U.S. Conventional Forces and Nuclear Deterrence: A China Case Study

CRS Report for Congress
U.S. Conventional Forces and Nuclear Deterrence:
A China Case Study
August 11, 2006
Christopher Bolkcom, Shirley A. Kan, and Amy F. Woolf
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade Division

Congressional Research Service ˜ The Library of Congress

U.S. Conventional Forces and Nuclear Deterrence:
A China Case Study
Congress and the Department of Defense (DOD) are engaged in an extended
discourse over the future direction of U.S. defense strategy and military force
structure. In the past, these discussions have focused almost exclusively on questions
related to U.S. conventional military forces, with discussions about nuclear weapons
held in separate fora. However, the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)
examined both nuclear and conventional forces, a first in the QDR’s history. This
indicates that analysts both inside and outside government are beginning to review
and assess the potential deterrent and operational relationship between conventional
and nuclear weapons.
It appears that considerable pressure is building on DOD leaders to make
strategy and force structure decisions with cost-effectiveness in mind. A key question
for contemporary defense planners is what proportion of U.S. military capabilities
should be focused on traditional military challenges and what proportion should be
focused on non-traditional challenges, such as “irregular, disruptive and catastrophic”
To effectively analyze the desired size and characteristics of tomorrow’s
military, some argue that we must take a hard look at feasible, real-world
contingencies. A possible conflict with China attracts considerable attention from
defense planners because it is a regional competitor today and could over time grow
to be a “near-peer” competitor. Analysts can also easily identify flashpoints where
the two nations might meet and feel compelled to defend national interests.
The analysis that follows seeks to explore the possible role that U.S. nuclear and
conventional forces might play in four stages of potential conflicts: deterrence, prior
to the start of the conflict; crisis stability in the early stages of the conflict;
warfighting during the height of the conflict; and war termination, through either a
negotiated settlement or a battlefield victory.
This report highlights a number of policy issues that may bear consideration in
the ongoing debate regarding military investments. For example, this report suggests
that nuclear and conventional military capabilities can simultaneously have positive
effects on deterrence or warfighting and negative effects on crisis stability or war
termination objectives. Therefore, changes in military force structure or capabilities
to improve deterrence, for example, should consider potential effects on crisis
stability, for example. Further, investments in military capabilities that may
positively contribute to all potential stages of military conflict (e.g. deterrence, crisis
stability, warfighting, and war termination), might be preferred to investments that
have a mixed effect on the potential range of conflict. This report will not be

In troduction ......................................................1
Interplay Between Conventional and Nuclear Forces..................2
Politico-Military Uncertainty.....................................3
Budgetary Constraints on Force Structure...........................4
Nuclear Weapons Strategy and Doctrine................................5
United States.................................................5
Cold War................................................5
Post-Cold War............................................6
Present Environment.......................................8
China ......................................................10
Nuclear Forces...........................................11
Nuclear Strategy..........................................12
Political-Military Relations.........................................14
U.S.-China Relations..........................................14
U.S. Policy Toward Taiwan.....................................15
U.S. Defense Relationship with Japan.............................16
Illustrative Scenarios..............................................17
Scenario A: SOF Infiltration of Taiwan............................18
Scenario B: Maritime Conflict Between China and Japan.............19
Scenario C: Full-Scale, Combined Arms Attack on Taiwan............19
Scenario D: Pre-Emptive Attack by Taiwan on PRC Military Forces.....19
Deterrence ..................................................20
Crisis Stability...............................................21
Warfighting .................................................22
War Termination.............................................24
Potential Implications.............................................25
Nuclear Deterrence...........................................26
New or Improved Conventional Weapons or Capabilities.............28
Conclusion ......................................................29
List of Tables
Table 1: U.S. Strategic Force........................................10
Table 2: China’s Strategic Missile Force...............................12

U.S. Conventional Forces and Nuclear
Deterrence: A China Case Study
Congress and the Department of Defense (DOD) are engaged in an extended
discourse over the future direction of U.S. defense strategy and military force1
structure. In the past, these discussions have focused almost exclusively on
questions related to U.S. conventional military forces, with discussions about nuclear
weapons held in separate fora. However, the 2005 Quadrennial Defense Review
(QDR) examined both nuclear and conventional forces, a first in the QDR’s history.2
As a result, this indicates that analysts both inside and outside government are
beginning to review and assess the relationship between conventional and nuclear
weapons. The purpose of this report is to support this assessment, using possible
conflict with China as a framework or case study.
DOD’s attention to possible military conflict with China appears to have
increased since the end of the Cold War. Such a potential conflict presents the
challenge of a very complicated political/economic/social relationship among the
participants. It also presents the noteworthy military challenges of defending a
distant ally or friendly country from a proximate adversary, possessing large
conventional forces and nuclear weapons capable of reaching the continental United
Many in DOD appear to consider military conflict with China to be a “pacing
threat”: the military capabilities required to successfully cope with this scenario are
likely to be adequate to cope with other, and presumably less challenging state-on-
state conflicts. Practical decisions regarding how the United States might most
effectively equip its forces and develop strategies for their use to contend with
possible military conflicts with China raise obvious issues concerning the structure
of U.S. conventional forces and the role of nuclear deterrence.

1 Examples of this “extended discourse” include the QDR process, the House Armed
Services Committee’s “Congressional Defense Review,” DOD’s Annual Report on China,
implementation of a variety of measures designed to “transform” the military services, the
Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) and Overseas basing and realignment processes, and
annual Congressional oversight of DOD’s budget.
2 Quadrennial Defense Review Report. U.S. Department of Defense. February 6, 2006. P.


Interplay Between Conventional and Nuclear Forces
During the Cold War, assessments of the interplay between nuclear and
conventional forces were most relevant, and most often debated, in scenarios that
pitted the United States and its NATO allies against the Soviet Union and its Warsaw
Pact allies. Defense planners recognized and calculated the effect a perceived
balance or imbalance of conventional and nuclear forces might have on deterrence,
crisis stability, and the outcome of potential conflicts in Europe. Specifically, the
United States sought to “extend” deterrence and protect its NATO allies with both
conventional and nuclear forces. For much of the Cold War, NATO’s conventional
forces were perceived to be weaker than those of the Warsaw Pact and were allowed
to stay that way in part, because nuclear weapons were seen as a less costly
alternative to large conventional force structure. Many analysts argued that under
these circumstances, the United States and NATO could deter a Soviet and Warsaw
Pact attack by threatening to escalate the conflict to nuclear use. Others, however,
questioned whether such threats were credible, in light of the fact that the Soviet
Union could have responded with nuclear attacks of its own. As a result, analysts
often argued the pros and cons of increasing NATO’s conventional force capabilities,
and the potential this might have for enhancing deterrence and “raising the nuclear
DOD’s 2002 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) constructed a “new triad”
consisting of offensive strike weapons, missile defense, and the nuclear weapons
infrastructure to describe the capabilities that are a part of the U.S. nuclear posture.
The “old” nuclear triad consisted of land-based ICBMs, sea-launched ballistic
missiles (SLBMs), and nuclear-armed long-range bombers. Thus, the new triad
appears to be a much broader construct.
One noteworthy aspect of the new triad’s offensive strike component is the
planned interplay between nuclear and conventional weapons. DOD seeks to
integrate nuclear and conventional capabilities in some military plans and
applications where hitherto only nuclear weapons were thought to play a role.
Administration officials suggest that this integration may reduce potential U.S.
reliance on nuclear weapons.
Studies and analyses subsequent to the NPR have sought to consider whether
the addition of conventional weapons to U.S. nuclear plans might alter the role of
nuclear weapons. Few appear to have asked, however, whether the integration
implied in the new triad might alter the role or requirements for U.S. conventional
weapons. Further, very few, if any of these considerations appear to have informed
the debate over budget and procurement of conventional weapons.

3 Generally speaking, European NATO members resisted improvements to conventional
force capabilities in part based on the argument that it would raise the nuclear threshold and
make conventional war appear more “winnable” to the Warsaw Pact. The United States, in
general, favored increasing NATO conventional military capabilities because if the nuclear
threshold were breeched, both U.S. and NATO-nation cities would likely be attacked as a

Some DOD leaders say that today’s conventional and nuclear forces are well
suited to deter state-on-state conflict, and that the primary challenges are deterring
non-state actors.4 This may be true. However, DOD currently faces a much more
complicated “state-on-state” security environment than it did during the Cold War,
when a possible war with the Soviet Union dominated planning and procurement
activities. Many potential military challenges exist (e.g. North Korea) or could
emerge (e.g. Iran, or a revanchist Russia), but a possible conflict with China is often
mentioned as the military scenario of great concern to military planners.
Politico-Military Uncertainty
Conducting a review of military strategy and force structure today is likely to
be dominated by two overarching themes. The first theme is uncertainty. Relative to
the past, contemporary defense planners must now consider a broad and diverse
menu of national security challenges when examining the relationship between
conventional forces and nuclear deterrence, and assessing the most effective mix of
During the Cold War, the threats confronting the United States were reasonably
well understood and comparatively predictable. If the United States had the military
capabilities to deter or defeat its most stressing threat (e.g. the Soviet Union), then
these military capabilities were deemed adequate to address “lesser included cases”
such as nation states with more modest military capabilities or even non-state actors,
such as insurgents and terrorists. The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001
graphically illustrated that today’s non-state actors can exploit relatively inexpensive
and commercially available technology to conduct very destructive attacks over great
distances. Few observers today consider non-traditional threats to be “lesser included
cases.” Increasingly it is recognized that in many cases, combating non-state threats
presents a different — and in many cases greater — set of challenges than combating
a conventional military foe.
A key question for contemporary defense planners is what proportion of U.S.
military capabilities should be focused on traditional military challenges and what
proportion should be focused on non-traditional challenges, such as “irregular,
disruptive and catastrophic” threats?5 Preparing for non-traditional threats will likely
call for a much different “investment pattern” than a strategy that “seeks to further

