Academic journal article Military Review

The Minimum Means of Reprisal: China's Search for Security in the Nuclear Age

Academic journal article Military Review

The Minimum Means of Reprisal: China's Search for Security in the Nuclear Age

Article excerpt

THE MINIMUM MEANS OF REPRISAL: China's Search for Security in the Nuclear Age, Jeffrey G. Lewis, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2007, 262 pages, $23.00.

During the Cold War, American strategic planners focused on the Soviet Union and largely ignored the small forces of the other nuclear powers. While the growth in recent decades of China's economy has fueled a concurrent modernization of China's conventional military, China's nuclear force has remained small, with an estimated 200 warheads.

Jeffrey G. Lewis thinks that even this number is too high and believes the true size is about 80. The warheads are kept in storage bunkers rather than atop missiles or in bomber bays. China apparently maintains no tactical nuclear weapons. Lewis bases his estimates of Chinese nuclear force on patterns of Chinese behavior regarding nuclear weapons and declassified U.S. intelligence estimates, admitting a lack of transparency from the Chinese government. While the limited nature of China's nuclear force was understandable given the poverty and instability of the nation in the 1960s and 1970s, the force has remained small, indicating a conscious decision by China's leaders not to expand their nuclear capabilities.

China apparently has taken the stance that possession of a small number of nuclear weapons is important for deterring aggression and achieving great power status, but little is to be gained by deployment or increasing their numbers. …

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