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China Nuclear Uncertainty and Its Impact on India

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    9th Apr, 2021
China Nuclear Uncertainty and Its Impact on India


  • China's nuclear program has not changed much since it launched its first nuclear device in 1964. Strong dynamic security with the United States has forced it to reconsider its nuclear strategy to achieve effective prevention.
  • It aims to modernize its nuclear weapons and increase its nuclear ambiguity through conventional nuclear capture.
  • In the case of China, common-nuclear involvement is just one aspect of ambiguity.
  • Others include the-
    • ambiguity related to China's No-First Use (NFU) nuclear policy
    • new skills
    • the light on the number of nuclear wars
    • possible changes in the starting point of warning (LOW and possible development of nuclear weapons

Thus, it becomes crucial to analyze China’s nuclear program and how would they impact India.

Chinese Teaching Concepts: Power restraint, coercion, and ambiguity

The Chinese understanding of the doctrinal concepts of ‘restraint’, ‘coercion’ and ‘incomprehensibility’, differs from that of the Western intellectual community. Deterrence is an act of nations' reluctance to take unwanted action, a form of coercive behavior that threatens the enemy with punitive measures and prevents you from a set course.

  • A Chinese expert on nuclear issues, explains the difference between the two terms:
    • 'deterrence' is the use of coercive methods to maintain the status quo
    • ‘coercion’ is to change it
  • The difference is based on their chances of success, as forcing an opposing country to do something is more difficult than preventing it from doing something.
  • The 2001 SMS (Science of Military Strategy) outlines two key roles of strategic restraint: preventing the opponent from doing something by blocking, and persuading the opponent what should be done about blocking. Both require that the opponent obey the will of the winner.
  • Chinese strategists maintain that China's nuclear strategy protects the environment and focuses on prevention (not coercion), nuclear warfare, deception and threats, and retaliatory strikes, as outlined in the 1987 SMS (the first complete PLA military strategy after 1949).
  • The ambiguity is compounded by the coherence of understanding in mainstream Chinese nuclear forces as well as the military size and integration technology.
  • Another example of ambiguity comes from a 2013 SMS, which warns that a sharp rise in the lead could lead to a nuclear war “if China fails to accept the right level of risk of the blockade.
  • Chinese strategists consider nuclear deterrence as a key to national security and prioritize policy and the cornerstone of protecting our national security.

Uncertainty of strategy according to strategic agreement

  • Although highly supportive, the ambiguity of the strategy does not mean that it is isolated and unstable.
  • Lack of knowledge about the red lines of the enemy can lead to lines crossing unknowingly, but can also prevent the country from engaging in activities that could trigger a nuclear response.
  • To date, India has faced a certain level of NFU emergence since a doctrine released in 1999, under which it would not be “the first to start a first nuclear strike, but will respond with retaliatory retribution if it does not succeed ' India, or Indian troops anywhere, with biological or chemical weapons.”
  • The expertise of the Indian experts surveyed said that the Indian and Chinese NFUs are always present and do not stop, in the ongoing negotiations, raise differences and questions about the characteristics of both nuclear states.
  • In the face of volatile power changes, several have raised the need for India to improve its strategic thinking to prevent opponents from using the 'vacuum' left by the NFU.

