More on those Chinese tunnels

Today’s issue of The Diplomat has a piece by a PhD candidate at the Nunn School about those Chinese tunnels. Tony Zhao writes:

The Underground Great Wall underscores Beijing’s decision to consolidate its existing nuclear arsenal by investing heavily in massive tunnels. China could have chosen to significantly expand its nuclear arsenal by buying and deploying many more nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles, something that would have been easier, cheaper, and more effective in building a massive nuclear capability. But in terms of offensive-defensive balance, the nuclear world now is a defense-dominant one.

Whoa. I’m not sure I’m willing to go that far, on either count. I think it’s fair to say we still don’t know why China is building those tunnels; if the issue really is survivability, a gazillion kilometers of tunnels is a pretty expensive way to do it, especially compared to just building more mobile launchers. And I’d love to think the world is in a defense-dominant mode these days — that was our goal back when I worked as a contractor to the Strategic Defense Initiative guys — but I don’t think we’re there yet.

Thank you, we're very proud of them. Now please excuse us while we go bury them in an underground version of the Jersey Turnpike.

However, I think Mr. Zhao has a good point when he writes: “If all nuclear weapons states shifted their nuclear posture to concentrating on improving the survivability of smaller arsenals, it would be much easier to maintain strategic stability and to achieve deep nuclear cuts.”

True enough. The problem is that a country like Russia — and now, maybe China — is seeking to ensure the survival of large arsenals, which is a recipe, if not for disaster, at least a migraine.

Worth reading. (H/t to Harry Kazianis.)

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  1. Perhaps the tunnels are an underground burial site for their nuclear arsenal akin to the terracotta armies of the Qin dynasty? Space archeologists in a couple of millenia can dig up the missiles to see what protected the Earth for a while before finishing it off? I kiiiiiiid … I hope!! 🙂

    Seriously, those warriors and horses are amazing. We’re dealing with the inheritors of an ancient civilization capable of doing things on an unfathomable scale for not always easily understandable reasons (to us). See also the treasure fleets of the Ming dynasty.

  2. I think its pretty clear that if you wanted to build out a nuclear arsenal when you face preemption risk, tunnels look like a good move.