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  • Author: Fiona S. Cunningham, M. Taylor Fravel
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Chinese views of nuclear escalation are key to assessing the potential for nuclear escalation in a crisis or armed conflict between the United States and China, but they have not been examined systematically. A review of original Chinese-language sources and interviews with members of China's strategic community suggest that China is skeptical that nuclear escalation could be controlled once nuclear weapons are used and, thus, leaders would be restrained from pursuing even limited use. These views are reflected in China's nuclear operational doctrine (which outlines plans for retaliatory strikes only and lacks any clear plans for limited nuclear use) and its force structure (which lacks tactical nuclear weapons). The long-standing decoupling of Chinese nuclear and conventional strategy, organizational biases within China's strategic community, and the availability of space, cyber, and conventional missile weapons as alternative sources of strategic leverage best explain Chinese views toward nuclear escalation. China's confidence that a U.S.-China conflict would not escalate to the use of nuclear weapons may hamper its ability to identify nuclear escalation risks in such a scenario. Meanwhile, U.S. scholars and policymakers emphasize the risk of inadvertent escalation in a conflict with China, but they are more confident than their Chinese counterparts that the use of nuclear weapons could remain limited. When combined, these contrasting views could create pressure for a U.S.-China conflict to escalate rapidly into an unlimited nuclear war.
  • Topic: Arms Control and Proliferation, Nuclear Weapons, International Security, Nuclear Power, Nonproliferation
  • Political Geography: United States, China, Asia
  • Author: Elizabeth N. Saunders
  • Publication Date: 10-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: When and how do domestic politics influence a state's nuclear choices? Recent scholarship on nuclear security develops many domestic-political explanations for different nuclear decisions. These explanations are partly the result of two welcome trends: first, scholars have expanded the nuclear timeline, examining state behavior before and after nuclear proliferation; and second, scholars have moved beyond blunt distinctions between democracies and autocracies to more fine-grained understandings of domestic constraints. But without linkages between them, new domestic-political findings could be dismissed as a laundry list of factors that do not explain significant variation in nuclear decisions. This review essay assesses recent research on domestic politics and nuclear security, and develops a framework that illuminates when and how domestic-political mechanisms are likely to affect nuclear choices. In contrast to most previous domestic arguments, many of the newer domestic-political mechanisms posited in the literature are in some way top-down; that is, they show leaders deliberately maintaining or loosening control over nuclear choices. Two dimensions govern the extent and nature of domestic-political influence on nuclear choices: the degree of threat uncertainty and the costs and benefits to leaders of expanding the circle of domestic actors involved in a nuclear decision. The framework developed in this review essay helps make sense of several cases explored in the recent nuclear security literature. It also has implications for understanding when and how domestic-political arguments might diverge from the predictions of security-based analyses.
  • Topic: Security, Arms Control and Proliferation, Nuclear Weapons, Treaties and Agreements, International Security, Domestic politics, Nonproliferation
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, China, Iran, North Korea
  • Author: Eliza Gheorghe
  • Publication Date: 04-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: The evolution of the nuclear market explains why there are only nine members of the nuclear club, not twenty-five or more, as some analysts predicted. In the absence of a supplier cartel that can regulate nuclear transfers, the more suppliers there are, the more intense their competition will be, as they vie for market share. This commercial rivalry makes it easier for nuclear technology to spread, because buyers can play suppliers off against each other. The ensuing transfers help countries either acquire nuclear weapons or become hedgers. The great powers (China, Russia, and the United States) seek to thwart proliferation by limiting transfers and putting safeguards on potentially dangerous nuclear technologies. Their success depends on two structural factors: the global distribution of power and the intensity of the security rivalry among them. Thwarters are most likely to stem proliferation when the system is unipolar and least likely when it is multipolar. In bipolarity, their prospects fall somewhere in between. In addition, the more intense the rivalry among the great powers in bipolarity and multipolarity, the less effective they will be at curbing proliferation. Given the potential for intense security rivalry among today's great powers, the shift from unipolarity to multipolarity does not portend well for checking proliferation.
  • Topic: International Relations, Arms Control and Proliferation, Nuclear Weapons, Nuclear Power, Nonproliferation, International Relations Theory
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, China
  • Author: Fiona S. Cunningham, M. Taylor Fravel
  • Publication Date: 12-2015
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Whether China will abandon its long-standing nuclear strategy of assured retaliation for a first-use posture will be a critical factor in U.S.-China strategic stability. In recent years, the United States has been developing strategic capabilities such as missile defenses and conventional long-range strike capabilities that could reduce the effectiveness of China's deterrent. Writings by Chinese strategists and analysts, however, indicate that China is unlikely to abandon its current nuclear strategy.