4 Jason Sherman. “QDR Will Advance ‘Tailored Deterrence’ for Wide-Ranging Threats.”
Inside the Navy. December 19, 2005.
5 This nomenclature is found in The National Defense Strategy of the United States of
America. March 2005. U.S. Department of Defense. Examples of irregular threats include
terrorism, insurgency, and civil war. Examples of these threats can be found in A
Framework for Strategic Thinking: Building Top-level Capabilities. Briefing to Senior
Level Review Group. August 19, 2004. U.S. Department of Defense. Irregular threats
include terrorism, insurgency, and civil war. Disruptive threats include bio or cyber warfare.
Catastrophic threats include missile attacks on the United States, enemy employment of
weapons of mass destruction.

leverage our superiority over any potential peer competitor.”6 How should risk be
apportioned across this investment spectrum?
Budgetary Constraints on Force Structure
The second theme affecting any current strategy and forces review is that of
resource constraints. Owing to growing concerns about controlling the overall size
of the federal budget, it appears that pressure is building on DOD leaders to make
strategy and force structure decisions with cost-effectiveness in mind. For example,
the cost of the ongoing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan could have a much higher
price tag than the $357 billion allocated to date.7 Some economists estimate that the
final cost to U.S. taxpayers could be $2 trillion.8 In the past, most of the funds for
Iraq and Afghanistan have been provided through supplemental appropriations. The
Office of Management and Budget (OMB) however, reportedly will resist any future
large supplemental appropriations, which may increase turbulence within DOD’s
annual spending plans.9 Further, in June 2006, the Senate passed an amendment of
the FY2007 Defense Authorization bill that could restrict the use of emergency
supplemental war funding.10
Long-term DOD spending plans are already experiencing intense pressure. The
Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that DOD’s spending plans are
underfunded by $50-150 billion annually during the years covered by the QDR.11
Such projected shortfalls lead some observers to believe that DOD will increasingly
be forced to make hard decisions about force structure, such as having to choose
between purchasing new equipment and maintaining old equipment. Another choice
may have to be made between purchasing new equipment and maintaining personnel
end strength.12
Failure to adequately consider the possible interaction between nuclear weapons
and nuclear strategy, on the one hand, and the size and capabilities of conventional
weapons, on the other, (and a failure to plan for and budget against the potential
interaction between them) could result in the acquisition of functionally redundant,

6 Dov. S. Zackheim. “The Quadrennial Defense Review: Some Guiding Principles.”
Address to the Heritage Foundation. Conference on The War on Terrorism and Beyond.
December 3, 2004.
7 For more information, see CRS Report RL33110, The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan and
Enhanced Base Security Since 9/11, by Amy Belasco.
8 Sally B. Donnelly. “Iraq: Counting the Costs.” Time. January 16, 2006.
9 David Fulghum. “Competing Demands on Defense Budget Produce ‘Desperate Crisis.’”
Aviation Week & Space Technology. November 28, 2005.
10 Megan Scully. “Senate OKs Change in Future War Funding.” National Journal’s
Congress Daily AM. June 15, 2006.
11 Congressional Budget Office (CBO) The Long-Term Implications of Current Defense
Plans and Alternatives: Summary Update for Fiscal Year 2006. October 2005.
12 Scott Nance. “Continued Supplementals Will be Key for Army, Sullivan Says.” Defense
Today. January 9, 2006.

unnecessary, or sub-optimized military forces and the development of military
strategies ill-suited to the forces they are intended to guide. The need to address a
complex and broad range of possible threats, combined with a more expeditionary
orientation for U.S. forces, and intense projected budgetary shortfalls make cost
effective decisions on force structure and strategy unusually important.
Nuclear Weapons Strategy and Doctrine
Understanding how nuclear weapons and deterrence might combine with U.S.
conventional forces in a possible conflict with China, requires some understanding
of both U.S. and Chinese nuclear strategy and doctrine. Forces and strategy are not
static, but evolve over time. Thus, a general discussion of the subject may be useful.
United States
The U.S. nuclear strategy and doctrine has evolved over 50 years. It can be
roughly divided into three distinct eras: Cold War, post-Cold War, and present, or,

21st century strategy.

Cold War.
Deterrence. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was the primary country
to be deterred by U.S. military forces. The United States sought to develop a policy
and nuclear forces that it believed were needed to convince the Soviet Union that any
nuclear attack on the United States would be met with a retaliatory attack against the
full range of valued targets in the Soviet Union. Other countries, such as China and
the countries of Eastern Europe, were covered by U.S. nuclear war plans, but their
presence reflected their relationship with the Soviet Union more than any
independent threat they might pose to the United States or its allies.
The United States also expected its nuclear weapons to deter a Soviet nuclear13
attack, conventional attack, or coercion aimed at U.S. allies in Europe and Asia.
Many believed the United States needed to threaten nuclear retaliation to deter these
threats because the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact allies had far greater numbers
of conventional forces than did the United States and its NATO allies. According to
this view, if a war was fought with only conventional weapons, U.S. and NATO
forces could be overrun. Therefore, the United States fielded a variety of strategic,
theater and tactical nuclear weapons that might be used to repel and defeat such an
This doctrine came to be known as extended deterrence. The theory underlying
this doctrine was that if any level of aggression against U.S. allies could escalate into
a nuclear conflict that might involve attacks on the Soviet Union, then the Soviet
Union might be deterred from all levels of aggression. This theory was not without
critics, however, as some analysts questioned whether the Soviet Union would

13 National Security Strategy of the United States. The White House. January 1988.
Washington. p. 13.

believe that the United States would use nuclear weapons to defend its allies,
particularly if such use might invite a Soviet nuclear attack on the United States.
Strategic Doctrine and Targeting. During the 1950s, the strategic doctrine
known as “massive retaliation” envisioned a “simultaneous, massive, integrated”
U.S. nuclear strike against targets in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, and China if
the Soviet Union or its allies initiated any nuclear or conventional attack against the
United States or its allies.14
In the early 1960s, the United States developed a doctrine of “damage
limitation,” which called for attacks against Soviet conventional and nuclear military
forces. This “counterforce” strategy explicitly excluded attacks designed to destroy
cities and focused instead on attacks that would impede the Soviet Union’s
warfighting capability.15 In particular, it sought to destroy those weapons that the
Soviet Union might use to attack U.S. cities. In the mid-1960s, DOD developed the
doctrine of “assured destruction,” a strategy that was designed to convince the Soviet
leadership that Soviet society would be destroyed if the Soviet Union launched an
attack on the United States or its allies. But, by the early 1970s, many again
questioned the credibility of a doctrine that called for massive strikes against Soviet
society, particularly if the Soviet Union could threaten to strike back against U.S.
cities. Therefore, the United States shifted its doctrine once again, to “Flexible
Response” in the mid-1970s and “Countervailing Strategy,” in the late 1970s. These
policies emphasized retaliatory strikes on Soviet military forces and war-making
capabilities, as opposed to attacks on civilian and industrial targets, and they called
for limited, focused attacks on specified military targets, instead of large-scale attacks
on a greater number of sites.16
Post-Cold War.
Deterrence. In its 1995 National Security Strategy report, the Clinton
Administration stated that “the dissolution of the Soviet empire has radically
transformed the security environment facing the United States and our allies. The
primary security imperative of the past half century — containing communist
expansion while preventing nuclear war — is gone.”17 The Administration did,

14 “There was no calculated strategy for war winning or termination beyond that of
producing as much destruction ... as possible in a single devastating blow.” See Rosenberg,
David A. “U.S. Nuclear War Planning, 1945-1960.” In Ball and Richelson, Strategic
Nuclear Targeting, pp. 44-45.
15 Desmond Ball. The Development of the SIOP, 1960-1983, in Ball and Richelson,
Strategic Nuclear Targeting, pp. 62-65.
16 The types of targets the United States sought to destroy remained relatively constant
throughout the Cold War. These included strategic nuclear forces, other military forces,
military and political leadership, and economic and industrial facilities. For a description
of the types of targets included in U.S. nuclear war plans see U.S. Congressional Budget
Office. The START Treaty and Beyond. October 1991. Washington, U.S. Govt. Print. Off.

1991. pp. 11-12.

17 A National Security Strategy of Engagement and Enlargement. The White House,

however, determine that Russia remained a concern for U.S. national security
because it continued to control the only nuclear arsenal that could threaten the
survival of the United States. The Clinton Administration also argued that “nuclear
weapons served as a hedge against an uncertain future, a guarantee of our security
commitments to allies and a disincentive to those who would contemplate developing
or otherwise acquiring their own nuclear weapons.”18
The Clinton Administration did not consider China to pose a direct threat to the
United States as a regional or global adversary. Nevertheless, DOD officials testified
that China’s small nuclear force “is still formidable” and “China continues to make
steady efforts to modernize those forces.” Assistant Secretary of Defense Ted
Warner stated that the United States could not be sure that it would not need nuclear
weapons to deter China in the future.19 The Clinton Administration also identified
other threats to U.S. national security, specifically noting in its National Security
Strategy Report for 1998, that “weapons of mass destruction pose the greatest
potential threat to global stability and security.”20
Strategic Doctrine and Targeting. Although the Clinton Administration
maintained the U.S. focus on deterring a potential Russian threat, it did issue new
guidelines for U.S. nuclear strategy in late 1997. In a document known as PDD-60
the Administration stated that “our military planning for the possible employment of
nuclear weapons is focused on deterring a nuclear war rather than attempting to fight21
and win a protracted nuclear exchange.” In practice, this probably meant that the
United States would not seek to cause as much damage against as wide a range of
targets as it had planned on attacking in previous war plans. But Clinton
Administration officials also noted that this did not alter the structure of U.S. nuclear
war plans or the variety of options available to the President for a U.S. retaliatory
Many press reports about PDD-60 highlighted the provisions covering the use
of U.S. nuclear weapons to deter nations other than Russia, and viewed this as an
“expansion” of the role of U.S. nuclear weapons. However, the United States has
never maintained a “no first use” policy, and has always retained the option to use
nuclear weapons in response to attacks by conventional, chemical, or biological
weapons. These policies did not change in the 1990s.

