Reducing the threat of nuclear proliferation and the potential for nuclear war is a key goal of the Biden-Harris administration.
As one of his first actions in office, President Joe Biden approved a five-year extension of the New START Treaty with Russia, which continued the treaty’s limitations on strategic nuclear weapons stockpiles of both the U.S. and Russia until 2026. That move allows time and space for both countries to explore new verifiable arms control arrangements that could further reduce risks of war.
The United States is similarly encouraging the People’s Republic of China to engage meaningfully with Washington on reducing nuclear risks. The PRC has been expanding its nuclear arsenal in recent years. According to a report last year by the Pentagon, China is expected to at least double its stockpile of nuclear weapons in this decade.
Now two American researchers, using commercial satellite imagery, have reported that the PRC is building more than 100 silos for intercontinental-range ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads that could reach the United States. These silos are being built in remote areas of Gansu Province on the edge of the Gobi Desert. Jeffrey Lewis, one of the researchers from the James Martin Center for Non-Proliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (California), called the pace of the silo construction for China’s ballistic missiles “startling.” In an interview with CNN, he added that the build-up “is much larger than anything we expected to see.”
With the PRC on the cusp of building hundreds of new ICBM silos, U.S. State Department Spokesperson Ned Price voiced concern over the PRC’s expansion of its nuclear capabilities. “These reports and other developments suggest that the PRC’s nuclear arsenal will grow more quickly and to a higher level than perhaps previously anticipated…It raises questions about the PRC’s intent.”
It also shows, he said, “how the PRC appears again to be deviating from decades of nuclear strategy based around minimum deterrence.”
“These advances again…highlight why it’s in everyone’s interests that nuclear powers talk to one another directly about reducing nuclear dangers and avoiding miscalculations,” declared Spokesperson Price. “We encourage Beijing to engage with us on practical measures to reduce the risks of destabilizing arms races, and potentially destabilizing tensions. This is precisely why President Biden prioritized strategic stability in his engagement with President Putin…The same rationale would apply to engagement with another nuclear power, the PRC.”