May 5, 2020 —
In the post-Cold War era, China has emphasized the use of non-nuclear strategic weapons to coerce its nuclear-armed adversaries in limited wars, rather than threatening the first-use of nuclear weapons like Russia and North Korea. China is among a number of nuclear-armed countries that have developed coercive postures for space, cyber and conventional missile weapons to compensate for conventional military inferiority and/or to gain more credible coercive leverage against an adversary than making nuclear threats, which could be dismissed as overkill by an opponent in a limited war context. What distinguishes China's approach to maximizing its strategic leverage, however, is that China has pursued these non-nuclear strategic weapons as substitutes for the coercive leverage it could gain from switching to a first-use nuclear posture or equalizing the conventional military balance with the United States, which it cannot do in the immediate term.
The seminar focused on original Chinese-language written sources and interviews conducted during extensive fieldwork in the PRC between 2015 and 2017 to explain the logic of China's "strategic substitution" approach to coercive leverage. It also briefly described China's space, cyber, and conventional missile strategic force postures and explain why China's risk tolerance varies among those postures.