17 (...continued)
February 1995. Washington, DC, p. 1.
18 A National Security Strategy for a New Century. The White House, October 1998.
Washington, DC, p. 12.
19 Statement of the Honorable Edward L. Warner, III. Assistant Secretary of Defense for
Strategy and Threat Reduction, Before the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on
Strategic Forces. April 14, 1999.
20 A National Security Strategy for a New Century. Op. Cit. p. 6.
21 Ibid. p. 12.

Present Environment.
Deterrence. The George W. Bush Administration has emphasized that nuclear
weapons “continue to be essential to our security, and that of our friends and allies.”22
As the only weapons in the U.S. arsenal that can hold at risk the full range of targets
valued by an adversary, they continue to play a key role in U.S. deterrent strategy.
However, in contrast with the Clinton Administration’s focus on a potential Russian
threat, the Bush Administration has stated that Russia and the United States are no
longer enemies. Even though Russia retains thousands of nuclear weapons, the
increased cooperation between the two nations has allowed a “new strategic
framework” to replace the Cold War’s adversarial relationship. The Bush
Administration has emphasized, however, that the United States faces threats from23
“multiple potential opponents, sources of conflict, and unprecedented challenges”
and that these challenges must be taken into consideration when the United States
plans its nuclear weapons policy and force posture. According to the Administration,
these adversaries could include non-state actors and terrorists as well as nations such24
as China, Iran, North Korea, and others.
In the past, U.S. policy essentially viewed nuclear weapons apart from the rest
of the U.S. military establishment, with nuclear weapons serving to deter a global
nuclear conflict with the Soviet Union or Russia. In contrast, the Bush
Administration has described a more comprehensive role for nuclear weapons,
arguing that nuclear weapons, along with missile defenses and other elements of the
U.S. military establishment, not only deter adversaries by promising an unacceptable
amount of damage in response to an adversary’s attack, they can also assure allies
and friends of the U.S. commitment to their security by providing an extended
deterrent, dissuade potential adversaries from challenging the United States with
nuclear weapons or other “asymmetrical threats” by convincing them that they can
never negate the U.S. nuclear deterrent; and defeat enemies by holding at risk those
targets that could not be destroyed with other types of weapons.25
Doctrine and Targeting. In describing the future role of nuclear weapons,
the Bush Administration has stated that the United States will not only rely on the
threat of nuclear retaliation, but will also seek to deter and defeat adversaries with
precision conventional weapons, which are hoped to be capable of destroying some
targets that were assigned to nuclear weapons in the past, and ballistic missile
defenses, which might deter attack by denying an adversary the ability to threaten

22 U.S. Senate. Committee on Armed Services. Statement of the Honorable Douglas J. Feith,
Undersecretary of Defense For Policy. February 14, 2002.
23 U.S. Department of Defense. Special Briefing on the Nuclear Posture Review. News
Transcript. January 9, 2002.
24 Condoleeza Rice, “Promoting the National Interest.” Foreign Affairs. January/February

2000. v. 79. p. 56.

25 Special Briefing on the Nuclear Posture Review. Op. Cit. These are the same four
general defense policy goals outlined in the 2001 QDR.

U.S. targets with ballistic missiles.26 The Administration refers to this change as
“tailored deterrence,” with the United States developing more specific responses that
would rely on a broader range of military capabilities to respond to the threats posed
by emerging adversaries.
Moreover, the Bush Administration has stated that the United States will no
longer size and structure its nuclear forces to address the “Soviet threat.”27 Instead,
it will employ a “capabilities-based” strategy, where it would “look more at a broad
range of capabilities and contingencies that the United States may confront” and
tailor U.S. military capabilities to address this wide spectrum of possible
contingencies.28 Specifically, the United States would identify potential future
conflicts, review the capabilities of its possible adversaries, identify those capabilities
that the United States might need to attack or threaten with nuclear weapons, and
develop a force posture and nuclear weapons employment strategy that would allow
it to attack those capabilities. The Bush Administration has not discussed, publicly,
how it will identify specific targets or allocate weapons in its “capabilities-based”
The most specific and visible change to emerge from this new targeting strategy
has been the replacement of the Cold War SIOP (single integrated operational plan)
with a new war plan known as OPLAN (operations plan) 8044. This document
contains the major strike options and major contingency plans that had been included
in the SIOP, but could also include plans for a wider range of options against a
greater number of adversaries. Some press reports indicate that the Administration
has also developed a companion contingency plan, CONPLAN 8022-22, which plans
for the prompt U.S. response to a number of contingencies with nations other than
Russia. Reports indicate that most of the options in this new plan call for the use of
conventional weapons, but some also allow for the use of nuclear weapons early or
at the start of a conflict.29 As a result, it is evident that the Bush Administration has
not altered the U.S. policy that permits the possible first use of nuclear weapons.
Further, the Administration has stated that the United States would develop and
deploy those nuclear capabilities that it would need to defeat the capabilities of any
potential adversary whether or not it possessed nuclear weapons. The focus will be
“on how we will fight, not who we will fight.”30

26 Ibid.
27 Statement of the Honorable Douglas J. Feith, Op. Cit.
28 Ibid. DOD is also using a “capabilities based” approach to justify its conventional
weapons modernization programs.
29 Bill Arkin, “Not Just a Last Resort.” Washington Post.com. May 12, 2005. See, also,
Kristensen, Hans M. Preparing for the Failure of Deterrence. SITREP, A Publication of
the Royal Canadian Military Institute. November/December 2005. pp. 10-12.
30 Special Briefing on the Nuclear Posture Review. Op. Cit.

Table 1: U.S. Strategic Force
Deployed Attributed
Minuteman-III, Peacekeeper (a)5501700
Trident-I/II SLBM4323168
B-1, B-2, B-52 Heavy Bombers2431098
Source: Department of State, “START Aggregate Numbers of Strategic Offensive Arms,” April 1,
a. The United States has deactivated all 50 Peacekeeper ICBMs, and their 500 warheads are no longer
operational. But it has not eliminated the silos, so they still count against the START Treaty
China’s nuclear force structure and public statements about nuclear policy are
consistent with a nuclear strategy known as “minimum deterrence.” Under this
strategy, a nation seeks to deter nuclear attacks against its territory by threatening to
respond with its own nuclear weapons if such an attack were to occur. To be certain
that it can retaliate after a nuclear attack, a nation with a minimum deterrent would
need forces that could survive a direct assault by another nation’s nuclear weapons.
This strategy of threatening retaliation against major population centers with even a
small number of nuclear weapons is assumed to be sufficient to deter a nuclear
attack. However, U.S. estimates of the PRC’s evolving nuclear forces have been
uncertain, including both over-estimates of the speed of deployment of new missiles
as well as concern over China’s ability to surprise with undetected military
modernization.31 In their frequent reevaluations of the Chinese People’s Liberation
Army’s (PLA) capabilities, U.S. experts have questioned whether the PLA has
shifted or considered shifting its nuclear doctrine to one of “limited deterrence.”32
The two countries lack dialogue over their respective strategic nuclear forces and
doctrine as well as confidence-building measures.33

31 Jeffrey Lewis, “The Ambiguous Arsenal,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, May/June 2005;
Robert Norris and Hans Kristensen, “Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2006,” Bulletin of Atomic
Scientists, May/June 2006.
32 See, for example, Alastair Iain Johnston, “China’s New ‘Old Thinking’,” International
Security, Winter 1995/1996. The concept of limited deterrence is treated in detail on p. 12
of this report.
33 There were some discussions on nuclear weapons during the Clinton Administration.
After Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld visited the headquarters of China’s strategic
missile force, the Second Artillery, in October 2005, the two militaries started to explore a
strategic dialogue. See CRS Report RL32496, U.S.-China Military Contacts: Issues for
Congress, by Shirley Kan.

Nuclear Forces. China has deployed a relatively small number of nuclear
warheads on operational delivery systems. The Department of Defense reports that
China has deployed approximately 20 silo-based, liquid-fuel CSS-4 intercontinental
ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for its “primary nuclear deterrent” and about 20-24 liquid-
fuel, shorter-range CSS-3 ICBMs for its “regional nuclear deterrent.” China also
deployed 14-18 CSS-2 intermediate-range ballistic missiles and 19-50 CSS-534
medium-range ballistic missiles. The PLA also has 10-14 JL-1 submarine-launched
ballistic missiles (SLBMs), but the operational status of the single Xia-class ballistic
missile submarine has been questionable. China is developing new rail- or road-
mobile DF-31 and DF-31A ICBMs and JL-2 SLBMs (12 on each new Type 09435
ballistic missile submarine) for greater survivability.
As for the evolution of the nuclear force, the Director of Central Intelligence
estimated in 2002 that the PRC’s strategic nuclear force could grow by 2015 to about36

75 to 100 warheads deployed primarily against the United States. Still, U.S.

government estimates have changed, and China could deploy significant new
capabilities, such as multiple warheads. Also, some experts have charged U.S.
intelligence with over-estimating dramatic improvements, as the modernization of37
China’s missile force has been slower than predicted for about 15 years.
China employs a variety of basing modes, such as hardened silos and mobile
launchers, along with concealment and deception techniques, to ensure that its
missiles can survive a first strike. These basing modes can add hours or days to the
amount of time that China would need to prepare its missiles for launch. This long
launch time could seriously hamper any effort by China to use these missiles in a first
strike against the United States, because the United States would be able to detect
launch preparations and, possibly, preempt the attack. However, these basing modes
could ensure the survivability of China’s missiles in the event of a U.S. attack and
help to guarantee that China would be able to launch a retaliatory strike.
The PRC has expressed strong opposition to U.S. plans to deploy ballistic
missile defenses. U.S. national and theater missile defenses, even with limited
numbers of interceptor missiles and limited capabilities, could possibly undermine
the credibility of China’s deterrent by denying its missiles the ability to reach U.S.

