The China Nuclear Horn Will Continue to Grow: Daniel 7

China may seek to close nuclear gap after US and Russia agree to extend New START treaty

• The deal between Moscow and Washington gives Beijing the chance to play catch-up, but it may face increasing pressure to join future talks on non-proliferation

• One military source says the country now has around 1,000 warheads, but less than 100 of these are active

The extension of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between the United States and Russia to 2026 may not only prevent an out-of-control arms race but also gives China an additional five-year buffer period.

Chinese military experts and sources said the extension, announced by the White House on Tuesday, means the gap between China and the two nuclear giants, which own 90 per cent of the world’s warheads, will not widen and Beijing can spend the next five years catching up.

In the 1980s, the US and former Soviet Union each possessed more than 10,000 warheads, but these stockpiles have been cut to between 5,000 to 6,500 under the New START, which aims to reduce the total to just 1,550 as the ultimate goal.

China has not disclosed how many warheads it has, but an assessment by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute put the number at 320.

However, a source close to the Chinese military said that its stockpile of nuclear warheads had risen to 1,000 in recent years, but less than 100 of them are active. “Both the US and Russia have competed with each other to upgrade their nuclear arms over the past few years, especially their intercontinental ballistic missiles [ICBMs], submarine-launched and airborne missiles, as well as other new weapons to upgrade their nuclear triad capability,” the source, who requested anonymity due to the sensitivity of the topic, said.

A nuclear triad is a three-pronged structure that consists of ground-based ICBMs, plus submarine and air-launched missiles.

“Nuclear warheads would be distributed to the rocket force only when a war is likely to happen,” the source said.

Hong Kong-based military affairs commentator and former PLA instructor Song Zhongping said Beijing might use the five-year period to narrow the nuclear modernisation gap with the US and Russia.

“Since [late leader] Deng Xiaoping’s era, the Beijing leadership has believed that the country doesn’t need so many expensive weapons, because the exorbitant maintenance costs would drag down China’s economic development,” the source said

The treaty restricts US and Russian warheads, but China is not a party to it. Photo: AFP

The source said China has a strict nuclear arms control mechanism which means only the chairman of the Central Military Commission – now President Xi Jinping – has the right to decide the deployment of nuclear warheads.

“Based on the fact that China currently has only about 100 nuclear warheads in active service, it is not enough to completely destroy all major cities in the US,” Song said

The Australian and American Nuclear Horns Join Forces: Daniel 7

Australia, U.S. Teaming to Develop High-Tech Cruise Missiles


The United States and Australia have joined forces to build air-launched hypersonic cruise missiles that could shift the military balance of power in the Asia-Pacific region.

Defense officials see hypersonics as potentially game-changing weapons. Their ability to travel at speeds greater than Mach 5 with extraordinary maneuverability could provide U.S. and allied forces a new quick-strike option capable of overwhelming enemy defenses, experts say.

The new U.S.-Australian project known as the Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment, or SCIFiRE, is an Allied Prototyping Initiative that was formally announced by the two nations in December. The aim is to advance air-breathing hypersonic technologies into full-size prototypes that are cost-effective and provide “a flexible, long-range capability, culminating in flight demonstrations in operationally relevant conditions.”

“This initiative will be essential to the future of hypersonic research and development, ensuring the U.S. and our allies lead the world in the advancement of this transformational warfighting capability,” Michael Kratsios, U.S. acting undersecretary of defense for research and engineering, said in a press release.

High-ranking Australian officials are also touting the bilateral effort.

“The SCIFiRE initiative is another opportunity to advance … our Air Combat Capability Program to support joint force effects to advance Australia’s security and prosperity,” said Air Marshal Mel Hupfeld, chief of the Royal Australian Air Force.

“Working with our defense scientists here in Australia and our partners in the U.S. Air Force and across the U.S. Department of Defense … we are maximizing our learning during development to better define the capabilities and needs as the system matures,” he added.

While Pentagon officials have made no bones about the fact that developing and fielding hypersonics is a top priority to keep pace with China, Australia’s 2020 Defence Strategic Update only went so far as to say that the government’s plans to acquire advanced strike capabilities would “potentially” include hypersonic weapons.

However, the technology is also a high priority for Canberra, even though the language in the document was “somewhat vague,” said Malcolm Davis, a senior defense analyst at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, a prominent think tank.

“The way Australia does policy, I think maybe it’s a little bit more cautious in its public pronouncements than the U.S. is,” he said. “But when you look beneath the surface and you speak to people in defense, it’s a very different picture. They are very focused on this. They are very clear in where they’re going.

“The very fact that we’ve now signed this agreement with the United States a mere few months after the release of the defense strategic update should tell you that we are very committed to developing hypersonic weapons,” he added.

Concerns about China are motivating Canberra’s push for new long-range strike capabilities.

Although the defense strategic update doesn’t explicitly name China as a threat, “everyone understands that’s what the document is about,” Davis said.

The Pentagon has a number of other hypersonics projects underway such as the Air-Launched Rapid Response Weapon, also known as ARRW or “Arrow,” which would utilize rockets to boost the systems into their glide phase.

However, SCIFiRE’s pursuit of air-breathing propulsion technology could offer an advantage by enabling hypersonic missiles to be carried by a broader array of tactical aircraft than the rocket-propelled systems.

“Scramjet technology in cruise missiles allows us to make hypersonic weapons that are cheaper and smaller — small enough to be able to go onto our fighter inventory,” U.S. Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Will Roper told reporters during a Defense Writers Group event. “As we look to [aircraft] programs like F-15EX that can carry quite a lot of weapons externally, having something that can be a hypersonic strike platform closer in creates another conundrum for an adversary.”

Davis said the systems could be carried by Australia’s F/A-18F Super Hornets, and perhaps by robotic wingmen that are being designed to accompany fighter jets into battle.

Boeing Australia has already built an Airpower Teaming System drone, and the U.S. Air Force has its own robotic wingman program known as Skyborg.

Jim Faist, the Pentagon’s director of defense research and engineering for advanced capabilities, noted that digital engineering tools will be used to explore options.

“We’re trying to build digital twins of these systems,” he said in an interview. “The hope is that through digital twins, we can accelerate the transition onto many different types of platforms. … It’s part of the design work on SCIFiRE. We’ll be looking at that ease of integration on disparate platforms that we have in the services.”

While the new cruise missiles will initially be deployed on aircraft, Davis envisions the technology evolving over time into sea-launched or ground-launched systems.

“It’s an air-launched hypersonic strike weapon for attacking ground targets or maritime targets, but it also blazes the trail for much more capable, longer-range weapons systems down the track,” Davis said.

Notably, both countries intend for the weapons to remain conventional and not be armed with nuclear warheads.

Pentagon officials see a number of benefits in partnering with Australia.

The U.S. treaty ally was previously a major contributor to a long-running joint research initiative known as the Hypersonic International Flight Research Experimentation, or HIFiRE, program, which explored the fundamental science of the technology and its potential for next-generation aeronautical systems.

Building the new prototypes and putting them through their paces will require complex infrastructure such as wind tunnels for the development cycle as well as ranges that can accommodate full-scale flight tests, Faist noted.

Australia has “world-class” flight-testing capabilities, he added, including a facility in Woomera.

The Australians also bring a lot of know-how to the table, U.S. officials say.

“They really are excellent in the science and technology of hypersonics and … they have worked closely with us for a long time. And we like working with them,” said Robert Joseph, the U.S. Air Force’s chief scientist.

Additionally, the Asia-Pacific ally will bear an “equitable” portion of the costs of the SCIFiRE project, Faist said. “They do have tremendous investment in this program.”

Canberra’s force structure plan released in 2020 allotted $9.3 billion for high-speed long-range strike and missile defense, including hypersonic development, test and evaluation. The Pentagon is also investing billions of dollars in its hypersonics portfolio.

Faist declined to say how much funding the two sides are allocating for SCIFiRE specifically, but noted that it will be a “larger budget” R&D effort.

There is also an intention to pursue co-production of the systems, which could help drive down costs.

When might the new weapons be battle ready?

“I expect over the next few months as we share our technical data we’ll have a better sense of how quickly we’ll be able to get to fielding, but I’m not predicting long,” Roper told reporters in December.

“Scramjet [propulsion technology development] is moving faster than I expected,” Roper said. “I predicted it would take longer to get those hypersonic engines matured. And thanks to some stellar approaches to manufacturing, the acceleration period is compelling us to go ahead and start thinking through future programs of record.”

The ARRW program started in 2017, and production could kick off as early as 2021, he noted. “I think we can go just as fast on scramjet.”

