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Nuclear Declaratory Policy and Negative Security Assurances

March 2018

Contact: Kelsey DavenportDirector for Nonproliferation Policy, (202) 462-8270; Kingston ReifDirector for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy, (202) 462-8270 x104

Updated: March 2018

The world’s nuclear-armed states each have declared, to varying degrees of specificity, when and under what circumstances they reserve the option to use their nuclear weapons. Most nuclear-armed states have also declared under what circumstances they rule out the use of nuclear weapons. These “positive” and “negative” nuclear declaratory policies are designed to deter adversaries from military actions and to assure non-nuclear weapon states and allies they will not be subject to a direct nuclear attack on their territory and should be dissuaded from pursuing nuclear weapons themselves.

There is no universal agreement among nuclear weapon states on the first-use of intercontinental ballistic missiles.Today, most nuclear-armed states, including the United States, reserve the option to use nuclear weapons first in a conflict. Only two nuclear-armed states (China and India) have declared no-first-use policies, by which they commit themselves to use nuclear weapons only in response to a nuclear attack.

All five of the nuclear-weapon states recognized in the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States) have issued a set of “negative” nuclear security assurances, which were recognized by the UN Security Council in Resolution 984 (1995). These pledges, however, are nonbinding and some nuclear-weapon states reserve the right to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states under certain circumstances. The following is a more detailed summary of each country’s policies.

United States

The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review report declared that there are four missions for the U.S. nuclear arsenal: deterrence of nuclear and non-nuclear attacks, assurance of allies and partners, achievement of U.S. objectives if deterrence fails, and capacity to hedge against an uncertain future.

The document reiterated that the United States does not maintain a nuclear “no first-use policy” on the grounds that U.S. response options must remain flexible to deter nuclear and non-nuclear attacks. “Non-nuclear capabilities,” according to the report, “can complement but not replace U.S. nuclear capabilities” for the purpose of deterrence. In the event that deterrence were to fail, the report also declared that Washington could use nuclear weapons to end a conflict on the “best achievable terms for the United States.”

The NPR dictates that the use of nuclear weapons will only be considered under “extreme circumstances” to defend the “vital interests” of the United States and its allies. It defines “extreme circumstances,” which the 2010 NPR did not, to include “significant non-nuclear strategic attacks” against “U.S., allied or partner civilian population or infrastructure, and attacks on U.S. or allied nuclear forces, their command and control, or warning and attack assessment capabilities.”

The United States issued assurances not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon-state NPT members in 1978, 1995 and 2010 except in the case of “an invasion or any other attack on the United States, its territories, its armed forces or other troops, its allies, or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear- weapon State.” In 1997 the United States issued a classified presidential decision directive (PDD) reaffirming these pledges.

The 2018 NPR repeated existing U.S. negative security assurances by stating that Washington “will not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” However, the report qualified that the United States reserves the right to amend its negative assurance if warranted by “the evolution and proliferation of non-nuclear strategic attack technologies.” At the February 2 press briefing following the report’s release, Undersecretary of Defense for Policy John Rood clarified that this may include cyber capabilities.

For a more details, see U.S. Negative Security Assurances at a Glance.

China issued negative security assurances at the United Nations in 1978 and 1995 and is the only NPT nuclear-weapon state that has declared a no-first-use policy, which it reiterated in February 2018.

At the 2018 Munich Security Conference, Fu Ying, chairperson of the foreign affairs committee of the National People’s Congress, said that “China is also committed to the principle of non-first-use of nuclear weapons, and no-use of nuclear weapons against any nuclear state [sic] at any circumstances and no-use of nuclear weapons against nuclear-free zones.”

In its April 1995 letter to UN members outlining its negative security assurances, China declared that it “undertakes not to be the first to use nuclear weapons at any time or under any circumstances.” China consistently reiterates this policy in its defense white papers. The most recent, edited in 2016, stated that “China will unconditionally not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or in nuclear-weapon-free zones, and will never enter into a nuclear arms race with any other country.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, China also called for the negotiation of an international legally binding instrument to prohibit first-use of nuclear weapons and use or threat of use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states and nuclear-weapon free zones.

France maintains a policy of calculated ambiguity regarding first-use of nuclear weapons. A 2013 French government defense white paper states that “the use of nuclear weapons would only be conceivable in extreme circumstances of legitimate self-defence” and that “[b]eing strictly defensive, nuclear deterrence protects France from any state-led aggression against its vital interests, of whatever origin and in whatever form.”

France issued negative security assurances at the UN in 1987 and 1995. In its 1995 statement to the UN, France pledged not to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT “except in the case of invasion or any other attack on France, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, or against its allies or a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a State in alliance or association with a nuclear-weapon State.”

At the 2010 NPT Review Conference, France called for nuclear possessor states to “work resolutely to advance disarmament in all its aspects; in which the doctrines of nuclear powers will restrict the role of nuclear weapons solely to extreme circumstances of self-defence where their vital interests are under threat.”

According to the December 2014 Russian Military Doctrine Paper published by the Ministry of Defense, Russia reserves the option to use nuclear weapons in response to an attack involving any weapon of mass destruction, and in response to conventional attacks “when the very existence of the state is under threat.” This phrase suggests a willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states in the event of an impending conventional military defeat.

