WASHINGTON — China, which is rapidly developing nuclear weapons, will soon overtake Russia as the United States’ top nuclear threat, a senior US military official warned on Friday, warning that the two countries lack mechanisms to avoid miscommunication.
The Lieutenant General Thomas Bussiere of the United States Air Force, the deputy commander of the United States Strategic Command, which oversees the country’s nuclear arsenal, stated that China’s development of nuclear capabilities “can no longer be aligned” with its public claim that it wants to maintain a minimum nuclear deterrent.
“There will come a point, a tipping point, where the number of threats presented by China will exceed the number of threats currently presented by Russia,” Bussiere said in an online forum.
He stated that the decision would not be based solely on the number of nuclear warheads stockpiled by Beijing, but also on how they are “operationally fielded.”
“We believe there will be a crossover point in the next few years,” Bussiere predicted.
Unlike Russia, the US does not have any treaties or dialogue mechanisms in place with China to “alleviate any misperceptions or confusion,” he added.
Bussiere’s remarks come at a time when the United States is attempting to realign its foreign policy in order to place a greater emphasis on the Indo-Pacific region in order to counter China’s growing economic and military might.
During a meeting with foreign ministers from Asian countries and partner nations in early August, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed deep concern about China’s growing nuclear arsenal.
According to think-tank reports based on satellite imagery, China appears to be building hundreds of new nuclear missile silos, and Washington has accused Beijing of blocking nuclear arms talks.
China claims that its arsenal dwarfs those of the United States and Russia, and that it is willing to engage in dialogue, but only if Washington reduces its nuclear arsenal to China’s level.
The Pentagon estimated China’s operational nuclear warhead stockpile to be in the “low 200s” in a 2020 report to Congress, and said it was expected to at least double in size as Beijing expands and modernizes its forces.
As of March 1, the United States had 1,357 nuclear warheads deployed, according to a State Department fact sheet.
China’s advances in missile technology to deliver those warheads are also a source of concern for the US, according to Bussiere, who claims that China tested more ballistic missile capabilities last year than the rest of the world combined.