China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal and may have 1,000 nuclear warheads by the end of the decade as it aims to surpass US global influence by the middle of the 21st century, according to a major Pentagon report released on Wednesday.
The estimate, based on the rapid modernization of China’s nuclear strike options and its construction of missile silos, marks a dramatic increase from the projection in last year’s China Military Power report, which estimated that China would double their stockpile of 200 warheads within a decade. The report comes amid heightened tensions over the issue of Taiwan and was published hours after the most senior US general, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley issued a stark warning about China’s military progress stating it amounts to “one of the largest shifts in global geostrategic power that the world has witnessed.”
A senior defense official briefing reporters on the report adopted a similar stance. “The nuclear expansion that the [People’s Republic of China] is undertaking is certainly very concerning to us,” the official said. “It’s one thing to observe what they’re doing, but they haven’t really explained why they’re doing it.” The official said the buildup raises serious doubts about the intent behind their nuclear stockpile.
“They’re moving in a direction that substantially exceeds where they’ve been before in terms of numbers and capabilities,” the official said. Though China still maintains a no first-use policy when it comes to nuclear weapons, the official said China has suggested “there are circumstances under which that wouldn’t apply.” China has also focused on a “lean and effective nuclear force,” but their current buildup is greater than the US anticipated “and well beyond where they’ve been historically.” The investment in its nuclear force has allowed China to establish a “nascent” nuclear triad of air-launched ballistic missiles, as well as surface and sea-launched missiles, similar to the United States’ own triad. The US currently has 3,750 nuclear warheads in its stockpile, according to the latest data from the State Department, dwarfing the size of China’s nuclear stockpile.