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Asia - Pacific Security : China Invited NMD & TMD


Paper 239                                       10.05.2001

by Dr. Subhash Kapila

China today depicts national characteristics similar to those of imperial Germany of 1900: "the sense of wounded pride and the annoyance of a giant that has been battered and cheated by the rest of the world." [1] Building on this an American academic made two pertinent observations: [2]

* This historical background prodded China into a major military modernisation program.

* This military ‘enchantment’ was further fuelled by domestic political imperatives to unify China through nationalist symbols. It also helped stabilise the Chinese leadership political base.

It is ironic that China’s explosive economic growth was fuelled by United States and Japanese investments which have led to the creation on China’s aggressive and intimidatory military might in the Asia Pacific.

China military build-up and modernisation would have been perceived as legitimate for a nation rising from its unfortunate past, had it not been accompanied by China’s propensity for :

* Armed conflicts as in Korea, Vietnam, the Sino-India war and border clashes with USSR.

* Sponsoring, aiding and abetting insurgencies in the Asia-Pacific.

* Creating military equipment client states in the Middle East, South Asia, South East Asia and North East Asia.

China also went in for a sizeable build-up of its nuclear weapons and missiles arsenal and indulged further in nuclear weapon and missile anarchy to destabilise the existing precarious regional and global stability in these fields. These deserve a detailed examination  to understand  why China brought the NMD (National Missile Defence) and TMD (Theatre Missile Defence) shields coming as responses to its unpredictable strategic policies. It would also help appreciate how unconvincing the Chinese arguments are against the planned deployment of NMD and TMD.

China’s Global and Regional Nuclear Weapons and Missile Threat

The chronology of China’s build-up of its nuclear weapons arsenal is well chronicled.In the past twenty-five years China has upgraded both the power and precision of its nuclear weapons with a concurrent sophistication of its delivery systems. China, alone amongst the nuclear powers continued systematic nuclear weapons testing in the 1990. Forecasting for 2000 then, China was assessed that it would have cruise missiles and elaborate space-based defence system.[3]

China’s global and regional nuclear weapons and Missiles threat is generated by the following arsenal:

* Nuclear warheads for its missiles for -as per 1993 estimates to total 300 [4]. Present estimates are however around 450-500.

* By 2120, China could have 50-70 ICBMs capable of global coverage including USA [5]

* Two mobile ICBMs: DF31 (range 5000 miles) and BF41 (range 7500 miles) are in advanced stage of development [6]

* Current inventory consists of :[7]

- ICBMs   15-20
-IRBM      66
-SLBMs   1 Xia SSBN with 12 Css-N3)
- SRBMs  150
-Bombers 120 H6 (nuclear capable)

China has expanded its wish list of the above threats by acquiring technologies for Cruise Missiles similar to the American TOMOHAWK and also GPS Systems for ensuring greater accuracy of missiles.[8]

The Chinese nuclear threat in terms of the size of arsenal is growing. It is said that : [9]

* Size of China’s nuclear force becomes largely a matter of will, not capability.

* China can afford a major expansion of its missile force.

* China has the capability of producing 10-12 ICBM per year

With China having both the will and the finances the Chinese nuclear force is likely to grow. More so when China is not amenable to any restraints.

Stimulii for NMD and TMD: China’s Nuclear Weapons and Missiles Anarchy

China had the NMD and TMD coming its way in response to its nuclear weapons and missiles anarchy that its has inflicted both globally and regionally. (Major points of China’s anarchical behaviour to be considered are:)

* China has viewed nuclear weapons and missiles not as weapons of deterrence but as political tools of coercion and pressure, globally and regionally. Thus China has provided nuclear weapons and missiles to proxy failing states to strategically de-stabilse its potential regional rivals e.g. Pakistan and North Koreain relation to India and Japan. [10]

* China has used the same method in the Middle East to supply nuclear technology and missiles to states adversarial to the United States. China since 1990s can be said to be using the Middle East as a counter pressure point against USA in relation to military supplies to Taiwan.

* China violated all its NTPT, MCTR commitments while indulging is such WMD proliferation.

* China is engaged in a major upgradation of its nuclear and missile arsenals, while the big league nations of USA and Russia are cutting down their arsenals.

* China is threatening the "freedom of the high seas" in South China Sea and the Taiwan Straits with an implied nuclear missile buildup e.g. massing of SRBMs opposite Taiwan. Currently 300 are deployed.

* China’s "DF-21 missiles are deployed from bases where they can threaten Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Philippines and India. With the assistance of PLA Navy tracking ships, DF-21 missiles also could be used to attack US Navy carrier task groups. From China’s Hainan Island in the South China Sea, DF-21 missiles could counter US naval forces transiting the Straits of Malacca. [11]

* China to date has not shown any inclination to join any nuclear arms control discussions.

