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Video Analysis: China's Unquenchable Thirst for Nuclear Weapons

China is expanding its nuclear arsenal - with the number of warheads according to the Pentagon, almost doubling. Tim Morrison, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute shares insights

By Kris Osborn - President & Editor-In-Chief, Warrior Maven

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Hello, and welcome to the Senate for military modernization warrior Maven, I'm Kris Osborn. We're joined today by a leading expert in missile defense military strategy, Mr. Tim Morrison, who's a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, and also served as a Deputy Assistant to the President on national security and is a former Naval Intelligence Officer. So we're glad to have his expertise. It's something our viewers and readers are very welcome to hear. 

And my question to you today is, with all this attention on Ukraine, there's likely still you mentioned this earlier, there is a need not to forget about China and their nuclear modernization, not long ago in an MDA conference. Sure enough, Admiral Richard, who's in charge of Strategic Command, said that satellite photos were showing silos, ground silos being built within mainland China. 

They're known for these road mobile ICBM launchers. But the notion that they're expanding in the face of discussion about potential agreements to slow down proliferation, they are rapidly expanding their nuclear modernization with the number of warheads according to the Pentagon's report, almost doubling or going up exponentially, you would know a lot about this. What's your estimation of what threat looks like and why the Chinese are in such high gear to massively upscale their arsenal? 

Tim Morrison, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute

I think a lot of it, Chris goes back to Xi Jinping. Comparisons, you know, himself in Chairman Mao the kind of imprint he had on China. When I was in government, we got a lot of criticism from people outside for why we were talking about China and China's nuclear weapons. 

And of course, you know, since we started emphasizing that in the Trump administration in around the 2019 timeframe, so much more has become known the hundreds of new Chinese ICBM silos, for example, the Department of Defense report last year, the 2021 report that talked about China possibly being up to 1000 nuclear weapons by, by the by the next decade. You know, we really, we saw this in the Trump administration. 

This June 4, 2021, satellite image provided by Planet Labs Inc. that has been annotated by experts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies shows what analysts believe is a field of intercontinental ballistic missile silos near Yumen, China. The U.S. military is warning about what analysts have described as a major expansion of China's nuclear missile silo fields, at a time of heightened tension between the U.S. and China. (Planet Labs Inc., James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies via AP)

This June 4, 2021, satellite image provided by Planet Labs Inc. that has been annotated by experts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies shows what analysts believe is a field of intercontinental ballistic missile silos near Yumen, China. The U.S. military is warning about what analysts have described as a major expansion of China's nuclear missile silo fields, at a time of heightened tension between the U.S. and China. (Planet Labs Inc., James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at Middlebury Institute of International Studies via AP)

And we really became worried about this idea that nuclear arms control would continue to be a bilateral question between the United States in Russia, that there was really a new player on the field, and that was China. And that's it. That's difficult for a number of reasons. One, a lot of the tools we use, like, like arms control, have always been a bilateral question. 

Well, now it has to be a trilateral question. And, of course, we've seen playing out right now. The opening ceremony of the Olympics who's there sitting next to General Secretary Xi, but but Vladimir Putin, so so we may be in a tri polar nuclear arms race, where Russia and China are teamed up against us that that is something we never had to deal with, even in the darkest days of the Cold War. So yeah, we really have to pay attention to what China's doing, because the problem is, we may not know why he's doing what he's doing. 

Is this all about Taiwan and pushing us out of Taiwan confrontation? Is it about trying to push us out of East Asia? We don't know. But we know we have commercial and security interests in Asia. And we know we can't allow Xi Jinping to continue to try to rewrite the rules of the international order that's existed since the end of World War Two. 

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Excellent, excellent. Well, a couple years back in the earlier phases of the ground based strategic deterrent maturation process, the new ICBM Air Force plans to acquire as many as 400, General Weinstein, who runs that program talked about the paradox of strategic deterrence. And I'd love your your, your thoughts on this, the idea of constructing weapons so as never to use them essentially keep the peace. He cited a philosopher that I believe I've mentioned to you before Mr. Brodie years ago, who talked about the idea almost the irony of for the first time in history, potentially engineering a weapon not to use it. 

