Georgetown students shed light on China’s tunnel system for nuclear weapons
The Chinese have called it their “Underground Great Wall” — a vast network of tunnels designed to hide their country’s increasingly
sophisticated missile and nuclear arsenal.
For the past three years, a small band of obsessively dedicated students at Georgetown University has called it something else: homework.
Led by their hard-charging professor, a former top Pentagon official, they have translated hundreds of documents, combed through satellite imagery,
obtained restricted Chinese military documents and waded through hundreds of gigabytes of online data.
The result of their effort? The largest body of public knowledge about thousands of miles of tunnels dug by the Second Artillery Corps, a secretive
branch of the Chinese military in charge of protecting and deploying its ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads.
The most remarkable part of this story is the way an Open Source Intelligence project was able to put together such a large and complete picture of
the Second Artillery Corps activities. A project as ambitious as this would have been unthinkable five years ago and it really shows the true
potential of the web. Using Google earth, milbloggers, Chinese news sources that only quite recently had a web presence and other research outlets the
GWU research team has made a significant contribution on what has been a very cloudy subject.
The longstanding assumption has been that the Chinese nuclear arsenal is small with the Chinese being able to deploy anywhere between 80 and 400
weapons. China has encouraged that perception and has argued that its arsenal is only for a small deterrence, but given the secrecy with which it
operates and the lack of transparency of its military, all assumptions have a potentially wide margin of error. This study could dramatically change
that. Former defense secretary Frank C. Carlucci was quoted in the article to provide perspective on the dismantling of the Soviet weapons program
where the US offered materials and assistance to secure 20,000 Russian warheads, the best estimate at the time, when the number was over twice that.
RAND corp analyst Herman Kahn wrote the definitive book on the subject of Mutually Assured Destruction and the thought process behind it policy makers
used called Thinking about the Unthinkable in the 1980s
, if you haven’t read it and are interested in these things, check it out.
According to Kahn, policy planners divided deterrence into three levels.
Type I Deterrence
: the ability to attack and cripple an adversary with a first-strike but not be able to mount a counterattack if you were the
target of a first strike.
Type II Deterrence
: the ability to mount a counterattack effective enough to cripple an adversary after their first strike on you
Type III Deterrence
: the ability to deter conventional war by fielding tactical weapons and being able to credibly use them if provoked
All arms treaties to date have been negotiated to ensure that the US and Russia still maintain their respective levels of deterrence with the fewest
number of warheads possible. Currently the US maintains 5,000 warheads available for deployment with 2200 deployed, and Russia maintains 8,000
available for deployment with 2800 deployed. If the Chinese are capable of deploying more than they admit to, and the results of this study make that
highly probable, what does that say about the nuclear balance among the superpowers?
If for example, the Chinese can actually deploy 4000 weapons, and given the size the of the Second Artillery Corps infrastructure the GWU team thinks
this is a distinct possibility, how will this effect the balance of power if the US continues with the START II treaty and pears its deployed weapons
down to 1,550? This might reduce the US to a Type I Deterrence, and put the Chinese in the position of having a Type II Deterrence.
Not that I am stating there would be a nuclear war over this, but if history is a guide, the Soviets became much more aggressive and confrontational
when they built their arsenal into a Type II Deterrence. Would the Chinese be able to seize all the disputed Islands in the South China sea without
interference? Would they be able to invade Taiwan with impunity?
As an aside, the report is not without its critics. They mainly seem to be from the disarmament community … are they criticizing the report based on
real flaws or simply refusing to acknowledge it because it conflicts so strongly with their goals? They have fought hard for decades for nuclear
disarmamant and these revelations could be quite the fly in the ointment.
All good questions to ponder and kudos to the GWU team for the effort.
edit on 30-11-2011 by SirMike because: (no reason given)