The US military has informed Congress that China now reportedly has more land-based intercontinental missile launchers than the US, prompting debate over how Washington should respond.
The warning comes as the United States faces the task of deterring Russia’s large nuclear capabilities as well as China’s developing nuclear arsenal. U.S. lawmakers are engaged in an increasingly heated debate about how best to counter Beijing, including the Pentagon’s response to the Chinese surveillance balloon that recently traversed the United States and hovered over Montana, where a portion of the American military’s ICBM arsenal is deployed.
Republican legislators have referenced the launchers as evidence of China’s intentions and have urged the US to strengthen its own nuclear capabilities.
Long-range force limits imposed by a pact between the United States and Russia known as New START are preventing the United States from expanding its arsenal to deter Russia and China.
That agreement, to which China is not a member, is slated to expire in 2026.
The Biden administration recognizes that the problems posed by nuclear-armed enemies are complex, and it wants the US to address them through a combination of arms control agreements and enhanced nuclear capabilities.
The administration’s immediate issue is to keep the New START deal, which restricts the number of deployed Russian and American nuclear warheads and bombs to 1,550.
According to a Pentagon estimate issued last year, China, which has refused arms limitation discussions with the US, is on course to field around 1,500 nuclear weapons by 2035. That is approximately treble the current figure.
Last year, Congress enacted legislation mandating the Strategic Command to alert legislators if Beijing possessed more ICBM silos, ICBM missiles, or ICBM warheads than the US.