Don’t Panic, But China Mingles Its Nukes with Regular Missiles

Picture: Flickr/Kate Haskell (CC)

This… erm… unsettling development comes out of the first comprehensive, non-governmental report on China’s nuclear warplans, written by John Lewis, a professor of Chinese politics at Stanford University.

via Benjamin Plackett at WIRED’s Danger Room:

It turns out that China’s been mixing its nuclear missiles in with its conventional ones at the same military bases. Not really, uh, advisable: that makes it really hard for other countries to figure out if a Chinese missile launch is just a conventional one or the beginnings of a nuclear Armageddon. But fret not — while China’s missile mingling may not be very sensible, it’s not going to cause World War III.

Writing in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, John Lewis warns that the intermingling could trigger a nuclear launch: once another nation watched a Chinese missile blast off, it might trigger a nuclear retaliation from a confused, panicked Russia or United States. And then, should the Chinese see their nuclear assets targeted and destroyed, they might conceivable launch their surviving nuclear warheads.

Nor is Lewis convinced that China’s military policies are characterized by restraint. “The notion that China only acts in self defense is wrong,” he tells Danger Room. “Their whole war plan is aimed at attacking Taiwan.”

That said, even Lewis thinks China’s missile ambiguity is unlikely to result in a nuclear exchange. (In fact, he emphasizes that the Chinese government actually encouraged him to write his piece — as a gesture of transparency.) And other experts agree that the Chinese missile move is merely stupid, not suicidal.

So why would China group its nuclear and conventional missiles together? Experts largely agree that the decision was a logistical one and “practical, not rational,” says Monterrey’s Jeffrey Lewis. Another theory: the Chinese think launching a conventional weapon from a nuclear base would prevent a counterattack, since an adversary is unlikely to take the risk of bombing a nuclear weapons base.

There’s also another possibility: a lumbering, dumb bureaucracy keeps the missiles group together out of inertia. The Chinese may make bad missile decisions. But under that theory, at least their reasons for those bad decisions will be familiar to the Pentagon.

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  • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

    Well, that is unsettling.

    I’m glad our military has never accidentally had a mix up with nukes and lost track of any of them.

    http://cryptome.org/dodi/af-megadeath-fumble.pdf

  • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

    Well, that is unsettling.

    I’m glad our military has never accidentally had a mix up with nukes and lost track of any of them.

    http://cryptome.org/dodi/af-megadeath-fumble.pdf

    • Calypso_1

      Oh come on, that was all part of a black op for Cheney to get them into a forward operating position.

    • Calypso_1

      Oh come on, that was all part of a black op for Cheney to get them into a forward operating position.

      • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

        I try never to attribute to conspiracy what can easily be explained by incompetence.

        Except in the case of Congress.

        No one is that effing dumb.

      • http://www.ContraControl.com/ Zenc

        I try never to attribute to conspiracy what can easily be explained by incompetence.

        Except in the case of Congress.

        No one is that effing dumb.

        • godozo

          No ONE, yes.

          But as you know, groups can be smarter or dumber than single people.

          And since the present state of American Elections is set up so that stupidity rules in many individual cases, it makes sense that stupidity would combine easily in Congress. Ergo, a stupidity that knows no bounds since the stupidity combines and multiplies.

        • godozo

          No ONE, yes.

          But as you know, groups can be smarter or dumber than single people.

          And since the present state of American Elections is set up so that stupidity rules in many individual cases, it makes sense that stupidity would combine easily in Congress. Ergo, a stupidity that knows no bounds since the stupidity combines and multiplies.

        • Calypso_1

          I know someone who is familiar with the command and control of such situations and feels that it is strictly impossible for said event to have occurred without direct complicity or compromise regardless of what may have been divined in the report.
          At the very least said event was part of some operation of larger intent.  Whatever that may be, could be relatively benign, could simply be propaganda, saber rattling, or red team activity, who knows.  Hell, it may have never happened in the first place. But the measures in place to handle such munitions are serious.
           
           

  • Simiantongue

    Sokay, they’re easy to tell apart. Just whack the missile with a hammer, the nukes make a different sound from conventional. I’m sure they always do these sorts of technical tests before doing anything with a missile. I see no problem with this.

  • Simiantongue

    Sokay, they’re easy to tell apart. Just whack the missile with a hammer, the nukes make a different sound from conventional. I’m sure they always do these sorts of technical tests before doing anything with a missile. I see no problem with this.

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    always the Chinese threat these daze
    and this missile story keeps coming back in different forms
    here’s the facts:
    Uncle Homeland has at least 150 military bases on China’s borders
    half of those are less than 2 hours flight from Beijing
    the 7th Fleet based in Japan is larger than the Chinese Navy
    the US military aircraft near China is larger than China’s Air Force
    China’s boarders (including Tibet) have been the same since Marco Polo
    China has no military bases outside China, not even Cuba or Venezuela
    China is Uncle Homeland’s largest T-Bill owner
    85% of all consumer goods sold in the US are made in China
    John Lewis – FSI Stanford is a well known, well paid anti-China pimp

    juz sayin’

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    always the Chinese threat these daze
    and this missile story keeps coming back in different forms
    here’s the facts:
    Uncle Homeland has at least 150 military bases on China’s borders
    half of those are less than 2 hours flight from Beijing
    the 7th Fleet based in Japan is larger than the Chinese Navy
    the US military aircraft near China is larger than China’s Air Force
    China’s boarders (including Tibet) have been the same since Marco Polo
    China has no military bases outside China, not even Cuba or Venezuela
    China is Uncle Homeland’s largest T-Bill owner
    85% of all consumer goods sold in the US are made in China
    John Lewis – FSI Stanford is a well known, well paid anti-China pimp

    juz sayin’

    • BunkersTrust

      The scariest part of that info is that 85% of all consumer goods are manufactured in China and 70% of the the US economy is consumer spending. Not only does this deprive US workers from jobs, but it puts a butt load of cash in China’s pockets.

      China’s nuks aren’t a real threat, except by accident. The US corporations that exported jobs to China were/are the real threat to America. 

    • Haystack

      If the threat is China, or if the threat is the West misunderstanding/antagonizing China, is almost irrelevant; the outcome of a war would be horrible enough in either case. 

    • Haystack

      If the threat is China, or if the threat is the West misunderstanding/antagonizing China, is almost irrelevant; the outcome of a war would be horrible enough in either case. 

      • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

        true
        but the Chinese are not dumb enough
        to kill off the Golden Goose
        that’s Uncle Homeland’s bailiwick

      • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

        true
        but the Chinese are not dumb enough
        to kill off the Golden Goose
        that’s Uncle Homeland’s bailiwick

  • alizardx

    When I looked at the article, I was wondering if the nukes were using the same command/control systems as conventional warhead missiles. 

    from cited article: “using information technologies to integrate all of the PLA services and their systems—or what the Chinese call the “system of systems.” 
    Or to put it differently, One Big Target for hackers or rogue government operators. What Can Go Wrong?

    We can hope the Chinese also have “Permissive Action Link”  (google) security on a per-nuclear warhead basis.