The articles presented below are the findings of a two-year Institute for Security & Conflict Studies (Elliott School, GW) research project funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The project frames U.S. nuclear policy broadly because China’s nuclear modernization has significant implications for U.S. conventional force requirements and its alliance commitments in Northeast Asia.  The project lays the foundation for these analyses by examining China’s view of the threat that U.S. forces pose to its nuclear and conventional capabilities.  Interactions between conventional and nuclear strategies are explored further by addressing the escalatory pressures created by U.S. responses to China’s force modernization. 

This research is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York

Assuring Assured Retaliation: China's Nuclear Posture and U.S.-China Strategic Stability  (click title for PDF)

By: Fiona Cunningham and Taylor Fravel

Many analysts worry that recent advances in U.S. military capabilities could cause China to abandon its nuclear strategy of assured retaliation and its no-first-use doctrine. The writings and statements of Chinese nuclear experts, however, suggest that such fears are misplaced

Fiona S. Cunningham and M. Taylor Fravel. "Assuring Assured Retaliation: China’s Nuclear Posture and U.S.-China Strategic Stability." International Security 40, no. 2 (Fall 2015): 7-50..

Should the United States Reject MAD? Damage Limitation and U.S. Nuclear Strategy Toward China (click title for PDF)

By: Charles Glaser and Steve Fetter

As China invests in its nuclear forces and U.S.-China relations become increasingly strained, questions of U.S. nuclear doctrine require greater attention. The key strategic nuclear question facing the United States is whether to attempt to maintain and enhance its damage-limitation capability against China. The answer is less straightforward than it was during the Cold War because China's nuclear force is orders of magnitude smaller than the Soviet force was. Part of the answer depends on the military-technical feasibility of the United States achieving a significant damage-limitation capability: What would be the outcome of military competition over the survivability of China's intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles, and command and control, and over the effectiveness of U.S. ballistic missile defenses? The answer also depends on the benefits that a damage-limitation capability would provide; these could include contributions to homeland deterrence, extended deterrence, and reassurance of U.S. regional allies. The final piece of the analysis concerns the potential costs of a damage-limitation capability, which could include increased escalatory pressures during crises and growing political tension between the United States and China. A thorough analysis demonstrates that the United States should forgo such a capability because the prospects for preserving a significant damage-limitation capability are poor; the deterrent benefits would be small, and the escalatory and political costs would be relatively large.

Charles Glaser and Steve Fetter. "Should the United States Reject MAD? Damage Limitation and U.S. Nuclear Strategy toward China." International Security, Vol. 41, No.1 (Summer 2016), pp. 49-98.

Future Warfare in the Western Pacific: Chinese Antiaccess/Area Denial, U.S. AirSea Battle, and Command of the Commons in East Asia (click title for PDF)

By: Stephen Biddle and Ivan Oelrich

Many analysts worry that improvements in Chinese missile, sensor, guidance, and other technologies will enable China to deny the U.S. military access to parts of the Western Pacific that the United States has long controlled. Although these “anti-access, area denial” (A2/AD) capabilities are real, they are a geographically limited long-term threat. As both the United States and China deploy A2/AD capabilities, a new era will emerge in which the U.S. military no longer enjoys today's command of the global commons, but is still able to deny China military hegemony in the Western Pacific. In this new era, the United States will possess a sphere of influence around allied landmasses; China will maintain a sphere of influence over its own mainland, and a contested battlespace will cover much of the South and East China Seas wherein neither power enjoys wartime freedom of surface or air movement. This, in turn, suggests that the Chinese A2/AD threat to U.S. allies is real but more limited than often supposed. With astute U.S. choices, most U.S. allies in this new system will be imperfectly, but substantially, secure.

Stephen Biddle and Ivan Oelrich. "Future Warfare in the Western Pacific: Chinese Antiaccess/Area Denial, U.S. AirSea Battle, and Command of the Commons in East Asia." International Security, Vol. 41, No. 1, (Summer 2016), pp. 7-48.

Correspondense Response (pdf)

Chinese Perceptions of and Responses to US Conventional Military Power (click title for PDF)

By: Michael S. ChaseCristina L. Garafola & Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga

Chinese analysts view the US military not only as a model for emulation but also as a serious threat given its strengths in high-tech weapons and equipment, power projection, and unparalleled ability to conduct information-intensive joint combat operations. Yet they also see many of the capabilities the US military relies upon to execute these operations – most notably forward bases, space capabilities, and computer networks and information technology systems – as potentially vulnerable to disruption. Accordingly, China has developed capabilities designed to deter or counter US military intervention in areas close to China. This poses two interrelated challenges for the United States: maintaining its military advantage in an era of rapid technological change and preserving deterrence against growing Chinese ambitions in Asia. Download PDF 

Michael S. Chase, Cristina L. Garafola & Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga (2017): Chinese Perceptions of and Responses to US Conventional Military Power, Asian Security. 

Would China Go Nuclear? Assessing the Risk of Chinese Nuclear Escalation in a Conventional War with the United States (click title for PDF)

By: Caitlin Talmadge

Could a conventional war with the United States inadvertently prompt Chinese nuclear escalation? The military-technical threat that such a war would pose to China's retaliatory capability—combined with wartime perceptual dynamics that might cause China to view this threat in an especially pessimistic light—could lead to reasonable Chinese fears that the United States might be attempting conventional counterforce, or considering or preparing for nuclear counterforce. China might see several forms of limited nuclear escalation as its least-bad response to this sort of threat to its nuclear deterrent, notwithstanding the country's no-first-use policy. This finding, derived from a more general framework about the military-technical and perceptual drivers of potential nuclear escalation in response to conventional counterforce, has broader ramifications for U.S. policy and military strategy, and it illustrates recurring dilemmas that the United States may face in conventional wars with other nuclear-armed adversaries.

Caitlin Talmadge, "Would China Go Nuclear? Assessing the Risk of Chinese Nuclear Escalation in a Conventional War with the United States," International Security, Vol. 4, No. 4 (Spring 2017), pp. 50-92.