The United States' continued missile defense activities might force China to update its nuclear armaments, Reuters quoted a high-level Chinese military official as saying on Wednesday (see GSN, June 4).
"It undermines the strategic stability," Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghu, with the National Defense University in Beijing, said while attending an event in Vienna, Austria. "We have to maintain the credibility of deterrence."
The annual U.S. missile defense budget is about $10 billion, with $9.7 billion requested for the fiscal year that begins on Oct. 1 (see GSN, July 17). The broad antimissile infrastructure includes interceptors deployed in Alaska and California and a Europe-based shield being developed in cooperation with NATO.
Russia has already threatened a military response to the European system, which the Kremlin says could ultimately be used against its long-range nuclear forces. Brussels and Washington have denied any such intent, arguing the shield is primarily intended as a defense against potential ballistic missile threats from Iran.
Beijing in April objected to a senior U.S. Defense Department official's mention of developing a missile shield in Asia akin to the European system (see GSN, April 12).
China "will have to modernize its nuclear arsenal" as a fielded U.S. antimissile web "may reduce the credibility of its nuclear deterrence," Zhu said during a panel talk on eliminating atomic weapons.
"Therefore Beijing will have to improve its capabilities of survival, penetration ... otherwise it is very difficult for us to maintain the credibility of nuclear deterrence," he said.
The Pentagon believes China has fielded from 130 to 195 ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear payloads as a means of warding off enemy aggression, Reuters reported.
Nonproliferation expert Joseph Cirincione said a U.S. armed forces official would Zhu's the same position if faced with a Chinese antimissile shield. Missile defense technology and complementary armaments that could be fielded "make it theoretically possible for the U.S. to launch a first strike on China, knock out most of its 40 or so long-range missiles, and intercept any left that were launched in response," he said.
"Missile defenses, however benign they appear to the side building them, always force others nations to improve and increase their offensive weapons," Cirincione, who heads the Ploughshares Fund, stated by e-mail (Fredrik Dahl, Reuters/Chicago Tribune, July 18).