05 March 2009

The Future of Chinese Deterrence Strategy

Michael Chase, Andrew S. Erickson, and Christopher Yeaw, “The Future of Chinese Deterrence Strategy,” Jamestown China Brief 9.5 (4 March 2009): 6-9.

The development of China’s nuclear and conventional missile power has been among the most impressive and most closely watched aspects of Chinese military modernization over the past two decades. During the past 20 years, the Second Artillery Corps (SAC) has been transformed from a small and exclusively nuclear force to a much larger and more powerful force with a variety of roles for a growing and increasingly sophisticated arsenal of nuclear and conventional missiles. The deployment of the road-mobile DF-31 and DF-31A intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) is enhancing the striking power and survivability of China’s nuclear forces. Moreover, the deployment of more than 1,000 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) since the SAC was given a conventional role in the 1990s gives China many options for striking targets in the region. The development of an anti-ship ballistic missile capability could deter or otherwise complicate U.S. intervention in the event of a regional crisis or conflict. In addition to these developments, the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) contribution to China’s nuclear deterrence posture is also changing with the transition from the PRC’s first-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN), which was armed with the relatively short-range JL-1 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and never conducted a deterrent patrol, to perhaps as many as five Jin-class SSBNs, each of which will be armed with 12 JL-2 SLBMs. This will diversify China’s nuclear deterrent and may further enhance its survivability. Chinese analysts assess that the deployment of SSBNs and land-based mobile missiles will “fundamentally ensure the reliability and credibility of China’s nuclear force.” The SAC’s growing conventional ballistic missile capabilities, particularly the anti-ship ballistic missile, also suggest a growing deterrence role for these conventional forces.

Recently published Chinese sources that include previously unavailable information on nuclear and conventional missile strategy and campaigns are shedding new light on China’s evolving approach toward deterrence and Chinese views on the problems of deterrence and nuclear strategy. By drawing on some of these sources, which include a variety of Chinese language books, academic and technical journal articles, military media reports, newspapers and periodicals, and key sources from the secondary literature on the SAC, it is possible to trace the evolution of China’s deterrence strategy toward an approach that some have called “effective deterrence.” …