In 1993, Russia moved away from Leonid Brezhnev’s 1982 no-first-use pledge when the Russian Defense Ministry under Boris Yeltsin adopted a new doctrine on nuclear weapons. The new policy ruled out the first use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states that are party to the NPT but said nothing about use against states possessing nuclear weapons. Since the 1993 shift, many Western analysts have come to believe that Russia pursues an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy—the notion that, in the event of a large-scale conventional conflict, the Kremlin would use or threaten to use low-yield nuclear weapons to coerce an adversary to cease attacks or withdraw. However, other analysts maintain that this is not the case. 

Russia issued unilateral negative security assurances not to attack non-nuclear-weapon states in 1978 and 1995, but stated in 1995 that those pledges would not apply “in the case of an invasion or any other attack on the Russian Federation, its territory, its armed forces or other troops, its allies or on a State toward which it has a security commitment, carried out or sustained by such a non-nuclear-weapon State in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon State.”

United Kingdom
In the 2015 Strategic Defense and Security Review document, the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear weapon states that are party to the NPT and in compliance with the treaty’s obligations. The United Kingdom appears to leave open the option to use nuclear weapons in response to WMD threats, such as chemical or biological attacks, if such threats emerge. Currently London acknowledged that there is “no direct threat” posed by WMDs to the United Kingdom in the 2015 document, but the government reserves the right to “review this assurance if the future threat, development or proliferation of these weapons make it necessary.”

The United Kingdom issued a unilateral negative nuclear security assurance in 1978 and again in 1995. In the 1995 pledge the United Kingdom said it will not use, or threaten to use, nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states party to the NPT. This assurance does not apply, however, to any state acting “in association or alliance with a nuclear-weapon state” that attacks the United Kingdom, its territories or allies, or any state in breach of its commitments under the NPT.

India has a no-first-use doctrine. As the government stated in a draft nuclear doctrine in August 1999, “India will not be the first to initiate a nuclear strike, but will respond with punitive retaliation should deterrence fail.” Although India has adopted a no-first-use policy, some Indian strategists have called the pledge’s validity into question. The credibility of this pledge was weakened in 2009 when Indian Army Chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor suggested that the government should review the pledge in light of the growing threat of Pakistan. In 2010, National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon stated that India's nuclear doctrine was “no first use against non-nuclear weapons states.” MIT professor Vipin Narang has also observed that “the force requirements India needs in order to credibly threaten assured retaliation against China may allow it to pursue more aggressive strategies—such as escalation dominance or a ‘splendid first strike’—against Pakistan.”

During debate at the Conference on Disarmament in 2014, India’s representative reiterated the government’s no-first-use policy and the policy on nonuse against non-nuclear-weapon states and said that India was “prepared to convert these undertakings into multilateral legal arrangements.”

Given that Israel has not acknowledged possession of nuclear weapons, it has not made any statements regarding its willingness to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. Israel generally abstains from voting on an annual UN General Assembly resolution that would establish international arrangements to assure non-nuclear-weapon states that the use or threat of use of nuclear weapons would not be used against them, including recently in resolution 72/25 in 2017.

Pakistan has only issued negative nuclear security guarantees to those states that are not armed with nuclear weapons. Pakistan’s position regarding when and whether it would use nuclear weapons in a conflict with another nuclear-armed state, namely India, is far more ambiguous. Pakistani officials have indicated that the circumstances surrounding its no-first-use policy must remain deliberately imprecise, as demarcating clear redlines could allow provocations by the Indian military just below any established threshold for use.

In a 2015 statement, Foreign Secretary Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry said that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is one-dimensional, that is it for "stopping Indian aggression before it happens" “not for starting a war.” He also said in 2015 that Pakistan is capable of answering aggression from India due to Islamabad’s development of short-range tactical nuclear weapons. In July 2016, Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif suggested Islamabad would use nuclear weapons for defensive purposes in armed conflict with India.

North Korea
Following its fourth nuclear test in January 2016, Pyongyang declared a policy of no-first-use under the condition that hostile forces do not encroach on its sovereignty. The Jan. 6, 2016 government statement said that North Korea, as a “responsible nuclear weapons state, will neither be the first to use nuclear weapons…as long as the hostile forces for aggression do not encroach upon its sovereignty.”  North Korea has re-affirmed this stance at the May 2016 Worker's Party Congress in Pyongyang and in the 2018 New Year's Address. North Korea, however, routinely threatens to use nuclear weapons against perceived threats, including against the United States and South Korea, a non-nuclear-weapon state.

Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Fact Sheet Categories:

Posted: March 16, 2018

Chinese Analysts Urge Nuclear Increase

But there is reason to doubt that the commentary signals a policy shift.

March 2018
By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

Commentary in an official Chinese military newspaper called on China to strengthen its nuclear deterrent, although Chinese official statements and expert analysis downplay a more assertive nuclear weapons stance.

Two analysts at the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Academy of Military Science, which informs China’s Central Military Commission, raised the prospect of an accelerating nuclear weapons program by China. “To enhance China’s strategic counterbalance in the region and maintain China’s status as a great power, and protect national security, China has to beef up and develop a reliable nuclear deterrence capability,” they wrote in PLA Daily, according to a translation by the South China Morning Post.