34 The PLA has more missiles than launchers for the CSS-3 and CSS-2 ballistic missiles.
These launchers can be re-loaded to launch additional missiles, but such preparations may
take several hours.
35 Secretary of Defense, The Military Power of the People’s Republic of China, May 23,
2006. Also, The Office of Naval Intelligence depicted in Worldwide Maritime Challenges

2004 12 missile launch tubes for the Type 094.

36 Director of Central Intelligence, “Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile
Threat Through 2010,” January 9, 2002 (unclassified version of a National Intelligence
37 Jeffrey Lewis, “The Ambiguous Arsenal,” Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, May/June 2005;
Robert Norris and Hans Kristensen, “Chinese Nuclear Forces, 2006,” Bulletin of Atomic
Scientists, May/June 2006.

targets in theater or in the United States a retaliatory strike.38 Chinese concerns about
missile defense have grown as many analysts in the United States and some officials
in the Bush Administration have linked plans for U.S. missile defenses to their
concerns about China’s military modernization and possible expansion of China’s
ballistic missile forces.
Table 2: China’s Strategic Missile Force
Launchers Mi ssi l e s
CSS-4 ICBM2020
CSS-3 ICBM10-1420-24
Total missiles / warheads capable of reaching the United States: 40-44
Source: Secretary of Defense, report to Congress,PRC Military Power,” May 2006. China is
believed to have deployed single nuclear warheads on its missiles.
Note: China also fields ballistic missiles of regional range.
Nuclear Strategy. China has declared a “no first use” policy, stating that it
would not use nuclear weapons first against any nation and that it would never39
threaten to or actually use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear nations. China has
not, however, ruled out the use of nuclear weapons in retaliation for a nuclear attack.
This is the essence of a minimum deterrent strategy.
Some observers note that declaratory policy is a poor measure of nuclear
strategy, because policy statements need not be consistent with actual military plans
or warfighting. Others however, believe that China is sincere in this policy of no-
first-use because its nuclear forces lack commonly recognized first strike capabilities.
Because of their propellant type, and current deployment patterns, China cannot
launch its missiles promptly, upon warning of an attack or early in a crisis, and add
that the missiles lack the accuracy to destroy an enemy’s retaliatory forces, which
could be a key objective of a nuclear force strike. The PLA’s strategic nuclear
modernization, however, combined with the occasional statements by some PRC
officials about China’s ability to strike the United States, have led some to question
whether China will change its minimum nuclear deterrent.
Some have questioned whether China might pursue a more proactive “limited
deterrence” strategy with its nuclear weapons.40 This strategy presumes that nuclear
weapons can deter both nuclear and conventional conflicts and that, if deterrence
fails, a nation could use nuclear weapons to control escalation and compel the enemy

38 Conceivably, China could respond to a U.S. attack by striking U.S. forces in Japan. In this
context, regional missile defenses could reduce the deterrent value of Chinese theater
nuclear forces.
39 The PRC does not consider Taiwan a country.
40 Alastair Iain Johnston, “China’s New ‘Old Thinking’,” International Security, Winter


to back down. With this strategy, China might not wait for an adversary to use
nuclear weapons before it employed its own nuclear forces. It could respond to
conventional attacks with nuclear weapons or it could threaten nuclear attack to
compel an adversary to cease hostilities or other actions short of war that it perceived
as threatening to its interests. Many analysts believe that such a strategy would be
more useful to China if it sought to deter U.S. intervention in a crisis with Taiwan,
particularly if it feared that the United States could achieve its objectives with
advanced conventional weapons and without resorting to nuclear attacks. Such a
strategy also would address some of China’s concerns about U.S. missile defenses,
because a Chinese first strike might contain more warheads than a retaliatory strike
and, therefore, might be more capable of penetrating U.S. missile defenses.
However, a “limited deterrence” strategy would place added demands on
China’s nuclear forces. They would need to do more than simply survive and
retaliate against cities or wide-area targets after an attack. China would need a
variety of delivery vehicles and warheads types, along with relatively high accuracies
on its weapons, so that it could credibly threaten to attack the full range of targets,
from forces in the field to military facilities and urban areas. It would also need to
develop relatively complex warfighting strategies and would need advanced
command and control capabilities so that it could direct its attacks and monitor their
effects. China might seek to develop these capabilities in the longer term, but DOD
reports no evidence that China’s “no first use” doctrine has actually changed.41
China’s nuclear force capabilities and nuclear doctrine have been monitored
closely. Many observers were concerned, for example, when in July 2005, PLA
Major General Zhu Chenghu, told Western journalists in Beijing that “if the
Americans draw their missiles and position-guided ammunition into the target zone
on China’s territory, I think we will have to respond with nuclear weapons.” Zhu also
dismissed China’s declared “no first use” policy, saying that the policy applied only
to non-nuclear states and could be changed.42
Some argued that Gen. Zhu’s comments were a reaction to China’s concerns
about the growing challenges presented by U.S. defense policy and nuclear strategy.43
Others downplayed Zhu’s remarks, saying they reflected his personal opinion. For
example, the Commander of the PLA’s nuclear forces assured Defense Secretary
Rumsfeld that China would not be the first to use nuclear weapons.44

41 Secretary of Defense, “Report to Congress on PRC Military Power,” May 2006.
42 Jason Dean, “Chinese General Lays Nuclear Card on U.S.’ Table,” Wall Street Journal,
July 15, 2005; Danny Gittings, “General Zhu Goes Ballistic,” Wall Street Journal, July 18,


43 World Security Institute China Program, “Opening the Debate on U.S.-China Nuclear
Relations,” China Security, Autumn 2005.
44 “Rumsfeld Visits China; The Chinese Side Reiterates It Will Not Use Nuclear Weapons
First,” Zhongguo Tongxun She [New China News Agency], October 20, 2005.

Political-Military Relations
The status and tenor of political and military relations among the United States
and the primary actors in East Asia will strongly affect the options considered and
pursued to deter or defeat any aggression in the region. U.S. policymakers face the
challenge of balancing U.S. relations with the PRC, Taiwan, and Japan, in particular.
U.S.-China Relations
Measuring the deterrent value of U.S. military forces vis-a-vis China is difficult.
Unlike the U.S.-Soviet relationship during the Cold War, the U.S.-China relationship
is marked not only by competition and tension, but also by cooperation and
interdependence. The potential economic and political fall-out from a military
conflict between China and the United States would be significant. China is the
third-largest U.S. trading partner.45 China is a permanent member with veto power
at the United Nations Security Council, and has played an important role on policy
priorities of the United States, including nuclear nonproliferation in North Korea and
Iran.46 Would China jeopardize this economic partnership and potentially economic
relations with other countries by initiating military operations against Taiwan or
Japan? Similarly, would the United States jeopardize its economic and political
interests in a cooperative China by going to war against China?
Some long-term ambivalence is apparent in the Bush Administration’s policy.
In September 2005, Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick called on China to be
a “responsible stakeholder” in his search for a deeper framework for the bilateral
relationship.47 President Bush issued his latest National Security Strategy on March

16, 2006, declaring that if China keeps its commitment to “peaceful development,”

the United States will welcome the emergence of a China that is “peaceful and
prosperous and that cooperates with us to address common challenges and mutual
interests.” The new strategy also criticized China’s continuing “military expansion
in a non-transparent way.” It explicitly declared a “hedging” strategy against China,
which was first indirectly noted in the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), issued
on February 6, 2006. In that QDR, the Administration argued that it had a “balanced
approach” in seeking cooperation, but also “hedged” against the possibility that
cooperative approaches might fail to preclude future conflict. At the same time, the
QDR states that the U.S. goal is for “China to continue as an economic partner and
emerge as a responsible stakeholder and force for good in the world.” Some have
concerns that mutual hedging between Washington and Beijing is counterproductive

45 See CRS Report RL33536, China-U.S. Trade Issues, by Wayne Morrison.
46 See CRS Report RL31555, China and Proliferation of Weapons of Mass Destruction and
Missiles: Policy Issues, by Shirley A. Kan.
47 Robert Zoellick, “Whither China: From Membership to Responsibility?” September 21,
2005. These sentiments were echoed more recently by Thomas Christensen, deputy
assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs: Jane Morse. “China’s
Growing Global Influence Not a Threat, U.S. Officials Says.” Press Release. (arms-
control@lists.state.gov) U.S. Department of State. August 5, 2006.

