- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 4, 2008

China nuclear talks

China continues to resist disclosing details of its strategic nuclear weapons programs despite exchanges and discussions with the United States during the past two years, defense officials say.

“For more than two years, the Chinese have stalled [on nuclear talks],” said one defense official frustrated by what he called excessive secrecy and lack of dialogue. He asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic

One indicator of the problems has been that Gen. Jing Zhiyan, commander of China’s nuclear forces, has not visited the U.S. Strategic Command or the United States despite a promise in 2006 from Chinese President Hu Jintao to President Bush that the general would lead a delegation for talks.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said, however, that though the nuclear discussions are going slowly, they are making progress.

“At the suggestion of Defense Secretary [Robert M.] Gates during his trip to Beijing last fall, the U.S. and Chinese militaries have agreed to expand our exchanges and deepen our dialogues, including regarding nuclear policy and strategy,” he said. “Those discussions are helping us better understand each other and reduce the risk of miscalculation. Of course, they are in their early stages, and this process is going to take considerable time, but so far at least it is going better than we had anticipated.”

The talks to date are held under the auspices of Eric S. Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy, and not the Strategic Command (Stratcom), which is in charge of U.S. nuclear forces.

U.S. officials familiar with the talks said the Chinese have refused to visit Stratcom and that discussions so far have been tightly scripted. The officials said they think China fears that revealing even very basic data would provide intelligence that could be used to counter Chinese nuclear forces.

For example, the Chinese military will not disclose details of its formal nuclear weapons doctrine, apart from stating that China will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict.

Statements and military writings by Chinese military strategists during the past several years have called into question the no-first-use doctrine, increasing concerns among U.S. strategic planners.

Some U.S. officials think China does not have a prepared nuclear strategy for its relatively small but growing nuclear arsenal. Additionally, China’s strategic policy on stockpiling missiles remains unknown.

“We don’t know their refire policy,” one official said of the term for extra missiles that are stored in addition to those ready to launch on mobile launchers or silos.

The Pentagon also does not know whether China has multiple warhead missiles or whether it is adding warheads to single-warhead missiles.

In the 1990s, China obtained U.S. space technology that the Air Force thinks can be used to develop multiple-warhead missiles, according to a 1998 Air Force report.

The Pentagon’s latest annual report on China’s military states that Beijing is increasing both the number and the quality of its nuclear forces. It estimates that the current force includes about 60 long- and medium-range nuclear missiles.

Story Continues →