Faist said flight testing will be completed by 2025, but officials hope to accelerate that timeline.

For Australia, “the aim is to get this sort of capability operational in this decade, because this is the decade of danger where we are going to face the greatest risks from China,” Davis said.

It’s possible that a new weapon could be ready in the next few years, he said.

“We’ve been doing this research now for some time in the university sector,” he noted. “We’ve got that deep background, that foundation of scientific research and development and understanding, and I think that should hopefully accelerate the process of them taking that from essentially a science experiment to an operational piece of capability much more quickly than if we were starting afresh now.”

Steps are being taken to help the technology make it across the so-called “Valley of Death” between R&D and large-scale production.

Faist said there is a commitment by both nations to transition to a program of record if the project is successful.

Although Faist’s office launched the Allied Prototyping Initiative, the Air Force’s Life Cycle Management Center and program executive officer for weapons are responsible for executing SCIFiRE. The same office will also be responsible for overseeing the follow-on effort once the prototyping and flight testing wrap up, Faist noted.

“That was the other part of the decision on where to do this program,” he said. “It made sense to really build up on the Air Force program management side the internal ability to manage and execute on SCIFiRE, so that then the same team can move out on the program of record.”

Faist said source selection for SCIFiRE had not been completed, but generally speaking the Pentagon would like to have multiple suppliers. A follow-on program of record would be re-competed, he noted.

The weapons will likely be purchased in large quantities on par with other tactical air-launched cruise missiles, Faist said.

“Typically you’re going to get a higher number of production buys on these because of affordability,” he said. “This is a big game-changer for a lot of providers to get into the hypersonic business area, whether as a prime or a supplier.”

Making Peace with the China and Russian Nuclear Horns: Daniel 7

Revitalizing nonproliferation cooperation with Russia and China

Robert Einhorn

Monday, January 25, 2021

The United States will need partners to overcome the growing challenges that the global nuclear nonproliferation regime will face in the years ahead. In the past, Washington was able on several occasions to work cooperatively with Moscow and Beijing in support of shared nonproliferation goals. But with the sharp deterioration of U.S. bilateral relationships with those two major powers in recent years, that cooperation no longer exists. Despite the current acrimonious state of those relationships, the Biden administration will need to find a way to revitalize cooperative efforts on key nonproliferation issues. After restoring now-abandoned bilateral channels for constructive engagement, the administration should seek common ground with Russia and China in pursuing new negotiations with Iran, curbing the North Korean nuclear and missile threat, rebuilding collaboration in securing nuclear materials and facilities, and reinforcing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT), including by promoting a successful NPT Review Conference, pursuing nuclear risk reduction measures, strengthening International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards, and coordinating nuclear export policies.


The record of the global nuclear nonproliferation regime has been impressive, defying dire predictions of a world with many nuclear-armed states. Since North Korea acquired nuclear weapons nearly 30 years ago, no additional country has done so. Many factors explain that positive record, but one of those factors has been the ability of the United States to work constructively with Russia and China from time to time in support of shared nonproliferation goals.

However, with no end in sight to the current precipitous decline in Washington’s bilateral relations with Moscow and Beijing, constructive engagement on today’s nonproliferation challenges has become increasingly problematic. Unless the United States and its two great-power competitors can find a way to carve out areas of cooperation in otherwise highly adversarial relationships, few, if any, of those challenges can be effectively addressed, and the remarkably positive record of international efforts to prevent additional countries from acquiring nuclear weapons will be difficult to sustain.

Limits of historic and existing policies

Previous cooperation on nonproliferation

Despite periods of intense bilateral rivalry, the United States often managed to find common ground with the Soviet Union, and later with Russia and China, on preventing nuclear proliferation. At the height of the Cold War, the United States and the USSR recognized that the instabilities and dangers associated with the emergence of additional nuclear-weapon states could jeopardize their national interests, not least because it could create new power centers and undercut their own dominant positions in world affairs and, for Moscow, raise the specter of a nuclear-armed Germany.

In the Soviet era, this shared interest led to close collaboration in addressing proliferation threats, including in drafting the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) and establishing the London Group of nuclear exporters, which became the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Later, Washington worked with Moscow to encourage Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine to give up their Soviet-era nuclear weapons and join the NPT as non-nuclear-weapon states. They helped ensure through Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction programs that inadequately secured Russian nuclear materials and facilities in the wake of the USSR’s collapse would not leak out and support nuclear developments worldwide.1 Most recently, the United States and Russia worked with other powers to persuade Iran to accept strict limits on its nuclear programs in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).

China was a latecomer to nonproliferation. In the nation’s early years, it publicly advocated the spread of nuclear weapons to “break the hegemony of the superpowers.” By the early 1990s, however, it had come to see considerable value in curbing proliferation. It believed that by adhering to nonproliferation norms, it could promote a more stable international environment, needed for its development; maintain the non-nuclear-weapon status of Japan and other Asian neighbors; bolster its credentials as a responsible permanent member of the U.N. Security Council; and build better relations with the United States. Accordingly, it joined the NPT and other instruments of the global nonproliferation regime.

Throughout the 1990s, frequent U.S.-Chinese engagement on nonproliferation was instrumental in encouraging Beijing to put in place its national export control system and cease proliferation-sensitive technology transfers, including any nuclear cooperation with Iran, which China agreed to forgo in exchange for a Clinton administration decision to authorize the U.S. sale of nuclear reactors to China. As host and chair of the six-party talks in the 2000s, China played an active role in pressing North Korea to halt and eliminate its destabilizing strategic capabilities. In subsequent years, China made frequent, often futile efforts at the highest levels to dissuade Pyongyang from proceeding with nuclear and missile tests and to encourage North Korea to accept negotiated limitations.

From sometimes partners to frequent foes

In recent years and especially with the sharp downturn in bilateral relations, Moscow and Beijing have increasingly acted less as Washington’s nonproliferation partners and more as opponents.

This shift has been especially pronounced with regard to Iran, with cooperation as JCPOA negotiating colleagues giving way to strong differences. To a significant extent, opposition by Russia and China to U.S. policies on Iran since 2018 has been shared by Washington’s European allies, but Chinese and Russian opposition has gone well beyond that of the Europeans. Russia and China have aligned themselves closely with Iran and become its principal defenders on most issues of contention.

With Beijing in the lead on North Korea, just as Moscow has the lead on Iran, China and Russia have increasingly distanced themselves from U.S. policy on North Korea and moved closer to Pyongyang. They believe the Trump administration’s harsh sanctions campaign has resulted in North Korea digging in its heels. Worse, they fear that U.S. policy could destabilize the North Korean regime, an outcome that China regards as threatening to its interests and one that many Chinese regard as the actual, unstated goal of U.S. policy on North Korea. Although mostly complying with U.N. sanctions in 2016–2017, Russia and China now seem determined to weaken sanctions and have become complicit in sanctions evasion. They also take issue with what they regard as an unrealistic U.S. approach to negotiations on denuclearization.

Elsewhere, Russia and China have actively opposed efforts by the United States and much of the international community to pursue Syria regarding its noncompliance with its nuclear and chemical weapons nonproliferation obligations. In the wake of Israel’s 2007 destruction of a plutonium-production reactor that North Korea was clandestinely helping Syria build, they have sought to shield Damascus from International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) scrutiny of Syria’s nuclear program. In the face of compelling evidence that the Assad regime has used chemical weapons against its opponents on many occasions, Russia, supported by China, has gone to great lengths to oppose efforts by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) to attribute chemical weapons use to the Syrian government.

Russia has been the leading critic of the “state-level concept,” an IAEA approach to making its safeguards system more effective by taking into account not only information obtained through its own traditional verification activities but also information obtained from other sources, including intelligence supplied by IAEA member states. Moscow has claimed that reliance on third-party information has enabled Western countries, especially the United States, to manipulate the IAEA to serve their political goals, although Russia seems mainly concerned about information that could incriminate its allies, particularly Iran and Syria.

Reducing the risks of terrorists acquiring potentially vulnerable weapons-usable nuclear materials has been a highly successful area of nonproliferation cooperation, especially between the United States and Russia. Such nuclear security cooperation between Moscow and Washington no longer exists, in part because Russia has come to resent the image of dependence on U.S. assistance in securing materials and facilities in Russia. A critical additional factor was the sharp downturn in U.S.-Russian relations after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, with Washington imposing sanctions in 2014 in response to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Moscow retaliated by pulling the plug on key nuclear security programs, and Congress prohibited U.S. funding for nuclear projects in Russia. Emblematic of the near-total breakdown of bilateral cooperation on nuclear security was Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision not to attend the 2016 nuclear security summit hosted by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The reduction in U.S.-Chinese nuclear security cooperation in recent years has been much less dramatic, largely because such cooperation has never been as extensive as U.S.-Russian cooperation. With the downward spiral of U.S.-Chinese relations from 2016 to 2020, however, bilateral cooperation has significantly declined. Some technical, working-level contacts have persisted, but senior-level mechanisms to oversee and steer cooperative engagement no longer meet.

