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How China secures its nuclear weapons

A study on China’s system of securing its nuclear weapons was published last week. Mark Stokes’ study of Beijing’s nuclear weapons for the Project 2049 Institute, describes where the Chinese are storing their warheads and how they are protecting them.

world Updated: Mar 17, 2010 23:36 IST

A study on China’s system of securing its nuclear weapons was published last week. Mark Stokes’ study of Beijing’s nuclear weapons for the Project 2049 Institute, describes where the Chinese are storing their warheads and how they are protecting them.

Stokes writes that “under its declaratory no-first-use policy, the PRC’s (People’s Republic of China’s) nuclear deterrent has relied upon quantitative and geographic ambiguity,” while the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Military Commission “maintains strict control over China’s operational nuclear warheads.”

In peacetime its warheads stock is managed “through a system that is separate and distinct” from the People’s Liberation Army’s Second Artillery missile bases. This includes warheads for use by the air force and the navy but separate from China’s civilian-controlled fissile materials.

Stokes identifies an independent organisation called 22 Base as the prime group “responsible for storing and managing most of the Second Artillery’s warhead stockpile.”

The storage complex is in central China near Taibai Mountain, one of the highest peaks in the country. Tunnels have been dug deep into the mountain, and rail lines enable constant movement of nuclear weapons in and out of the 22 Base complex.

“China’s warhead and handling system is designed to survive a first strike and retain sufficient operational capability for retaliation,” Stokes writes.

Stokes concludes that “22 Base’s physical protection system appears to be founded upon more than ‘guns, gates, and guards,’ “which often mark the US system.

While a dedicated security battalion and a cavalry company patrol the 400-square-kilometre security zone, a technical support battalion works on safekeeping warhead components.

The report points out, however, that China’s warheads are “most vulnerable” during their constant transport between storage and launch sites — the movement that Beijing counts on to make itself less vulnerable to a first strike.

Securing other countries’ nuclear warheads and materials is a focus of President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2011 budget, with a $2.7 billion request for nuclear nonproliferation efforts, up 26 per cent from the current year’s spending.

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