November 2011
China's Underground Great Wall and a Threat of a Conventional Strike

image008.jpgScience and Global Security continues a series of articles by Chinese analysts on the perceived threats to China's nuclear forces from U.S. military capabilities. In "Conventional Counterforce Strike: An Option for Damage Limitation in Conflicts with Nuclear-Armed Adversaries?" Tong Zhao, from Georgia Institute of Technology's Sam Nunn School of International Affairs, examines survivability of China's nuclear forces against a possible U.S. attack with current and next-generation precision-guided conventional forces. He shows how China's strategy of building underground facilities for its nuclear forces may help protect these weapons (especially China's ballistic missiles) from U.S. preemptive strikes with conventional weapons.

The article "Conventional Counterforce Strike: An Option for Damage Limitation in Conflicts with Nuclear-Armed Adversaries?" is currently available for free download at the Taylor & Francis site

The previous articles in this series were: Li Bin, "Tracking Chinese Strategic Mobile Missiles" (Volume 15, 2007) and Wu Riqiang, "Survivability of China's Sea-based Nuclear Forces," Science and Global Security (Volume 19, 2011). Taken together, these articles suggest that instead of an ever more challenging contest in which the United States seeks to make China's nuclear weapons more vulnerable to attack and China develops additional possible countermeasures, the two countries would be better served by a policy that advances mutual reassurance and strategic stability.

Also in the new issue of Science and Global Security:

"One Hundred Nuclear Wars: Stable Deterrence between the United States and Russia at Reduced Nuclear Force Levels Off Alert in the Presence of Limited Missile Defenses" by Bruce Blair, Victor Esin, Matthew McKinzie, Valery Yarynich, and Pavel Zolotarev.

This article presents the results of a large number of simulated nuclear first-strikes by the United States and Russia on each other, where the two countries have reduced their arsenals to a total of 1000, 500, or 100 warheads each, with the weapons dealerted so as to be hours away from launch readiness, and with deployment of U.S. missile defenses and Russian countermeasures. They show that even in such a situation, the attacker will confront an adversary with surviving nuclear forces sufficient to inflict devastating retaliation. This analysis provides an important reference point for analysts and policy makers concerned about deeper reductions in U.S.-Russian nuclear arsenals.

"Nuclear Archaeology for Heavy-Water-Moderated Plutonium Production Reactors" by Alex Gasner and Alexander Glaser.

This article uses computer modeling of the core of Canada's NRX reactor (which was the basis for the design of plutonium production reactors both in India and Pakistan) to look at changes in the isotope ratios of elements in the reactor support structure's aluminum alloys and how these correlate with the plutonium production in the reactor to present a possible technical basis for verifying the amount of weapon plutonium produced by reactors in Israel, India, and Pakistan. Experiments to validate this approach would be a significant step towards development of the verification capabilities that will be needed as part of a nuclear disarmament regime.