Obstacles to future nonproliferation cooperation

The decline in U.S. nonproliferation cooperation with Russia and China will be difficult to reverse. Clearly, the greatest obstacle is the overall deterioration of U.S. relations with its two great-power competitors. Such cooperation requires a modicum of mutual trust, but today such trust no longer exists. It requires channels of dialogue and communication, but virtually all bilateral channels have been shut down. It also requires a measure of domestic support for bilateral engagement, but public and elite opinion in Russia and China has grown extremely skeptical of the benefits of engagement with the United States, and vice versa.

The continued downturn in bilateral relations could undercut one of China’s historically strong motivations for constructive engagement on nonproliferation: a desire for better relations with the United States. Beijing has tended to take positive nonproliferation steps when relations with Washington were good or improving and to be more uncooperative when relations were declining, especially when it was angered by U.S. actions, such as the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in 1999, which some Chinese believed was intentional, or major U.S. arms sales to Taiwan.

Another related obstacle is that Russia and China, in balancing their interest in nonproliferation against what they see as their interest in strengthening strategic relationships with friendly countries such as Iran, North Korea, and Syria, now apparently assign a higher priority to the latter relative to the former. Sensing an opportunity presented by the prospect of reduced U.S. engagement in the Middle East, Putin has sought to make Russia a major actor and broker in the region, including by intervening militarily to support Bashar Assad in the Syrian civil war and working closely with Iran to ensure Assad’s victory and undermine U.S. interests in the region. Similarly, Chinese President Xi Jinping, fearing that U.S.-North Korean and South Korean-North Korean diplomacy could leave China on the sidelines in shaping the future of the Korean Peninsula, decided in 2018 to restore close ties with Pyongyang after a period of estrangement. The growing inclination of Moscow and Beijing to solidify what they regard as strategically useful partnerships helps explain why they now often back Iran, North Korea, and Syria in key nonproliferation disputes and shield them against further harsh sanctions.

An additional obstacle to cooperation, at least in recent years, has been Russian and Chinese opposition to specific nonproliferation policies of the Trump administration. That obstacle could be somewhat reduced under a Biden administration, at least on some issues, such as Iran. On other issues, however, including Syria, the roles and methods of the IAEA and OPCW, and the utility of sanctions as a nonproliferation tool, strong differences predated the Trump administration and would likely remain.

Cooperation remains essential

At a time when U.S. nonproliferation cooperation with Russia and China has all but disappeared, challenges to the global nonproliferation regime appear to be growing.

With the JCPOA largely hollowed out and Iran rebuilding its enrichment program, fear of an Iranian nuclear weapon or at least a latent nuclear weapons capability has returned and, with it, the prospect that Saudi Arabia and perhaps others in the Middle East will pursue a matching capability.

U.S. diplomacy with North Korea has reached a dead end. Pyongyang continues to advance its nuclear and missile programs, and U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, worried by the expanding threat from the North and increasingly uncertain about the reliability of U.S. security guarantees, may rethink the option of acquiring their own nuclear deterrents.

Assertive postures by Russia and China in their respective regions have elevated the security concerns of their non-nuclear neighbors, including Japan in the case of China.

Sophisticated illicit networks trafficking in proliferation-sensitive technologies have made detection of embryonic covert nuclear programs more difficult.

In their aggressive efforts to sell nuclear reactors, some nuclear supplier governments may relax the nonproliferation controls they require their customers to accept.

Continued polarization among parties to the NPT, fueled by dissatisfaction that progress toward nuclear disarmament has stalled and concern that U.S.-Russian arms control agreements are unraveling, has impeded efforts to strengthen nonproliferation controls and could weaken the authority of the treaty as a barrier to the acquisition of nuclear weapons.

Preventing the deterioration of the global nonproliferation regime will require the restoration of cooperation among the world’s three most influential nuclear powers.

Policy recommendations

Despite the highly acrimonious state of U.S. relations with Moscow and Beijing, efforts should be made to explore prospects for nonproliferation cooperation in some key areas.

Resuming channels of engagement

A first critical step is procedural rather than substantive: establishing channels for nonproliferation consultations. Such channels existed with Russia and China during previous U.S. administrations, sometimes under the umbrella of formal, high-level bilateral mechanisms covering a wide range of issues, such as the Clinton administration’s Gore-Chernomyrdin Commission and the George W. Bush administration’s U.S.-China Strategic Economic Dialogue.

Such top-level umbrella mechanisms are probably not feasible today, at least in the immediate future. Yet, less formal, lower-profile bilateral dialogues on nonproliferation can and should be established. These dialogues should be carried out at a high but subcabinet level, such as by undersecretaries or assistant secretaries. They should be dedicated to nonproliferation and not also seek to address nuclear arms control, which should be the focus of separate consultations to allow each subject to be handled in depth in the limited time available and with the required expertise at the table. Consultations should be held on a regular basis and should operate with a minimum of publicity to increase the likelihood of more candid interactions.

If establishing dedicated bilateral mechanisms proves difficult, the countries should look for opportunities to engage on the margins of existing multilateral meetings where relevant officials are present, such as the IAEA General Conference and meetings of the five NPT nuclear-weapon states.

Pursuing new negotiations with Iran

Iran’s nuclear capabilities will remain high on the international nonproliferation agenda in 2021 and beyond. Whatever the fate of the JCPOA, Washington can be expected to seek engagement with Iran to pursue long-term restrictions on its nuclear capacity and address its destabilizing regional activities. In light of strong Iranian mistrust and resentment toward the United States over the Trump administration’s JCPOA withdrawal and “maximum pressure” campaign, it is uncertain whether and on what terms Iranian leaders will be prepared to engage, especially given political dynamics in Tehran in the run-up to the June presidential election.

To persuade Iran to come back to the negotiating table and engage constructively by not insisting on compensation for economic losses from U.S. sanctions or other unrealistic positions, the United States will need the help of its former P5+1 partners. That means rebuilding bridges destroyed by the Trump administration’s self-isolating policies, especially its futile effort to snap back previous U.N. Security Council sanctions. Regaining the support of its European allies and working closely with its Middle Eastern partners will be critical first steps, but collaboration with Russia and China will also be essential.

Although Russia and China presumably continue to agree with the United States on the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, getting them to cooperate with Washington on a new agreement will be more difficult than it was to gain their support in the JCPOA negotiations. They are more inclined now to support Iran as a strategic partner, oppose sanctions as a means of incentivizing Tehran, give Iran the benefit of the doubt on its nuclear intentions, and see the United States rather than Iran as the source of the problem.

A key factor in gaining Chinese and Russian cooperation will be the U.S. negotiating position. If Washington hopes to get them and the Europeans on board, it will need to alter its current demands and adopt an approach that Beijing and Moscow believe is a reasonable starting point for negotiations. That means confining a new agreement to the nuclear issue and not linking progress in the nuclear negotiations to important but separate efforts to address Iran’s regional activities; seeking to limit but not eliminate Iran’s uranium-enrichment program; offering sufficient and credible sanctions relief; and dropping regime change as an explicit or implicit goal of U.S. policy.

Curbing the North Korean threat

Addressing the North Korean nuclear and missile threat will also be a top U.S. goal in 2021. As in the case of Iran, however, cooperation by Russia and China is less likely now than it was just a few years ago. A consistent, long-term goal of both countries, especially China, has been to reduce the U.S. military presence and weaken U.S. alliances in East Asia. With bilateral U.S.-Chinese relations cratering and Beijing’s suspicions of a U.S. Indo-Pacific containment strategy growing, that goal has assumed greater importance and the scope for cooperation has substantially narrowed. China increasingly sees U.S. and Chinese interests on the Korean Peninsula as a zero-sum game, illustrated by Beijing’s accusation that U.S. deployment of a sophisticated missile defense system in South Korea and other U.S. military responses to the North Korean nuclear threat are aimed largely at China.

Nonetheless, while strengthening their ties with Pyongyang and parting ways with the United States on enforcement of sanctions, Russia and China continue to share Washington’s interest in a peaceful, nuclear weapons-free Korean Peninsula, an outcome that would have the benefit, from their perspective, of reducing Washington’s need to respond to North Korean capabilities in a way they would regard as threatening, such as a major buildup of U.S. missile defenses.

