Among the five nuclear weapon states recognized under the Nuclear
Nonproliferation Treaty, China is the only state which has chosen to pursue
quantitative and qualitative advancements to its nuclear force since the end
of the Cold War. These advancements have resulted in an additional 100
operationally available Chinese nuclear weapons distributed across four new
nuclear weapon systems. The United States, Russia, Great Britain, and France,
by contrast, have all reduced their total number of nuclear weapons and retired
several of their nuclear weapon systems. My dissertation explores the factors
influencing these decisions, describing first the influence of a state’s nuclear
strategy on its force level decisions, and then discussing the impact of external
and internal factors on a state’s nuclear strategy. In the case of China, in
particular, I find that its decision to grow and diversify its nuclear force over the
past twenty five years correlates with the threat it perceives from the United
States and the prestige it associates with larger and more modern nuclear
my research journey:
Sino-Russian Relations Throughout my academic journey, I have had the opportunity to study in both China and Russia. My time in both countries left me wondering how two countries that were once so similar, could now have such different worldviews, economies, and governmental systems. My time in both countries allowed me to research these differences, and I conducted multiple independent studies. This research led to several publications, including a comparative analysis of Chinese and Russian perspectives on multipolarity published in Asian Perspective in 2009, and an analysis of Chinese views of Russia’s actions in Georgia in Comparative Strategy in 2011. I was also asked to contribute a chapter to the 2012 edition of the Ashgate Research Companion on Chinese Foreign Policy.
Chinese Nuclear Modernization My analysis of Sino-Russian relations and my comparison of their perspectives and modes of governance led me to explore other discrepancies, such as the distinction between the two countries’ nuclear histories and current nuclear trajectories. In fact, China’s nuclear behavior over the past thirty years differs not only from Russia, but also from the UK, US, and France, and it is currently the only Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty nuclear weapon state that continues to increase and diversify its nuclear arsenal. My dissertation explores this discrepancy by conducting qualitative content analysis across a variety of Chinese sources, including military manuals, journal articles, speeches, dialogue notes, and news articles. In contrast to other scholars that credit China’s nuclear strategy and arsenal structure to its strategic culture or who claim that China’s nuclear modernization is a direct consequence of US missile defense, my research reveals that China’s decisions are best understood through the lens of Neoclassical Realism. Existential threats such as the development of US missile defense and the enhancement of US Prompt Global Strike, I argue, represent the primary drivers of China’s arsenal increase, but China’s response is tempered by the Chinese Communist Party’s domestic commitment to economic growth. My research in this regard has resulted in two journal articles now under review, including the article “After Acquisition: Exploring the Spectrum of Nuclear Strategies,” now under review at International Studies Quarterly and the article “Chinese Nuclear Deterrence: A Cross-Sectional Analysis” now under review at International Security.
Chinese Scientific & Military Innovation In addition to submitting my dissertation research for publication, I am actively advancing my research on other fronts, including studying the linkages between China’s scientific and military innovations. My sincere effort to learn more in this regard is exemplified by my participation in the August 2014 Science and Technology in China Workshop (STIC) sponsored by the University of California, San Diego, where I was one of two fully-funded participants. This workshop, which included both American and Chinese scholars and American government personnel, was an intimate event meant to facilitate dialogue between scholars and policy makers on China’s scientific and military advancements. Though I came away from the workshop with several interesting research questions, my current research focuses on the connection between China’s High Performance Computers and its position on banning nuclear tests. Several scholars have explored China’s pivot in favor of a universal test ban, and have attributed this to China’s increased acceptance of international institutions. My research in this area indicates that China’s computing capabilities may be an underestimated factor influencing China’s willingness to accept constraints on nuclear testing.
Knowing why China is increasing its nuclear arsenal can help other countries understand the conditions for China’s cooperation in bilateral and/or multilateral disarmament. Similarly, if we know the degree to which countries trust high performance computers to simulate nuclear tests, then we can perhaps advance stymied test ban negotiations. Ultimately, the objective of my research, as with my teaching, is to contribute to the base of existing knowledge and to spark a desire for a continued conversation.