Authored by Ian Dill

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Since 1964, China has maintained a pledge to never be the first country to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. Despite periods of high tension and numerous pressures to proliferate, China has exhibited unwavering commitment to a purely retaliatory nuclear posture. Despite this fact, the Trump administration’s 2018 Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) signaled a newfound commitment by the United States to aggressively modernize its nuclear force due to fears of Chinese regional aggression. American defense analysts have speculated about the possibility of China altering their nuclear doctrine in response. However, China has thus far signaled no willingness to reverse its declaration of no-first-use or develop first-strike capabilities.1 This essay examines evidence that indicates China will maintain its no-firstuse policy indefinitely. Modernization efforts undertaken in response to the 2018 NPR and Chinese historical emphasis on concepts such as ‘minimum deterrence,’ ‘anti-nuclear blackmail,’ and ‘limited deterrence’ evidence that China will continue to respond to United States nuclear policy changes defensively.2 This finding also contravenes predictions of an arms race between the United States and China, an argument extrapolated from the United States-Soviet arms race as a result of increased nuclear aggression during the Cold War.3

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  1. Cunningham, F. S. & Fravel, M. T., “Assuring Assured Retaliation: China’s Nuclear Posture and U.S.-China Strategic Stability,” International Security, 40(2), 7–50, (2015), doi:10.1162/isec_a_00215; Higenbotham, E., “China’s Evolving Nuclear Deterrent: Major Drivers and Issues for the United States, Rand Corporation, (2017),
  2. Xia, L., “China’s Nuclear Doctrine: Debates and Evolution,” (2016, June 30), Retrieved from
  3. Cunningham, “Assuring Assured Retaliation.”