China displayed the DF-5B intercontinental ballistic missile during a military parade September 3, 2015 in Beijing. The silo-based missile, deployed in 2015, is reported to carry multiple, independently targetable reentry vehicles. (Photo: Rolex Dela Pena - Pool /Getty Images)The commentary argued that both the development of new nuclear weapons proposed by the latest U.S. Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons modernization programs could create a need for an enhanced deterrent through an expanded Chinese nuclear force.

The PLA Daily “provides an outlet for more extreme views” within the PLA, Catherine Dill, a senior research associate with the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told Arms Control Today in a Feb. 14 email. She noted that opinion pieces may not signal future military plans.

The United States asserted in a recent intelligence assessment and in its latest NPR report that China is already advancing and expanding its nuclear weapons capabilities. China is modernizing its nuclear missiles to “ensure the viability of China’s strategic deterrent by providing a second-strike capability,” according to the U.S. intelligence community’s worldwide threat assessment report, which was presented to Senate Intelligence Committee on Feb. 13.

Twice in November 2017, China tested a DF-17, a medium-range ballistic missile with a hypersonic glide vehicle that could help it evade missile defenses. China continues to develop its submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and may be producing additional nuclear-powered submarines, according to the report.

China is “expanding its already considerable nuclear forces” and pursing “assertive military initiatives,” according to the NPR report. The NPR provides a rationale for the Trump administration’s plans to accelerate U.S. nuclear weapons programs.

But China’s modest nuclear force posture, official Chinese statements, and expert analysis all point to China rejecting an aggressive nuclear expansion. China maintains a small nuclear arsenal compared to those of Russia and the United States. Although a level of secrecy surrounds the Chinese nuclear arsenal, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in July 2017 estimated China has 270 nuclear warheads.

China also holds to a no-first-use policy, whereby it declares that it will only use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack. The Chinese Defense Ministry reaffirmed that it follows this policy as recently as Feb. 4, when it also claimed that it would “resolutely stick to peaceful development and pursue a national defense policy that is defensive in nature.”

Other analysts doubt that China will pursue an arms buildup. Chinese military analyst Zhao Chenming told the South China Morning Post on Jan. 30 that China is too “pragmatic” to spend heavily on an arms race. In a Feb. 9 blog post, Gregory Kulacki, China project manager for the Union of Concerned Scientists, underlined the defensive nature of Chinese nuclear forces, arguing that although China has the ability to engage in an arms race, it is “unlikely to do so.”

“[T]he piece does reflect general unease within China and the PLA about U.S. military plans,” Dill stated, adding that China will likely continue to focus on developing SLBM capabilities, long-range conventional strike systems, and missile defense assets.

Posted: March 1, 2018

Qatar Displays Chinese Missile

Qatar Displays Chinese Missile

Qatar riled its Persian Gulf neighbors when it displayed a previously unseen, Chinese-made short-range ballistic missile system at a military parade. The sale of the missiles had not been public knowledge until they were spotted on transporter-erector launchers in a Dec. 17 rehearsal for the Qatar National Day Parade. Joseph Dempsey, a research associate at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, recognized the missiles, which he highlighted in a series of Twitter posts. In an observation confirmed by other analysts, he noted that the two eight-axle launcher vehicles in the parade appeared to be configured to carry BP-12A ballistic missile canisters, although they could alternatively carry eight canisters for the smaller, related SY-400 missile.

Members of Qatar's armed forces march in national day celebrations December 18, 2017. The parade reportedly included a previously unseen, Chinese-made short-range ballistic missile system.  (Photo: STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)Officials from the China National Precision Machinery Import/Export Corp. marketed the BP-12A at an international arms show in 2012 as having a range up to 280 kilometers (173 miles) and a payload capability of 480 kilograms. The SY-400 is believed to have a similar or slightly shorter range and roughly half the payload capability. The sale of the BP-12A does not appear to violate the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), which urges its 35 members to restrict exports of missile technologies capable of carrying a 500-kilogram payload a distance of at least 300 kilometers.

China’s bid to join the MTCR was rejected in 2004 due to concern that Chinese entities were continuing to provide missile technology to North Korea, although at the time Beijing voluntarily pledged to follow the regime’s export control guidelines and has since generally tightened its export controls. In recent years, China has increasingly marketed and sold the SY-400 and other missile systems to foreign customers, particularly in the Middle East.

The reveal of the missile sale comes amid a months-long dispute between Qatar and other gulf Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, where media outlets complained that Qatar’s new missiles potentially could strike targets in their countries. Saudi Arabia also has secretly purchased ballistic missiles from China.—MACLYN SENEAR

Posted: March 1, 2018

China Adds Monitoring Stations

China Adds Monitoring Stations

China has completed certification in the past year of its first five International Monitoring System (IMS) stations of the 12 it is obligated to certify toward the completion of the global nuclear test detection system managed by the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO). China is among the eight countries, including the United States, that need to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) for the 1996 treaty to enter into force. Both countries have signed but not ratified the treaty.

The first Chinese IMS station, radionuclide station RN21, was certified in December 2016. Two primary seismic stations and two additional radionuclide stations were certified during the September-December 2017 period. These stations “fill in an important geographical coverage gap in terms of event detection in the region,” according to a CTBTO press statement. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in a statement that the CTBT is “an important pillar of international nuclear disarmament” and that China is “willing to deepen” its cooperation with the CTBTO.

