The current focus on China's expanding influence, conventional forces, missile forces, emerging ASAT and cyber capabilities, and its role in the South China Sea, has led much of the analysis of Chinese military developments to ignore key uncertainties.
This includes China’s stockpile of nuclear weapons, and the fact that China is developing all the elements of a far more advanced Triad along with improve theater delivery systems and missile defenses.
What used to be a U.S-Russian strategic and theater nuclear arms race is now radically changing, and the nuclear balance, arms control, and the risk of actual nuclear warfare between the superpowers is becoming a contest between three superpowers and not just two.
The study concludes that the lack of attention to fundamental changes that are now taking place in the most critical elements of the military balance that shaped the Cold War, and the U.S.-Russian rivalry to the present, has several explanations.
It is partly the result of the fact that the other symbols of China's emergence as a superpower – like the situation in the South China – are currently far more visible and seen as far more urgent. It is partly the result of the fact that for more than a decade, China was very slow to expand its nuclear missile forces and create a real Triad.
Last, it is partly a result of the fact that past estimates of its total holdings of nuclear weapons were so low – roughly at the level of British and French forces – and far below the levels held by the United States and Russia.
Click here for the full report (50 PDF pages) on the CSIS website.