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China Global Podcast:

China’s Nuclear Strategy, Capabilities, and Build-up

November 23, 2021

Nearly six decades ago, China became the world’s fifth nuclear weapons state, joining the United States, France, the U.K., and the Soviet Union. China’s nuclear warheads stockpile was estimated last year to be in the low 200s. By comparison, the U.S. stockpile of nuclear warheads was at 3,750 as of September 2020.

But recent developments suggest that Beijing is now engaged in a significant expansion of its nuclear arsenal, and maybe modifying its nuclear strategy as well. In the past few months, there have been reports of the construction of new missile silo fields and tests of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile that could potentially evade U.S. missile defense systems. The Pentagon now predicts that China could quadruple its stockpile of nuclear warheads by 2030. What is motivating China’s nuclear force expansion? And what should the United States do to respond to China’s nuclear build-up?

Dr. Fiona Cunningham joins Bonnie Glaser to discuss China’s evolving nuclear forces, its strategy, and how the United States might engage with China to mitigate the risk of conflict. Dr. Cunningham is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania and has published research on China’s nuclear strategy, U.S.-China strategic stability, and escalation dynamics in the nuclear domain.