China’s Objections to the NMD

China’s opposition to the NMD were outlined officially by Ambassador Sha Zhu Kang, Director

General, Arms Control and disarmament Deptt., in the Chinese Foreign Ministry on March 15. The gist of his arguments were as under: [12]

* China is opposed to NMD for two basic reasons:

- NMD not in interest of international peace and security 

- NMD compromises China’s security .

* NMD will disrupt existing strategic equilibrium among major powers.

* NMD will become a force multiplier for USA.

* NMD will increase the weight of the military factor in international relations.

* NMD will strengthen US unilateralism.

* NMD will hamper international arms control and disarmament.

* NMD will trigger a new arms race.

* TMD as a forward component of NMD in Asia -Pacific security.

* China is prepared to use force to safeguard its sovereignty.

The NMD and TMD are basically anti-missile defence systems. NMD is aimed at defending USA mainland against missile threats from any quarter. It is designed to ensure that USA is freed from USA mainland defence to react to any military conflict anywhere. TMD is planned as a regional forward component in the Asia-Pacific for missile defence of its regional allies, basically Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Philippines.

In light of the above, China’s objections to NMD and TMD as officially spelt out seem unconvincing. Both these systems are basically shield against hostile missile attacks against USA and its allies in the Asia Pacific. Not being offensive missile systems targeted at Chinese sites, they in no way are a military threat to China and its mainland territory. Contrary to China’s views, international peace and security would be strengthened in the Asia Pacific, as none of the regional states on which Asia-Pacific security hinges, namely Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Philippines  would be vulnerable to any nuclear and Missile coercion by China and North Korea.

USA is committed to the provision of a ‘nuclear umbrella’ to Japan and South Korea. TMD provides this. Wthout the ‘nuclear umbrella’ of USA Japan and South Korea could be tempted to develop their independent nuclear deterrent in relation to China.

China’s major under-lying objection and fear is that the development of NMD and TMD would dilute or negate China’s nuclear deterrence i.e. its second strike nuclear capability.


China’s anarchic policies in terms of nuclear weapons and missile proliferation have been a major stimulii in the emergence of the NMD and TMD. Even at the height of the Cold War no such responses emerged for the simple reason that despite their confrontation USA and USSR could sit down and discuss contentions issues without any historical baggage and perceived insults. In course of time both USA and USSR could see reason and discuss arms control as opposed to disarmament.

The same cannot be said of China for the following reasons: [13]

* China consistently over the years has avoided negotiated constraints on its nuclear arsenal and delivery means.

* In 1980s, China stated it could not discuss this until superpowers reduced their nuclear arsenal by 50 percent.

* On Russia and USA cutting down their nuclear weapons by 60%, China switched to arguing that before talks can commence, Russia and USA should slash their arsenals to China’s levels i.e. 400-500 level.

China with such evasive stances can hardly expect that its objections on NMD and TMD can be taken seriously. On the contrary such stances reinforce the case for NMD and TMD deployment on the premise that China is feverishly engaged in the expansion of its nuclear arsenal to the reduced levels of those of USA and Russia.

NMD and TMD are thus legitimate responses to a China whose nuclear arsenal is not only expanding but a liable to anarchical use . China’s security concerns can only be respected internationally when it learns to accord respect to the security concerns of others.


1. Nichols D Kristoff, "The Rise of China" in foreign affairs November/December 1993. P72

2. Kent E. Calder, "Asia’s Deadly Triangle", London, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 1996, P121

3. Ibid P72

4. "Chinese Nuclear and Conventional Forces 1993", Arms Control Today, December 1993. P29

5. Stephen Hutcheon, "China May Set off Another Nuclear Test Next Week", Sydney Morning Herald, August 11, 1995.P11

6. "Backgrounder", Asian Studies Center, The Heritage Foundation, Washington "Building a More Secure Asia Through Missile Defence", No 138 dated October 25, 1995 P2

7. "MILITARY BALANCE, 2000" P186-189.

8. Brad Roberts, Robert A Manning and Ronald N Montaparti "China: The Forgotten Nuclear Power" in "Foreign Affairs" vol 79 July-August 2000 P55

9. Ibid P57

10. Dr. Subhash Kapila, " Japan-India Strategic Cooperation: A Perspective Analysis: South Asia Analysis Group Paper dated 13 June 2000 P5.  See for a more detailed analysis.

11. "BACKGROUNDER", The Heritage Foundation (1995). See Note 6 above P4
Also see David A Fulghun and Michael Meecham in "Chinese Tests Stun Neighbours", Aviation Science and Space Technology, July 31 1995. P23.

12. Xinhua despatch dated March 15, 2001 in Embassy of China (PRC) New Delhi, news letter "News From China" Volume XIII No 12 dated March 21, 2001.

13. "Foreign Affairs", see reference at Note 8. P62-63.