Norwegian researcher believes new Chinese rocket silos make the world “a little scarier”

Satellite image showing what analysts believe are new rocket silos in an area of ​​Yumen in China. PHOTO: PLANET LABS INC. / AP

Earlier in the summer, it was revealed that China seems to be implementing a sharp increase in its nuclear weapons program with the building of up to 230 silos for rockets that can carry nuclear weapons, and according to Norwegian researcher Kjølv Egeland, it shows that great power rivalry is increasing and that the world is getting a little scarier.

Local media NRK writes that Washington Post on 30 June revealed that China is building 120 rocket silos at Yumen, in the northwest of the country, and at the end of July, the Association of American Researchers (FAS) presented photos showing that China is building another silo facility at Hami, also in the northwest. The facility will be able to accommodate approximately 110 rockets.

Speaking to NRK on the matter, Kjølv Egeland, a researcher in international security at the renowned Sciences Po in Paris, explains that the public has been told about the new rocket silos because several researchers have seen the silos through commercial satellite images but that intelligence services around have probably known about this a little longer without discussing it in public. 

The Pentagon has estimated that China has about 200 atomic bombs. In comparison, Russia and the United States have around 12,000 in total. China also has about 100 intercontinental missiles with a minimum range of 5,500 kilometers. According to The Economist, these figures led to experts being shocked when the revelations came about all the new Chinese rocket silos.

Although China is building many new silos, Kjølv Egeland says experts disagree on whether they will be filled with rockets. The silos might be intended as a bargaining chip in possible disarmament negotiations or another alternative is that they are meant as part of a system where rockets are moved around several silos so no one will know exactly where they are, he says.

According to Kjølv Egeland, the development in China could indicate that the country is changing its nuclear strategy. So far, China has had a strategy of mutual annihilation meaning annihilating large cities and civilians if attached. But the new silos could mean a shift to a strategy based on using their nuclear weapons against other countries’ nuclear weapons. “The new silos can therefore mean that China is lowering the threshold for using nuclear weapons,” Kjølv Egeland says.

Kjølv Egeland notes that even with the developments in China, the country will however have far fewer nuclear weapons than the United States and Russia which have increased their investments in nuclear weapons enormously in recent years and have very large modernization programs. 

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