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U.S. Should Accept Susceptibility to Chinese Nukes: Analysis

A preliminary assessment by a U.S. State Department panel advises Washington against seeking to neutralize Chinese nuclear-weapon capabilities through new protective and attack capacities, and instead calls on the United States to accept each nation's susceptibility to the other's nuclear weapons as a "fact of life," Inside Defense reported last week (see GSN, June 26).

China is progressing in efforts to establish a "survivable second-generation sea-based and mobile land-based nuclear force," and the nation would eventually possess a "larger and less vulnerable force with more (from 25 to about 100) [ICBMs] capable of striking the United States," according to the International Security Advisory Board analysis.

Beijing would probably structure its atomic forces partly in response to interpretations of Washington's plans, antimissile systems and atomic and non-nuclear attack resources, according to the group headed by former Defense Secretary William Perry.

The document says top Chinese officials have "been determined to maintain a credible nuclear deterrent regardless of U.S. choices and will almost certainly have the necessary financial and technological resources to continue to do so."

"Accordingly, mutual nuclear vulnerability should be considered as a fact of life for both sides," it states. "However, neither the U.S. ability to use conventional forces to protect our interests in the region nor the U.S. 'nuclear umbrella' require the ability to negate China's nuclear forces. Nuclear deterrence rests as much on perceptions, confidence, credibility and rhetoric as on technical military capabilities."

"Policy statements and the configuration of U.S. conventional and nuclear forces should convey that the United States has the means, will and intention to respond effectively to any contingency," the paper adds. "U.S. policy-makers must send consistent messages to China, to key allies and to the U.S. public and Congress."

Washington should use communications with Beijing and unilateral pronouncements to guarantee China's grasp of "the risk attendant to cyber attacks against critical U.S. infrastructure or nuclear command and control systems and that the United States will judge such attacks by their effects, not how they are produced," the assessment states (Christopher Castelli, Inside Defense, July 25).

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