China's Nuclear Capability

Saturday, April 30, 2005

The Post's Edward Cody repeats three assertions about Chinese nuclear forces that are clearly contradicted by the public assessments of U.S. intelligence analysts [front page, April 12].

Mr. Cody states that, "The Type 094 nuclear missile submarine, launched last July to replace a trouble-prone Xia-class vessel, can carry 16 intercontinental ballistic missiles." He provides no source for the claim or description of what is meant by "launched." The most recent unclassified intelligence assessments -- "Chinese Military Power" (Defense Department, June 2004), "Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat" (National Air and Space Intelligence Center, August 2003) and "Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat Through 2015" (National Intelligence Council, December 2001) -- all describe the Type 094 as several years away from operational deployment. Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby testified in February before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence that China "recently launched a new conventional submarine" but did not mention the Type 094 nuclear ballistic missile submarine.

Mr. Cody asserts that the Julang-2 will have "the ability to carry independently targeted warheads." National Intelligence Officer Robert Walpole testified before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee in March 2002 that the intelligence agencies have concluded that China's nuclear weapons are too heavy to place more than a single warhead on the JL-2. Army Gen. John Shalikashvili expressed the same judgment in his report on the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.

Mr. Cody also states that "the Dongfeng-31 solid-fuel mobile ballistic missile, a three-stage, land-based equivalent of the Julang-2, has been deployed in recent years" and refers to "academic specialists citing U.S. intelligence reports." Which specialists and which reports?

The most recent versions of "Chinese Military Power," "Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threat" and "Foreign Missile Developments" all conclude that the DF-31 remains several years from deployment. Adm. Jacoby testified that China "continues to develop" -- not deploy -- the DF-31.

U.S. intelligence estimates are not, of course, flawless. But they are the proper place to begin an analysis. U.S. intelligence analysts have unparalleled access to technical means of collection and employ well-known methods that can be considered for gaps or bias. By contrast, citing an unspecified "expert" tells the reader little about the provenance of the information, unless the expert cites an intelligence report. In that case, scholars should refer to the primary source directly.



The writer works at the University of Maryland Center for International and Security Studies, which researches global security issues.

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