China’s Weapons of Mass Destruction

Threat to the status quo?

China is a scary place

Probably not that scary for people in China – unless you are among the hundreds of millions living in abject poverty, or someone on the wrong side of China’s rather trigger-happy execution policy – but in the eyes of the rest of the world, China is a terrifying force to be reckoned with.

Apart from having sheer strength in numbers (the largest global population, at over 1.3 billion), China is also one of the highest and most important exporters of machinery and equipment. On top of this, China’s rapid expansion into emerging market economies is so astonishing, that it may well overtake the United States in terms of GDP (Gross Domestic Product) by as early as 2020.

Basically, in the big game of squaring-up between the world’s superpowers, the odds are beginning to shorten on China’s wily ninja competitor.

china sword.tanakawho

Is that a nuclear warhead in your pocket, or are you just happy to see me…

As if the economic and technological competition wasn’t enough, there is another reason that the rest of the superpowers (more specifically the UK and the US) are getting their knickers in a twist.

China’s sophisticated technology isn’t just limited to tamagotchis and all manner of irritating mobile phone apps. They also have…drum roll please…a nice array of Weapons of Mass Destruction. They’ve had ‘em since the ‘50s, tested them since the ‘60s and shared their know-how on them since the ‘80s.

What’s more, the countries they like to share them with are also ‘scary’. They’ve given nuclear reactors to Pakistan, seen fissile material make its way to Libya and contributed to the missile programmes of Iraq, Iran, North Korea and Syria.

As recently as December 2012, the US gave a Chinese-government affiliated company a big smack on the wrist ($3million fine) for supplying a high-performance coating to a nuclear power-plant in Pakistan.

Many of these countries are on America’s list of “proliferation concern” – i.e. those that the Yanks don’t trust not to bomb the bejesus out of anything in range.

In fact, the mere mention of some of these countries is enough to have certain among us crying ‘terrorism’ and dashing for their end-of-the-world disaster kits.

China bomb.Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com

Let’s Start at the Beginning:

What are WMDs?

WMD, as a term, has been variously used to describe different types of warfare. Simply put, though, it refers to a weapon that can cause a higher degree of widespread damage than more traditional types of ammunition. WMDs typically have a chemical, biological or nuclear component.

Why are we actually fussing about China?

Apart from the general consensus that China poses a scary threat to our sense of Imperialism and status quo, there are a few other reasons why China’s approach to WMDs is cause for concern.

For a start, China hasn’t been particularly transparent when it comes to the extent of their WMD arsenal. We know that China is modernising and diversifying its nuclear weaponry, but every declaration of their collection seems to fall well short of the other major military nations – making many suspicious of China’s strategic intentions.

Secondly, there is a reason why the export of some nuclear materials is prohibited to certain, more historically volatile countries. If you think that China is tight-lipped when it comes to their weapons programme, you should have a wee listen to what Iran says about theirs.

Iran has supposedly been a non-nuclear weapon state since 1970. They have an advanced nuclear programme, yes, but it is ostensibly for peaceful purposes. However, their programme includes a uranium enrichment process so extensive that it goes well beyond what is logical or necessary for the peaceful purposes they purport it to be for.

On top of this, in 2002, the US sanctioned two Chinese companies for transferring to Iran sensitive equipment and technology used in the manufacture of chemical and biological weapons. This gives some of the West’s embarrassingly overstated suspicions perhaps a just a little justification.

lego bomb.pasukaru76.flickr

Coming full Circle

Maybe China isn’t that scary

Although they’re secretive and obviously capable of great things in the world of blowing the stuffing out of people, all reports tend to point towards a fairly moderate arsenal and almost complete compliance with most of the UN-backed WMD-moderation initiatives.

To put it in perspective – in terms of nuclear warheads, America has 450 advanced Minutemen ICBMs deployed on land, 288 ICBMs with 1152 Trident MIRV Warheads in 12 state-of-the-art submarines at sea. China, by comparison, has around 300 nuclear warheads in total.

China is party to the Geneva Protocol, which seeks to regulate biological weapons, and also to the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty. They are also firm in their stance towards the “no first use” policy – which states that nuclear their nuclear programme is defensive and they pledge not to be the first in a crisis to turn to WMDs.

China’s Plot Against America is Nothing Short of Mythical

Despite what some will have you believe, the Chinese government isn’t rounding up the more volatile nations and arming them in a bid to launch a terrifying attack on American supremacy.

Although the spread of weapons technology can’t really be painted favourably – all we want is world peace, after all – the Chinese do seem to have an admirably egalitarian stance when it comes to their WMD doctrine.

America has a rich history of supporting India in their weapons programmes. They were thwarted slightly in this endeavour by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in the ‘70s, but as recently as 2008 George “Dubya” Bush gave India access to nuclear fuel. America remains, however, streadfast in their resolution to prevent Pakistan from benefiting from similar allowances.

India and Pakistan have fought three wars since 1947, so perhaps China thought it unfair that one nation be at such a disadvantage.

The same applies for Iran. Iran suffered massively at the hands of the Iraqis during the 1982-88 Iran-Iraq war, thanks to chemical weapon warfare. China may just have wanted to level the playing field.

Arming Everyone Isn’t Such a Bad Idea

If the Cold War taught us anything, it’s that just because you’ve got big scary weapons, doesn’t mean you’ve got the balls (or the complete lack of regard for human rights) to use them.

Of course, the world would probably be a better place without weapons of any nature. However, nuclear technology is extremely useful and WMDs are just an unhappy, but inevitable, by-product of it. And when everyone is on an equally-destructive footing, you are much more likely to reach a stalemate. Nuclear ability deters military aggression, because each side becomes aware of the complete and utter devastation that would result in being the first to press the big red nuclear detonator button.

As an interesting post-script – the wider the spread of nuclear weaponry, the smaller the gap between the superpowers and the rest of the world. A world in which America and it’s allies can’t just swan around using their considerable conventional military power to quash fights here and start wars there, for fear of being trumped by a superior WMD artillery, would be an interesting proposition indeed.  Just a thought…

Images: antwerpenR , tanakawho (both Flickr), Mike Licht at NotionsCapital.com , pasukaru76 (Flickr)

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