"No one can solve this problem alone, but together we can change things for the better." 

– Setsuko Thurlow
Hiroshima Survivor
June 6, 2016
Michael Klare

New Report Examines Effects of Emerging Military Technologies on Strategic Stability



For Immediate Release: Feb. 7, 2023

Media Contacts: Michael Klare, senior visiting fellow, [email protected]Shannon Bugos, senior policy analyst, [email protected] 

(WASHINGTON, DC) — A new report from the Arms Control Association assesses the extent to which the military utilization of emerging technologies will result in or exacerbate the accidental, unintended, or premature use of nuclear weapons in a great-power crisis. The report also provides a framework strategy for curtailing the indiscriminate weaponization of emerging technologies. 

Increasingly in recent years, the major powers have sought to exploit advanced technologies— artificial intelligence, autonomy, cyber, and hypersonics, among others—to gain battlefield advantages. Some officials and analysts posit that such emerging technologies will revolutionize warfare, making obsolete the weapons and strategies of the past. 

Yet, before the major powers move quickly ahead with the weaponization of these technologies, there is a great need for policymakers, defense officials, diplomats, journalists, educators, and members of the public to better understand the unintended and hazardous outcomes of these technologies.

“As was the case during World Wars I and II, the major powers are rushing ahead with the weaponization of advanced technologies before they have fully considered—let alone attempted to mitigate—the consequences of doing so, including the risk of significant civilian casualties and the accidental or inadvertent escalation of conflict,” writes Michael Klare, a senior visiting fellow and board member at the Arms Control Association.

“While the media and the U.S. Congress have devoted much attention to the purported benefits of exploiting cutting-edge technologies for military use, far less has been said about the risks involved,” he emphasizes.

This primer, Assessing the Dangers: Emerging Military Technologies and Nuclear (In)Stability, unpacks the concept of “emerging technologies” and summarizes the debate over their utilization for military purposes and their impact on strategic stability. 

The report provides a deep analysis of four particular technologies—autonomous weapons systems, hypersonic weapons, cyber weapons, and automated battlefield decision-making systems—and details an overarching strategy for mitigating their dangerous weaponization and their associated risks. The primer provides an invaluable resource for policymakers, journalists, educators, and others seeking a concise yet comprehensive overview of recent developments in the field.

The full report is available for download at ArmsControl.org/Reports.


Pentagon: Chinese Nuclear Arsenal Exceeds 400 Warheads

January/February 2023
By Shannon Bugos and Michael Klare

China’s nuclear arsenal likely exceeds 400 operational nuclear warheads, a level that the Pentagon estimated two years ago might not be reached until the end of the decade.

DF-41 nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missiles are a key weapon in China’s expanding nuclear arsenal.    (Photo by Greg Baker/AFP via Getty Images)A senior U.S. defense official described China’s effort to modernize, expand, and diversify its nuclear arsenal as “a rapid buildup that is kind of too substantial to keep under wraps.” Beijing has undertaken plans “that exceed really their previous attempts, both in terms of the scale, the numbers, and also the complexity and technological sophistication of the capabilities,” the official said at a press briefing.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian criticized the Pentagon’s report on Nov. 30. “We have exercised utmost restraint in developing nuclear capabilities,” he said. “We have kept those capabilities at the minimum level required by national security.”

The nuclear warhead estimate comes from the Pentagon’s annual report on China’s military power, which was published Nov. 29 and covers developments through 2021. In its National Defense Strategy released this year, the Biden administration named China as “the most comprehensive and serious challenge” for the United States. (See ACT, December 2022.)

The report projects that China aims to complete its nuclear modernization plans by 2035.

“If China continues the pace of its nuclear expansion, it will likely field a stockpile of about 1,500 warheads by its 2035 timeline,” the report states. This statement extrapolates the Pentagon’s estimate from the previous year, which said that Beijing may be able to amass 700 warheads by 2027 and 1,000 by 2030. (See ACT, December 2021.)

China is continuing to build three silo fields for intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which will feature at least 300 new silos in total for two Dongfeng (DF) missile variants. Open-source intelligence analysts discovered these fields in 2021. (See ACT, September 2021.)

“At least some of the new silos might be operational,” according to Hans Kristensen of the Federation of American Scientists on Nov. 29. He made the assessment based on the Pentagon’s estimate that China has tripled its number of ICBMs to 300 silo-based or road-mobile missiles from a previous estimate of 100.

Although the report finds that China’s nuclear arsenal continues to closely align with the concept of a limited deterrent, senior U.S. defense officials have suggested that Beijing may be shifting away from that posture.

The Defense Department disclosed in the report that the DF-41, a fixed or mobile ICBM with a multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) capability, likely will carry no more than three warheads per missile.

