Restraint by Design: The Long-Lasting Ideological Origins of the “Minimum Deterrence” Strategy in China’s Nuclear Weapons Program
CitationFacini, Andrew. 2018. Restraint by Design: The Long-Lasting Ideological Origins of the “Minimum Deterrence” Strategy in China’s Nuclear Weapons Program. Master's thesis, Harvard Extension School.
AbstractThe nuclear weapons program of the People’s Republic of China has, by the decrees and proclamations of its leaders, maintained an ardently defensive posture for over 50 years. Through difficult times and various crises, Beijing has declined to pursue a large stockpile of nuclear warheads and delivery systems, opting instead to field a system of “high quality but low quantity.” This novel approach contrasted with the approaches of its chief rivals, the United States and the Soviet Union. The goal of this project is to investigate the qualitative motivations for Beijing’s unique disposition, hypothesizing that the Maoist ideologies which shaped the PRC’s development so heavily are responsible. By analyzing the statements of its leaders and corresponding those with historical developments and the ongoing evolution of China’s weapons systems, this project reveals an ideological dilemma: that the very concept of nuclear arms conflicted with Mao’s strong philosophies on conflict and development. Over several decades of conflict, chiefly with the United States, Mao reluctantly turned to nuclear weapons as a means of solidifying his own sovereignty and establishing China’s place in the world order. As the PRC continued to develop in the post-Mao eras, however, his original reluctance has remained, as China’s nuclear weapons maintained its defensive posture and relied on the then-unique approach of “minimum deterrence.” The author concludes that the case of China’s unique, long-lasting philosophy when it comes to nuclear weapons represents a break in the typically realist view of the field, and can offer helpful insights for deciphering the motivations China’s modern-day developments and policies.
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