for promoting a cooperative relationship with China that fosters Asian stability, while
others call for carrying out a coherent and active “hedging strategy” against China.48
The QDR, issued on February 6, 2006, stated that “of the major and emerging
powers, China has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States
and field disruptive military technologies that could over time offset traditional U.S.
military advantages absent U.S. counter strategies.” The Department of Defense
estimates that the PLA has accelerated its modernization since the mid-1990s, with
a determined focus on possible conflict with Taiwan and intervening U.S. forces.
The Defense Secretary’s 2006 report to Congress on PRC military power notes that
“China is pursuing long-term, comprehensive military modernization to improve its
capabilities for power projection and access denial.”49 Specific PLA investments
include an expanding force of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, submarines,
advanced aircraft, and other modern systems. Because of China’s status as a nuclear
weapon state, the United States has concerns that any intervention in the Taiwan
Strait has the potential of Beijing and/or Washington escalating conflict into a
nuclear war. Both sides have made implicit and explicit warnings over the years.
Even military matters between the United States and China are not always
clearly adversarial. During a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, for
example, Senator Carl Levin asked Admiral William Fallon, Commander of the
Pacific Command “Is it a foregone conclusion that China and the United States are
going to be at odds over security in the Pacific or even globally?” Admiral Fallon
responded “no” and emphasized the countries’ “common interests” as well as his
push to increase military-to-military contacts between the United States and China.50
U.S. Policy Toward Taiwan
The Taiwan Relations Act (TRA), P.L. 96-8, has governed U.S. security
assistance to Taiwan since 1979, when the United States recognized the People’s
Republic of China (PRC) instead of the Republic of China (ROC).51 (The ROC is
commonly called Taiwan.) The TRA is not a formal commitment to Taiwan’s
defense, and therefore the United States is not legally compelled to extend deterrence
to, or otherwise defend Taiwan. The TRA specifies that it is U.S. policy, to consider
any non-peaceful means of determining Taiwan’s future to be “a threat” to the peace
and security of the Western Pacific and of “grave concern” to the United States; “to
provide Taiwan with arms of a defensive character;” and “to maintain the capacity

48 See, for example, Evan Medeiros, “Strategic Hedging and the Future of Asia-Pacific
Stability,” Washington Quarterly, Winter 2005-06; John Tkacik, “Hedging Against China,”
Heritage Foundation Backgrounder, April 17, 2006.
49 Secretary of Defense, “Military Power of the People’s Republic of China, May 2006.
50 “Senate Armed Services Committee Holds Hearing on FY2007 Budget: Department of
Defense.” March 7, 2006. CONGRESSIONAL TRANSCRIPTS. Congressional Hearings.
Congressional Quarterly.
51 See CRS Report RL30341, China/Taiwan: Evolution of the “One China” Policy — Key
Statements From Washington, Beijing, and Taipei, Shirley A. Kan, and CRS Report
RL30957, Taiwan: Major U.S. Arms Sales Since 1990, also by Shirley A. Kan.

of the United States to resist any resort to force or other forms of coercion”
jeopardizing the security, or social or economic system of Taiwan’s people.
The TRA also specifies a congressional role in decision-making on security
assistance for Taiwan. Section 3(b) stipulates that both the President and the
Congress shall determine the nature and quantity of such defense articles and services
based solely upon their judgment of the needs of Taiwan. Section 3(b) also says that
“such determination of Taiwan’s defense needs shall include review by United States
military authorities in connection with recommendations to the President and the
Congress.” In passing the TRA, Congress did not specify what U.S. response might
be to a future situation in the Taiwan Strait.
U.S. policy statements have added more nuanced qualifications regarding
Taiwan’s defense. Some argue that U.S. policy regarding Taiwan is vague, although
successive U.S. presidents contend their policies are “clear.” In March 1996,
President Clinton deployed two aircraft battle groups to waters off Taiwan in
response to Chinese ballistic missile tests. In April 2001, President Bush said that
he would do “whatever it took to help Taiwan defend herself” if China attacked.
Supporters have viewed such clarity as needed to prevent miscalculations in Beijing
and deter attacks against Taiwan. However, critics have argued that Bush
encouraged provocations from Taiwan and weakened willingness in Taiwan to
strengthen its own defense. At a hearing in April 2004, Assistant Secretary of State
James Kelly sought to clarify U.S. policy, saying that the United States intends to
fulfill the defense responsibilities under the TRA “to the extent necessary;” “we
oppose actions that would unilaterally alter Taiwan’s status;” leaders in Taiwan
“misunderstood” if they believe that President Bush supports whatever they do; and
“decisions of war and peace are made by the president with consultation with
U.S. Defense Relationship with Japan
There has also been rising concern about Sino-Japanese tensions.52 Despite its
contributions to regional stability for decades, the U.S.-Japan alliance is viewed by
China with increasing skepticism about whether its continuation benefits China’s
interests. The historic hostility between Chinese and Japanese peoples, rising
military capabilities, territorial disputes, and emotional nationalism make Sino-
Japanese tensions have a dangerous potential for conflict that could involve U.S.
armed forces.
In contrast to the U.S.-Taiwan relationship, Japan and the United States are
military allies under a security treaty concluded in 1951 and revised in 1960. Under
the treaty, Japan grants the United States military base rights on its territory in return
for a U.S. legal commitment to protect Japan’s security. Japan has also cooperated

52 CRS Report RL33436, Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for Congress, by Emma Chanlett-
Avery. Kent Calder, “China and Japan’s Simmering Rivalry,” Foreign Affairs, March/April
2006; Minxin Pei and Michael Swaine, “Simmering Fire in Asia: Averting Sino-Japanese
Strategic Conflict,” Carnegie Endowment Policy Brief, November 2005.

with the United States in development of weapon systems, including missile defense
In general, Japan’s U.S.-drafted constitution remains a major obstacle to closer
U.S.-Japan defense cooperation because of a prevailing constitutional interpretation
of Article 9 that forbids engaging in “collective defense.”Article 9 outlaws war as a
“sovereign right” of Japan and prohibits “the right of belligerency.” It provides that
“land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential will never be maintained.”
In February 2005, Secretaries Rice and Rumsfeld, along with their Japanese
counterparts, outlined a more global and integrated vision of their mutual interests,
specifically mentioning the “peaceful resolution” of issues related to the Korean
Peninsula and the Taiwan Strait as “common strategic objectives.” Japanese defense
officials continue to stress, however, that the Japanese military will not be involved
in combat missions but instead limit its contributions to logistical support for
counterterrorism operations or to humanitarian and reconstruction efforts.
Illustrative Scenarios
Requirements for military force structure and capabilities are often expressed
in terms of the number and type of conflicts that can be addressed by that force. For
example, DOD’s 1993 Bottom Up Review found that “The United States must field54
forces sufficient to fight and win two nearly simultaneous major regional conflicts.”
Subsequent reviews recommended different formulas, such as the “1-4-2-1” formula:
U.S. forces should be able to defend the U.S. homeland, operate in four key forward
regions, engage in two nearly simultaneous regional contingencies, and swiftly55
prevail in one of those conflicts. Debate rages over such formulas because they “are
euphemisms for bread-and-butter issues, such as larger or smaller fighter aircraft
forces, a bigger or smaller Army, and whether to spend more money on space
systems or on ground equipment.”56
In the 2005 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America, DOD
describes how it has adopted a “new approach for planning to implement our
strategy.” DOD’s “capabilities-based” planning is intended to focus more on how
adversaries may challenge us, than on whom those adversaries might be. Some find
“capabilities-based” planning to be artificial or misleading. In the end, analysis
always returns to the question of which countries or non-state actors we may need to
fight. To effectively analyze the desired size and characteristics of tomorrow’s

53 For more information, see CRS Report RL33436, Japan-U.S. Relations: Issues for
Congress, by Emma Chanlett-Avery. Mark E. Manyin, and William H. Cooper.
54 The Bottom-Up Review: Forces for a New Era. September 1, 1993. U.S. Department of
Defense. Can be found at [http://thomas.loc.gov/lsx/lsx/93.14234.doc.pdf]
55 None of these strategy reviews considered the role of nuclear deterrence and nuclear
weapons, or factored in the impact of nuclear weapons into these capability formulas.
56 Barry Blechman. “U.S. Defense Planning: It’s Not That Complicated.” Defense News.
September 5, 2005.

military, some argue that we must take “a hard look at feasible, real-world
Examining feasible contingencies, or scenarios, can be useful in determining the
preferred size and characteristics of U.S. military forces in various contexts. Do some
scenarios place a greater emphasis on air and naval forces? Do others require greater
commitment of ground forces? Perhaps more important, how relevant are nuclear
weapons in particular scenarios, and how exactly might they influence the conflict
or crisis? For example, some observers contend that the availability of nuclear
weapons can help de-escalate a conflict by reminding all the parties of the risks of
escalation; others argue that a nation’s ability to strike critical targets at the start of
a conflict can place pressure on the other nation to preempt such a potential attack,
escalating the crisis and possibly complicating efforts to end it short of all-out war.
DOD’s 2006 Report to Congress on China’s military capabilities notes that
China’s current options to prevent Taiwan from claiming formal independence
include persuasion and coercion. If China were to resort to overt military force, the
DOD report outlines four possible “courses of action”the PLA would be likely to
take: missile strikes and information operations, an air and missile campaign, a naval
blockade, and an amphibious invasion.
DOD’s scenarios are not exhaustive, however, as additional sources of conflict
could emerge between the United States and China. For example, Taiwan, in
expectation of a Chinese attack, could take the initial overt military action in the
conflict. Further, possible conflicts between China and Japan might unfold and draw
in the United States. Illustrative scenarios that capture these additional dynamics are
addressed below.
Examining these scenarios can contribute to an understanding of U.S. force
requirements and the potential dynamics of the conflict. This assessment focuses on
the possible interaction between conventional and nuclear forces, rather than on the
specific order of battle and force levels the United States might need in each
particular scenario.
Scenario A: SOF Infiltration of Taiwan
China attempts to insert military special operations forces (SOF) into Taiwan.
The total number of troops involved could be somewhere between 100 and 1,000.
The method of attempted infiltration is small boats, submarines, and helicopters.
SOF forces cooperate with covert PRC intelligence operatives already in Taiwan to
conduct disruptive attacks on Taiwan’s political, economic, communications, and
military centers of gravity. Specific targets could include political and military
leaders, power generation and transportation infrastructure, early warning radars, and
command and control facilities. The purpose of these actions could be to foment fear
and unrest in the Taiwanese population in an attempt to undermine Taiwan’s
government. Another potential purpose of this infiltration may be to facilitate a