The monitoring system is about 90 percent complete, with more than 290 stations certified. Once complete, the IMS will have 321 monitoring points, consisting of hydroacoustic, infrasound, seismic, and radionuclide stations and 16 laboratories worldwide.—SHERVIN TAHERAN

Posted: March 1, 2018

China Deploys Sea-Based Nuclear Force

China Deploys Sea-Based Nuclear Force

China has put in place its “first credible, sea-based nuclear deterrent” with the deployment of JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), according to the U.S. Defense Department. China is also strengthening other aspects of its nuclear forces with the deployment of a new intermediate-range ballistic missile and development of a long-range strategic bomber “that officials expect to have a nuclear mission,” according to the department’s May 15 report to Congress titled “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2017.”

The report, an annual requirement, indicates that China deployed the JL-2s in the past year. It states that China’s four operational JIN-class nuclear submarines “are equipped with” up to 12 JL-2s, while the 2016 report had stated that submarines “will eventually carry” them. The SLBMs have a range of 7,200 kilometers, according to the 2016 report. The Defense Department report also stated that China has deployed a new intermediate-range ballistic missile, the DF-26, which was first unveiled in a September 2015 parade. It could reach U.S. bases in Guam. People’s Liberation Army Air Force Gen. Ma Xiaotian announced in September 2016 that China was developing a new generation of long-range bomber, which observers expect to debut sometime around 2025, according to the new report. The bomber is expected to employ stealth technology, according to the report.—ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE

Posted: July 10, 2017

Arms Control and Proliferation Profile: China

July 2017

Updated: July 2017

China, one of the five nuclear weapons states under the NPT, is estimated to possess 270 nuclear warheads, an arsenal that has steadily increased in recent years. It has simultaneously sought to modernize and expand its nuclear delivery systems, which include some 143 nuclear-capable land-based missiles and a limited number of submarines, SLBMs, and strategic bombers. China’s self stated nuclear policy has been to keep its capabilities at the minimum level required to maintain its national security and to deter a potential first strike, and it was the first nation to declare a “No First Use” policy.


Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties

Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards

Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

  • The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
  • Delivery Systems
  • Fissile Material
  • Proliferation Record
  • Nuclear Doctrine

Biological Weapons

Chemical Weapons

Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

  • Conference on Disarmament (CD)
  • Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
  • Nuclear Security Summits
  • Six-Party Talks
  • Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)

Major Multilateral Arms Control Agreements and Treaties




Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty



Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty



Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Material (CPPNM)



CPPNM 2005 Amendment



Chemical Weapons Convention



Biological Weapons Convention



International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism



*China stated that it will not be bound by the dispute settlement procedures in Paragraph 2, Article 17

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Export Control Regimes, Nonproliferation Initiatives, and Safeguards



Australia Group

Not a member

Missile Technology Control Regime

Not a member.  China, in 2004, applied for membership, but Beijing did not receive the necessary consensus approval of the group because the United States and some other countries continue to find fault with Chinese missile and technology exports. China says it abides by the MTCR guidelines.

Nuclear Suppliers Group


Wassenaar Arrangement

Not a member

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Additional Protocol

Signatory, entered into force in 2002

Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism


Hague Code of Conduct against Ballistic Missile Proliferation

Not a participant

Proliferation Security Initiative

Not a participant

UN Security Council Resolutions 1540 and 1673

China has filed reports on activities to fulfill the resolutions

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Nuclear Weapons Programs, Policies, and Practices

The Nuclear Arsenal, an Overview
China does not publicly release information about the size of its nuclear arsenal. A July 2017 Stockholm International Peace Research Institute report estimates that China possesses 270 warheads. China’s nuclear arsenal has been steadily increasing with respective figures placed at 240 in 2011 and 250 in 2013 and 260 in 2016.  China’s warheads are thought to be kept in storage under central control during times of peace. It is uncertain whether or not China possesses a non-strategic nuclear arsenal.

China's nuclear policy has been defined by possessing the minimum capabilities needed to deter a first strike from a potential aggressor.

Delivery Systems
Nuclear Modernization

  • China’s nuclear delivery systems are undergoing modernization programs, keeping with the modernization efforts of its People’s Liberation Army (PLA). Such efforts are viewed by Chinese leaders as essential for achieving great power status and advancing national interests and sovereign claims.
  • Hans M. Kristensen & Robert S. Norris report that, “The modernized force is more mobile, responsive, and accurate, and can overwhelm a limited US ballistic missile defense system." 
  • According to the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD), China continues to field new and more advanced nuclear delivery systems with improved range and destructive capability.
  • China’s decision to switch some of its missiles from liquid to solid fuel has improved their capabilities, in both range and promptness of launch. 

 Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM)

  • China appears to maintain a minimal force of nuclear-armed ICBMs to ensure Beijing’s ability to execute a second strike.
  • Estimates place China as having around 143 nuclear-capable land-based missiles capable of delivering approximately 163 warheads. A 2016 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists report estimates that around 50-75 of these land-based missiles are ICBMs, whereas the DOD’s annual military power report on China in 2017 figures China's ICBM arsenal at around 75-100 ICBMs. Only 40-50 of China’s ICBMs are capable of targeting the continental United States. 
  • China’s ICBM arsenal contains:
    • DF-4 (CSS-3): ~10 missiles fixed with a single 3,300 kt warhead; 5,500+ km range. 
    • DF-5A (CSS-4, Mod 2): ~10 missiles fixed with a single 4,000-5,000 kt warhead; 13,000+ km range.
    • DF-5B (CSS-4, Mod 3): ~10 missiles fixed with three 200-300 kt multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) warheads; ~12,000 km range. The DF-5B is a variant of the DF-5A upgraded to carry MIRVs.
    • DF-5C: on Jan. 31 2017, it was reported that China had flight tested the DF-5C, fixed with 10 warheads—a breakthrough in China’s nuclear weapons development. However, some experts are skeptical of this claim. The DF-5C is reported to be a two-stage, liquid-fueled missile with a range of around 8,000 miles (approximately 13,000 km).
    • DF-31 (CSS-10, Mod 1): ~8 missiles fixed with a single 200-300 kt warhead; 7,000+ km range.
    • DF-31A (CSS-10 Mod 2): ~25 missiles fixed with a single 200-300 kt warhead; 11,000+ km range.
    • DF-41: in development; flight-tested in 2016 with two MIRVs. It is a three-stage, solid propellant missile with an estimated range of 12,000-15,000 km and is believed to be able to carry up to ten warheads. The DF-41 is intended to replace the older liquid-fueled DF-5As.
  • China is in the process of replacing the older liquid-fueled missiles such as the DF-4 and DF-5A with the solid-fueled ICBMs.
  • In January 2017, the DF-41, never publically displayed before, was alleged to have been deployed at the Russian border, although many experts believe it has not completed development. 
  • China’s land-based missiles, both conventional and nuclear, are under the control of the PLA Rocket Force, a command of 100,000 personnel.

Submarines and Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM)

  • As of March 2017, China has a fleet of 4 Jin-class (Type 094) nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). The Jin-class SSBNs are designed to carry the new JL-2 SLBMs.
  • An additional 4 Jin-class SSBNs have been commissioned and at least one is under construction.
  • China possesses two SLBM types:
    • JL-1 (CSS-NX-3): an unknown number of missiles fixed with a single 200-300 kt warhead; estimated range of 1,000+ km. JL-1 missiles are being replaced by JL-2s.
    • JL-2 (CSS-NX-14): a modified version of the DF-31 ICBM comprising around 48 missiles fixed with a single 200-300 kt warhead; estimated range of 7,000+ km but some estimates place the number at 8,000-9,000 km.
  • Five Jin-class submarines may enter service before China begins developing and fielding its next-generation SSBN, the Type 096, over the coming decade. The type 096 submarine is expected to carry both the JL-2 and a new missile, the JL-3, which is to be the JL-2’s anticipated successor.
  • Despite various claims to the contrary, it is unclear whether or not Chinese submarines have undergone any deterrent patrols. Beginning in early 2015, it was reported that a Chinese SSBN has undergone a 95-day patrol. 

Strategic Bombers

  • China has begun to update its outdated nuclear-capable bomber fleet.
  • According to a DOD report, China continued, in 2015, to develop long-range bombers, including some that Chinese military analysts have described as “capable of performing strategic deterrence.”
  • The PLA air force was assigned a “strategic deterrence” mission in 2012.
  • As of December 2016, China’s fleet of nuclear-capable bombers consisted of about 20 Hong-6 (H-6) bombers based on Soviet designs, with a range of only 3,100+ km.  
  • The H-6 bombers are only capable of delivering an unspecified number of gravity-based bombs but are not believed to be assigned an active nuclear mission.
  • Media reports suggest that China may develop a new nuclear bomber capability in the future.
  • The PLA Air Force operates a fully redesigned H-6 variant known as the H-6k that has an extended range and is capable of carrying six land attack cruise missiles.
  • In March 2017 it was announced that the 5th generation Chengdu J-20 stealth fighter jet had entered into service, putting China one step closer to rivaling U.S. air superiority in East Asia.  

Fissile Material

  • Although China has not publicly declared a halt to the production of fissile material for weapons purposes, highly enriched uranium (HEU) and separated plutonium, general speculation is that Beijing has stopped its production. China is reported to have last produced HEU in 1989 and last produced separated plutonium in 1991.
  • The International Panel on Fissile Material's 2015 report estimates that China maintains a stockpile of 18 ± 4 metric tons of military HEU and 1.8 ± 0.5 metric tons of weapon-grade plutonium. At the present, the limited size of China’s military stockpile restricts its ability to produce more warheads.
  • China has not declared a civilian HEU stockpile and, as of 2016, maintains an estimated civilian plutonium stockpile of only 25.6 kg.

