New Chinese missile silos may reflect superiority in numbers and modernity of strategic nuclear weapons
“Denial” is not a river in Egypt, but it might as well be for Western elites and academics who cannot face facts. Democracies are at heart optimists, always looking for the silver lining in every dark cloud—and this dysfunctional optimism, what psychiatrists call “magical thinking” is their hubris.
So Athenian blind faith in democracy, their city walls and naval superiority, during the Peloponnesian War led to crushing defeat by Sparta in 404 B.C.
So in 1909, Norman Angell’s book “The Great Illusion” became a best-selling popular success, was quickly translated into eleven languages, becoming a cult. British universities propagated its dogma that because Europe’s economies were so interdependent there would be no more great wars—5 years before the outbreak of World War I.
So in the 1930s, most Western elites, intellectuals and pundits, believed the Versailles Treaty, the League of Nations, the London and Washington Naval Conferences limiting seapower, the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawing war, and a policy of appeasement toward Nazi Germany, would prevent World War II.
Now China is recently discovered building in the desert 145 new missile silos probably for its DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Discovery of the ICBM silos coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party Congress, at which dictator Xi Jinping announced China will dominate the world.
The DF-41 is a MIRVed ICBM, meaning it carries multiple warheads, each warhead capable of destroying a different target. DF-41 carries 10 warheads. So 145 new DF-41s, when loaded in new silos under construction, is 1,450 new nuclear warheads that can reach the United States.
If China deploys 1,450 new DF-41 warheads, combined with warheads already deployed on Beijing’s other ICBMs, SLBMs, and bombers—China will significantly surpass the U.S. in numbers and modernity of strategic nuclear weapons.
The U.S. intelligence community’s most recent estimate is that China has only 200 strategic nuclear warheads against 1,400 operational nuclear warheads for the United States.
However, Russian and independent U.S. analysts warn the estimated 200 warheads for China is gross underestimation. China may have clandestinely deployed over 1,500 nuclear weapons. (See Dr. Mark Schneider, “The Chinese Nuclear Threat” RealClearDefense 24 October 2020.)
145 DF-41 ICBM silos is compelling evidence of a titanic intelligence failure underestimating the magnitude of the nuclear threat from China. Maybe Beijing, like Moscow, is now so confident that the U.S. cannot recover from three decades of nuclear obsolescence that they no longer conceal their growing nuclear strength.
But Jeffrey Lewis comes to the rescue of Washington’s strategic optimists with the hypothesis that China’s 145 ICBM silos will be mostly empty, with perhaps only 12 loaded with ICBMs. According to Lewis, China may be playing a “shell game” with the ICBM silos, so the U.S. will have to waste a lot of warheads attacking empty silos, if Washington attempts a nuclear first strike. Lewis notes the U.S. contemplated such a “shell game” basing scheme for its Peacekeeper ICBM in the 1980s.
Never mind there is no evidence China plans to use its new ICBM silos for “shell game” basing. Never mind that the U.S. found the “shell game” too expensive—nuclear hardened ICBM silos are very costly—and loaded every Peacekeeper silo. Never mind that the U.S. dismantled Peacekeeper and its 10 MIRVed warheads, fearing it was destabilizing.
The press loves Jeffrey Lewis and his theory to explain away China’s 145 ICBM silos as merely a “shell game” which is being widely reported as fact, not speculation. Lewis, a political scientist and academic, is the favorite “go to guy” for the liberal mainstream media when they want some “feel good” spin on the latest nuclear threat from China or North Korea.
The “shell game” theory is Lewis’ latest “tail wagging the dog” analysis to interpret 145 DF-41 ICBM silos as consistent with China having only 200 strategic weapons.
Much to Jeffrey Lewis’ credit, he apparently discovered China’s new ICBM silos through commercial satellite imagery, and broke the story. Extremely worrisome, if the intelligence community failed to see the silos. Why not tell Congress in recent unclassified reports?
Lewis, a self-described “arms control wonk” should know that, according to arms control theory, China’s DF-41 ICBM deployed in silos is strategically destabilizing. Even if “shell game” basing is used, an adversary can afford to expend 10 warheads to destroy one DF-41 ICBM, thereby destroying 10 Chinese warheads, and still break-even.
This deadly arithmetic puts enormous pressure on China to “use them or lose them” if silo-based ICBMs are intended for a retaliatory second strike. So China’s nuclear “no first use” pledge, another fiction comforting to Washington’s strategic optimists, is not easily reconciled with 145 silos for the DF-41, even by the “shell game” theory.
In fact, there is no need for an ICBM “shell game” and no “use them or lose them” problem—if China plans to strike first.
The Jeffrey Lewis solution to growing nuclear threats from China and Russia—bargain for “significant arms control” by offering “real limitations on U.S. missile defenses.”
Not even the Athenians were dumb enough to tear down their own walls.
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