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China's Evolving Nuclear Deterrent: Major Drivers and Issues for the United States

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Technical Report

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RAND Corporation Santa Monica United States

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Since its first nuclear test in October 1964, China has maintained a modest nuclear force to achieve limited deterrence goals. In many ways, Chinas limited nuclear arsenal and restrained posture have made it an outlier in the nuclear world. In recent years, however, new trends have turned Chinas outlier status on its head while the established nuclear states, especially the United States and Russia, have reduced their nuclear inventories, China has increased the numbers of its strategic missiles and warheads and dramatically improved the quality of its force. Understanding the future of Chinas nuclear forces, doctrine, and policy is critical to shaping an appropriate U.S. approach to strategic issues. This report examines the key drivers, including both external and internal forces, that will shape Chinese nuclear decision making over the next ten years. While it pays particular attention to Chinas strategic relationship with the United States, which remains Beijings primary focus in formulating policy, it also considers the role that developments in third countries might playa topic other studies have seldom treated and never systematically. In this context, Chinas emergent nuclear relationship with India and dynamics on the South Asian subcontinent are likely to be particularly important. The analysis of internal drivers addresses the potential impacts of bureaucratic politics, organizational processes, and the availability of resources.

Subject Categories:

  • Government and Political Science
  • Military Forces and Organizations
  • Nuclear Weapons

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