Chinese nuclear policy rarely gets any press. And when it does, such as when Herman Cain wrongly posited that the People’s Republic of China was attempting to get nuclear weapons, it has a tendency to be dead wrong. US nuclear assumptions have long been inaccurate, both from the point of view of scale, or simply of existing. For example, when American defense officials went to the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s to help the new Russian Federation get a control system in place for their nuclear warheads, the US expected to deal with about 20,000 warheads. The commander of the Russian nuclear forces corrected them, informing them that they had 40,000 warheads. The defense and intelligence establishments have a track record of getting things wrong.
Philip Karber, a former top official in the Department of Defense spent his career formulating strategy for the United States. He returned to volunteer his services for the DoD for a body called the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. And in 2008, when the earthquake in the Sichuan province of China struck, Karber noticed how personnel from the People’s Liberation Army were deployed to the region equipped to deal with radiation. Why? They shouldn’t, really, have been necessary. Previously, China has stated that they maintain a nuclear arsenal of around 80 warheads as a minimal deterrent. The Chinese have also long stated that the Second Artillery Corps of the PLA has maintained a network of 3,000 miles of tunnels in which the arsenal is stored.
The deployment of PLA personnel equipped with gear to protect from radioactivity points to a much larger stockpile, and a much more developed underground network of tunnels to house the Chinese nuclear program. Karber launched a project from his teaching post at Georgetown University to research the potential expanse of the Chinese nuclear program. Their findings are due out soon, and they defy the conventional, publicly acknowledged scale and scope of their weapons capabilities.
That the Chinese would hide such a buildup is to be expected. It’s totally consistent in not only with what we know of Chinese defense policy, but of Chinese culture. From the Art of War by Chinese military strategist Sun-Tzu: ‘A military operation involves deception. Even though you are competent, appear to be incompetent. Though effective, appear to be ineffective.’
Of course the Chinese would hide such a vast nuclear capability, which, in my opinion is probably in the neighborhood of 5,000-6,000 warheads and a network of tunnels totaling roughly an equal number of miles. What is not expected is that the United States would continue to consider electing candidates of the likes of Herman Cain, individuals wholly ignorant of foreign policy, history or culture, to deal with these developments.