Jeffrey LewisRead Behind

An idiosyncratic survey of  the arms control, disarmament and nonproliferation universe in no particular order. The first in a possibly regular installment.

FACEBOOK | Mark Hibbs says “there is no Chinese reprocessing ‘breakthrough’ as announced by Chinese official media. This is about China deciding if, when, and how it closes its fuel cycle.”  (Note, also, Gregory Kulacki’s comment on the translation of “breakthrough.”)

PONI Blog | Terrence Smith wonders whether Pakistan can “hold the line on its nuclear security?”

Danger Room | Spencer Ackerman passes along “a belated Happy New Year from Russia’s sexiest spy.”

Washington Post | Mark Stokes and Dan Blumenthal want China to sign the INF Treaty.  Good luck with that.

Armed Forces Journal | Bridge Colby and Tom Moore think the Air Force “needs a new cruise missile.”

FCNL Nuclear Calendar | The Atlantic Council will host Gen. David Richards, Chief of the British Defense Staff, to discuss “Britain’s Security Challenges in the Age of Austerity.” I bet it goes like this.


  1. Anon (History)

    Yeah, good luck with getting the Chinese to sign INF. Interestingly enough, about 10 years ago I asked a government official involved in arms control whether we should start to engage the Chinese in arms control efforts, and his answer was that there were no plans to do so given the negligible Chinese missile threat to the US.

  2. 3.1415 (History)

    It will be 1/11 on an odd-numbered year again in a few days. Any sign that China will test something on the auspicious date of 1/11/11? Now that China has conditioned the international community twice to testing ASAT/MD on 1/11, it would be a waste not to use the date.

  3. John Schilling (History)

    Well, I’m certainly not neglecting the Chinese missile threat to the US. More importantly, the Russians are not neglecting the Chinese missile threat to Russia. At least historically, the bulk of the Chinese nuclear missile force was aimed at Russia, and with New START we are in a regime where the Chinese arsenal is a substantial fraction of the total threat to Russia.

    No matter how much simpler it would be for us to treat the rest of the world as “negligible” in arms-control terms and negotiate nice easy bilateral treaties with the Russians, the Russians are unlikely to play that game with us much longer.

    So, yes, we kind of do need the Chinese to sign the INF, or some yet-to-be-defined successor. Wherever we decide to go with the future of arms control, China is going to have to be on board, and that includes getting on board with the existing arms-control regime. And, yes, good luck with that.

    And that’s going to be the easy part, compared with getting India to sign INF…

  4. Lugo (History)

    Why are you so dismissive of getting the Chinese to join the INF Treaty? Nobody thought the Russkies would sign on to such a treaty, but they did, and the treaty has worked wonderfully. I find it droll that a website that, generally speaking, endorses the idea of global nuclear disarmament thinks that we can’t get ONE SINGLE COUNTRY to eliminate ONE SINGLE DELIVERY SYSTEM. If “good luck with that” is the attitude towards China joining the INF Treaty, what should be our attitude towards “global zero”? Good luck with that “global zero” idea, indeed.

    • John Schilling (History)


      I’m not sure that this website, generally speaking, does endorse the idea of absolute global nuclear disarmament as a credible near- to mid-term goal, and I believe the Stokes/Blumenthal proposal under discussion was intended as as a credible near-term thing.

      And this one specific country is not going to eliminate this one entire class of delivery systems any time soon. “Why”, is a very reasonable question, and it would help if you didn’t shout while asking it.

      Why, is that intermediate-range nuclear weapons play the same role in Chinese doctrine that long-range nuclear weapons play in US and Russian doctrine. These are the weapons that place the most probable nuclear adversary’s heartland at risk of utter devastation, for maximum deterrent effect.

      China’s most probable adversary in the game of Global Thermonuclear War has traditionally been Russia, as was the case for the United States. Like the United States, China spent most of the Cold War building systems
      optimized for delivering thermonuclear warheads against Russian targets, just as Russia spent the Cold War preparing to deliver thermonuclear warheads against its most probable adversary, the United States. Neither the United States, Russsia, nor China, will entirely dispense with these weapons for at least another generation.

