The US Department of Defense on Wednesday released its annual report which gives a detailed assessment of China's military capabilities. The key and most alarming element to the report suggests China is planning to quadruple its nuclear weapons stockpile over the next decade.
The new analysis finds that for the 2020 review, the Pentagon woefully underestimated China's expanding ambitions regarding its nuclear arsenal. Whereas last year's estimate forecast the country would have more than 400 nuclear warheads by 2030, the new 2021 report posits over 700 by 2027, and with a likely intent by China to produce over 1,000 warheads by 2030.
The annual report to Congress on Chinese Military Power concludes that currently China's projected aims are "exceeding the pace and size the [Department of Defense] projected in 2020." By comparison, the US still has by far more nuclear warheads, at 3750.
However, the report underscores that in tandem with rapidly increasing warhead production, delivery systems are being updated with an aim to heighten nuclear triad readiness, as Bloomberg quotes from the Pentagon review:
"The PRC is investing in, and expanding, the number of its land-, sea-, and air-based nuclear delivery platforms and constructing the infrastructure necessary to support this major expansion of its nuclear forces," the Defense Department said. That means China "has possibly already established a nascent nuclear triad" of delivery systems, it said, and is supporting its nuclear expansion "by increasing its capacity to produce and separate plutonium by constructing fast breeder reactors and reprocessing facilities."
Perhaps more interesting is that the report strongly suggests China has sped up its nuclear preparedness as a direct reaction to the US military's heightened presence in the South China Sea by the end of the Trump administration.
"In the second half of 2020, the PRC perceived a significant threat that the United States would seek to provoke a military crisis or conflict in the near-term. These erroneous concerns were accompanied or fueled by widespread speculation in PRC media that the United States would deliberately instigate a conflict with the PRC in the South China Sea. This speculation accompanied intensified warning messaging in PRC state media, large-scale military drills, heightened readiness, and additional deployments," the report lays out.
While the DoD report calls the assumption of intentioned US provocations "erroneous" - it remains that rhetoric on China spanning both the Trump and Biden administrations have grown more bellicose.
Speaking of heightened, provocative language hyping the China threat...
NEW - General Mark Milley assesses it unlikely that China will attempt to retake Taiwan within the next 6, 12, or 24 months. pic.twitter.com/WR78SD8Z2T— Disclose.tv (@disclosetv) November 3, 2021
Currently the Chinese government is urging Washington and its nuclear-armed allies to adopt a 'no first use' of nuclear weapons policy - which has long been its own official stated position. Recent reports have indicated President Biden is ready to take a fresh look at US nuclear policy.
The US is expected to release its Nuclear Posture Review by year's end. America's current doctrine of strategic ambiguity - which assumes the US has a right to deploy nuclear weapons whether offensive or defensive - is the longtime default position that allies like UK, France, Germany and Australia want Biden to stick by, as they perceive as key to their own national defense.