Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Modern Chinese Secret

The economy, terrorism, and societal decline no longer enough to keep you up at night with worry? How about three-thousand miles of military tunnels in China which may or may not house a much larger nuclear arsenal than previously thought? Bret Stephens had the details in a piece in yesterday's WSJ called How Many Nukes Does China Have?:

Tunneling has been a part of Chinese military culture for nearly 2,000 years. It was a particular obsession of Mao Zedong, who dug a vast underground city in Beijing and in the late 1960s ordered the building of the so-called Third-Line Defense in central China to withstand a feared Russian nuclear attack. The gargantuan project included an underground nuclear reactor, warhead storage facilities and bunkers for China's first generation of ballistic nuclear missiles.

China's tunnel-digging mania did not end with Mao's death. If anything, it intensified. In December 2009, as part of the celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the People's Republic, the PLA announced to great fanfare that the Second Artillery Corps has built a cumulative total of 3,000 miles of tunnels—half of them during the last 15 years.

"If you started in New Hampshire," notes Mr. Karber by way of reference, "and went to Chicago, then Dallas, then Tijuana, that would be about 3,000 miles."

Why would the Second Artillery be intent on so much tunneling? There are, after all, other ways of securing a nuclear arsenal. And even with a labor force as vast and as cheap as China's, the cost of these tunnels—well-built, well-lit, paved, high-ceilinged and averaging six miles in length—is immense.

It's not clear whether the tunnels are all actually being used to protect an expanded Chinese nuclear arsenal or if they merely part of a strategy to disburse the warheads that they do have and deceive other countries about the true size of their nuclear force. Amidst everything else going on in the world today, this probably doesn't rank high on the concern list. However, it's something to keep in your back pocket just in case things ever get too rosy.