Proliferation Record

  • China has a record of assisting states with nuclear and missile programs in the past, but in 2000, China made a public commitment not to assist “in any way, any country in the development of ballistic missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons.”
  • China has aided Pakistan’s nuclear and missile programs among other states. Iran, Libya, North Korea, and Saudi Arabia have also been identified as recipients of sensitive technologies and materials from China.
  • The China Nuclear Energy Industry Corporation (CNEIC)—with government authorization—has exported Miniature Neutron Source Reactors (MNSR) to Pakistan, Iran, Syria, Ghana, and Nigeria. These reactors run on highly enriched uranium fuel, albeit a fraction of what is necessary for a nuclear warhead, which has been supplied by China to recipient states.
  • There have been efforts made by China to work with those states to convert these reactors to use low enriched uranium fuel, including a 2010 agreement between the U.S. Argonne National Laboratory and the China Institute of Atomic Energy for a new facility in China to produce LEU replacement cores in MNSR's.
  • Nuclear Supplier Group (NSG) members, including the United States, saw enough improvement in China’s nuclear export behavior that they extended membership to China in 2004.
    • Nonetheless, China has sold reactors to Pakistan, as was revealed in a 2010 agreement between the two nations. This trade, however, contravenes NSG guidelines.
  • China’s bid to join the Missile Technology Control Regime failed in 2004, due to continuing concerns about Chinese missile and missile technology transactions. China, however, maintains that it voluntarily abides by the regime’s guidelines.
  • A 2017 State Department Compliance report cited that “in 2016, Chinese entities continued to supply missile programs of proliferation concern.”
  • Chinese entities have been regularly sanctioned for nonproliferation violations  by the U.S. government. For example, several Chinese entities were sanctioned under the Iran, North Korea, and Syria Nonproliferation Act (INKSNA) sanctions in 2016.
  • The United States has also, at various times, imposed sanctions on Chinese entities for missile and chemical weapons related transfers to Pakistan and Iran such as the provision of dual-use chemical weapons precursors and production equipment to Iran beginning in 1997.

Nuclear Doctrine
China was the first nuclear-weapon state to declare publicly that it will not be the first to use nuclear weapons. Beijing has emphasized that this vow stands “at any time or under any circumstances.” However, the omission of China’s “No First Use” policy from its 2013 defense white paper caused considerable concern amongst U.S. analysts. Nevertheless, in its 2015 military strategy white paper it reaffirmed its no first use policy and further pledged not to engage in a nuclear arms race. The report also states,

"China has always kept its nuclear capabilities at the minimum level required for maintaining its national security. China will optimize its nuclear force structure, improve strategic early warning, command and control, missile penetration, rapid reaction, and survivability and protection, and deter other countries from using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against China."

Regardless, some theorize that the modernization of China’s nuclear arsenal, its intent on increasing its nuclear warfare capabilities, and its posturing demonstrate a doctrine of counternuclear coercion or limited deterrence.

China has conducted 45 nuclear tests. The first test occurred Oct. 16, 1964, and the last test took place July 29, 1996.

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Biological Weapons

  • China contends it is in compliance with the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) despite U.S. allegations asserting the contrary. U.S. State Department compliance assessment reports have said that China possessed an offensive biological weapons capability prior to joining the BWC in 1984.
  • The 2015 report indicates that China "engaged during the reporting period in biological activities with potential dual-use applications. However, the information did not establish that China is engaged in activities prohibited by the BWC." The 2017 compliance report does not cite any Chinese violations.

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Chemical Weapons

  • China has declared that it has destroyed all chemical weapon agent production facilities and solely conducts defensive chemical warfare research.
  • Beijing’s official position emphasizes the complete prohibition and destruction of chemical weapons. In the past, the U.S. government has alleged that China may be violating its Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) commitments by secretly pursuing chemical weapons programs.
  • The State Department’s 2010 compliance report concluded that “available information does not allow the United States to confirm whether China has fully declared or explained its historical CW [chemical weapon] activities, including CW production, disposition of produced CW agents, and transfer of CW agents to another country.” The State Department's 2017 CWC report did not list any Chinese compliance issues.
  • China inherited approximately 700,000 abandoned chemical weapon (ACW) munitions from the Imperial Japanese Army at the end of World War II. Many of these ACWs are not easily located or properly stored; many of them are buried.
  • Japan, as of 2017, continues to jointly work with China to destroy these ACWs. Destruction began in March 2010. In November 2014, the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged Japan to speed up the destruction process. As of December 2014, 50,800 ACWs had been recovered in China, of which 37,373 were verifiably destroyed. 

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Other Arms Control and Nonproliferation Activities

Conference on Disarmament (CD)
At the 65-member CD, China expressed support for negotiation of an “effectively verifiable” fissile material cutoff treaty (FMCT) while declaring its top priority to be the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS). Chinese insistence that the conference take some action on the outer space issue in parallel with any negotiations on a cutoff treaty and the U.S. opposition to that approach has, as of 2017, contributed to the stalemate of the conference over the past several years. In 2003, China said it would accept discussions on outer space rather than formal negotiations but that formulation remained unacceptable to the United States. China, however, did not agree to a 2007 compromise formula, including talks on outer space, which the United States said it would not oppose. China refused to participate in Australian and Japanese-led side meetings at the CD in 2011, insisting that the CD was the only proper conduit for FMCT negotiations. The U.S. has stated that the lack of support by China and other key countries resulted in the failure of the side meetings to make progress. China believes that a FMCT should not restrict the use of existing fissile material for weapons purposes.

