15 January 2007

Book Review: China’s Nuclear Future

Andrew S. Erickson, review of Paul J. Bolt and Albert S. Willner, eds., China’s Nuclear Future (Boulder, CO: Lynne Reinner Publishers, 2006), The China Journal, 57 (January 2007): 241-43.

This edited volume, with contributions from leading experts in the field, assesses China’s strategic force modernization and suggests that Beijing is in the process of adapting its nuclear posture to a changing strategic environment. In lieu of a traditional conclusion, it weighs future alternatives for China’s nuclear force and doctrine and probes the factors that will determine Beijing’s ultimate nuclear path. The editors are well qualified for this ambitious task. Paul Bolt, professor of political science at the U.S. Air Force Academy, has taught extensively in China. Colonel Albert Willner has taught at the U.S. Military Academy and is a U.S. Army expert on China.

Four particularly compelling issues emerge from this volume. First, continued lack of Chinese transparency concerning nuclear weapons development and policy not only makes this subject challenging for foreign research, but may complicate China’s own nuclear strategy. Secondly, much has been made of Chinese strategic culture and its emphasis on the finely calibrated use of force to achieve favorable changes in the overall strategic situation. Third, another uncertainty is how American ballistic missile defense (BMD) architecture will evolve, and the extent to which China will develop corresponding countermeasures to preserve its nuclear deterrent. Finally, and perhaps of greatest immediate interest to foreign analysts, is the issue of whether China’s policy of no-first-use (NFU), or at least a restrictive interpretation thereof, is sustainable.