Chinese Nuclear Response Test
On Monday, the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) announced it had test-fired two ballistic missiles during a recent drill: one was a short-range Dongfeng-16 missile and the other was a Dongfeng-26, an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) designed to strike targets thousands of miles away.
“We are in a highly alert state for combat, to ensure our actions are prompt and precise,” Liu Yang, the commander of the brigade that carried out the tests, was quoted as saying in a story on PLA news site 81.cn.
The Dongfeng-26 has a range of some 2,500 miles and has been touted as a “carrier-killer” capable of endangering US battle fleets in the region. It has the range to strike US installations on Guam from the Chinese coast.
According to the report, the drill was to test how quickly PLARF soldiers could respond to an incoming nuclear attack. In the video, they are seen donning protective gear as they rush to their mobile missile launchers, then driving them to a platform on a plain that appears to be prepared for launching missiles. The report did not say when the drill occurred.
US Launches Minuteman ICBM
Meanwhile, just after midnight on August 4, the US Air Force’s Global Strike Command fired off an unarmed LGM-30 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) equipped with three reentry vehicles. In a real nuclear strike, each would carry its own nuclear warhead and go on to strike a separate target.
The missile flew some 4,200 miles from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast to Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, US Strategic Command said in a news release.
“The Minuteman III is 50 years old, and continued test launches are essential in ensuring its reliability until the 2030s when the Ground Base Strategic Deterrent is fully in place. Most importantly, this visible message of national security serves to assure our allies and dissuade potential aggressors,” 576th Flight Test Squadron commander Col. Omar Colbert said in the release.
A US Navy E-6 Mercury “doomsday plane” airborne command post and communications aircraft also used the drill to test its own ability to take charge of an ICBM in the event that ground command is interrupted during the missile’s flight.
Arms Control, But Whose Arms?
In just six months, on February 5, 2021, the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between the US and Russia will expire, and the rush is on to either extend or replace it.
The United States has some 5,800 nuclear weapons - roughly 20 times China’s arsenal - but New START limits the US to just 1,550 deployed at any one time. Russia’s arsenal is slightly larger at 6,800 weapons, but is subject to the same limitations. China, meanwhile, has just 300 nuclear warheads. Despite this, the US has insisted that China be involved in any new arms control treaty.
On July 5, Fu Cong, the head of the arms control department of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, said Beijing would “be happy to” join the US and Russia in such talks - provided the US reduces its own arsenal to the size of China’s, which Beijing says serves no purpose except deterrence.
The US State Department seemed to accept the prospect of talks, but not of arms reduction, suggesting the Chinese begin talks with their Russian counterparts first.
However, Chinese Ambassador to Russia Zhang Hanhui blasted the US response in comments on July 30, saying, “the US has repeatedly made proposals on arms control for China, Russia and the US and promoted the 'China factor' to distract international attention, pursuing to justify its withdrawal from the US-Russian New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and pursuing 'self-liberation' and achievement of absolute strategic advantage. China and Russia see this very clearly.”
"China's refusal to participate in trilateral arms control negotiations does not mean that China refuses to participate in international nuclear disarmament efforts," Zhang continued.
Several days earlier, US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin reaffirmed at least the principle of a bilateral arms treaty between them due to their “special responsibility for maintaining international peace and security” as the world’s largest nuclear powers, according to a Kremlin press release.
The US has withdrawn from several key treaties designed to reduce war tensions, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty that banned missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers, and, more recently, the Treaty on Open Skies, which provided for flyover inspections of each member’s territory in the spirit of openness. Many fear New START may be the next treaty shed as the US prepares for “inter-state strategic competition” with Russia and China, as Pentagon strategy statements indicate.