Nuclear Weapons Free Zones
China has ratified additional protocols to the Latin American and Caribbean, South Pacific, African, and Central Asian nuclear weapons free zone treaties pledging not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the treaty’s member states. However, China maintains a reservation to additional Protocol II of the South Pacific nuclear weapons free zone. It has not ratified the Southeast Asia nuclear weapons free zone treaty.   

Nuclear Security Summits
China participated in all four Nuclear Security Summits. China played an active role in these summits and in the 2014 NSS, President Xi Jinping put forward a Chinese approach to nuclear security for the first time.

Six-Party Talks
China played a key role in hosting and helping mediate the so-called six-party talks to achieve North Korea’s nuclear disarmament. Although those talks broke down in 2008 and have yet to resume, China maintains that they remain an effective mechanism for achieving disarmament in North Korea.  However, amidst mounting pressure and criticism from U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration for China to take charge of the North Korean threat, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang stated, in February 2017, that “we have said many times already that the crux of the North Korean nuclear issue is the problem between the United States and North Korea,” and that “the Trump White House needs to make the first move and talk to Pyongyang.”

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Ation (JCPOA)
China took part in the negotiation of the July 2015 JCPOA, which limits and rolls back Iran’s nuclear program. Despite being a “quiet negotiator” in these talks, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi expressed, at the conclusion of negotiation, that “at some important points when the negotiation met with the difficulties and reached the deadlocks, China had actively explored ideas and approaches to resolve the problems and put forward its own solutions from a perspective taking into consideration of the common interests of all parties.”

On Jan. 18, 2017, Deputy Permanent Representative of the People's Republic of China to the United Nations Wu Haitao reaffirmed China’s commitment to the implementation of JCPOA amid skepticism about the commitment of certain states party to the agreement. Haitao also stated that “all parties should stick to their political commitments and fend off outside interference, so as to stay the course in the implementation…they should act in good faith and properly solve technical divergences through consultations, on an equal footing, in the quest for a long-term, sustainable solution.”

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Posted: July 6, 2017

ZTE Fined for Sanctions Evasion

Chinese telecom giant ZTE agreed to pay U.S. penalties of $1.2 billion for shipping equipment to Iran and North Korea.

Chinese telecommunications giant ZTE Corp. agreed to pay U.S. civil and criminal penalties totaling $1.2 billion for illegally shipping telecommunications equipment to Iran and North Korea, the largest fine and forfeiture penalty ever imposed in a U.S. export control case. ZTE pleaded guilty to violating U.S. export and sanctions regulations and obstructing justice with “false and misleading” statements during the investigation of its activities, the U.S. Commerce Department said in a March 7 statement. The regulations control the sale of sensitive U.S.-origin technologies.

ZTE “conspired to evade” the U.S. embargo on Iran between 2010 and 2016 in order to “supply, build, operate and/or service large scale telecommunications networks in Iran” using U.S.-origin equipment and software, the Commerce Department said. “As a result of the conspiracy, ZTE was able to obtain hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts with and sales from such Iranian entities.” ZTE also made 283 shipments of items to North Korea, including items controlled for national security purposes, such as routers, microprocessors, and servers, according to the statement. ZTE engaged in evasive conduct designed to prevent the U.S. government from detecting its violations, the Commerce Department said. 

ZTE Chairman and CEO Zhao Xianming said in a March 7 statement that the company acknowledged “the mistakes it made” and is instituting new “compliance-focused” procedures. Under the settlement, ZTE will be subject to audits and additional compliance requirements. The terms specify that $300 million of the penalty will be suspended if ZTE abides by all regulations during a seven-year probationary period. 

Posted: March 31, 2017

China’s Alleged ICBM Moves Questioned

At issue is whether China has deployed a new intercontinental ballistic missile ICBM near the Russian border.

March 2017

By Alicia Sanders-Zakre

China reportedly has deployed a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the DF-41, in northern China near the Russian border. The missile was successfully flight-tested for the seventh time in April 2016, but it is unclear if it has completed development, and experts reacted skeptically to news reports circulating in late January that it had been deployed. 

Military vehicles carrying DF-31A intercontinental ballistic missiles are displayed in a military parade at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on September 3, 2015, to mark the 70th anniversary of victory over Japan and the end of World War II. (Photo credit: Greg Baker/AFP/Getty Images)Observers’ photos on Chinese websites of missile launchers in Daqing City in northern China are evidence of the missile’s deployment, according to a Jan. 24 report by The Global Times, a state-run Chinese newspaper, which cited information from “some Hong Kong and Taiwan media.” The Global Times noted that “some media…think this is Beijing’s response” to U.S. President Donald Trump’s combative remarks about China. 

China has disputed the reports. “This is just the speculation of Internet users, the guesses that do not correspond to reality,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told the Russian news agency TASS on Jan. 25.

Reports of the DF-41 deployment are unsubstantiated, asserted Gregory Kulacki, China project manager at the Union of Concerned Scientists, in a Feb. 13 blog post. There is also no official report that the missile has completed development, although China is notoriously secretive about its nuclear arsenal.

The modernized missile appears to be slightly larger than its predecessor, the DF-31A; but like the DF-31A, it is able to reach targets in the United States, Kulacki told Arms Control Today in a Feb. 13 email. The missile’s range is 12,000 to 15,000 kilometers, and it can carry up to 10 multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) warheads, according to the Missile Defense Project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

As a solid-fueled, road-mobile ICBM, the “mobility of the system is the most notable upgrade,” Catherine Dill, senior research associate at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, told Arms Control Today in an email on Feb. 17. She also stated that the missile is still under development and therefore not all features are known.

