Washington Times Is Wrong on China and Nuclear Arms Control

February 17, 2012 | 6:00 pm
Gregory Kulacki
China Project Manager

In an editorial today the Washington Times made two key factual errors in describing China’s nuclear arsenal and Chinese involvement in strategic nuclear arms control.

First, it claimed China may have the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. That claim is based on a discredited study by Georgetown University undergraduate students. Even the professor who supervised the study, which was focused on a tunnel network and not the size of China’s nuclear arsenal, now disavows any claim he may have made in the past about the number of Chinese nuclear weapons.

Analyses of China’s production of fissile material for nuclear weapons by the US government and independent groups set a limit on the number of warheads China could build. It is believed to have manufactured a total of 200-300 warheads, roughly 50 of which have been used for nuclear tests. Currently, probably fewer than 200 are ready to be deployed on missiles, approximately 50 of which can reach the US.

Second, the Washington Times claims China “has never agreed to be part of any strategic nuclear framework”. This too is false. China acceded to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and was a full and active participant in the negotiation of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Like the US, China signed the CTBT but has yet to ratify it. Chinese officials told UCS they are waiting to see what possible reservations the US Senate may add to US ratification before China makes a decision. The US Senate, and the Obama administration, have failed to even begin discussions on possible US ratification of the CTBT, despite the promises made by President Obama in Prague.

The Washington Times makes it appear as if the Obama administration is pursuing a radical path towards nuclear disarmament. Nothing could be farther from the truth, except, perhaps, their claims about China.

About the author

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Gregory Kulacki is an expert on cross-cultural communication between the United States and China. Since joining UCS in 2002, he has promoted dialogue between experts from both countries on nuclear arms control and space security and has consulted with Chinese and U.S. governmental and non-governmental organizations, including the U.S. House China Working Group, the Senate Armed Services Committee, the U.S. National Academies, NASA, and the Office of Science and Technology Policy.