thebulletin | Nuclear doctrinal change with conventional implications. The policy of ensuring a survivable strategic nuclear threat allows for the continued militarization of the Chinese state and for its expansion of influence in the Pacific. This expanded influence is made further possible by a post-Cold War, casualty-averse environment in which even the largest of nuclear arsenals can be deterred by a truly “lean and effective” force. Ballistic missile submarines are the realization of China’s dream of a nuclear force that protects China not only from nuclear exchange, but also from conventional coercion: Finally, a true minimum deterrence will be reached—the quality and quantity of Chinese nuclear weapons will be enough to deter its adversaries from initiating a first strike. It is a level of deterrence that is recognized not only by the rest of the world but also by China itself. Some Chinese nuclear developments—such as the continued modernization of the DF-5 A and B missiles, whose silo locations are widely known and would not survive a first strike—are questionable on strategic ground, but the deployment of ballistic missile submarines on deterrent patrols is nothing but a logical progression for a nuclear armed state.
At the same time, however, this deployment weighs against the evidence supporting a Chinese policy of “No First Use.”
Unfortunately, the threat from below has repercussions that are larger and more tangible than its implications for "No First Use." China is refusing to separate its nuclear forces from its growing conventional forces—not only continuing to obscure the nature of China’s nuclear arsenal, but also guaranteeing the utility of its conventional weapons. China’s 260 nuclear warheads should now be looked upon as having a real military function, rather than dismissed as a small force developed for political purposes only.