policy secret for military purposes seem unjustified.[14] The following analysis of the classified text the Second Artillery uses to train its officers and soldiers shows that although they may use a different vocabulary, the Second Artillery and the Chinese participants in the U.S.-Chinese nuclear dialogue are describing the same nuclear weapons policy, which assumes a small nuclear force, kept off alert, to be launched only in retaliation.

One Policy, Three Characteristics

The textual evidence that China has one nuclear weapons policy and that the Chinese military relies on that policy to train and operate its nuclear forces is overwhelming. There are scores of references to the three essential characteristics of China’s declared nuclear weapons policy scattered throughout the 409 pages of The Science of Operations of the Second Artillery: a small force kept off alert and used only for retaliation.

A small nuclear force. There are multiple references to the size of China’s nuclear arsenal in the Second Artillery text, and that arsenal is consistently described as “very small” relative to likely nuclear-armed adversaries. The Second Artillery’s awareness of the limited numbers, accuracy, and capabilities of China’s nuclear weapons is articulated in the textbook’s descriptions of China’s “nuclear retaliation strike operations.” The purpose of these strikes is “to create a great feeling of terror in the enemy’s mind that causes the enemy to lose its determination for war.” This is imagined to be accomplished through “centralized retaliatory strikes” against a careful selection of “strategic targets” at a “critical moment” the enemy could not anticipate. Despite its limited arsenal and the presumption of considerable losses after China absorbs a first strike, the Second Artillery assumes an ability to launch multiple retaliatory strikes. This suggests that the authors presume that their relatively small nuclear force is sufficient to accomplish their mission.

The Second Artillery instructs its officers that, in the “glorious tradition” of the People’s Liberation Army, China’s superior command and strategy, not the enemy’s superior weapons, will be the key to the success of its “retaliatory nuclear operations,” with success being defined as a cessation of the enemy’s attack. Throughout the text, the authors emphasize the political and psychological characteristics of nuclear weapons and that the objective of the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons by China is “the creation of a psychological effect” on the enemy that “abates its willingness to continue or start a war.” This suggests that the size and composition of Chinese nuclear forces are calibrated to preserve the ability to inflict enough punishment to force an imagined enemy from continuing a nuclear attack against China, not to deny an enemy the physical means of carrying out such an attack.

There is no discussion in the text of specific strikes and targets presumed to create this psychological effect. Targets are described in general terms and the list includes “command centers, communications hubs, transportation junctions, military bases, political centers, economic centers, industrial bases, etc.”[15] Moreover, targeting is repeatedly described as a product of an “overall strategy” determined by China’s “high leadership,” not the Second Artillery. This suggests that decisions about the size and composition of China’s nuclear arsenal are not within the purview of the Second Artillery, whose responsibility is to operate the weapons, not to develop targeting plans or nuclear strategy.

Kept off alert. The Second Artillery’s organizational structure[16] and operational practices suggest that China’s nuclear warheads are stored separately and not mated to their missiles until they are prepared for launch. The textbook also notes that radiation dangers associated with installing the warheads on the missiles dictate that this should be done as close as possible to an anticipated launch.[17]

The Second Artillery’s nuclear forces are divided into a number of separate units with different responsibilities, including warhead bases at some distance from the missile bases, warhead inspection and installation teams, and missile brigades. The text indicates that a limited number of warheads are co-located at some launch sites but that concentrated retaliatory strikes would require warheads to be transferred from the warhead bases to the missile brigades prior to launch.[18] Separation and scattering of the Second Artillery’s nuclear assets is viewed as having the advantage of increasing survivability, even though it slows their response time.

Timing is a factor in Chinese preparations for a retaliatory nuclear strike, and the text instructs the officers and soldiers of the Second Artillery on the importance of being able to respond quickly to commands to prepare to launch and to a launch order from the “high leadership.” The text makes clear, however, that speed is less strategically important than the ability to strike at a carefully chosen moment. The preparations for launch are described as occurring over an extended period of time and intending to be a coercive or deterrent gesture, meant to compel a cessation of conventional attacks or to demonstrate the will and capability to retaliate after a nuclear attack.

Launched only in retaliation. There are no first-use scenarios for the Second Artillery’s nuclear forces discussed in the text. Specific operations and training for what are consistently referenced as “retaliatory nuclear attacks” are premised on the assumption that the forces of the Second Artillery have been struck first and will need to be able to carry out their “retaliatory nuclear attack operations” under severely degraded, dangerous, and unpredictable conditions. Indeed, the modifier “retaliatory” precedes every instance—and there are many—in which the words for a possible Chinese nuclear weapons strike appear in the text.

