China's Nuclear Upgrade Raises Concerns in the West

In order to provide a clear picture of the impact China's nuclear upgrade might have on the global balance of power, it is imperative to explore what this upgrade entails.
12/31/2014 11:23 am ET Updated Mar 02, 2015

There is plenty to be said about 2014; a year marked by major shifts in geopolitics: ISIS redrawing the borders in Iraq and Syria, possibility of normalization of relations between the US and Cuba, unexpected falling oil prices, and the near collapse of the Russian economy as a result of the sanctions, among others. However, what is one to make out of Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, latest order to military leadership to be ready to win a war. The answer is one of concern, ambiguity, and intrigue.

Security analysts and military experts anticipate that China's military technology will continue to grow in 2015 and beyond. Of interest, is how china has recently upgraded its nuclear arsenal with the introduction of multiple warheads missile capability that provides it with a second strike capacity. This upgrade comes at a critical time as the U.S. tries to figure out what Mr. Jinping's announcement means. Is this a coincidence? Or is China preparing for a major war?

Against this backdrop, one should not be surprised at Mr. Jinping's direct order. As I argued in my latest article, US Era of Dominance is Dwindling as China Takes over the World Economy, China's economic preeminence suggests the inevitable expansion of its military power; thus, creating a major shift in global balance of power. To China, the modernization of its military force is part of its strategic plan. China has already established ties with India, Pakistan, and Russia with military cooperation on the horizon. This cooperation is primarily based on (a) China's desire to redirect US focus away from Asia, and (b) as Russia re-configures its nuclear capabilities, China takes advantage of this opportunity seeking Russia's assistance and expertise in this realm. Be that as it may, US policymakers need to think about what the implication of China's nuclear capabilities upgrade might mean for future conflicts as tensions between Russia and the West, headed by the U.S., are reaching a broiling point. Yet, I remain optimistic and hope that wisdom will guide Russian and U.S. leaders to find a solution to the diplomatic standoff over Crimea.

In order to provide a clear picture of the impact China's nuclear upgrade might have on the global balance of power, it is imperative to explore what this upgrade entails.

As far as China's naval capabilities, military analysts predict that the size of the Chinese Navy would surpass that of the United States by the year 2020. Of interest, is the diversification of weapon systems China plans to produce: new warplanes, destroyers, and assault vessels. Of great concern is China's ability to acquire a sea based nuclear deterrent that would provide it with a second strike capability. The mounting of these missiles, JL-2, on its nuclear powered submarines raises concerns among US military planners. These missiles have a strike range of about 7,350 km or 4, 567 miles. Stated differently, should a military conflict between the U.S. and China ensue, which is unlikely, these missiles can reach anywhere in the United States if launched from coastal waters of Hawaii. In support of the latter assertion, the U.S. government needs to be careful and avoid provoking China, as it did Russia over Crimea, especially when it comes to Taiwan issue. The result would be catastrophic as the U.S. makes enemies it can't afford.

One other thing is clear: China's military cooperation with Russia is getting stronger; one that includes its purchase of a new Russian submarine design called the Amur 1650. This cooperation is serving both countries' mutual interests. On one hand, China seeks to assert its regional influence while modernizing its military force to deter the U.S. from meddling in Asia. Russia, on the other hand, is trying to wither the sanctions and partially avoid economic collapse through the sale of advanced submarines designs to China.

These developments are of a great concern to the US; however, I'll argue that China's military upgrade does not suggest a preparation for a war; yet want to ensure winning one if the need arises. China realizes that despite its economic rise, it is not ready to challenge the United States militarily; thus, it strikes me as a rational state that understands how limited its military capabilities vis-à-vis other major powers, especially the U.S., are. Needless to say, China's recent military upgrade suggests a potential shift in its strategic path.

The question US military planners and policymakers need to ask is: Where would China's nuclear capabilities and military infrastructure be five years from now? I am convinced that China will keep moving forward in its path of acquiring and pursuing more lethal and advanced military technology as part of its new role on the global stage. We should not be surprised if and when China directs its attention, once it secures superiority of its nuclear deterrence, to challenge the U.S. information supremacy in addition to space and satellite technology.

Does Xi Jinping order to the military suggest a preparation for a major war? Is there a military operation in the works? Or is China's nuclear capabilities upgrade an anticipated move in the wake of its new economic preeminence? The answer is anyone's guess since much of the Chinese military decision-making process takes place in a much obscure setting to the outside world. Time has come for US. policymakers from both parties to no longer view China as a means to score political points during an election season. Soon or later, China will acquire the political clout that goes hand in hand with its economic preeminence and military rise. More than ever, the U.S. needs foreign policy leadership; one that looks beyond its self-promoting interests and focus on advancing the welfare of this great nation of ours.