dr. Peter BROOKES
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is unquestionably a country with grand ambitions. It is determined to replace the United States as the preeminent power in the Pacific.
Moreover, arguably, it may intend to supersede the U.S. globally atop of the international system at some point in the future.
As the Biden administration wrote in its March 2021 Interim National Security Guidance:
China, in particular, has rapidly become more assertive. It is the only competitor potentially capable of combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to mount a sustained challenge to a stable and open international system.1
Along these lines, in June of 2021, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin issued an internal directive to the Department of Defense to “laser focus” the Pentagon’s “efforts to address China as the nation’s number one pacing challenge.”2
In other words, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) would be America’s greatest security threat, replacing the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation as the U.S.’s most powerful military rival.
Also in June, Army Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, testified before Congress that China has developed “an extraordinarily capable military” and, while not currently superior to U.S. forces, “…their object is to be at least co-equal to [the United States] if not superior.”3
One area of China’s military build-up of increasingly deep concern to U.S. policymakers and security analysts, among others, is the PRC’s nuclear moderni-zation program.
In recent years, the world has witnessed the development of a nascent Chinese nuclear triad, with the deployment of at-sea and air-based nuclear forces, the revelation of hundreds of new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos, nuclear-capable hypersonic weapons (HSWs) developments, and increasing questions about the state and possible direction of Beijing’s nuclear doctrine.
All of these changes come with little reasonable comment or explanation from Beijing.
As a result, the United States, its allies, and partners must carefully consider these developments and craft responses to the growing Chinese nuclear threat to ensure that their interests are protected and advanced in the face of these unprece-dented Chinese strategic developments in an arena of great power competition.
Dr. Peter Brookes is a Heritage Foundation senior fellow and a former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense.
1 The White House, Interim National Security Guidance, March 2021, https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2021/03/NSC-1v2.pdf.
2 Jim Gamarone, “Austin Signs Internal Directive to Unify Department’s China Efforts,” DOD News, June 9, 2021, https://www.pacom.mil/Media/News/News-Article-View/Article/2652100/austin-signs-internal-directive-to-unify-departments-china-efforts/.
3 Bill Gertz, “Sustaining war against China would be a ‘significant challenge,’ Joint Chiefs chairman says,” The Washington Times, June 23, 2021, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2021/jun/23/joint-chiefs-chair-sustaining-war-china-challenge/.