Finding common ground on a negotiated solution will require the three countries, especially the United States and China, to modify their current positions. For Washington, that means accepting that denuclearization is a long-term, step-by-step process; that Pyongyang will have to be provided meaningful incentives at each step of the way; and that the first step will be a partial measure with no reliable guarantee that the goal of complete denuclearization will eventually be realized. For Beijing, it means recognizing that it will have to lean heavily on North Korea to get it to accept strict and verifiable measures and that, even if an agreement can be reached that reduces the North Korean threat, the United States and its allies will continue to reinforce their capabilities to deter the North. Russia will need to add its weight to Chinese efforts to encourage more flexible North Korean negotiating behavior. It will also need to work bilaterally with Washington, given their unique arms control experience, to demonstrate to Pyongyang that effective verification measures can be implemented without compromising national security interests.

Revitalizing nuclear security and nuclear energy cooperation

Nuclear security is the most promising area for resuming U.S. cooperation with Russia and China largely because the three countries have a genuine common interest in preventing terrorists from getting their hands on the materials needed to make nuclear weapons or dirty bombs.

Moreover, U.S.-Russian reengagement would be facilitated by the long history of cooperation in this area, by the close personal and institutional ties that developed during that long history, and by the apparent desire of technical experts on both sides to resume cooperation. The United States and China do not have the extensive record of nuclear security cooperation shared by Washington and Moscow, but neither do they have the accumulated resentments and internal opposition toward such cooperation that came to bedevil U.S.-Russian nuclear security programs.

If U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation is to be resurrected, it will have to abandon the past donor-recipient relationship and become a more equal partnership, with both sides sharing best practices rather than Russia simply adopting U.S. practices and with each side able to derive the benefits it seeks. That means not only pursuing the nuclear security agenda favored by the United States, but also cooperating in the fields of nuclear science and nuclear energy that the Russian nuclear establishment seeks. Furthermore, it would be useful to recognize if not welcome that Russia’s interest in cooperative projects will often depend on its calculation of commercial gain. A study by prominent U.S.- and Russian-based think tanks has recommended an extensive menu of possible future cooperation that includes developing the next generation of safe and reliable nuclear reactors, creating proliferation-resistant nuclear fuels, improving the safety of nuclear power plants, improving nuclear security and accounting technologies, and enhancing nuclear security in other countries embarking on nuclear energy programs.

Despite the termination of most U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation, the two countries have managed to continue as co-chairs of the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism (GICNT), a multilateral partnership dedicated to strengthening the capacity of its members to prevent, detect, and respond to acts of nuclear terrorism. In the months and years to come, they should look for opportunities to expand cooperation, perhaps initially under the umbrella of multilateral forums such as GICNT and IAEA-sponsored conferences, but eventually by setting up dedicated bilateral mechanisms and reestablishing a legal framework for cooperation.2

Resuming and expanding U.S.-Chinese nuclear security cooperation may face fewer hurdles than U.S.-Russian cooperation. Unlike in the case of Russia, there is a legal framework still in place, the 1997 Agreement on the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Technology, and an ongoing mechanism that could provide a venue for expert discussions on a range of nuclear security issues. That venue is China’s Center of Excellence, created with U.S. assistance in 2016 for nuclear security exchanges and training. Future cooperation could build on such past efforts as the establishment of a radiation detection training center, a “Megaports Initiative” to enhance detection capability at Shanghai’s container port, and technical exchanges on implementing nuclear export controls. In addition, it could build on previous collaborative work in converting Chinese-built Miniature Neutron Sources Reactors, first in China and then in Ghana and Nigeria, to operate with low-enriched uranium.

Strengthening the NPT regime

The United States and Russia, and China after it joined the NPT in 1992, have been strong supporters of the treaty, and they continue to have a common interest in ensuring that it will remain an effective barrier to nuclear proliferation. Their support has been most evident at NPT review conferences, held every five years, at which the United States, China, and Russia, joined by France and the United Kingdom (the other two NPT nuclear-weapon states) have traditionally banded together to promote successful conference outcomes and to defend their records against criticism from non-nuclear-weapon states-parties that they are not doing enough to fulfill their treaty obligations to pursue nuclear disarmament.

The worsening of bilateral relations among the five, however, has led to a cracking of that solidarity. In preparations for the 2020 review conference, loud recriminations among the five, especially between the United States and Russia, have contributed to a pessimistic outlook for the conference.

• Reducing nuclear dangers. To promote a successful 2020 review conference, which was postponed until 2021 by the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington, Moscow, and Beijing should set aside their differences and seek common ground, including on issues related to nuclear disarmament. Agreement by the United States and Russia to extend the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty would do much to improve conference prospects. So would the beginning of U.S.-Chinese strategy stability talks, which could help avoid a destabilizing arms competition and reduce the likelihood of inadvertent armed conflict between the two world powers, even if Beijing continues its unwillingness to negotiate formal limits on its nuclear forces.

• Cooperating in the P5 process. The P5 process, a consultative mechanism initiated in 2009 to facilitate cooperation among the NPT’s five nuclear-weapon states, has so far produced useful but modest results, such as a glossary of key nuclear terms. To demonstrate to non-nuclear-armed states that they are serious about fulfilling their NPT obligation to reduce nuclear dangers, the five have begun turning to more strategically important efforts, including an in-depth dialogue on nuclear doctrines and policies and an examination of nuclear risk reduction measures. Given the current absence of bilateral channels for strategic engagement, the United States should make the most of the process. Despite the multilateral nature of the process, it can provide a venue for informal bilateral contacts.

• Fixing the NPT withdrawal problem. The United States, Russia, and China should take the lead in reinforcing the effectiveness of the NPT. A major contribution would be to correct one of the treaty’s main shortcomings: if a party exercises its right to withdraw, IAEA safeguards on its nuclear facilities and materials automatically lapse, leaving it legally entitled to use the facilities and materials it acquired under the treaty in a nuclear weapons program. Several past proposals for addressing this problem have had broad support, including among the nuclear-weapon countries, but were never adopted. With some NPT parties now hinting at withdrawal and possibly considering a run for nuclear weapons, the three countries should work together to fix it.

• Strengthening IAEA safeguards. Russia and the United States could also give a significant boost to the IAEA safeguards system by resolving their differences on the agency’s state-level concept. As recommended by a distinguished group of U.S. and Russian experts, the IAEA should make clear that although intelligence and other information supplied by member states can play an important role in helping to direct and focus the agency’s resources and activities, IAEA conclusions on safeguards and compliance questions will be based on objective criteria and will rely on IAEA safeguards methods and investigations, independent of any third-party information. Moreover, to ensure confidence in the impartiality of IAEA safeguards findings and judgments, the agency should be as transparent as possible in communicating to member states how it has reached its conclusions.

• Coordinating nuclear export policies. The United States should seek to engage Russia, China, and other key suppliers of nuclear reactors, materials, and technology on their nuclear export policies. As a matter of law or policy, the United States goes well beyond the agreed NSG standards. It requires, as conditions of supply, that its non-nuclear-weapon state customers adhere to the additional protocol to their IAEA safeguards agreements and accept constraints on enrichment and reprocessing, including in a few cases the renunciation of future enrichment or reprocessing. Motivated in large part by a commercial desire to boost nuclear exports, most other nuclear supplier governments, including Russia and China, are much less demanding of their customers. The proliferation risk is that countries seeking nuclear weapons or at least the nuclear infrastructure that could give them a future nuclear weapons option will choose to deal with suppliers with less stringent controls. Compounding this problem is the generous, government-supported financing arrangements that several supplier countries are prepared to offer to secure nuclear sales. Given the strong determination of U.S. nuclear competitors to export, it would be unrealistic to expect Washington to persuade other supplier governments to adopt rigorous U.S. nuclear export policies on a worldwide basis. There may be cases, however, in which informal coordination of nuclear supply conditions could be pursued. Saudi Arabia could be one such opportunity. Vendors from China, France, Russia, South Korea, and the United States are vying to sell reactors to the country even as its leader says the nation will acquire nuclear weapons if Iran does. Washington would have a difficult time getting the others to match its demand that Saudi Arabia forswear enrichment or reprocessing for an extended period of time, but perhaps they could all agree to require Saudi adherence to an additional protocol to its IAEA safeguards agreement as a condition of supply, something Riyadh has so far resisted.

