02 October 2010

International Security, Fall 2010: “China’s Search for Assured Retaliation: The Evolution of Chinese Nuclear Strategy and Force Structure”

M. Taylor Fravel and Evan S. Medeiros, China’s Search for Assured Retaliation: The Evolution of Chinese Nuclear Strategy and Force Structure,” International Security, Vol. 35, No. 2 (Fall 2010), pp. 48-87.

M. Taylor Fravel

M. Taylor Fravel is the Cecil and Ida Green Career Development Associate Professor of Political Science and a member of the Security Studies Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Evan S. Medeiros

Evan S. Medeiros was a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation until August 2009, and is currently the director for China, Taiwan, and Mongolian Affairs at the National Security Council. His contributions to this article were completed prior to August 2009, and the views expressed herein do not necessarily represent the official views of the U.S. government or any of its components.

After exploding its first nuclear device in 1964, China did not develop sufficient forces or doctrine to overcome its vulnerability to a first strike by the United States or the Soviet Union for more than three decades. Two factors explain this puzzling willingness to live with nuclear vulnerability: (1) the views and beliefs of senior leaders about the utility of nuclear weapons and the requirements of deterrence, and (2) internal organizational and political constraints on doctrinal innovation. Even as China’s technical expertise grew and financial resources for modernization became available after the early 1980s, leadership beliefs have continued to shape China’s approach to nuclear strategy, reflecting the idea of assured retaliation (i.e., using the fewest number of weapons to threaten an opponent with a credible second strike). The enduring effect of these leadership ideas has important implications for the trajectory of China’s current efforts to modernize its nuclear force. …