China has diverse missile systems, including short-range, medium-range, and intercontinental missiles, as well as cruise missiles. The development of the DF-41 would have “modest but important” implications for the Chinese nuclear deterrent, said Kulacki. 

“China’s nuclear forces have one, and only one, purpose, which is to prevent a nuclear attack against China,” he said. “The new missile is another incremental improvement in the retaliatory capability that Chinese leaders believe is necessary to fulfill that purpose, especially in the face of new precision-guided conventional capabilities which could target China’s nuclear forces.”

Posted: March 1, 2017

The Complex and Increasingly Dangerous Nuclear Weapons Geometry of Asia


Asian states Pakistan, India, China, and North Korea comprise four of the world's nine nuclear-armed states. The interconnections of these countries must be considered to fully understand how nuclear nonproliferation can be influenced.


By Greg Thielmann
July 2016

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While much of the world’s attention is focused on efforts to halt the nuclear and missile tests of North Korea, the nuclear arsenals and ambitions of India, Pakistan, and China also pose significant dangers and deserve more attention.

The complicated nuclear weapons geometry of Asia extends from the subcontinent to the other side of the world. While Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is designed to counter India’s conventional and nuclear forces, New Delhi measures its own nuclear weapons program against that of China. Beijing, in turn, judges the adequacy of its nuclear arsenal against the threat it perceives from the United States’ strategic offensive and defensive capabilities. And in its efforts to mitigate the ballistic missile threat from North Korea, the United States and its allies in the region are expanding their strategic and theater missile defense capabilities.

In order to fully understand how the pace and direction of nuclear proliferation can be influenced, the interconnections of these countries must be considered, along with the kinds of nuclear weapons they have at their disposal.

Posted: July 27, 2016

Progress on Nuclear Disarmament, Nonproliferation Inadequate to Meet Threats, New Study Finds



A new study suggests that President Obama, failed to make progress in key nuclear disarmament areas during his second term.


For Immediate Release: July 15, 2016

Media Contacts: Tony Fleming, communications director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 110; Daryl G. Kimball, executive director, (202) 463-8270 ext. 107

(Washington, D.C.)—President Barack Obama failed to make progress in key nuclear disarmament areas over the course of his second term, but did achieve important steps to improve nuclear materials security and strengthen nonproliferation norms, namely the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, according to a new study released by the Arms Control Association, which evaluates the recent records of all the world’s nuclear-armed states.

The report, "Assessing Progress on Nuclear Nonproliferation and Disarmament, 2013-2016," is the third in a series that measures the performance of 11 key states in 10 universally-recognized nonproliferation, disarmament, and nuclear security categories over the past three years. The study evaluated the records of China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, India, Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea—each of which possess nuclear weapons—as well as Iran and Syria, which are states of proliferation concern.

“The United States is investing enormous resources to maintain and upgrade nuclear weapons delivery systems and warheads and is keeping its deployed nuclear weapons on ‘launch-under-attack’ readiness posture. The lack of U.S. leadership in these areas contributes to the moribund pace of disarmament,” said Elizabeth Philipp, the Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow at the Arms Control Association, and a co-author of the report.

“Obama should use his remaining months in office to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. strategies and mitigate the risks of inadvertent use. Obama could consider declaring that Washington will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict,” said Kelsey Davenport, director for nonproliferation policy at the Arms Control Association and co-author of the report.

“U.S. leadership could spur China and Russia to take positive actions and improve the prospects for further disarmament. Russia’s decision to develop a new missile in violation of its treaty commitments and Moscow’s rebuff of attempts by the United States to negotiate further nuclear reductions is very troublesome, as is the expansion of China’s nuclear arsenal and Beijing’s steps toward increasing the alert levels of its forces,” Philipp added.

“Several states did take significant steps over the past three years to strengthen nuclear security, including action by the United States and Pakistan to ratify key nuclear security treaties,” said Davenport.

“The July 2015 nuclear deal struck between six global powers and Iran was also a significant nonproliferation breakthrough that has significantly reduced Tehran’s nuclear capacity and subjected its activities to more intrusive international monitoring and verification. While the international community must remain vigilant in ensuring that the deal is fully implemented, blocking Iran’s pathways to nuclear weapons negates a serious nonproliferation concern and demonstrates the consequences of flouting the international norms and obligations,” Davenport said.

“For the third time, the United Kingdom received the highest grade of all the states assessed, while North Korea remained at the bottom of the list with the lowest overall grades. North Korea’s recent nuclear test and its ballistic missile development require the next U.S. administration to pursue more robust engagement with Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear activities,” Philipp said.

“Our review of the record indicates that further action must be taken by all 11 states if they are to live up to their international disarmament and nonproliferation responsibilities. By tracking the progress, or lack thereof, of these states over time, we hope this report will serve as a tool to encourage policymakers to increase efforts to reduce the risk posed by nuclear weapons,” Davenport said.

A country-by-country summary can be viewed here.
The full report card can be downloaded here


The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world's most dangerous weapons.

Posted: July 15, 2016


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