How many nukes does China have? Who’s telling the truth?

How many nuclear weapons China possesses has been the subject of a fierce dispute since Professor Philip A. Karber and his students published a report in 2011 which concluded – based on China’s 3,000 mile long network of tunnels and bunkers – that China probably has thousands of warheads, possible up to 3,000.

Analysts such as Professor Karber (the DOD’s former chief nuclear strategist) and General Viktor Yesin (former Chief of Staff of Russia’s Strategic Missile Forces) don’t claim to have an exact number. Professor Karber and his students estimate it’s likely in the thousands, but don’t claim to be able to give an exact number, only a range. Professor Karber says it’s “up to 3,000 warheads”, while General Yesin says it’s between approximately 1,600 and 1,800 warheads, based on China’s fissile material stocks.

In addition, they have no agenda, other than to disseminate their findings. Contrary to the accusations lobbed at them, they do not oppose arms control or accords of such kind between the US and Russia – they merely want China to be a party to such accords, so that China’s nuclear arsenal will not be unlimited and will be subject to American and Russian inspections (which, of course, Communist China will never agree to).

OTOH, those who deny that China has a larger nuclear arsenal or poses a significant nuclear threat to the US – those who claim China still has a paltry few hundred warheads –claim to know with exact precision how many nuclear warheads China possesses: 250. Even though they are mere amateur civilians who have not served a day in the US (let alone Chinese) military and have never had access to any classified information (like Professor Karber did when he was the Pentagon’s chief nuke strategist), these people claim they know for sure that China has only a few hundred warheads, and accuse anyone who says otherwise of grossly “exaggerating” and “overhyping” the Chinese nuclear threat (which they don’t even call or consider a threat at all).

Those amateurs, with no access whatsoever to classified information and no military experience in the US or Chinese armed forces, claim that what they say are “facts”, accurate calculations, and quality research papers, even though they have no credible sources to back their claims. Virtually all the “sources” and references they point to as the basis for their claims are… their other claims, written elsewhere (mostly on Hans Kristensen’s “Strategic Security” blog).

Yes, you read that correctly: according to China threat deniers, the sources for their claims are… their other claims!

And unlike Professor Karber and others who warn of a large Chinese nuclear threat arsenal, the denier camp does have an agenda and an incentive to lie: its desire to unilaterally strip the US of its nuclear weapons. Members of this camp, including Hans M. Kristensen, Robert Norris, Joseph Cirincione, and others have openly stated that they want the US to UNILATERALLY cut its nuclear arsenal down to the low hundreds… as a transitional step towards unilaterally scrapping its nuclear arsenal COMPLETELY. That is their openly-avowed agenda.

Thus, they have a vast incentive to lie, and specifically, to downplay both the Russian and the Chinese nuclear threat – in order to lull the public and policymakers into a false sense of security.

And when Professor Karber and General Yesin released their reports, they reacted with angry vitriol, showing their true colors, launching direct, personal attacks against Professor Karber.

Moreover, Kristensen and Norris have shown that not only can’t they get the size of China’s missile and nuclear warhead right, they can’t even get spelling right!

So, whom do you believe, folks? Those who don’t have an agenda or an incentive to lie, or those who do?


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