Even in a section of the text discussing an intentional “lowering of the nuclear coercion threshold,” the “lowest possible threshold” is not an actual strike. It is merely a public announcement of intended enemy targets.[19] The text dictates that if this final threat to use nuclear weapons fails to stop the enemy from further military activity, in order to maintain credibility—specifically, that “China’s words can be believed and that it will do what it says”—the Second Artillery must “in the midst of high-level nuclear coercion, complete preparations for a retaliatory nuclear attack.”[20] Crossing the threshold is demonstrating they are preparing a retaliatory strike, not, as widely reported, threatening to strike first.[21]

Most importantly, the text specifically states, “In accord with our national principle not to be the first to use nuclear weapons under any circumstances, the Second Artillery’s strategic nuclear forces can carry out a retaliatory nuclear attack against the enemy, following the command of the ‘high leadership,’ only after the enemy has first attacked us with nuclear weapons.”[22] Discussion of the implications of China’s no-first-use pledge appears in several places in the text; one example is a discussion of the requirements of China’s “active defense” strategy, which some U.S. analysts interpret as an expression of China’s intent to strike first. The text makes clear that “active defense” dictates that the Second Artillery’s nuclear forces are to be launched only in retaliation after a nuclear attack.[23]

This classified military textbook was not intended for external audiences, but for the officers and soldiers of the Second Artillery who operate China’s nuclear forces. These internal instructions could not be more explicit or more consistent with Chinese statements to the United States over the past 50 years.

Parsing the Differences

Russian and U.S. arms control experts are birds of a feather who can talk for hours and with great enthusiasm about nuclear arms control. The recent negotiations over the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty showed that although it still is very difficult for them to reach a binding agreement, discussions, at least, proceed with a high degree of mutual appreciation and respect. This is largely because the two sides have a common language, common assumptions, and a common objective that emerged from their shared experience as nuclear rivals during the Cold War.

U.S.-Soviet arms control talks proceeded from the assumption that left unimpeded by negotiated limitations, both sides would continue to be highly motivated to seek the ability to launch a disarming first strike against the other. The two sides also shared the belief that the nuclear arms race created by these motivations continually generated new and intolerable uncertainties that could precipitate a large-scale nuclear exchange. The purpose of bilateral arms control negotiations was to establish an assurance that neither side could obtain a decisive first-strike capability.

The principal means to establish this assurance were agreements that fixed the number of deployed weapons, limited the deployment of defenses, and provided reliable verification that these obligations were met. The substance and art of the negotiations was deciding which weapons and defenses to limit and to what degree. There was intense disagreement over these questions, which continues between the United States and Russia today, but the objective for both sides remains the same: diminishing mutual fear of a disarming first strike.

China does not have a first-strike capability that could disarm the United States, and there is no evidence that Beijing is seeking such a capability. The goals of the U.S.-Chinese bilateral nuclear dialogue, therefore, are as different as the size of their respective nuclear arsenals. China’s goals are clear: it seeks assurances that the United States will not be the first to use nuclear weapons or attempt to launch a disarming first strike, conventional or nuclear, against China’s nuclear forces. The United States is unwilling to provide China with the assurances it seeks.

The United States, on the other hand, continues to request greater Chinese transparency about its capabilities and its intentions. Unfortunately, this is a request China finds difficult to oblige. The Second Artillery text makes clear that the objective of its nuclear operations is to create uncertainty and confuse the United States. According to this logic, providing more detailed information about its nuclear arsenal would only leave less to chance and thereby increase the U.S. incentive to launch a pre-emptive first strike in a moment of crisis. China’s nuclear forces are small enough to make such a strike a tempting choice. Moreover, some Chinese worry that advances in U.S. conventional capabilities make it conceivable that such a strike could succeed without resorting to nuclear weapons. U.S. faith in ballistic missile defenses, however misplaced, creates an additional worry.

Presumably, one shared goal of the participants in the bilateral dialogue is to find a way to prevent the other from crossing the nuclear threshold in the event of a conflict. China’s assurance that it will not cross it first, under any circumstances, appears to be genuine, based on the guidance given to the officers and soldiers of the Second Artillery in its text on nuclear operations. Moreover, China’s adamant insistence on a similar assurance from the United States suggests it believes it would be a genuine constraint on U.S. behavior. U.S. negotiators might make more progress with China if they used the talks to explore why China places such a high value on a no-first-use assurance and believes it contributes to stability.

