China catches up to US and Russian nuclear strength by 2035, says Pentagon


China could have an arsenal of nuclear warheads similar to that of the two atomic superpowers, the United States and Russia, by 2035.

The estimate was made by the Pentagon’s annual report to the US Congress, released this Tuesday (29). It covers the military activities of Washington’s main strategic rival until December 2021 and serves to guide US policies in the sector.

According to the text, if China maintains its current pace of production of nuclear weapons and infrastructure, in 12 years it will have 1,500 warheads. The Pentagon sees the Chinese with 400 warheads today, something above the 350 estimated by the FAS (Federation of American Scientists) reference.

The alarmist tone aims to sensitize congressmen when assessing budget priorities, of course, but it is in line with what has been observed in recent years.

The report does not specify, but experts believe that Beijing only has strategic weapons, those to be used to determine the course of a war, not tactics – for punctual use on the battlefield, usually smaller and less powerful.

They are not ready for use: Chinese doctrine leaves the warheads separate from their means of employment, with intercontinental missiles, bombers or submarines, until the time of warning.

According to the limits of the Novo Start treaty, in force since 2011, the Cold War heirs maintain an operational arsenal, ready for use: the FAS has 1,644 American and 1,588 Russian strategic bombs. In addition, Moscow has 2,884 weapons in stock, compared to 1,964 in the United States.

China is not part of the treaty, whose renegotiation of terms between Russians and Americans has returned to square one, according to the Kremlin. Russia alleges that the US has been hampering talks in retaliation for its invasion of Ukraine.

During Donald Trump’s government (2017-2021), the US withdrew from two other agreements aimed at ensuring mutual security in the field of nuclear weapons and almost let the New Start, which was due to expire in 2021, lapse.

One of the main arguments of the republican administration is that the current agreements reflected the reality of the Cold War and should include China, the USA’s rival in version 2.0 of the world dispute. At this point, however, more than 90% of the world’s 13,000 nuclear weapons are in Russian and American hands — counting retired stockpiles (1,500 from Moscow, 1,720 from the US).

The Pentagon maintained the projection announced last year, of a China with a thousand warheads already in 2030. The report also assesses Chinese military expansion, particularly in the naval field – although it is not covered by the text, the launch this year of the aircraft carrier Fujian , the third in the Beijing fleet, draws attention.

The Chinese have, numerically, the largest naval fleet in the world, with 320 vessels. But the US is much superior from a technical and doctrinal point of view, not least because it has vast experience in real war, something that did not exist for the communist dictatorship.

The report also assesses the growing siege of Taiwan, an autonomous island described as a rebel by the Xi Jinping regime. Contrary to what the military in Taipei say, however, the Pentagon sees no imminent risk of invasion by mainland China.

The growing military cooperation with the ally Russia, protagonist in the Ukraine War since February, is noted in the text, as well as the Chinese advance in the field of hypersonic weapons. A great deal of time is spent reporting on Beijing’s political motivations in the military area.

“In 2021, China has employed multiple diplomatic instruments to try to erode the influence of the US and allies, such as emphasizing the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and criticizing US-led security partnerships such as the Quad [com Austrália, Índia e Japão] and the Aukus [pacto militar com os australianos e britânicos]”, states the text.

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