Jeffrey LewisQDR May Examine Nuclear Missions, Strike Options Against China

The 2001 Quadrennial Defense Review.

Inside Defense reports that the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) may, for the first time, evaluate nuclear as well as conventional forces.

Ryan Henry, principal deputy under secretary of defense for policy, would not confirm that strategic forces would be included, noting that the terms of reference (ToR) memo that guides QDR efforts has yet to be approved by Secretary Rumsfeld.

Defense officials told Inside Defense that the QDR will focus on four scenarios, with sizing of nuclear forces discussed in relation to China.

China played a prominent role in the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), having returned to U.S. nuclear planning in 1998 after a long absence. After unsuccessful efforts by STRATCOM to include China in the 1994 NPR, the 2001 NPR identifies China as one of seven countries “that could be involved in an immediate or potential contingency” with nuclear weapons.

Chinese strategic forces are increasingly supplanting Russia as the primary benchmark for determining the size and capabilities of U.S. strategic forces, particularly as the Bush Administration seeks to justify decisions to sign the Moscow Treaty and to withdraw from the ABM Treaty on the grounds that the United States no longer maintains an adversarial relationship with Russia.

Secretary Rumsfeld stated that future nuclear reductions below the 1,700-2,200 range in the Moscow Treaty, for example, are precluded by the size of Chinese nuclear forces. In response to criticism that the 1,700-2,200 nuclear warheads exceeded potential targeting requirements, Secretary Rumsfeld warned that further reductions might encourage China to attempt what he termed a “sprint to parity”—a rapid increase in nuclear forces to reach numerical parity with the United States.

The Chinese have been pretty chill, so far.

Assumptions about the configuration and purpose of the Chinese arsenal determine not just the overall force level, but also the mix of capabilities identified in the 2001 NPR.

The mechanism by which new offensive and defensive capabilities would enhance deterrence is somewhat obscured by the language of the 2001 NPR, but the general idea is the ability to use offensive capabilities to disarm China’s Second Artillery (either by directly attacking ballistic missiles or by disrupting command and control networks), with missile defenses to “mop up” whatever missiles survive to be fired at the US. That capability—Herman Kahn called it a “splendid first-strike” capability—would allow the United States to coerce China … oh, pretty much anytime we felt like it.

[And for those of you keeping score, 20 million US casualties used to be the benchmark for “victory” in an exchange with the Soviets. No word yet on how many fellow citizens are worth incinerating to alter Taiwan’s status under international law.]

Arms Control Wonk wonders if, perhaps, we might not be just good enough to shock the Chinese planning system into responding (perhaps by increasing the alert rates of Chinese forces) but not good enough to continually overwhelm Chinese responses to our deployments. Arms Control Wonk also recalls that such competitions are called arms races, events usually thought to be destablizing in international relations.

Arms Control Wonk is discussing this very subject today at a University of Maryland conference—ah, the joy of WiFi.