China's Missile Force: Design and Evolution

  • Second Artillery Corps (SAC): The Second Artillery Corps (SAC), which preceded the People's Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLA RF), was established in 1966, just two years after the People's Republic of China (PRC) conducted its first successful nuclear test in Lop Nor, Xinjiang.
    • Since its inception, it has been responsible for conventional Chinese missiles and nuclear weapons.
    • The formation of the SAC was an example of the dominance of Chinese civil society in making nuclear decisions.
  • This unit was to be called the rocket artillery force (inside) and Second Artillery (outside); however, shortly after its construction, it was caught up in the politics of the Cultural Revolution.
  • There has also been a dramatic change in the power character since 1985 as it developed long-range nuclear missile capabilities and invested in a standard power arm.
  • Dong-Feng-2 (DF): China successfully tested the Dong-Feng-2 (DF) medium-range in 1964, followed by a 1966 nuclear war test.
    • There are two important limitations to this collection of ballistic arrows. First, the process of stopping, blowing, and shooting these arrows can take hours, making them vulnerable to the first strike.
    • Second, the vast majority, especially the DF-4s and DF-5s, restricted their mobility, forcing them to become monsters and making it easier for them to be controlled by the US and the Soviet Union.
  • ICBMs: China also retains ICBMs derived from the beast and enables it to carry more heads. The country has also retained the silo-based DF-5 ICBMs and made them capable of carrying multiple warheads, with each missile capable of carrying up to five. However multiple variants of the DF-21, DF-31, DF-41, DF-5, and DF-26 together form the core of China’s land-based nuclear missile force.
  • While China has increased its nuclear arsenal survivability by shifting from liquid-fuelled, silo-based missiles to solid-fuelled, mobile ballistic missiles and developing a nuclear triad, it has also focused on the development and deployment of its conventional arsenal.
  • Its conventional missile inventory includes:
    • Short-range Ballistic Missiles (SRBMs)
    • Medium-range Ballistic Missiles (MRBMs)
    • Intermediate-range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs)
    • Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs)
    • Cruise Missiles and Hypersonic Glide Vehicle

China’s Nuclear Ambiguity: It’s Role and Costs

  • China's nuclear program has remained unchanged since 1964 when it began exploding its nuclear device. But the full official definition of its nuclear program appeared only in the 2006 white paper, which stated that China was pursuing a “nuclear defense strategy”.
  • Prevent other countries from threatening and coercing China
  • Retaliation in the event of a nuclear holocaust.
  • China has decided not to use nuclear weapons to fight a non-nuclear state or a nuclear-free zone. China's nuclear ambiguity stems from its operational processes, nuclear systems, and control systems, and new capabilities.
  • The sophisticated missile strategy has led to the development of dual-purpose missile systems such as the DF-26, DF-21, and DF-17 hypersonic glide car variants. DF-21 has two distinct variants of nuclear and conventional use, but DF-26 is believed to be a dual-use system capable of introducing nuclear and conventional military heads.
  • China’s efforts to maintain ambiguity will be important in building its nuclear state and are mainly about reducing costs for itself while raising its rivals.
  • Mystery and light are marked by ambiguity, which involves two distinct areas:
    • the formation and nature of nuclear power
    • patterns and strengths of escalation in the pre-and post-launch phases
  • Apart from its nuclear power structure, the alliance of China's nuclear forces with the general army has created fears about China's nuclear situation.

Ambiguity in Structure and Composition of Chinese Nuclear Forces

China must disclose its nuclear content and must be drawn into the arms control program with the US and Russia. Thus, China's opacity promotes a wide range of uncertainties and increases, which in turn increases costs in China, due to the merger between the PRC's regular forces and nuclear power. In addition, it may lead to intensified competition.

  • The opposing view finds little evidence that China is expanding its arms embargo much like Russia and the US.
  • The increase in the size of the PRC nuclear weapons may be modest even though the variability of the weapon, especially in delivery systems, is different and complex.
  • China has invested heavily in non-nuclear capabilities to reduce its dependence on nuclear weapons and its compliance with conventional weapons. These capabilities include cyber weapons, the electronic war power, and space weapons, including kinetic and non-aircraft weapon systems targeted by space-driven objectives.
  • Nuclear weapons come at a high cost as they strengthen competition with the US and Russia. China sees a wide arsenal and invites high financial burdens.
  • As China follows NFU policy and must fight US missile defense capabilities that could postpone retaliatory machine strikes following the first strike especially in the US, underground archers take on greater importance in survival.
  • The ambiguity of nuclear power in the country is a product of organizational needs and personal order itself can be a vague element of strengthening ambiguity as a deliberate strategy.

