On the other hand, building 136–145 new missiles plus the missiles needed for testing and spares would cost the Chinese roughly $33 billion, which would come to $227 million per missile but $23 million per warhead. Given its $14 trillion economy, this new Chinese nuclear buildup comes to 2/100ths of a percent of the nation’s gross domestic product.
The significance of that nuclear buildup is doubly important because for the first time in its history the United States is facing two equally or superior nuclear-armed peer competitors. After all, Russia is also building nuclear weapons. It has deployed twenty-two new types of nuclear missiles, bombers, and submarines just since signing the 2010 New START Arms Control Treaty. This modernization is now 90 percent complete, and all of which will be fully deployed no later than 2025, according to Russian leaders.
As for Russia’s six new “exotic” nuclear systems, which possibly fall outside the contour limits of the New START agreement, well, over 55 percent of Russia’s nuclear forces are not constrained by any arms control agreement with the United States. Meanwhile, 100 percent of China’s nuclear forces do not come under any arms agreement.
America’s nuclear history is marred with unexpected surprises. The Soviet launch of Sputnik surprised the United States and prompted it to build a new submarine-based nuclear missile force and the Minuteman land-based nuclear missile force within five years. Perhaps this “Chinese surprise” will push the United States to take the Chinese military challenge seriously.
In 1962, information surfaced that the Soviets were building new nuclear-armed missiles in Cuba. That information was passed on to the British and then to the Americans. As a result, the United States went looking for the missiles, found them, and with imagery provided by U-2 spy planes, proved to the United Nations that USSR nuclear escalation was occurring, which is something that Moscow had repeatedly denied.
Today, satellite imagery has revealed another strategic surprise. This time the surprise is in China. There has been no UN meeting and no demand that the Chinese reveal their intentions. Instead, various critics have dismissed the Chinese build-up of weapons, hoping the U.S. and Allied response will be muted while the country pays attention to more important things. But the weapons build-up is quite serious and requires immediate attention. U.S. strategists need to turn their attention toward a long-term plan to fully upgrade and modernize America’s nuclear deterrent. After all, this step toward the future was agreed upon in 2010 and two subsequent nuclear posture reviews.
Peter Huessy is the president of Geo-Strategic Analysis of Potomac, Maryland.