      By accident of geography, these are long-range weapons for the US and Russia, and intermediate-range weapons for China. A ban on intermediate-range weapons has little effect on the US ability to deter Russia, or vice versa, or on either’s ability to deter potential Chinese aggression, but would substantially reduce China’s ability to deter Russia. This would be a bad deal for China, and they will not agree to it.

      Unfortunately, the flip side of this is that the Russians are unlikely to agree to substantial further reductions unless the Chinese are also included. For further progress in arms control, we need to think in terms of a tripartite successor to both the INF and START treaties, and that’s going to be vastly harder to arrange than anything we’ve managed so far. Good luck will most definitely be required.

    • Jeffrey (History)

      Well, my attitude toward Global Zero is pretty much “Yeah, good luck with that.”

      I refrain from throwing stones in public because I think it is still better than stating we plan to retain nuclear weapons “indefinitely.”

      But I am also keenly aware that the Prague speech made the agenda harder to achieve, not easier.

  5. Lugo (History)


    The Russians had very good reasons to retain their INF weapons, and strenuously attempted to do so, and yet ultimately agreed to destroy them despite having a “need” for INF that was at least as great as the Chinese “need”. The obstacle is not China’s “need” for INF so much as the US willingness to do what it takes to bring China to the table and reach an agreement.

    A ban on intermediate-range weapons has little effect on the US ability to deter Russia, or vice versa, or on either’s ability to deter potential Chinese aggression, but would substantially reduce China’s ability to deter Russia. This would be a bad deal for China, and they will not agree to it.

    We may then ask, why does Russia not need INF to deter China? Russia is far more threatened by China at this time than is China by Russia. However, Russia feels, correctly, that her long-range forces are adequate to deter China even in the absence of INF directed at China, just like Russia feels her long-range forces are adequate to deter Britain and France even in the absence of Russian INF directed at Europe. Thus, the idea that somehow China “needs” INF to deter Russia is absurd on its face. China’s DF-31s and SSBNs do not “only” work against the USA, they also work against Russia.

    And of course, this question of nuclear deterrence vis-a-vis Russia leaves aside the issue of China’s *conventional* ballistic missile forces, which are directed at bases, ports, and infrastructure in the region, not against Russia.

    • John Schilling (History)

      Russia does not need INF to deter China because, as you note, Russia has ICBMs and long-range SLBMs that can do that job perfectly well. Overspecified for the task, yes, but bought and paid for and they get the job done.

      If the Chinese had a sufficient arsenal of ICBMs, etc, they similarly would not need IRBMs to deter Russia. The problem lies in the fact that they do not. China’s DF-31s and SSBNs only “work” against Russia to the extent that they work at all, which is uncertain. Both the DF-31 and the JL-2 have had long and troublesome development and test periods edging into tenuous and limited early deployment. There might be a dozen or so of each actually in the field, which might actually work. And there are a couple dozen DF-5 ICBMs, which will probably work if they are given time to prepare.

      The history of the Chinese nuclear arsenal suggests that the Chinese feel a need for ~100 intermediate-range missiles to deter Russia. Plus some heavy bombers and maybe some short-range missiles. And ~20 long-range missiles for deterring the United States. People here can argue about whether that’s a reasonable number or not, but it is unlikely that the Chinese will suddenly decide that ~20 missiles vs. the US and Russia combined is sufficient.

      ~120 long-range missiles would work just fine, and would give the Chinese more flexibility in dealing with future developments in the US. But those missiles don’t exist, and there’s no quick and dirty path to creating them. So I think the Chinese are going to want to hang on to their IRBMs for a while longer.

      But if someone really, really wants the Chinese to sign on to the INF treaty, there’s your implied answer. Just send over some American technical advisors to debug the DF-31A, JL2, and the type 095 SSBNs, and some gigabucks to subsidize early and rapid deployment. Or we could just sell them surplus Minutemen and Tridents…

      Somehow I do not think Senator Kyl will approve.