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Since the NPT negotiations of the 1960s and until fairly recently, the United States has been the leading and most often the dominant player in international efforts to prevent nuclear proliferation, but U.S. dominance is declining. It is now only one of several increasingly capable and aggressive competitors for worldwide nuclear sales, and it no longer has the clout in the international civil nuclear market to exert major influence over the terms of global nuclear trade. It remains by far the world’s strongest military power, but it is being challenged for local military superiority in the western Pacific and eastern Europe, and questions are being raised about the sustainability of its overseas military presence and the reliability of its security guarantees, which have historically reduced incentives for U.S. allies to acquire nuclear weapons. U.S. sanctions are still a formidable coercive tool to fight proliferation, but the targets of coercion have become well practiced in sanctions evasion, and resentment toward what is widely regarded as U.S. overuse of sanctions has given rise to consideration of how to work around or reduce the international economic role of the dollar.3

These developments do not mean the United States will be unable to continue playing its traditional leading role in preventing proliferation. Indeed, U.S. leadership will remain indispensable. No other country or group of countries has the resources, experience, or will to take its place, but it does mean the United States will need partners more than ever. Although Washington will naturally look to its allies and friends around the world to cooperate in the fight against proliferation, it will also need to gain the cooperation of Moscow and Beijing.

Russia and China, however, have pushed nonproliferation interests lower on their hierarchy of national priorities as they pursue their geopolitical interest in supporting partners that pose proliferation risks and their commercial interest in selling nuclear reactors or securing reliable energy supplies. With U.S.-Russian and U.S.-Chinese relations reaching new lows and unlikely to improve for the foreseeable future, prospects for nonproliferation cooperation are uncertain at best.

Still, as difficult as it may be to find common ground and carve out areas of cooperation in otherwise highly adversarial relationships, the Biden administration must make every effort to do so. Cooperation with the two U.S. great-power competitors will not guarantee success in overcoming the growing nonproliferation challenges the international community will face in the years ahead, but the absence of such cooperation will surely increase the risks of failure.

The Rising Power of the Chinese Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

Analysis: Biden faces a more confident China after US chaos

Associated PressJanuary 21, 2021

BEIJING (AP) — As a new U.S. president takes office, he faces a determined Chinese leadership that could be further emboldened by America’s troubles at home.

The disarray in America, from the rampant COVID-19 pandemic to the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol, gives China’s ruling Communist Party a boost as it pursues its long-running quest for national “rejuvenation” — a bid to return the country to what it sees as its rightful place as a major nation.

For Joe Biden, sworn in Wednesday as the 46th president, that could make one of his major foreign policy challenges even more difficult as he tries to manage an increasingly contentious relationship between the world’s rising power and its established one.

The stakes are high for both countries and the rest of the world. A misstep could spark an accidental conflict in the Western Pacific, where China’s growing naval presence is bumping up against America’s. The trade war under President Donald Trump hurt workers and farmers in both countries, though some in Vietnam and elsewhere benefited as companies moved production outside China. On global issues such as climate, it is difficult to make progress if the world’s two largest economies aren’t talking.

The Chinese government expressed hope Thursday that Biden would return to dialogue and cooperation after the divisiveness under Trump.

“It is normal for China and the United States to have some differences,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said. “Countries with different social systems, cultural backgrounds and ideologies should and can coexist … and work together to achieve peace and stability and development in the world.”

But Kurt Tong, a former U.S. diplomat in Asia, sees a stalemate in the coming few years in which China keeps doing what it has been doing and the U.S. is not happy about it.

“I think it’s going to be a tough patch, it’s just going to be more disagreements than agreements and not a lot of breakthroughs,” said Tong, now a partner with The Asia Group consultancy in Washington, D.C.

A more confident China may push back harder on issues such as technology, territory and human rights. Analysts draw parallels to the 2008 global financial crisis, from which China emerged relatively unscathed. The country’s foreign policy has grown increasingly assertive since then, from staking out territory in disputed waters in the South China Sea to its more recent use of Twitter to hit back at critics. China’s relative success in controlling the pandemic could fuel that trend.

The U.S. has also shifted, with wide support among both Republicans and Democrats for treating China as a competitor, and embracing the need for a tougher approach to China, if not always agreeing with how Trump carried it out. Biden needs to be wary of opening himself up to attacks that he is soft on China if he rolls back import tariffs and other steps taken by his predecessor.

His pressing need to prioritize domestic challenges could give China breathing room to push forward its agenda, whether it be technological advancement or territorial issues from Taiwan to its border with India.

Biden has pointed to potential areas of cooperation, from climate change to curbing North Korea’s nuclear weapons development, but even in those areas, the two countries don’t always agree.

The pandemic, first viewed as a potential threat to President Xi Jinping’s leadership as it spiraled out of control in the city of Wuhan in early 2020, has been transformed into a story of hardship followed by triumph.

The Communist Party has sought to use the pandemic to justify its continued control of the one-party, authoritarian state it has led for more than 70 years, while rounding up citizen-journalists and others to quash any criticism of its handling of the outbreak.

That effort has been aided by the failure of many other nations to stop the spread of COVID-19. Biden takes over a country where deaths continue to mount and virus-related restrictions keep it in recession. China is battling small outbreaks, but life has largely returned to normal and economic growth is accelerating.

“It would have been more difficult for them to push that narrative around the world if the United States had not done such a poor job,” said Bonnie Glaser, director of the China Power Project at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, D.C. “That’s a theme that runs through many issues, that China’s just able to point to the United States and democracy in general as not delivering good governance.”

It’s impossible to gauge support for the Communist Party in a country where many would be unwilling to criticize it publicly, for fear of repercussions. But Niu Jun, an international relations professor at Peking University, said that objectively, public trust should rise given China’s faster recovery from the outbreak.

“To ordinary people, the logic is very simple,” he said, predicting the pandemic would spark public thinking and discussion about which system of governance is more effective.

“The party’s policies are good, our policies are not like the ones in foreign countries, ours are good,” said Liu Shixiu, strolling with her daughter in Wuhan, the city that bore the brunt of the pandemic in China. “We listen to the party.”

It is unclear whether the Communist Party foresees exporting its way of governance as an alternative to the democratic model. For now, Chinese officials note that countries choose different systems and stress the need for others to respect those differences.

As China becomes more and more confident, maybe they’ll try to shape the internal operations or ways of thinking of other countries,” Tong said. “But to me, it feels more like they don’t want anyone to be able to say that China is bad and get away with it.”

The leadership wants China to be seen and treated as an equal and has shown a willingness to use its growing economic and military might to try to get its way.


Associated Press video journalist Emily Wang Fujiyama contributed to this report.


Moritsugu, The Associated Press’ news director for Greater China, has reported in Asia for more than 15 years.

Russia’s New Nuclear Terror: Daniel 7

Russia’s Nuclear-Powered Drone Submarine ‘Poseidon’ To Have Coastal Base By Next Year

January 16, 2021

Russia’s top-tier unmanned nuclear-powered submarine Project ‘Poseidon’ seems to be on track as the country is set to establish a dedicated coastal base for this by next year.

According to The Moscow Times, the construction of required infrastructure to maintain and carry out operations of this new strategic deterrent would be completed by 2022. The unmanned submarine’s launch was expected in 2020 but was postponed until 2021 probably due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Izvestia, another Russian news agency, said that the crew members of the Belgorod submarine have already begun ‘practical training’ on the drone submarine. The agency also quoted senior officials mentioning that a coastal base is imperative for the weapon’s efficiency in combat duty and operations.

“Throwing such equipment directly in the water is like throwing it away and turning it into a piece of scrap metal,” Izvestia quoted Rear Adm. Vsevolod Khmyrov as saying.

What Is ‘Poseidon’?

It is an underwater unmanned vehicle being developed by Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau. Poseidon is a nuclear-powered, nuclear-armed autonomous vehicle and can be used as a nuclear deterrent against hostile bases and naval stations.

Its launch and functioning are synonymous with an advanced, sophisticated nuclear-armed torpedo with a speculated blast yield of 2-100 megatons (Mt). It is also capable of delivering conventional payloads.

In an article written by H. I. Sutton for Forbes in November 2019, he mentioned Poseidon as one of the most disruptive weapons currently being developed.

“It is also one of the least well understood. Each new report and image provides intelligence that improves our understanding. It is designed to hit coastal cities with a 2-megaton warhead, around 133 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima,” he wrote.

Two vessels that are speculated to carry the Poseidon, the Project 09852 Oscar-class submarine Belgorod and the Project 09851 Khabarovsk submarines, are new boats launched in 2019 and 2020, respectively.

Oscar-class submarines could carry four Poseidon torpedoes at the same time for a total yield of up to 400 Mt.

According to some reports, the Poseidon may also have a seabed or mobile site launch option. In the seabed option, known as Skif, Poseidon can wait on the seafloor in a special container for as long as necessary.