  • Topic: Arms Control and Proliferation, Nuclear Weapons, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Military Strategy, Bilateral Relations
  • Political Geography: United States, China, East Asia
  • Author: Hui Zhang, Tuosheng Zhang
  • Publication Date: 03-2014
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the threat of nuclear terrorism has become one of the most significant challenges to international security. China has worked to meet this challenge, but a continuing effort is needed. The 2010 and 2012 Nuclear Security Summits raised the issues of nuclear security to a higher political level and enhanced international consensus on the danger of nuclear terrorism. China actively participated in the first two summits, and President Xi Jinping will participate in the Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands in March 2014. China's commitment to nuclear security is now well established. Former president Hu Jintao emphasized in 2012 that, "the threat of nuclear terrorism cannot be overlooked." Meeting that threat, as President Hu recognized, "is a long and arduous task."
  • Topic: Arms Control and Proliferation, Nuclear Weapons, Terrorism, Border Control
  • Political Geography: China, Asia
  • Author: James K. Sebenius, Michael K. Singh
  • Publication Date: 12-2012
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Since assuming the presidency of the United States in January 2009, Barack Obama has tried both outreach and sanctions in an effort to halt Iran's progress toward a nuclear weapons capability. Yet neither President Obama's personal diplomacy nor several rounds of talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council-China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States-plus Germany (the "P5 1") nor escalating sanctions have deterred Tehran. Iran has not only continued but accelerated its nuclear progress, accumulating sufficient low-enriched uranium that, if further enriched, would be sufficient for five nuclear weapons. Consequently, as Iran makes major advances in its nuclear capabilities, speculation has increased that Israel or a United States-led coalition may be nearing the decision to conduct a military strike to disable Iran's nuclear program.
  • Topic: Nuclear Weapons
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, China, United Kingdom, Iran, France
  • Author: Michael S. Gerson
  • Publication Date: 02-2011
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Despite heightened expectations for significant change in U.S. nuclear policy—especially declaratory policy— the Obama administration's Nuclear Posture Review changes little from the past. The NPR's declaratory policy retains the option for the United States to use nuclear weapons first in a variety of circumstances, including in a first strike against Chinese, North Korean, Russian, and (perhaps) future Iranian nuclear forces. Equally important, the United States can threaten the first use of nuclear weapons to deter and, if necessary, respond, to a variety of nonnuclear contingencies, including large-scale conventional aggression by another nuclear power such as China or Russia and chemical or biological weapons (CBW) attacks from states such as Iran and North Korea.
  • Topic: Defense Policy, Nuclear Weapons, Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, China, North Korea
  • Author: Andrew B. Kennedy
  • Publication Date: 11-2011
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Why did India merely flirt with nuclear weapons in the 1960s and 1970s only to emerge as a nuclear power in the 1990s? Although a variety of factors informed India's prolonged restraint and subsequent breakthrough, new evidence indicates that India's “nuclear odyssey” can be understood as a function of Indian leaders' ability to secure their country through nonmilitary means, particularly implicit nuclear umbrellas and international institutions. In the 1960s and 1970s, India was relatively successful in this regard as it sought and received implicit support from the superpowers against China. This success, in turn, made acquiring the bomb a less pressing question. At the end of the Cold War, however, nonmilitary measures ceased to be viable for India. In the late 1980s, waning Soviet support and the failure of Rajiv Gandhi's diplomatic initiatives led to the creation of India's de facto nuclear arsenal. In the 1990s, India developed a more overt capability, not simply because the pro-bomb Bharatiya Janata Party came to power, but also because its external backing had vanished and because its efforts to improve its security through diplomacy proved unsuccessful.
  • Topic: Security, Diplomacy, Nuclear Weapons
  • Political Geography: China, India, Soviet Union
  • Author: M. Taylor Fravel, Evan S. Medeiros
  • Publication Date: 09-2010
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: On October 16, 1964, China exploded its first nuclear weapon at the Lop Nor test facility in Xinjiang. China's subsequent development of its nuclear strategy and force structure presents a puzzle for scholars and policymakers alike. Following its initial development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missile capabilities, China built a small, unsophisticated, and, arguably, highly vulnerable nu - clear force. In addition, for more than three decades, the pace of China's nuclear modernization efforts was slow and gradual despite the continued vulnerability of its force. In relative terms, China's nuclear forces were far smaller and less diverse than those of the United States or the Soviet Union both during and after the Cold War. At the same time, China did not develop detailed operational doctrine for overcoming its relative inferiority, let alone for the effective use of its arsenal. Such a nuclear posture called into question the credibility of China's ability to deter states with much larger arsenals, more refined doctrines, and more powerful conventional military forces. In retrospect, the degree of vulnerability that China was willing to accept after developing nuclear weapons is striking.
  • Topic: Nuclear Weapons
  • Political Geography: United States, China
  • Author: Matthew Bunn
  • Publication Date: 11-2009
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: The United States and the other members of the P5+1 are struggling to launch the first in-depth negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program in which the United States has participated. The United States comes to the table with few good options. Sanctions have failed to change Iran's decisions about its nuclear program, and no feasible set of sanctions (given the limits of what China, Russia, and others will agree to) is likely to convince Iran to give up its enrichment program. Military strikes against Iran would probably not set back Iran's program for longer than a brief period and would greatly increase Iran's incentive to go straight to the bomb at covert sites (as Iraq did after Israel destroyed its facilities at Osiraq).
