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Race against time: Can the US counter China’s rising nuke capabilities?


NEW DELHI: The US policymakers view nuclear deterrence as the cornerstone of the nation’s security. Since nuclear weapons’ inception, the US has prioritized maintaining a robust, credible nuclear force, ready at a moment’s notice. However, as per a Newsweek report, concerns are mounting about the aging US nuclear arsenal, especially in light of rapid advancements by China and an increasingly assertive Russia.Questions arise about whether the US is adequately investing in modernizing its nuclear capabilities for an uncertain future.
Heather Williams from the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) highlights the criticality of the next five years for US nuclear modernization. The US is updating its deterrent, replacing old Minuteman IIIs with Sentinels, introducing the Columbia class submarines to replace the Ohio class, and integrating the stealthy B-21 Raider. Yet, as modernization coincides with the end of the current arsenal’s lifecycle, there’s concern that without swift, decisive action, and in the face of possible delays, the US nuclear position could be precarious by the next decade, the Newsweek report said.
Williams stresses that decisions critical for a 21st-century nuclear arsenal are overdue. The challenges include ensuring new systems are timely, maintaining political continuity, and developing a coherent strategy to deter adversaries and reassure allies. Failures here could lead the US into its weakest nuclear stance by 2030.
The US nuclear triad’s modernization, delayed post-Cold War, is now proceeding rapidly. Issues like Minuteman III’s reliability and potential delays in introducing new systems have raised concerns. However, experts like Robert Soofer, former deputy assistant secretary of defense, assure that measures are in place to ensure a seamless transition to newer systems, the Newsweek report said.
The political landscape influences nuclear modernization significantly. Conflicts within Congress and between administrations over nuclear strategies introduce uncertainties that could affect the US’s ability to maintain a coherent nuclear posture.
Looking forward, the US faces challenges from China’s growing nuclear capabilities and Russia’s modernized arsenal. The Biden administration‘s Nuclear Posture Review underscores the urgency of addressing these challenges, with projections of China having 1,000 deliverable warheads by 2030. The US finds itself preparing for a potential strategic competition with two major nuclear powers, a scenario it has never faced before.
Despite these challenges, there’s still optimism. Solutions exist to extend current systems’ lifespans and expedite the new deterrent’s deployment. However, decisions must be made promptly to ensure the US is prepared for emerging threats, the Newsweek report said.

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