It is known that the Russian auxiliary vessel ZVEZDOCHKA 600 (Project 20180) with ice-breaking capability is being used for testing of the Poseidon drones. Thus, it’s believed the ship can be also used as the platform for deploying and retrieving a seabed version of the drone.

The seabed launch option was patented (RU 2135929 patent) by the Poseidon designer Alexander Shalnev.

While the specifications remain confidential, experts have stated that Poseidon appears to be a torpedo-shaped robotic mini-submarine that can travel at speeds of 185 km/h (100 kn). More recent information suggests a top speed of 100 km/h (54 kn), with a range of 10,000 km (5,400 nmi; 6,200 mi) and a depth maximum of 1,000 m (3,300 ft).

The typical depth of the drone may be about 50–100 meters for increased stealth features on low-speed stealth mode. Low depth on stealth mode is preferred because sound waves move to the ocean floor and reduce the radius of detection. Submarines use the same strategy on silent running mode.

The China Nuclear Horn Grows: Daniel 7

China’s nuclear arsenal grows in capability

ANI | Updated: Dec 15, 2020 07:48 IST

Hong Kong, December 15 (ANI): China’s nuclear forces, under the aegis of the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF), are nowhere as large as those of the USA or Russia, but the inventory is significantly growing and modernizing.

New missiles such as DF-41 and DF-31AG intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) were paraded in Beijing in October 2019, demonstrating the forward strides that the PLARF is making.

An annual report from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, titled Chinese Nuclear Forces 2020 and authored by Hans Kristensen and Matt Korda, discussed the state of play in the PLARF. It claimed, “China is continuing the nuclear weapons modernization program that it initiated in the 1980s and increased in the 1990s and 2000s, fielding more types and greater numbers of nuclear weapons than ever before.”

It is impossible to say how many nuclear weapons China actually has, but Kristensen and Korda offer their best estimate in the report. They claimed, “We estimate that China has a produced a stockpile of approximately 350 nuclear warheads, of which roughly 272 are for delivery by more than 240 operational land-based ballistic missiles, 48 sea-based ballistic missiles and 20 nuclear gravity bombs assigned to bombers.” The report continued, “The remaining 78 warheads are intended to arm additional land- and sea-based missiles that are in the process of being fielded.”

This figure of 350 is up significantly from the estimated 290 listed in the 2019 edition of the report from the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Significantly, these figures vary from those issued in the US Department of Defense’s (DoD) annual report on Chinese military power. The authors acknowledged: “This estimate is higher than the ‘low-200’ warheads reported by the Pentagon in its 2020 report to Congress; however, the Pentagon’s estimate only refers to ‘operational’ Chinese nuclear warheads, and therefore presumably excludes warheads that are attributed to newer weapons still in development. It is also possible that the Pentagon’s estimate does not include dormant bomber weapons. Taking those categories into account, the Pentagon’s estimate is roughly in line with our own.”

Some commentators over the past decade have warned that China has hundreds, some even thousands, of nuclear weapons. The Bulletin of the Atomic Sciences confirms that the more conservative estimates have invariably been correct, “while the higher estimates and projections for significant increases have been incorrect”.

Although US intelligence community projections have predicted greatly increased numbers of nuclear missiles for the PLA, these have generally proved inaccurate. For instance, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) estimate from 1999 predicted China might have 460 nuclear weapons by 2020. This obviously did not eventuate.

That makes it more difficult to accept with any degree of certainty current estimates. The DIA’s 2019 report predicted, for example, “Over the next decade, China will at least double the size of its nuclear stockpile.”

The new report highlighted the fielding of the dual-capable DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), as well as the aforementioned DF-31AG and DF-41 ICBMs. All are mounted on enormous road-mobile transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) vehicles, which gives them greater survivability in the event of any conflict. The DF-41 is capable of carrying multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles (MIRV), much like the older liquid-fueled and silo-based DF-5B also in PLARF service.

The report included a table with all known nuclear weapons fielded by the PLARF. The land-based missiles are: the DF-4 ICBM (x6 launchers, and probably gradually retiring); DF-5A ICBM (x10 launchers); DF-5B ICBM (x10 launchers and with five warheads per missile); DF-21A/E medium-range ballistic missile (x40 launchers); DF-26 (100 launchers, of which 20 missiles have nuclear warheads); DF-31 ICBM (x6 launchers); DF-31A ICBM (x36 launchers); DF-31AG ICBM (x36 launchers); and DF-41 ICBM (x18 launchers with 54 warheads in total).

This gives a total of 244 land-based launchers and 204 warheads. Once those new missiles approaching introduction are added to the equation, the numbers increase to 280 launchers and 258 warheads from land-based assets.

The report listed the upgraded DF-5C ICBM too, which is supposed to be deployed in 2020. It is unclear what modifications it has over the DF-5B, for it has the same 13,000km range and carries MIRVs. Also listed as not yet becoming operational is the DF-17, where 18 launchers carrying missiles with hypersonic glide vehicles are to be formally fielded in 2021. It is not immediately clear who will operate the DF-17, but it could be 627 Brigade in Puning.

Two DF-41 brigades are thought to exist, one of which may be nearing operational capability. These are assumed to be 634 Brigade in Tongdao and 644 Brigade in Hanzhong. Furthermore, 662 Brigade in Luanchuan could be upgrading to the DF-41. Additional DF-41 TELs are in production, so we can expect more to be added. As it replaces the DF-5, the DF-41 could also be launched from silos and railcars. Indeed, several new silos have been constructed in the Jilintai training area in Inner Mongolia, and there is possibly silo construction for 662 Brigade in Henan Province.

The DF-26 is an interesting case. This years’ Pentagon report on China’s military listed 200 such weapons, but Kristensen and Korda take this to be a typographic error, as the US Indo-Pacific Command only estimates 100 DF-26s, plus this lower figure better corresponds to known base infrastructure. It is estimated that 20 of the 100 IRBMs possess a nuclear warhead, with the rest of them carrying conventional high-explosive payloads. The primacy of the older DF-21 family has been overtaken by the DF-26, and users, in order of conversion, are the PLARF’s 666 Brigade in Xinyang, 626 Brigade in Qingyuan, 625 Brigade in Jianshui, and 654 Brigade in Dengshahe.

China also has nuclear-tipped missiles assigned to its fleet of ballistic missile submarines (SSBN). The table in the report thus listed the 7,200km-range JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), with four submarines carrying 48 missiles (12 JL-2 missiles per boat), plus two more submarines and associated 24 missiles becoming operational next year.

In April this year, the PLA Navy (PLAN) actually debuted these two extra Type 094 SSBNs, and these give an added second-strike ability to China. These submarines are based at the Yulin base on Hainan Island on the periphery of the South China Sea.

Given that the Type 094 is a relatively noisy design, perhaps two orders of magnitude louder than the best American or Russian SSBNs, Beijing is now developing the Type 096 SSBN that will carry the newer JL-3 SLBM with potential 9,000km range. Production of the Type 094 will thus probably remain at six hulls, with the newer design to begin construction in the early 2020s. The PLAN could eventually have 8-10 SSBNs in service.

China has never confirmed that its SSBNs have conducted patrols with JL-2 SLBMs aboard, but potential adversaries must assume this is the case. A Reuters report last year revealed that the USA, Japan, Australia and the UK “are already attempting to track the movements of China’s missile submarines as if they are fully armed and on deterrence patrols”. Nonetheless, entrusting nuclear weapons to a submarine crew would represent a momentous step for the PLA.

Moving on to the PLA Air Force (PLAAF), the report mentioned, “China has recently reassigned a nuclear mission to its bombers and is developing an air-launched ballistic missile (ALBM) that might have nuclear capability.” The table lists 20 H-6N bomber aircraft, each of which can carry a single ALBM (called the CH-AS-X-13 by the USA).

The H-6N can be refueled in midair, and one of the first such operational units is thought to be the 106th Brigade at Neixiang Air Base in Henan Province. Once the ALBM is functional, it will complete China’s viable nuclear triad of delivery systems encompassing land, sea and air. China is currently developing the H-20 stealth bomber that will replace the H-6 family, and it will assuredly have a nuclear mission.

With the navy and air force inventory added to the aforementioned land-based missiles, China currently has312 launchers (soon to be 372) and 272 warheads (soon to be 350).

Obviously, the fielding of MIRVs will greatly enhance China’s nuclear stockpile. However, Kristensen and Korda believe that the number of MIRVed warheads per missile will be three to five only, rather than the ten that some analysts predict. Furthermore, some of their missile payload will be assigned to decoys and penetration aids. “This is because we believe that the purpose of the MIRV program is to ensure penetration of US missile defenses, rather than to maximize the warhead loading of the Chinese missile force.”

