Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 03/2011

China and the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review

Lora Saalman

February 2011

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace


China is increasingly factored into U.S. nuclear strategy. When President Obama released the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR)—a document that guides America’s nuclear policy, strategy, capabilities, and force posture for the next five to ten years—in April 2010, China was named 36 times. By contrast, China was barely mentioned in the last NPR completed in 2002. The United States expressed its desire to enhance strategic stability with China, but there needs to be a better understanding of how China perceives America’s nuclear posture. While China is unsure how to interpret the NPR, there is a consensus among Chinese experts that the strategy lacks a complete definition of how strategic stability applies in the context of Sino-U.S. relations. The term—generally used in describing the U.S.-Russia relationship—often signifies a balance between two roughly equal or balanced nuclear powers, but there is a considerable disparity in numbers and capabilities between the United States and China.