Beijing also continues growing its inventory of about 200 DF-26 ground-launched, intermediate-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear or conventional warheads to the western Pacific, the Indian Ocean, and the South China Sea. The report says China is probably seeking a low-yield nuclear weapon and, if so, is likely using the DF-26 for that purpose.

In 2021, China launched approximately 135 ballistic missiles for testing and training, more than the rest of the world combined outside of conflict zones, according to the report.

The Pentagon confirmed China’s test in July 2021 of a hypersonic glide vehicle paired with an ICBM in a demonstration of a fractional orbital system. (See ACT, November 2021.) The vehicle flew around the world in low-orbit space for a total of 40,000 kilometers in roughly 100-plus minutes and very nearly struck its target inside China.

The development of such a system, the report acknowledges, is probably “due to long-term concerns” about U.S. missile defense capabilities and to a drive “to attain qualitative parity with future worldwide missile capabilities.”

As for sea-based nuclear forces, the Pentagon revealed for the first time that China “likely began near-continuous at-sea deterrence patrols” with its six operational Jin-class nuclear-powered submarines, each of which can carry up to 12 submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

Beijing operationally fielded the H-6N nuclear-capable bomber in 2020 as part of its “nascent” nuclear triad, according to the report. The Chinese military likely is developing tactics and procedures for the bomber to support its nuclear mission, the report states.

To support its nuclear force expansion, China continues to pursue the construction of fast breeder reactors and reprocessing facilities, the Pentagon said, reaffirming a previous assessment.

“Despite China’s public support for a fissile material cutoff treaty,” the report says, “we judge that Beijing intends to use this infrastructure to produce nuclear warhead materials for its military in the near term.”

The report reiterates previous assessments that China, which keeps a majority of its launchers and missiles separated from nuclear warheads, may ramp up this peacetime status by moving toward a launch-on-warning posture. At this stage, this posture largely has been associated with military exercises.

China also maintains its declaratory no-first-use nuclear policy, but the Pentagon believes it may consider using nuclear weapons if a conventional attack imperils the country’s existence.

In parallel with China’s efforts to enhance its strategic nuclear capabilities, the Pentagon sees a concerted Chinese drive to advance its emerging and disruptive technologies, such as artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous weapons systems, and cyberweapons. The report indicates that Chinese leaders are convinced that mastery of these technologies will be essential to success in future wars with a “strong power” such as the United States.

“The PLA [People’s Liberation Army] is pursuing next-generation combat capabilities based on its vision of future conflict, which it calls ‘intelligentized warfare,’ defined by the expanded use of AI and other advanced technologies at every level of warfare,” the report states.

According to the Pentagon, China is exploring using AI in target detection and identification systems, missile guidance, computer-assisted decision-making, and autonomous weapons platforms of various sorts, including unmanned air, sea, and ground vehicles.

China also is reported to have developed a significant capacity for offensive cyberoperations and intends to employ these capabilities at the onset of battle to disable an adversary’s command, control, and communications systems, a scenario with significant implications for strategic stability.

The report includes a special section on Chinese views of strategic stability, which are described as increasingly revolving around the concept of “ensuring mutual vulnerability” with its nuclear-armed adversaries. “Beijing views significant risks to strategic stability from potential U.S. technological breakthroughs or new commitments to produce and deploy cutting-edge weapons systems at greater scale or near China’s periphery,” the report says.

China’s main strategic stability concerns include rapid, credible advances in U.S. missile defenses, U.S. and allied hypersonic weapons capable of threatening China’s land-based arsenal, space surveillance assets, conventional prompt-strike weapons, and cyberoperations capable of undermining nuclear command and control, the report adds.

A senior U.S. defense official described China’s effort to modernize, expand, and diversify its nuclear arsenal as rapid and substantial. 

Biden and Xi Skirt the Abyss

News Date: 
November 17, 2022 -05:00

Biden and Xi Skirt the Abyss

Admittedly, expectations for the November 4 meeting between Presidents Biden of the United States and Xi of China were not particularly high, so no one should be surprised that little of real substance emerged from their encounter in Bali, Indonesia. Both leaders laid out their concerns about the other side’s behavior while promising to contain their mutual antagonisms at a level below that of armed conflict. They also agreed to increase high-level contacts—Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Beijing early next year as part of this process—and to resume formal talks over climate...

Ukraine isn't the world's only nuclear flashpoint: Taiwan crisis is getting ugly

Thanks to Vladimir Putin's recent implicit threat to employ nuclear weapons if the U.S. and its NATO allies continue to arm Ukraine — "This is not a bluff," he insisted on Sept. 21 — the perils in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict once again hit the headlines. And it's entirely possible, as ever more powerful U.S. weapons pour into Ukraine and Russian forces suffer yet more defeats , that the Russian president might indeed believe that the season for threats is ending and only the detonation of a nuclear weapon will convince the Western powers to back off. If so, the war in Ukraine could prove...