China’s use of hypersonic glide vehicles is another trend, as this will allow China to ensure the credibility of its retaliatory strike force as the US strengthens its missile defensive shield.

The US government thinks China could have 400-500 nuclear warheads by later this decade, apparently achieved “without new fissile material production”. The latter is an indication that China has not resumed production of fissile material for weapons.

Such predictions of nuclear weapon expansion also trigger speculation as to China’s intentions when it comes to nuclear posture. One wild claim from a Trump official was that “China no longer intends to field a minimal deterrent,” and is instead striving for “a form of nuclear parity with the United States and Russia”. Such exaggerations are more related to Trump’s efforts to include China in strategic nuclear arms control talks with Russia, than having any basis in reality.

China warned that it is “unrealistic to expect China to join the two countries in a negotiation aimed at nuclear arms reduction,” given that its inventory lags so far behind America’s and Russia’s.

China keeps most nuclear warheads at a central storage facility in the Qinling mountain range, but with others held at smaller regional centers. This is in keeping with its “low alert level” posture, enough to maintain a credible second-strike capability. Indeed, the Pentagon report states “China almost certainly keeps the majority of its nuclear force on a peacetime status – with separated launchers, missiles and warheads”.

Nonetheless, the PLARF “maintains a high degree of combat readiness,” according to the US military. Brigades regularly conduct combat readiness duties, assigning a battalion ready to launch and rotating to standby sites as often as every month.

A Chinese delegation explained last year, “In peacetime, the nuclear force is maintained at a moderate state of alert. In accordance with the principles of peacetime-wartime coordination, constant readiness and being prepared to fight at any time, China strengthens its combat readiness support to ensure effective response to war threats and emergencies. If the country faced a nuclear threat, the alert status would be raised and preparations for nuclear counterattack undertaken under the orders of the Central Military Commission to deter the enemy from using nuclear weapons against China. If the country were subjected to nuclear attack, it would mount a resolute counterattack against the enemy.”

The Pentagon warns that China may adopt a “launch-on-warning” posture in the future, whereby missiles already have nuclear warheads installed.

The PLARF is increasing its number of missile bases to accommodate the expansion in warheads/missiles. The number of brigades may have increased 35% in just the past three years. Indeed, the PLARF now probably has 40 brigades equipped with ballistic and cruise missiles, of which half could be nuclear-armed. (ANI)

The Threat of the Russian and Chinese Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

US aircraft carriers still rule the seas, but Russia and China both have plans to change that

Benjamin Brimelow

Jan 10, 2021, 4:45 PM

In August, China launched two ballistic missiles that, according to a Chinese military expert, hit a moving target ship in the South China Sea thousands of miles from their launch sites.

If true, the test — which came a month after the US deployed two carrier strike groups to the region and a day after a US U-2 spy plane observed a Chinese navy live-fire drill — is the first known demonstration of China’s long-range anti-ship ballistic missiles against a moving target.

“We are doing this because of their provocation,” Wang Xiangsui, a former Chinese colonel and professor at Beijing’s Beihang University, reportedly said in reference to the deployments, calling the test “a warning to the US.”

Not to be outdone, the Russian navy conducted its third test launch of the Zircon hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile in the White Sea in December. Launched from a frigate, the missile reached a speed of Mach 8 before hitting a “coastal target” more than 200 miles away.

The tests are just the latest indication that American aircraft carriers, long viewed as kings of the seas, may soon face a real threat to their existence.

High-priority targets

Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson and other US Navy ships during a passing exercise with the Indian navy in 2012. US Navy Photo

America’s carriers have always been among the biggest targets for rivals. While the Soviets publicly lambasted carriers as “the oppressor of national liberation movements,” they recognized them as a dominant weapon platform.

This was especially the case after they realized US carrier air wings included aircraft carrying nuclear payloads.

Declassified CIA documents reveal that by the 1980s, the Soviets rarely criticized carriers in internal discussions and even praised them for providing “high combat stability.” One document from 1979 stated that carriers would be “the highest priority in anti-ship attacks” in potential war scenarios, with amphibious assault ships probably close behind.

Plans to deal with carriers were based almost entirely on anti-ship cruise missiles fired from submarines, bombers, and surface ships — ideally all at once. To that end, the Soviet navy emphasized cruise missile technology and missile-carrying capacity on all of its vessels — even on its own aircraft carriers.

Soviet navy Kiev-class aircraft carrier Minsk, February 9, 1983. US Air Force/Staff Sgt. Glenn Lindsey

Soviet navy Tu-16, Tu-95, and Tu-22 bombers were the primary aerial delivery systems. Cruisers of the Kynda, Kresta, Slava, and nuclear-powered Kirov classes were the primary surface delivery platforms.

A host of nuclear-powered and diesel-electric submarines, like the Oscar II- and Juliett-class, would fire those missiles from underwater and on the surface.

But even this may not have been enough. US carrier defenses and air wings were deemed so strong by the Soviets that as many as 100 bombers would be sent to attack one carrier, with losses expected to be as high as 50%. Soviet pilots weren’t even given detailed flight paths for their return.

It was also feared that the missiles could be shot down or intercepted, so the Soviets concluded that many had to be armed with nuclear warheads.

Waning carrier dominance

USS Nimitz departs Naval Air Station North Island in San Diego, June 8, 2020. US Navy/MCS 2nd Class Natalie M. Byers

With the Cold War over and the Soviet Union gone, American carrier dominance seemed more than assured. Those carriers have played key roles in conflicts the US has been involved in since the 1990s.

But the post-Cold War order is slowly being challenged — mainly by China’s meteoric rise in military power, which has implications for the carrier’s dominance.

American carriers are among Beijing’s biggest concerns. Their presence helped deter an invasion of Taiwan in the 1950s, and in 1996 two carrier battlegroups embarrassed China by operating freely around Taiwan during a period of heightened tensions, forcing Beijing to recognize US military power.

Since then, China has invested heavily in anti-carrier capabilities. It first bought a slew of weapons from Russia, including Su-30MKK multirole fighters, 12 Kilo-class attack submarines, and four Sovremenny-class guided-missile destroyers.

DF-26 ballistic missiles pass Tiananmen Gate in Beijing during a military parade for the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, September 3, 2015. Andy Wong/Pool via REUTERS

But missiles have been China’s main focus. It has amassed one of the world’s largest and most advanced missile arsenals, 95% of which falls outside the limits of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which prohibited the US and Russia from having missiles with ranges between 310 miles and 3,100 miles. The US recently withdrew from the treaty, and China was never party to it.

The two missiles tested in August were variants of the DF-21 and DF-26, which have ranges up to 1,300 and 2,400 miles respectively.

Flying higher, faster, and farther than Soviet cruise missiles, China’s anti-ship ballistic missiles could overwhelm the anti-missile defenses of a carrier and its escorts, and force the carrier to stay far enough away to render its air wing useless.

A US Defense Department report released this year stated that China’s missile development was one area in which Beijing has “achieved parity with — or even exceeded — the United States.”

New threats

A Zircon hypersonic cruise missile is launched from the Russian frigate Admiral Groshkov, in the White Sea north of Russia, October 7, 2020. Russian Defense Ministry Press Service via AP

Hypersonic missiles are another serious threat.

Able to fly at speeds over Mach 5 (over 3,800 mph), hypersonic missiles are too fast for anti-missile defenses to respond effectively. They can also change direction mid-flight, making it virtually impossible to intercept them.

China has two hypersonic weapons in service: the DF-17, and the DF-100. Russia has a number of hypersonic weapons in development, with the Zircon the most promising. Russian officials have said they hope to be able to arm all new ships in the Russian navy with hypersonic weapons.

British officials have already voiced concern about the threat that Russian hypersonic weapons could pose to their carrier.

“Hypersonic missiles are virtually unstoppable,” a senior British naval source told The Daily Mirror. “With no method of protecting themselves against missiles like the Zircon the carrier would have to stay out of range, hundreds of miles out at sea.”

“Its planes would be useless and the whole basis of a carrier task force would be redundant,” the source said.

The true capabilities of Russia’s and China’s new anti-carrier weapons are still unknown, but recent tests prove that US Navy carriers may not enjoy unquestioned dominance for much longer.

China and Russia Prepare for Nuclear War: Revelation 16

Watch Russian and Chinese Bombers Fly a Rare Joint Mission Over the Pacific

In a statement on its website, the Ministry described the flight as 10 hours long and controlled both by controllers on the ground and from an A-50U aircraft, the Russian version of the E-3 Sentry AWACS plane. The Ministry of Defense also said:

In the course of fulfilling the missions, the aircraft of both countries acted strictly in accordance with the provisions of international law. The airspace of foreign states was not violated.