57 Ibid.

follow-on combined arms attack by the PLA. This attack could be preceded or
accompanied by cyberwarfare, or an information operations campaign against
Taiwan’s political and military organizations.
Scenario B: Maritime Conflict Between China and Japan
China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) deploys a destroyer, two
submarines, and other ships to support Chinese oil-drilling operations near islands
in the East China Sea that are claimed by China, but controlled by Japan (called
Senkaku by Japan, Diaoyu by China). Japan deploys P-3 maritime patrol aircraft,
two Aegis destroyers, and F-15 fighters to monitor PLAN activities. A night-time
collision between a Chinese submarine and a Japanese destroyer results in damage
to both vessels and numerous casualties. Japanese forces attempt to assist the
severely damaged submarine, and a Chinese destroyer interprets the action as hostile.
It fires two anti-ship missiles, which are intercepted by the Aegis destroyer’s
defenses. Naval forces in the area separate, and no further shots are fired. The
Chinese submarine sinks with no additional casualties. Both Japan and China prepare
to dispatch additional forces to the region. Japan’s Ambassador to the United States
requests a personal meeting with the President to discuss the U.S. Japanese Mutual
Security Treaty.
Scenario C: Full-Scale, Combined Arms Attack on Taiwan
This scenario is the military conflict that is most often discussed in defense
circles, and may represent the worst case for both Taiwan and the United States. In
this scenario China would employ air, land, and naval forces in an attempt to invade
Taiwan, defeat the Taiwanese military, and impose military control over the island.
One of China’s military objectives would likely be to prosecute a successful attack
as quickly as possible to reduce the ability of the United States or potentially other
allies from intervening in the conflict.
Scenario D: Pre-Emptive Attack by Taiwan
on PRC Military Forces
Fearing that a PLA / PLAAF / PLAN exercise is actually a de-facto mobilization
and the prelude to an imminent attack on Taiwan, Taipei launches an attack on
Chinese forces and infrastructure across the Taiwan Strait. Specific military actions
by Taiwan include air and missile attacks on Chinese ports, airfields, ballistic missile
sites, and ground forces in southern China. Taiwan’s Navy conducts attacks on
PLAN ships operating in Chinese territorial waters. Taiwanese SOF forces are
reported to severely damage a PLAN submarine believed to carry long range ballistic

The analysis that follows seeks to study the role that U.S. nuclear and
conventional forces might play in four stages of each potential conflict: deterrence
prior to the start of the conflict; crisis stability in the early stages of the conflict;
warfighting during the height of the conflict; and war termination. Objectives and
potential challenges or shortcomings are identified.
Deterrence is based on a threat or promise. To be effective, this threat or
promise must appear credible to the actor to whom it is directed. Studies of deterrent
theory suggest that credibility is something of a national-level “mind game.”
Perception of intent and capability is more important to deterrence than actual intent
and capability. In some instances a clear indication of military capabilities and
intentions has more deterrent value than an ambiguous indication of capabilities and
intentions. In other instances reverse is true. Finally, cultural, societal, linguistic,
historical and other qualitative differences between countries play a role in what
might deter conflict, and what does not.
Given these uncertainties, it appears that U.S. deterrence objectives in these
illustrative scenarios may be to field nuclear and conventional forces 1) that are more
capable than the Chinese forces, 2) that are postured in a way that makes their use
appear credible, and 3) cast doubt on whether China would be able to satisfy its
military or political objectives, at an acceptable cost.
In some circumstances, the mere existence of military capabilities may be
sufficient to deter military aggression. Some analysts argue that U.S. and Chinese
nuclear weapons can overshadow all interaction between the two nations, and “deter”
behaviors that might lead to a conflict that could escalate to nuclear use. This school
of thought appears to apply to Scenario C (Combined Arms Attack), and Scenario D
(Taiwan preempts) the most overt uses of military force.
Whether U.S. nuclear forces actually would serve as the key deterrent in
Scenario C is unclear. While superior U.S. nuclear forces are clearly capable of
severely punishing China for attacking Taiwan, China’s ability to respond with a
nuclear attack on the United States, albeit a limited one, could be sufficient to deter
the United States from credibly threatening a nuclear response to China’s
conventional attack. Similarly, many fear that Scenario D is plausible because of the
questionable credibility of U.S. extended deterrence to Taiwan.
Scenario A (SOF infiltration) and Scenario B (Maritime Conflict), however
represent crises where nuclear threats may not be credible and nuclear capabilities
may not play an active role in deterrence because the level of violence is too low.
Direct threat of nuclear use appears even less credible because the circumstances do
not pose a dire threat to national survival. Conventional U.S. military capabilities
also appear to have limited deterrent value in these scenarios. In Scenario A, there
is unlikely to be unambiguous warning upon which to act, and it is not clear that U.S.

conventional forces would be more effective than Taiwanese forces. Because
Scenario B is the result of an accident, it, by definition cannot be deterred.
Crisis Stability
Once a conflict begins, participants can feel pressure to act quickly, to control
events and to manage the crisis in a way that meets its interests. This, in turn, can
make the crisis escalate quickly and unpredictably. For example, if its command and
control systems were protected from attack and offered redundant capabilities, and
its forces were not vulnerable to an early strike by the adversary, then a nation could
delay its response, await further information, and possibly seek alternate means to
resolve the conflict.
On the other hand, if a country’s command and control infrastructure and its key
forces were vulnerable to attack early in a conflict, then it might feel compelled to act
quickly, using those forces before it lost them to attack, and before it had complete
information about the intent and capabilities of its adversary in pursuing the conflict.
Preferably, the capabilities or posture of a nation’s conventional and nuclear forces
would not inherently add to this instability.
Specific U.S. crisis stability objectives in these scenarios may include fielding
forces that 1) are not vulnerable, and do not make Chinese forces vulnerable to “use
it or lose it” pressures, and 2) do not appear to be either vulnerable to or capable of
political or military decapitation.
Both the United States and China have currently deployed their long-range
nuclear forces in ways that would not leave them vulnerable to a first strike, and
therefore, appear unlikely to undermine stability in a crisis. Chinese forces lack the
accuracy to attack U.S. land-based forces and cannot effectively track and engage
U.S. submarines that carry ballistic missiles (called SSBNs). Chinese long-range
missiles are deployed in deeply buried silos, protected by rough terrain and
mountains, or deployed on mobile launchers. Therefore, neither the United States
nor China would experience pressure to use these weapons before losing them. Early
warning and command and control systems, could, however, still be vulnerable to
disruption on both sides. Therefore, efforts to disrupt these assets, or other factors,
such as a desire to achieve tactical surprise, could stimulate prompt or accelerated
responses as soon as a crisis unfolds.
Today’s conventional forces do not appear to have capabilities or to be postured
in ways that inherently erode crisis stability. Currently, the great distance that most
U.S. forces must travel to address these scenarios imply that they will not effect the
conflict immediately. In Scenario A, the forces that might most usefully contribute
to Taiwan’s defense might be surveillance, intelligence, or information operations
resources. Because these assets could be deployed and employed unobtrusively they
appear unlikely to exacerbate a crisis.
Scenario B represents a classic unstable crisis. It was caused by an accident, but
the stakes rise quickly as each side tries to defend its interests and becomes more
entrenched. The nature of this crisis probably would not be affected, at least in the
early stages, by U.S. forces or the doctrine guiding their use, as each nation focused

only on the actions of the other. As the crisis unfolds, U.S. decision makers may not
experience pressure to use its forces quickly to help resolve this crisis. Current U.S.
forces could be employed on a purposefully long time line to allow the situation to
cool and to give both countries time to find a diplomatic, face-saving way to resolve
the crisis.
Both scenarios C and D evolve into conflicts so quickly that it is unlikely that
nuclear forces would either exacerbate or calm the crisis. However, if the United
States maintained the ability, with its conventional forces, to attack critical targets in
China and to disrupt China’s ability to prosecute the conflict, China might feel
compelled to move quickly to achieve its objectives. This, however, may be more
of an issue for consideration in the “warfighting” phase of the conflict than the “crisis
stability” phase.
If the United States found itself drawn into a military conflict with China via any
of the illustrative scenarios above, it would wish to prosecute this conflict on its own
terms. Specific warfighting objectives would likely include 1) limiting collateral
damage to allied or friendly populations, 2) minimizing U.S. / Taiwanese / Japanese
casualties, 3) emphasizing warfare in which the United States excels (e.g. aviation
and naval engagements) and avoiding warfare that presents obvious challenges (e.g.
urban warfare), and 4) avoiding protracted conflict. Are current U.S. nuclear and
conventional forces and doctrine well suited to achieve these warfighting objectives?
U.S. conventional military involvement in Scenario A could present many of
the challenges experienced in recent conflicts in Somalia, or Iraq: urban warfare in
the midst of a civilian population. Presumably no civilians would form large or well
armed militias in opposition to the Taiwanese government such as the experience in
Iraq. Nevertheless, the uncertainty regarding the number of Chinese SOF forces, and
the difficulty of separating friend from foe, and the need to severely limit civilian
casualties could make it difficult to achieve the objectives above.
Scenario B presents no obvious challenges to today’s conventional military
forces in terms of achieving the warfighting objectives above. There appears little
chance for collateral damage, for example. Managing crisis stability may be the
biggest challenge in this scenario.
Although most discussions of nuclear weapons focus on their ability to deter
conflict, deterrence rests on the adversaries perception that nuclear weapons can
achieve U.S. warfighting objectives that cannot be otherwise achieved by
conventional weapons. U.S. nuclear weapons could be used under a wide range of
circumstances, but they would probably have the most to contribute, in Scenario C,
the combined arms attack. If the United States determined that this level of warfare
between China and Taiwan threatened vital U.S. interests, it could be prepared to
take whatever steps were necessary to defend its interests. For example, the United
States might believe that it had to use nuclear weapons to destroy targets in China
that were critical to China’s ability to achieve its objectives, that could only be
reliably damaged or destroyed by nuclear weapons. These might include, for
example, hardened or deeply buried bunkers housing weapons or command facilities.

