05/30/2013 - 16:18

Making China’s nuclear war plan

John W. Lewis

Lewis is a professor emeritus at Stanford University, where he directs the Center for International Security and...

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Xue Litai

Xue Litai is a research scholar at the Project on Peace and Cooperation in the Asian-Pacific Region at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation. His...

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For the last decade of Mao Zedong’s rule in China, his revolutionary thinking dominated all strategic planning and operations and directly shaped the policies of the strategic rocket forces, the Second Artillery. Only in the mid-1980s did Mao’s legacy give way to concepts governing nuclear forces throughout the world and permit the development of China’s first nuclear strategy and acceptance of the principles of nuclear deterrence. Step by step, the ever-more complex command-and-control mechanisms of the People’s Liberation Army adopted and refined new roles for its nuclear and conventional missiles to support peacetime diplomacy, to manage military crises, and to pursue combat readiness. The authors examine the evolution of China’s overall defense strategy, with a focus on central elements of today’s nuclear war plan and how they are operationalized. They seek to answer this question: How did conventional missiles change nuclear strategy, the organization of the combined conventional-nuclear missile forces for both deterrence and combat, and the relationship of the Second Artillery to the other military commands?