The Russian and Chinese bombers entered South Korea’s ADIZ, an imaginary line sketched out by most countries over neighboring airspace. Aircraft that enter an ADIZ are looked at a little more rigorously by a country’s air force and are required to file flight plans that give advance notice. Foreign military aircraft that enter ADIZs are routinely intercepted by fighter jets.

In this case, the Republic of Korea Air Force scrambled F-15K “Slam Eagle” and F-16 fighter jets as a precautionary measure. The Chosun Ilbo reports a total of 19 Russian and Chinese aircraft flew near South Korea that day. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff say the Chinese pilots told Korean fighter pilots they were undertaking “routine training,” but the Russian aircraft “entered (the ADIZ) without prior notice.”

The flight, the Korean Joint Chiefs noted, was probably a response to recent U.S. bomber flights near China.

Last month, two U.S. Air Force B-1B Lancer bombers flew into China’s ADIZ in the East China Sea, and B-1Bs also flew into the South China Sea in early December. The B-1B is a heavy bomber, but it’s incapable of carrying nuclear weapons. In no instance did any of the bombers from Russia, China, or the U.S. enter the actual airspace of any other country.

The Pakistani and Saudi Horns Divide: Daniel

The historic Saudi-Pakistan alliance comes to an end

Veteran Arab journalist Abdel Bari Atwan says Pakistan has taken a decisive shift away from Saudi Arabia and towards China, Turkey and Iran.

A small news item appeared on the business pages of Arab newspapers this week which shed light on a major strategic crisis that has been developing in the relationship between Saudi Arabia and long-time ally Pakistan.

It could mark a turning point in the close partnership that has lasted for more than seven decades (ever since Pakistan’s separation from India in the late 1940s) between the Kingdom that revels in its custodianship of Islam’s holiest shrines and the Islamic world’s only nuclear-armed power.

The news was that Pakistan repaid Saudi Arabia $1billion of a $3 billion loan it provided in late 2018. An earlier billion-dollar tranche was reimbursed in July, leaving a further billion which the Pakistani government intends to refund in January after securing alternative financing from China.

Different views were offered about why the Saudis demanded early repayment of the loan and simultaneously suspended a $3.2 billion credit facility for oil purchases by Pakistan.

Some attributed the move to Saudi Arabia’s financial difficulties: with its economy in recession due to the slump in oil sales it needs every dollar it can get, so it may have pressed Prime Minister Imran Khan – no great friend – to repay the money.

Others viewed it as politically-motivated, related to Saudi Arabia’s burgeoning strategic partnership with India and Pakistan’s growing rapprochement with Iran.

Deteriorating relations

Relations between the two countries have been worsening for some time.

The first big downturn came in 2015 when Pakistan refused to send troops to take part in the Saudi-led war on Yemen. This also signaled Pakistan’s rejection of Crown Prince Muhammad Bin-Salman’s idea of forming an “Islamic NATO” under Saudi leadership.

Tensions rose further over the ultra-sensitive issue of Kashmir. Islamabad was dismayed by Riyadh’s non-committal response to India’s decision to revoke the special autonomous status of Jammu and Kashmir. This was viewed as de facto Saudi approval for India’s annexation of the disputed province.

Indian occupation forces in Kashmir

Saudi Arabia also blocked efforts to get the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (which it effectively controls) to take action on Kashmir. Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi warned at the time that if Riyadh would not act on the issue, Islamabad would seek a meeting of Muslim-majority countries outside the OIC framework to provide it with backing.

This affront to Saudi Arabia’s Islamic leadership pretensions appears to have prompted its decision to recall the $3 billion loan.

The Pakistani army’s Chief of Staff, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, tried to use his good offices to ease the mounting tension between the two countries. He flew to Riyadh for talks, but was denied a meeting with the Crown Prince and returned empty handed. This snub deeply offended both the Pakistani government and the traditionally pro-Saudi military establishment.


Saudi Arabia, for its part, is wary of Pakistan’s improved relationship with Iran, fearing among other things that it could involve the transfer of Pakistani nuclear technology.

It balked at Imran Khan’s agreement to attend the “alternative’ Islamic summit convened by Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad – in close coordination with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — in December 2019 to discuss problems facing the Islamic world.

The Kingdom put enormous pressure on the Pakistani Prime Minister not to attend. He eventually succumbed, fearing the Saudis would cut off financial support or retaliate against the millions of Pakistani expatriate workers in the Gulf states whose remittances are crucial to sustaining the Pakistani economy.

Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Saudi Arabia, for its part, feels it no longer needs Pakistan. It invested billions of dollars in supporting the country’s economy — and its nuclear program – over many years. In return, it acquired political allegiance, military personnel and expertise that were vital for its armed forces, and a proxy nuclear deterrent against any potential military threat, such as from Iran.

But times have changed. Pakistan and Iran are on good terms, and Saudi Arabia has spearheaded the process of normalisation between Gulf states and Israel – a far more potent nuclear power, which shares its enmity towards Iran.

So the historic strategic alliance between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and other Gulf is drawing to a close. Pakistan is looking elsewhere: to China, Turkey and Iran and their allies. These include forces deeply antagonistic to Saudi Arabia: Yemen’s Ansarullah (Houthi) movement, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iraq’s Hashd ash-Shaabi, and Qatar’s Al Jazeera TV channel, plus any other Muslim country or entity that might want to join.

A powerful Islamic coalition opposed to Saudi Arabia might take shape during the course of 2021. It could join forces with Russia and China in a bid to mount a global pushback against U.S. hegemony.

At a time of American retrenchment and deep domestic problems, some U.S. clients in the Middle East think Israel could serve as an alternative protector. That explains all their normalisation moves, but they will surely, eventually, be disappointed.

The Growing Australian Nuclear Horn: Daniel 7

Australia, US to develop hypersonic missiles to counter China

Australia’s defence minister says ‘game-changing’ project with US will help deter aggression against its interests.

Australia and the United States will jointly develop hypersonic cruise missiles, the Australian defence minister announced on Tuesday, pledging to invest in “advanced capabilities” that will give the country’s military “more options to deter aggression” against its interests.

Both China and Russia are developing similar missiles.

The weapons are capable of travelling at more than five times the speed of sound and the combination of speed, manoeuvrability and altitude makes them difficult to track and intercept.

Linda Reynolds, the Australian defence minister, called the bilateral project with the US a “game-changing capability”, but did not reveal the cost of developing the missiles or when they would be operational.

“Investing in capabilities that deter actions against Australia also benefits our region, our allies and our security partners,” she said.

“We remain committed to peace and stability in the region and an open, inclusive and prosperous Indo-Pacific.”

The United States’ Acting Under Secretary of Defense Michael Kratsios said the project, officially known as the Southern Cross Integrated Flight Research Experiment (SCIFiRE), builds on 15 years of collaboration between the US and Australian military.

“This initiative will be essential to the future of hypersonic research and development, ensuring the US and our allies lead the world in the advancement of this transformational warfighting capability,” he said in a statement.


Australia had set aside up to 9.3 billion Australian dollars ($6.8bn) this year for high-speed, long-range missile defence systems, including hypersonic research.

In July, Australia said it would boost defence spending by 40 percent over the next 10 years to acquire longer-range strike capabilities across air, sea and land as it broadens its military focus from the Pacific to the Indo-Pacific region.


Australia’s collaboration with the US on missile development, however, could inflame tensions with China.

The relationship between both countries has been tense after Australia discovered what it said were Chinese influence campaigns, and has deteriorated further this year after Canberra asked for an inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 pandemic.

Beijing has introduced a string of economic sanctions on Australian goods, and relations hit a new low on Monday after a senior Chinese official posted a fake image of an Australian soldier holding a blood-covered knife to the throat of an Afghan child.

China has deployed, or is close to deploying, hypersonic systems armed with conventional warheads, according to defence analysts.

Russia deployed its first hypersonic nuclear-capable missiles last year, while the Pentagon, which tested a similar hypersonic missile in 2017, has a goal of fielding hypersonic war-fighting capabilities in the early to mid-2020s.

The Sydney Morning Herald newspaper said on Tuesday that Australia hopes to begin testing prototypes of the air-launched, long-range missiles within months.

The hypersonic missiles will be designed to be carried by the Australian air force’s existing fleet of aircraft including Growlers, Super Hornets, Joint Strike Fighters as well as unmanned aircraft including drones, the newspaper reported.