The United States would likely explore all possible conventional options for
disabling or destroying these targets, but that it would not rule out the use of nuclear
weapons. Casualties are likely to be high regardless of the specific targets. Nuclear
employment could bring the conflict to an abrupt end, but the long-term political
consequences from using nuclear weapons under any circumstances is unpredictable,
but feared to be considerable. This could also defeat overarching U.S. politico-
military goals, such as regional stability and international support and consensus.
The challenges of achieving U.S. warfighting objectives with conventional
forces in this scenario are well documented.58 It appears likely that airpower would
be used to defeat China’s air force engaged in military action vs. Taiwan, to destroy
or degrade the invasion force, and to destroy or disrupt the PLA’s command, control
and communications. The forces most likely to be employed include land- and sea-
based fighter and attack aircraft, long range bombers, command and control aircraft,
aerial refueling aircraft, strategic and theater airlift aircraft, and intelligence gathering
The United States would use naval forces principally to destroy or degrade the
invasion force. Naval forces would clear mines, engage PLAN ships in transit and
in port, attacking targets in China, and defend against missile attacks. The Navy
would probably employ forces that included carrier battle groups (aircraft carriers,
attack submarines, destroyers, cruisers, frigates), and Marine Corps Amphibious
Ready Groups. The air wings on these aircraft are composed of tactical combat
aircraft and helicopters. Long range maritime patrol aircraft, and mine
countermeasures ships could also plausibly be employed. Of primary concern in
Scenario C are China’s anti-access weapon systems (e.g. advanced air defenses,
fighter aircraft, naval mines, anti-ship cruise missiles, theater ballistic missiles)
designed to impede U.S. operations in the theater; the United States would seek to
disable, defeat, or destroy these capabilities early in the conflict.
Like the nuclear force balance between the U.S. and China, it is generally
accepted that U.S. conventional forces are superior to China’s conventional forces.59
Unlike nuclear forces, however, geographical distance and the resulting operational
challenges of timeliness and sustainment put U.S. conventional forces at a distinct
disadvantage. Further, the potential for high numbers of U.S. casualties may diminish
the U.S. appetite for large scale conventional warfare, which may be required to
prevail in Scenario C.

58 The Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2006. Op. Cit. p.40. The Federal
News Service, Inc. “Hearing of the House Armed Services Committee on China’s Military
Power.” July 27, 2005. Rebecca Grant. “The Chinese Calculus.” Air Force Magazine.
February 2006. Gary Schmitt and Dan Blumenthal. “Wishful Thinking In Our Time: The
Pentagon Looks at China and Blinks.” American Enterprise Institute. August 1, 2005.
Available at [http://www.aei.org/publications/pubID.22922,filter.all/pub_detail.asp]
59 For more information about the U.S. / PRC conventional order of battle, see CRS Report
RL30700, China’s Foreign Conventional Arms Acquisitions: Background and Analysis, by
Shirley Kan, Christopher Bolkcom, and Ronald O’Rourke, and CRS Report RL33153,
China Naval Modernization: Implications for U.S. Navy Capabilities — Background and
Issues for Congress, by Ronald O’Rourke.

War Termination
If the United States found itself drawn into a military conflict with China, it
would benefit from nuclear and conventional forces that would facilitate war
termination on favorable terms. War termination objectives that appear to be
appealing include 1) decisive victory, 2) long-term improvement in the key regional
politico-military relationships, and 3) no long-term need for increased U.S. basing
/ presence / commitment in the region.
Achieving these objectives in Scenario A appears to be difficult. The threat of
escalation, possibly to the use of nuclear weapons, could play a role in bringing the
conflict in Scenario A to an end. Such action may appear decisive. However,
threatening nuclear attacks is unlikely to improve the regional relationships, and may
not appear credible. Employment of U.S. conventional forces may succeed in rolling
back the Chinese SOF incursion and deterring or preventing escalation by the PLA.
However, once deployed, it may be difficult to avoid a long-term presence in or near
Taiwan to enforce or guarantee the peace conditions.
Achieving war termination objectives in Scenario B appears more promising.
By brandishing its conventional and nuclear capabilities and reminding China of the
U.S. commitment to Japan, the United States could possibly play a significant role
in ending the crisis on terms favorable to Japan (or at least not unfavorable to Japan).
Nonetheless, the threat to leap to nuclear attack, even in defense of a treaty partner,
could seem extreme, particularly if both China and Japan were amenable to a “face-
saving” way out of this accidental conflict. Deploying or using conventional forces
could also demonstrate U.S. commitment to Japan, possibly with greater credibility.
In either case, no increased presence or commitment by U.S. forces is likely to be
The threat of escalation to nuclear weapons could play a significant role in the
termination of a conflict in Scenario C, and may achieve U.S. objectives of decisive
victory, and no long-term increased U.S. presence in the region. Whether terminating
this major conventional conflict by threatening the use of nuclear weapons will
contribute to long term stability is unclear. Terminating the conflict with actual use
of nuclear weapons appears likely to achieve the first objective of decisive victory,
but only if China does not retaliate with an attack on the United States. As with
Scenario A, terminating this conflict with conventional weapons capabilities appears
advantageous, but may risk the need for increased long-term U.S. presence in the
Scenario D appears to present noteworthy challenges to achieving war
termination objectives. This conflict would be very difficult to terminate without
allowing either Taiwan or China to “win.” Once this conflict had begun, the stakes
for both China and Taiwan would be so high as to make it difficult to return to the
status quo ante. A rapid and sustained deployment of a large contingent of U.S. or
coalition forces might re-assure Taiwan sufficiently to terminate its attacks on the
PLA. However, the long-term costs of adopting such an obligation are probably
unacceptable to the United States, and the resulting “peace” could be so unstable —
China is unlikely to support a large and long-term U.S. military presence on or near
Taiwan — as to raise concerns about the likelihood of continuing conflict with even

greater numbers of U.S. forces at risk and an even greater chance of escalation to
nuclear use.60
Potential Implications
A possible conflict with China attracts considerable attention from defense
planners because it is a regional competitor today and could over time grow to be a
“near-peer” competitor. Analysts can also easily identify flashpoints where the two
nations might meet and feel compelled to defend national interests. The United
States has a long-standing nuclear deterrent relationship with China. However,
during the Cold War, managing this relationship was far less important than
managing the relationship with the Soviet Union. With the demise of the Soviet
Union and the improved relationship between the United States and Russia, the
nuclear equation between the United States and China raises its own series of
!Are existing U.S. capabilities sufficient to deter or defeat China or
other potential challengers?
!Would added or different capabilities enhance the U.S. position in
a conflict, by enhancing deterrence, easing crisis instabilities, or
hastening the end of hostilities on terms favorable to the United
States and its allies?
The answers to these questions can inform decisions about the balance of nuclear and
conventional capabilities in the U.S. military force structure.
In a time of growing budget scrutiny, investment in several conventional
weapon systems or concepts is frequently justified by their perceived utility in a61
possible conflict with “near-peer” competitors such as China. Often, these weapon
systems are among the more expensive programs in DOD’s budget. Examples of
these weapons or concepts include ballistic missile defense, prompt long-range
conventional strike, the F-22A Raptor advanced combat aircraft, and the Airborne
Laser. The desired number of U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, attack submarines, anti-
submarine warfare ships and aircraft is also frequently linked to a need to effectively
counter potential Chinese military action.
Although not explicitly linked to China, other U.S. weapon systems programs
appear to be geared toward large-scale conventional war during a time of increasing