GBSD

The U.S. Air Force’s Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD)

So how key is this need to build up maintain that GBSD program, make sure that the Trident gets updated and make sure that nuclear triad is not only intact, but keeping pace with the world threats? 

Tim Morrison, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute

You know, it's absolutely essential. It would be ironic for the United States to abandon at the exact same time that that China is building its own. You know, this is the paradox of nuclear weapons you mentioned. We build them so that they're never used General Hyten when he was STRATCOM Commander made the point that no actually we use these weapons every day. We use them every day because they deter major conflict. And great powers in an industrial and information age, have the capacity to wreak unimaginable havoc and horror on the world. 

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Millions could could die in a major world war. And the reason we haven't had a major world war since 1945 is the advent of nuclear weapons. And so, you know, I would just argue, we hope they're never used in anger. We hope they're never used in a in a military conflict, but actually nuclear weapons are used every day. And they make us safer. And it's not necessarily a question. Don't get back to GBSD real quick. It's not necessarily a question of whether we think we need GBSD, although I think most most credible thought leaders in this space think we do. It's also a question of what does Xi Jinping think and what does Vladimir Putin think? 

And if they see us abandoning our triad and abandoning the GBSD program, what will that make them think they can possibly get away with? We have to really think about not just our adversaries, not just our own perceptions, also, you know, 30 some odd countries that that are protected under a nuclear umbrella. What do they think for their security? If we have been in our GBSD program? You know, it's a it's a responsibility we have that Russia and China don't they don't really have allies. They don't have security guarantees with willing, you know, with willing partners. We do. And I think we're better and stronger for it. 

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Well, last question. You mentioned Russia, China. And and as you point out, that does seem kind of new, doesn't it in terms of a potential threat equation? There have been military to military exercises, if I recall writing about some Chinese troops or some Chinese officials attending Russia's parade. 

There are even been some joint military military operations. Correct me if our testing, if you will drills, correct me if I'm wrong on that. But lastly, one of the things that Mr. Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman said is there does appear to be a tacit approval on the part of China for Russian activity in Ukraine. That seems very concerning. And my question is, well, they're not likely to intervene in any potential conflict. What do you make of this tacit approval? And what kind of precedent might that set? 

Tim Morrison, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute

This is why I'm very worried about what happens in Ukraine in the perspective of not just what does it mean for Ukraine for the people of Ukraine, the security of Europe? What does it mean for Taiwan? What do our allies in Japan and Australia and South Korea? Think because, you know, to be clear, we don't have a security alliance with with Ukraine. Of course, they're not a NATO ally. But we did sign the Budapest Memorandum. 

Video Above: What Will Russia's Attack on Ukraine Look Like?

Back in 1994, Ukraine gave up what would have been the world's third largest nuclear stockpile. And part of that agreement, the signatories of the Budapest Memorandum was Ukraine's territorial integrity would be intact. So we have to think about what do what do our other security partners, including what do our allies think? If we walk away from an agreement like that? Do they walk away from from their confidence in our security guarantees? 

Do they feel like maybe the US umbrella isn't as strong as it used to be? Maybe we need to make our own deals with Russia. Maybe we need to make our own deals with China. I don't think that leads to us to a to a safer world. So we have to really understand the long term consequences of what I fear is about to happen in Ukraine. 

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Thank you very much. I'm sure our viewers and readers we want to hear from you for hours. I want to talk to you for hours. Let's wrap this up. I want to thank you, Mr. Tim Morrison, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute, former Deputy Assistant National Security the President talking about some key pressing issues here. We appreciate you joining the center. 

Tim Morrison, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute

Kris, I really appreciate the opportunity to be to be with you here today.  

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Take care.

Kris Osborn is the Defense Editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President

Kris Osborn, Warrior Maven President, Center for Military Modernization