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Nuclear Weapons, Weapons of Mass Destruction
  • Political Geography: Russia, United States, China, Middle East
  • Author: Scott Snyder, Bonnie Glaser, John Park
  • Publication Date: 01-2008
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: Beijing viewed North Korea's explosion of a nuclear device in October 2006 as not only an act of defiance to the international community and a threat to regional stability, but also an act of defiance toward China. Chinese officials admit that their toolbox for managing the North Korean nuclear weapons challenge must now include a combination of pressure and inducements. Three considerations underpin Beijing's aid policy toward North Korea: 1) protecting China's military-strategic environment; 2) maintaining security and stability along the Sino-DPRK border; and 3) sustaining economic development and political stability in the three Chinese northeastern provinces that border North Korea. There are intense debates among Chinese analysts over: 1) whether North Korea will give up its nuclear weapons; 2) the strategic value of the DPRK to China; 3) whether the Sino-DPRK treaty should be revised, abandoned, retained and its ambiguity stressed to enhance deterrence; and 4) the likelihood of a rapid improvement in U.S.-DPRK relations and how such a development would affect Chinese interests. Chinese analysts are generally less concerned with North Korea's immediate economic prospects than they were last year, reporting severe but stable conditions. Inflation has subsided and market mechanisms have largely replaced government rations as the primary means for securing a livelihood. In contrast to last year, when Chinese analysts were consumed by the seeming zero-sum choice between stability and reform facing the North Korean leadership, North Korea's slightly improved economic situation seems to have allayed the immediacy of Chinese concerns about North Korea's economic stability. Chinese experts report no fundamental change in North Korea's economic policies following the 2002 reforms. Chinese analysts provide conflicting assessments of whether government attempts to prohibit selling of grain in markets are succeeding and the extent to which the grain rationing system is working. Chinese DPRK specialists are encouraged that the DPRK has haltingly adopted some agricultural and market reforms and allowed greater autonomy to individual factories and enterprises. But they acknowledge that North Korea has not yet allowed farmers to act independently of their work teams, a step China took as early as the late 1970s that raised productivity sharply. Chinese analysts anticipate that reforms will continue as long as they do not threaten central government control. Chinese analysts widely assert that the North Korean system remains stable and they are confident that it will remain so for at least several years absent the sudden death of Kim Jong Il or external interference aimed at destabilizing the regime. In the long run, however, sustainable development through economic reform remains an essential prerequisite for stability, and North Korea's ability to move down that path is not yet assured. There are numerous indicators that the Chinese examine to assess stability trends in North Korea. These indicators are grouped in the following manner: 1) factionalism in the regime and potential challenges to Kim Jong Il's leadership; 2) political controls and ideological education; 3) influences from the outside; 4) the general public's loyalty to the Kim family; 5) crimes and illicit activities; 6) the economy, food supply, and economic reform; and 7) Kim Jong Il's health and the leadership succession. Chinese analysts see few signs of immediate instability in any of these areas at present, but they worry that the potential for instability may grow. In the event of instability in North Korea, China's priority will be to prevent refugees from flooding across the border. If deemed necessary, PLA troops would be dispatched into North Korea. China's strong preference is to receive formal authorization and coordinate closely with the United Nations (UN) in such an endeavor. However, if the international community did not react in a timely manner as internal order in North Korea deteriorated rapidly, China would seek to take the initiative in restoring stability. Contingency plans are in place for the PLA to perform at least three possible missions in the DPRK: 1) humanitarian missions such as assisting refugees or providing help after a natural disaster; 2) peacekeeping or “order keeping” missions such as serving as civil police; and 3) “environmental control” missions to clean up nuclear contamination resulting from a strike on North Korean nuclear facilities near the Sino-DPRK border and secure “loose nukes” and fissile material. There is apparent new willingness among Chinese institute analysts and PLA researchers to discuss the warning signs of instability in North Korea and how China might respond if the situation gets out of control and threatens Chinese security. Some Chinese experts say explicitly that they favor holding a discussion on stability in North Korea in official channels with the United States, including possible joint responses in support of common objectives such as securing nuclear weapons and fissile material. Other analysts maintain that such discussions are premature.
  • Topic: Diplomacy, Nuclear Weapons, Regional Cooperation, United Nations
  • Political Geography: United States, China, Beijing, Asia, South Korea, North Korea
  • Author: Whitney Raas, Austin Long
  • Publication Date: 04-2007
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: The use of military force to halt or reverse nuclear proliferation is an option that has been much discussed and occasionally exercised. In the 1960s, for example, the United States considered destroying China's nuclear program at an early stage but ultimately decided against it. More recently, the key rationale for the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was the threat posed by Iraq's suspected inventory of weapons of mass destruction (WMD). Although significant evidence of WMD was not found in the Iraq case, the potential utility of military force for counterproliferation remains, particularly in the case of Iran. The possibility of military action against Iranian nuclear facilities has gained prominence in the public discourse, drawing comments from journalists, former military officers, and defense analysts. This makes the Iranian nuclear program a potential test case for military counterproliferation.
  • Topic: International Relations, Arms Control and Proliferation, Nuclear Weapons
  • Political Geography: United States, China, Iran, Asia