60 See, for example, the discussion on the role of “dissuasion” in Roberts, Brad.
Operationalizing Dissuasion of China: Practicalities and Pitfalls. Institute for Defense
Analyses. April 2005.
61 See for example: Robert Dudney. “Back to Demolition Derby?” Air Force Magazine.
August 2006. Michael Fabey. “After Cold War, USAF Searched for Relevance.” Defense
News. May 22, 2006. William Matthews. “After 20 years, Much is Familiar.” Defense
News. May 22, 2006. William Matthews. “Forbes, Caucus Keep Their Eyes on China.
Defense News. May 13, 2006. Robert Dudney. “China Rising.”Air Force Magazine. June


threats from non-state actors. Examples of these weapon system programs include
the Navy’s conversion of Trident nuclear missile submarines into conventional
guided-missile delivery systems (SSGN). After reviewing the scenarios, and using
the weapon system programs above as examples of potential future investments, the
following questions arise:
!What potential do these weapons offer for enhanced deterrence,
crisis stability, warfighting or conflict termination?
!Are the potential enhancements to deterrence, crisis stability,
warfighting or conflict termination worth the estimated costs of
developing and fielding these weapons?
!Are the potential enhancements in one situation offset by potential
liabilities in other situations?
!Might other investments offer more promise at lower costs?
!What linkages exist between nuclear and conventional forces?
The answers to these questions can also inform decisions about the balance of
nuclear and conventional capabilities in the U.S. military force structure.
Nuclear Deterrence
As described earlier in this report, it is too narrow to conclude that the United
States and China have not engaged in an open, armed conflict simply because each
is deterred by the nuclear capabilities of the other. Potential “flashpoints” (e.g.
Taiwan, other territorial disputes) have not ignited because both nations apparently
recognize that, on many fronts, the costs of a conflict would far exceed the benefits.
The U.S. Defense Department, for example, contends that China is deterred from
using overt military force against its neighbors by concerns over potential economic
repercussions and fear of domestic instability.62
Some argue that as China’s economic and political interests in Asia expand and
as China’s military continues to develop, the possibility of conflict could increase.
Others, however, believe that the possibility of conflict is likely to decrease, or at
least not increase, because the United States and China may find as many potential
areas for cooperation as they do for competition. There is no doubt that this
calculation could change if the political and military factors associated with the
flashpoints were to change. As one part of this broad calculation, however, China’s
assessment of the costs of conflict would hinge heavily on its assessment of whether
the United States would intervene, and its assessment of whether the conflict might
escalate to the use of nuclear weapons.
The Bush Administration has indicated, and many agree, that the United States
can and should alter its nuclear force structure and nuclear doctrine so that they can
play a more prominent role in U.S. national security policy. Others, however,
question whether the threat of nuclear weapons employment would be credible if the
United States did not face dire threats to its national survival.

62 The Military Power of the People’s Republic of China 2006. Op. Cit. p.40.

Concerns about the credibility of a more prominent role of nuclear weapons in
U.S. national security policy are magnified when questions of extended deterrence
for Taiwan or Japan come up because, as noted above, China could retaliate against
U.S. cities with its own nuclear weapons. However, China’s threats of nuclear
retaliation could also inspire questions about credibility. China could launch a small
number of nuclear weapons at U.S. territory if attacked by the United States, but the
United States could retaliate against China with a far greater number of weapons and
far broader nuclear attack. Hence, it is possible that each could be deterred from
escalating the conflict, and any conflict would remain conventional. Moreover, the
possibility that China could invite far greater destruction if it used its nuclear forces
after the United States used a relatively small number of nuclear weapons against
discrete targets has led some to some argue that the current and foreseeable nuclear
relationship between China and the United States suffices to deter conflict. For
example, one observer states “We are not going to fight Russia, China, or India. The
main reason we’re not going to fight these guys is that they all have nuclear
weapons.”63 Some have suggested that China might employ nuclear weapons to
conduct an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack on the United States or U.S. forces.
Others, however doubt the likelihood of such an attack because it would affect
China’s forces as well as U.S. forces. It is also unclear whether an adversary would
interpret an EMP attack as crossing the nuclear weapons threshold, and how the
adversary would respond.
Much of the debate above is reflected in proposals to develop ballistic missile
defense capabilities. Some argue that missile defenses — including boost phase
weapons like the Airborne Laser — could increase the deterrent value of U.S. nuclear
weapons. Even limited missile defenses could make the U.S. threat to escalate more
credible because it would undermine China’s confidence in its ability to retaliate
against the United States or its allies. Knowing this, it is argued, China would be
deterred from initiating a conflict that might draw in a U.S. response. Missile
defense proponents also note that military conflict can evolve from accidents or
miscalculations rather than cogent cost-benefit analysis. Therefore, missile defenses
could enhance crisis stability and the U.S. ability to conduct the conflict on its own
terms if China and the United States unexpectedly found themselves caught up in a
quickly escalating conflict.64
Others believe that the U.S. development of ballistic missile defenses could
upset the current stable balance in the U.S.-China nuclear deterrence equation. In
particular, the United States does not yet have a capable long-range missile defense
system. China could perceive U.S. missile defenses as effectively swinging the
military balance too much toward the United States, and may thus decide to pursue
military options against Taiwan sooner, rather than later, while it could still deter

63 Chet Richards. “Neither Shall the Sword.” Center For Defense Information Press.
January 2006. Washington, DC.
64 For a discussion of the role that defenses can play in a strategy of deterrence and denial
see. U.S. Nuclear Policy in the 21st Century. A Fresh Look at National Strategy and
Requirements. Center for Counterproliferation Research, National Defense University.
January 2001, pp. 3.37-3.44.

U.S. nuclear attacks on its territory with the threat of retaliation.65 Thus, the potential
for future missile defenses, it is argued, could be destabilizing in a crisis. Further, the
U.S. pursuit of ballistic missile defenses could motivate China to develop more
capable missiles, or missile defense countermeasures (such as decoys or early release
sub-munitions), or to field more missiles to increase its retaliatory capabilities.
Consequently, any warfighting advantages that missile defense advocates desire, it
is argued, are unlikely to be realized, particularly if China could build additional
ballistic missiles or field missile defense countermeasures more quickly than the
United States could field effective missile defenses.
New or Improved Conventional Weapons or Capabilities
As mentioned above, the principal justification for many new, and in some cases
costly, conventional military capabilities is that they are required to address a
possible conflict with China.66 For example, DOD is exploring options for fielding
prompt global strike (PGS) capabilities. These options include, for example,
conventionally armed Inter Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) or Submarine
Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs)67, and new hypersonic air vehicles that would
be capable of accurately striking trans-continental targets within 60 minutes.68
DOD argues that PGS systems would be able to hold at risk targets that, at
present, can only be destroyed with high confidence by nuclear weapons. Examples
could include mobile, buried or hardened targets or command and control (C2)
facilities. They could also attack promptly at the start of a conflict, destroying an
enemy’s air-defenses or other “anti-access” forces. Therefore, prompt global strike
capabilities might enhance deterrence because these conventionally armed weapons
would be more useable, and therefore more credible, than nuclear weapons. China
could still retaliate against the United States or its allies, but, with its no-first use
policy in place and forces consistent with a minimum nuclear deterrent, it may not
be able to respond with nuclear weapons. Thus, supporters argue that the United
States might have greater credibility when extending deterrence to its friends and
If, through accident or miscalculation, a war were to break out, conventional
weapons could offer improved warfighting capabilities that would allow the United
States to prevail conventionally, and raise the threshold for the employment of
nuclear weapons. For example, China’s ballistic missiles, long-range air defenses,
long- range surveillance radar, and anti-ship cruise missiles are widely considered

65 These same arguments were made against ballistic missile defenses, and in favor of the
Anti ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) during the Cold War.
66 It may be interesting to note that the original rationale for developing many of these same
weapon systems was to address threats from the Soviet Union.
67 For more information, see CRS Report RL33067, Conventional Warheads For
Long-Range Ballistic Missiles: Background and Issues for Congress, by Amy F. Woolf.
68 Stephen Trimble. “Global Strike Concept Raises Hopes and Fears.” Flight International.
February 7, 2006. Michael Bruno. “Defense officials outline long-range, global strike
plans.” Aerospace Daily & Defense Report. April 20, 2006.

problematic for DOD. These weapons are expected to strongly impinge on DOD’s
freedom to maneuver in this theater, and overcoming these capabilities are likely to
engender significant U.S. casualties. Advocates argue that in a warfighting context,
PGS and the F-22 Raptor (by virtue of its stealth, speed, advanced sensors, and
avionics) will be able to destroy or defeat these targets more effectively and with
much less attrition than current weapon systems.
While these new conventional weapons might enhance deterrence, they might
also detract from crisis stability if a conflict were to occur. For example, in Scenario
C (combined arms attack), neither U.S. nor Chinese nuclear forces appear postured
in a way that would exacerbate a crisis over Taiwan. Neither is vulnerable to a first
strike from the other. However, the same may not be true of conventional forces.
China may believe that its forces are vulnerable to an attack by either Taiwan or the
United States., and that such an attack is about to occur. It may then believe that, in
spite of the risk of escalation and possible attacks (conventional or nuclear) on its
own territory, that it would be better off initiating the conflict during the crisis. In
essence, then, the U.S. ability to defend Taiwan by attacking targets, especially
“centers of gravity,” in China could actually make a crisis worse, and could spur
China to begin or expand its attack on Taiwan.
It can also be argued that potent conventional forces, those that truly overmatch
China’s defenses, may weaken deterrence. As described in the background section
of this report, during the Cold War, relatively weak U.S. conventional forces were
viewed by many as consistent with strong deterrence because the United States would
have to quickly fall back on nuclear weapons if attacked by more potent Warsaw Pact
forces in Europe.
This report highlights a number of policy issues that may bear consideration in
the ongoing debate regarding investments in conventional and nuclear forces:
!It appears that China and the United States currently have a stable
deterrent relationship.
!This deterrence appears to be based on a complicated nexus of
economic, political, and military factors.
!Despite this deterrent relationship, military conflict might ensue
either as part of a consciously planned strategy or due to mistakes,
misperception, or accident.
!Together, U.S. nuclear and conventional capabilities contribute to
military deterrence, and therefore it appears that it would be
worthwhile to consider the interplay of nuclear and conventional
capabilities in force structure and strategy decisions.

!Nuclear and conventional military capabilities can simultaneously
have positive effects on deterrence or warfighting, and negative
effects on crisis stability or war termination objectives. Therefore,
it may be overly simplistic to make changes in military force
structure or capabilities to improve deterrence, for example, without
considering potential effects on crisis stability, for example.
!Investments in military capabilities that may positively contribute to
all potential stages of military conflict (e.g. deterrence, crisis
stability, warfighting, and war termination), might be preferred to
investments that have a mixed effect on the potential range of