Chinese negotiators should make a better effort to understand why the United States places so little trust in a no-first-use assurance, instead of assuming the U.S. refusal to discuss it is an expression of a hegemonic ambition to dominate and contain China. They might make more progress with the United States if they acknowledged the difficulty U.S. participants have in setting aside their own experience with the Soviet Union’s no-first-use pledge, particularly when discussing a Chinese nuclear strategy that relies on secrecy and deception to maintain an effective deterrent.

Both sides should be more aware that miscommunication and misunderstanding are subtle, persistent, and nontrivial issues that should not be overlooked and cannot be easily addressed. ACT




Gregory Kulacki is a senior analyst and the China project manager in the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Since joining the UCS in 2002, he has focused on promoting and conducting dialogue between Chinese and U.S. experts on nuclear arms control and space security.





1. For a Chinese characterization of U.S. attitudes about China’s no-first-use declaration from a Chinese participant in the bilateral nuclear dialogue, see Li Bin and Nie Hongyi, “Zhong-Mei zhanlüe wendingxing de kaocha” [An investigation of Chinese-U.S. strategic stability], Shijie jingji yu zhengzhi (2008), pp. 13-19. For an English language translation, see www.ucsusa.org/assets/documents/nwgs/Li-and-Nie-translation-final-5-22-09.pdf.


2. Jeffrey Lewis and Gregory Kulacki, “Meiguo jujue ‘bu shouxian shiyong’ zhi yuanyin ji Zhonguo de yingdui” [Why the United States objects to the phrase “no first use” and how China might respond], Meiguo Yanjiu [American Studies Quarterly] (forthcoming).


3. For U.S. doubts about China’s no-first-use assurance from a U.S. participant in the bilateral nuclear dialogue, see Brad Roberts, “China-U.S. Nuclear Relations: What Relationship Best Serves U.S. Interests,” Institute for Defense Analyses, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, August 2001.


4. For one of the earliest and most influential analyses, see Alastair Iain Johnston, “China’s New ‘Old Thinking’: The Concept of Limited Deterrence,” International Security, Vol. 20, No. 3 (1995-1996): 5-42. For a more recent articulation of the same argument, see Michael S. Chase, Andrew S. Erickson, and Christopher Yeaw, “Chinese Theater and Strategic Missile Force Modernization and Its Implications for the United States,” Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 32, No. 1 (February 2009): 67-114.


5. In March 2011, Chinese participants in semiofficial bilateral nuclear talks complained that the Obama administration was preventing U.S. officials from participating in future semiofficial talks, even though U.S. officials had regularly participated in past talks. Moreover, the Obama administration rejected official talks led by the Chinese Foreign Ministry, insisting instead on talks with the Second Artillery. Chinese officials, interviews with author, Beijing, March 2011.


6. Yu Jixun, ed., Dier paobing zhanyixue [Second Artillery operational studies], (Beijing: People’s Liberation Army Press, 2004). The author was given the opportunity to review this text extensively, and the analysis in this paper is based on that examination.


7. Yu, Dier paobing zhanyixue, p. 59.


8. Shen Dingli, “China’s Evaluation of the Adjustment to U.S. Security Policy Since September 11, 2001,” Defense & Security Analysis, Vol. 19, No. 4 (December 2003): 319–326.


9. Yu, Dier paobing zhanyixue, pp. 15-28.


10. “China Shifting Nuclear Rules of Engagement: Report,” Defense News, January 5, 2011.


11. Committee on the U.S.-Chinese Glossary of Nuclear Security Terms, National Research Council, English-Chinese, Chinese-English Nuclear Security Glossary (Washington: National Academies Press, 2008).


12. Johnston, “China’s New ‘Old Thinking.’”


13. Chinese participants, interviews with author, Beijing, September 2010, March 2011, and June 2011.


14. Michael Mazza and Dan Blumenthal, “China’s Strategic Forces in the 21st Century: The PLA’s Changing Nuclear Doctrine and Force Posture,” Nonproliferation Policy Education Center, April 6, 2011.


15. Yu, Dier paobing zhanyixue, p. 300.


16. Ibid., p. 162 (organizational chart).


17. Ibid., p. 202.


18. Ibid.


19. Ibid., p. 295.


20. Ibid., pp. 295-296.


21. “China Shifting Nuclear Rules.” The news story, originally published by Kyodo News but now removed from its website, was based on an analysis of the Second Artillery text examined in this article. See Jeffrey Lewis, “China and No First Use,” Arms Control Wonk, January 14, 2011, http://lewis.armscontrolwonk.com/archive/3446/china-and-no-first-use-3.


22. Yu, Dier paobing zhanyixue, p. 59.


23. Ibid., p. 93.

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