We Did Not Hype the Nuclear Threat

The U.S.-China Commission responds to Tom Collina.

Alex Wong/Getty Images
Alex Wong/Getty Images

Foreign Policy published an article by Tom Z. Collina that discusses a section on China’s nuclear developments in the 2012 Annual Report to Congress by the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which we chair. We are writing today to correct a few misrepresentations in that piece.

Mr. Collina’s article states that our report "raises concerns that China may be hiding hundreds of nuclear weapons in underground tunnels." His subsequent commentary says, "[t]his might be scary but for the fact that the Pentagon says it’s not true." First, we did not attempt to quantify what China’s underground nuclear storage and transportation infrastructure might mean for China’s arsenal size. We simply said that an expansion in such infrastructure "could indicate an increase in [China’s] warhead inventory." Second, we note that the Pentagon’s annual report to Congress, Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2011,plainly acknowledges this issue, stating: "China’s strategic missile force, the Second Artillery Corps (SAC), has developed and utilized UGFs [underground facilities] since deploying its oldest liquid-fueled missile systems and continues to utilize them to protect and conceal their newest and most modern solid-fueled mobile missiles."

We reject Mr. Collina’s assertion that, with respect to nuclear issues, the commission’s report "is just the latest in a line of studies that hype the China threat." We took great pains to detail a range of open source estimates of China’s arsenal size, including one as low as 100 total weapons. We also noted that the "most rigorous open source surveys to date produce results that cluster around 240." On the other hand, we identified a Russian estimate as high as 1,800 weapons, although we acknowledge that some Western analysts have disputed its credibility. Nevertheless, the range in the estimates we aggregated is puzzling. That’s the point of our recommendation that "[c]ommittees of jurisdiction seek input from relevant U.S. government agencies and international organizations to assess disparities in estimates of the size and disposition of China’s nuclear forces."

Mr. Collina’s charge that the commission’s "report goes so far as to question ‘the desirability of further cuts’ to U.S. and Russian nuclear forces ‘without clearer information on China’s nuclear forces,’" is an unfortunate misrepresentation of our statement. We noted only that recent developments have made others in Congress and elsewhere question further cuts without additional information.

But in raising this issue, Mr. Collina has touched upon another key commission recommendation: that "Congress require the U.S. Department of State to detail current and planned efforts to integrate China into existing and future nuclear arms reduction, limitation, and control discussions and agreements" as well as to request periodic updates on these efforts. As General James E. Cartwright (U.S. Marine Corps, ret.), former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently testified to the commission, "We need as a nation to stop thinking bilaterally" about nuclear arms control. The longer we wait to bring others into the discussions, he said, "the more problematic it’s going to be to have a multilateral approach."

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