China Reacts Aggressively to Pelosi's Taiwan Visit

September 2022
By Michael T. Klare

Amid growing tensions between Beijing and Washington, the visit to Taiwan by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Aug. 2 prompted unusually muscular and protracted maneuvers by the Chinese military. China’s top leaders, including President Xi Jinping, had long warned their U.S. counterparts to avoid showing support for what they call independence forces on Taiwan, insisting that such moves risked inviting a harsh Chinese military response.

China reacted with aggressive military maneuvers after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), (L) visited Taiwan on Aug. 3 and met the president of the self-governing island, Tsai Ing-wen. (Photo by Chien Chih-Hung/Office of The President via Getty Images)“Those who play with fire will perish by it,” Xi told U.S. President Joe Biden during a July 28 virtual conversation focused on the Taiwan situation. Whether unaware of or unconcerned by the constitutional division of powers between the executive and legislative branches of the U.S. government, Chinese leaders interpreted Pelosi’s visit as an expression of official U.S. support for increased Taiwanese autonomy and responded with a dramatic show of force.

For five days beginning on Aug. 3, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and Air Force (PLAAF) conducted a complex set of combined maneuvers in the airspace and waters surrounding Taiwan, while PLA Rocket Forces launched multiple ballistic missiles. On Aug. 7, for example, the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense reported that 14 PLAN warships and 66 PLAAF combat planes engaged in military maneuvers along the median line between China and Taiwan, with some of the aircraft crossing into the eastern, Taiwan-facing side. The following day, the ministry reported that 13 Chinese ships and 39 planes conducted similar maneuvers, with some aircraft again crossing the median line. Meanwhile, Taiwan deployed its own ships and planes in the area to drive off the Chinese intruders, setting the stage for what could have become accidental or unintended clashes between the two sides.

The missile strikes on Aug. 3 entailed the launch of 11 Dongfeng-15 (DF-15) short-range ballistic missiles into waters east, northeast, and southeast of Taiwan. Five of the missiles reportedly landed in the waters of Japan’s declared exclusive economic zone. The DF-15 is a road-mobile, solid-fueled ballistic missile with a maximum range of 900 kilometers and a payload of up to 750 kilograms. Although primarily intended for conventional strikes against high-value enemy assets, such as air bases and command centers, some variants are believed to be capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Many Western observers of the Aug. 3 firings believe that China’s intent was to demonstrate a capacity to endanger shipping around Taiwan should it decide to blockade the island and destroy any enemy ships sent to Taiwan’s aid if it chooses to invade.

The elaborate air and sea maneuvers appear to have had two major objectives: first, to make evident to Taiwanese leaders that China possesses the will and capacity to invade the island if Taiwan moves toward full independence and, second, to provide the PLA and its constituent forces with an opportunity to test their capacity to undertake such a complex and perilous mission.

As a political statement, the Chinese maneuvers appear to have had little impact on the outlook of Taiwan’s leaders. In a televised address on Aug. 4, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen condemned China's aggressive behavior and vowed to "resolutely defend our nation's sovereignty and security as a bulwark of democracy and freedom."

This presents a quandary for Chinese leaders. If a major show of force on this scale fails to make a significant impact on Taiwanese thinking, does Beijing abandon such harsh measures and rely instead on increased trade and tourism, to win the Taiwanese people over; or do they increase the scale and intensity of military operations, prompting a correspondingly larger Taiwanese response and increasing the risk of a violent clash?

The talk from Beijing suggests an inclination to pursue the latter course. On Aug. 7, Chinese state television reported that the PLA will henceforth conduct "regular" military drills on the eastern side of the median line in the Taiwan Strait. Since then, there have been numerous such episodes.

That could make the second goal of the maneuvers even more important. Although the PLA conducts military drills on a regular basis, it rarely conducts combined air-sea-missile exercises on this scale and never in such highly contested waters. From what can be gleaned of the maneuvers, PLA forces sought to engage in combined air-sea operations of a sort that would be required in an actual blockade or invasion of Taiwan.

As would also be expected in such a complex operation, PLA forces employed anti-submarine warfare assets, long-range surveillance drones, and cybercapabilities. Although it is impossible to determine what combat scenarios the PLA leadership envisioned, the PLAAF did deploy several H-6 heavy bombers. That plane originally was designed to deliver nuclear or conventional weapons. The most recent version, the H-6K, is usually equipped with conventionally-armed cruise missiles but a new variant is believed to be intended for nuclear missions.

Beijing unleashed a complex set of maneuvers in the air and sea around Taiwan.


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