China's nuclear expansion - the PRC has studied the use of unconventional to keep the nuclear system relatively inexpensive.

Need for a better understanding of strategic consistency and ambiguity

  • The ambiguity raises the issue of signatures and strategies because the India-China planning process for nuclear deterrence remains volatile, and that between India and Pakistan remains unclear.
  • As China and Pakistan are linked to South Asia’s broader Indian ideas and ‘forward’ challenge - which prioritizes cooperation between the two countries to pressure India - this link between strategic agreement and ambiguity should be better understood.
  • Nuclear relations between India and China may be more than ideal, and Indian-Pakistani nuclear relations may be strained.
  • If so, this concept of nuclear position should be systematically re-evaluated. For this to happen, especially in the case of India and China, means the transcendence of China's traditional skepticism of India's involvement in the legal status of India.
  • The claim that both countries are aligned with the NFU is just one example of a nuclear standstill that may stabilize in the short term but may lead to uncertainty in the future.
  • While strategic ambiguity may not lead to instability, the concept of 'strategic consensus' in nuclear deterrence supported by the growth of 'strategic ambiguity' can grow.

Implications for India

The implications of China's nuclear ambiguity in India are different from those of other nuclear powers such as the US and Russia. Efforts have failed to get Beijing to agree to join a three-party agreement that limits the size of its weapons. It is likely that China, its growing arsenal, will show great readiness to join arms control when it hears that it has the right level of nuclear insurance against the US, Russia, and to some extent, India, following the collection of a larger arsenal.

  • The problems facing New Delhi are not just another barrier to China. India faces the burden of China's cumulative twin cones larger than India's, as well as China with a higher nuclear capability and prepared to survive the first strike and retaliation.
  • India treats nuclear weapons as a deterrent to nuclear deterrence and retaliation if the enemy is not used first.
  • The Indian and Chinese methods of using nuclear weapons are similar. New Delhi, too, is pursuing a proven retaliatory strategy with the NFU. This promotes stability in the Sino-Indian nuclear dyad. Indeed, the weak forces in Dyad, India, still have to gather the nuclear weapons of the infinite escalation strategy made by weak Pakistan against India.
  • There are two areas where New Delhi should be most concerned - China's growing nuclear war, and its changing nature involving a growing number of dual-core missiles.
  • They also need to supplement their existing and flexible arsenal with non-nuclear strategic capabilities such as cyber, electronic, and space weapons and make every effort to reduce Chinese investment across Electromagnetic Spectrum (EMS) to reduce dependence on weapons.
  • The doctrine of uncertainty or ambiguity is designed to keep those who may be your enemies unsure of the situation. It certainly does not mean keeping your policymakers uncertain.

Finally, the full functioning of Indian weapons has its pitfalls. It has the potential to have a negative impact on the stability of the civil war between India and Pakistan, even though the expansion of the Indians is primarily aimed at stimulating China’s equal power.

If increased pressure comes from the international community of the Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), the latest accumulating pressures, coupled with China and Pakistan's steel growth, will make it difficult for New Delhi to avoid expanding its arsenal.


The importance of ambiguity for China’s nuclear capabilities and posture, allowing it for many years to preserve a limited arsenal. Overall, the growth of China’s nuclear arsenal is at best incremental. It sees value in keeping things ambiguous, and it does not see risks of ambiguity for escalation reaching the point of being unmanageable and prohibitive. Further, China can continue to build up its capability, albeit modestly, without being encumbered by arms control or bring more transparency to its nuclear posture.

India, too, has decisions to take. Assuming that India settles for a smaller arsenal than China’s existing or projected stockpile, investments will have to be made in other capabilities such as space, cyber, and electronic warfare, limited missile defense, and improved delivery capabilities to maintain credible nuclear deterrence.