China: Policy and perspective; China's nuclear capability
Shortly before China exploded its first hydrogen bomb. Albert Walsh that or university professor of political science at the University of Chicago analyzed China's nuclear capability at a conference held by the university's Center for Policy Study. His presentation today is the seventh in a series of special programs on China being brought to you by the station. Chinese have conducted five nuclear tests since October 1964 and these tests show the technology of involving the Iranian 335. This was a much more difficult route to follow. The plutonium 239 road which has been followed for example by in Prior's which we have ourselves developed in parallel with the U-235.
This is an impressive technology and there is much speculation as to how the Chinese did it in the United States today produces its uranium by a gaseous diffusion techniques which is certainly one of the most and difficult industrial technologies that there are other areas. And I'm if it appears that the Chinese have used gaseous diffusion techniques to get low concentrations of enriched uranium and then complemented it with a process of electromagnetic step separation which we generously de-classified in 1955 says we're using. The gaseous diffusion process and this is on the whole a better process if you can manage it.
Nonetheless though they may have been helped by the Russians to get the gaseous diffusion process because enrichment in the early to say 10 percent uranium 235 of natural uranium is useful in peaceful applications of nuclear energy. And the Russians may have helped them for that purpose and they were helped by us. Without intending to. Nonetheless this is an extremely impressive achievement and it's something which for example far exceeds what the French are unable to do and in the production of uranium. Second the one of these five tasks involved exploding a nuclear device.
The that armed a missile that had traveled as we announced hundreds of miles and here is an impressive than Melissa Chiefland and it's also been announced that they have at that the Chinese have them RPM's and they're not nearly as that tested them but also some tested at greater distances. Their final aim perhaps the most significant and try to discuss the significance here is Mr. McNamara has mentioned that it is quite possible that the Chinese test a long range rocket or space or conduct a space shot this year. If they were to get if they were to do this this would mean an initial operating capability capability on a normal timeline
perhaps before the end of the decade and significant numbers depending on what you mean by significant numbers. Some time after that Mr McNamara has talked of the mid 1970s but some of China's neighbors regard perhaps smaller numbers as significant than the ones that Mr. McNamara has in mind. The Chinese have of course a good many modes of delivering nuclear weapons at short range they are the IO 28 which will mention by Franco they have to you for as with shared copies of the fifties B-29 and. World War 2 vintage and they have medium range ballistic missiles. They also have them.
Is that it appears or rather they have. Russian submarines which are fitted to receive short range short range ballistic missiles. But there's no evidence that surveys public that they have if they have such missiles arming these submarines. It's apparent that they that the Chinese have given an extremely high priority aid to their long range rocket capability and I think there's good reason for their not to spend much time. And I think the apparent that these shorter range capabilities including the medium range ballistic missile that are land based have no capacity for touching the United States and therefore it offers the Chinese no direct
means for excluding the United States from the area the submarines have. Great disadvantages from the standpoint of the Chinese because of the enormous distances between the Yellow Sea ports and the West Coast of the United States. So just looking at a plastic globe and measuring it this morning something like 13 from some 500 more to go my dears. Francisco are seaports to get to the east coast of Maine going around the Cape and here you get in the different distances that I'm more than a complete circle navigation of the global importance of this is that sense especially non-nuclear submarines travel quite slowly. This means that in fact if you take
the normal limits on the range which you said for example by personal fatigue why it's doubtful that they could make it at all and if you assume that and if you sit there soon if you neglect to nonetheless be such limits Nonetheless it would mean that the submarines would spend a very very small time on station. By comparison with travel and so this would be an extremely expensive means having any capability against the United States. Steady State. So for now I stress that the that the Chinese have given a high priority air compares to the long range rocket program. And I would also stress that
even though their major interest may be their major attention may be focused as their neighbors on their neighbors their. Countries like in India and Japan are alive with the debate which they focus attention on the the time with which the Chinese will obtain long range rockets which a capable of catching the United States. And it's apparent that these countries themselves think that this is a structural change may mean structural change in the situation. The question that arises in their minds is will the United States when cities in California or object to a Chinese attack. Will they be willing to commit them. Will they be willing to involve themselves in crises. On the periphery of Asia which might be seen as
escalating to a nuclear war. Now let me say something about the the the question that Frank referred to and that is the question of what the Chinese threat consists or I think he has suggested that it's a great mistake to confuse the concern about say a nuclear threat with with an attribution of the present intention to attack this is not what people are concerned with and it's a rather naive view of the problem of the spread and of the and the problem of countering it of deterring and to to interpret it. So nobody knows precisely what Chinese intentions are
and. I certainly would doubt that include either the near term or the future long future nuclear attack. That isn't the thing that is that that interests people in India but there. What concerns them is that China has a rather hostile. Sometimes because a large part of the war has a great many games which are incompatible with the aims of its neighbors. And here again one doesn't have to get into this round of discussions together the Chinese and interpreted ideological Communists with their nationalism. It's clear I think they're both moral what is perfectly clear is that some of these aims are in a major way incompatible with the goals of the. A good many of its neighbors.
And given that situation you can foresee what you've already had illustrated crises crises in which for us will be at least latent and may actually be used in which nuclear force will always be at least a latent threat even if it were not explicitly referred to know would be known would be confused about the fact that in Aisle 28 against burying a thermonuclear bomb and could do a great deal of harm to Delhi and the Indians wouldn't be that big confusion of Serbia and another illustration of the fact that I should have mentioned that the. The Chinese are concentrating or have a great interest in law range rockets and not just primitive modes of delivery. Is
the focus on the U-235 itself. Because this is not a technology that is much more appropriate for the making a fusion bomb. There are great difficulties in using plutonium to do Ternium for such a thing and Fusion bombers and high in the megaton range are really essential in order to make up for the Lauda and accuracy of first generation missiles. So nonetheless such capabilities also increase the immediate danger to their neighbors. The menace that they would be and on the other hand it already has. It also is relevant as I say to the question as to whether whether the whether the United States for example might be willing to commit itself to the defense of one or
China of China's neighbors because it is one of the things that they use with good will give China the capability to hit the United States. Now the way the the way the debate has gone every day in countries on the periphery of Asia in a way makes rather irrelevant some of the some of the discussions as to what Sharon is in in in tent contention is it's quite clear these countries do fear China and they are concerned about about what the world is going to look like in the 1970s and their program. There they are in an increasing number of
tense debates on the periphery of China and especially in India now for some time and for the last year and a half and increasingly in in Japan. And the problem and the problem here is. The problem here is what the outer knitters of these countries are tentative of course is to depend on their own capability for nuclear self-defense and the issue of the spread of nuclear weapons I think it's easy to be misled about it let me just say bluntly that I think that the the the major issue and the spread of nuclear weapons is whether the non-nuclear countries feel safe against nuclear attack without getting their own nuclear weapons there are a lot of other things discussed prestige status as war
power and things of this sort but I couldn't believe that the. The primary issue for them the serious one which cannot be which cannot be mocked or treated lightly is the question of the nuclear safety of the non-nuclear powers. Another question to her is what the hell turn it is for them all the protection by an external power. And of course one of them is national a separate national nuclear force but this is not really a very easy out turn it into gas. But if the problem of national nuclear self-defense is hard. The problem of regional nuclear defense is even hotter than a good many of you are familiar with the abortive efforts of the multilateral forces in the Atlantic.
Your platic nuclear force will be a lateral force and there have been some suggestions about a Pacific nuclear force. I can only say about this that hey Golas a book or floated by Mark saying that history always occurs twice first time as tragedy and the second time is for. In this case I think we should. It is different than the first time it occurred as a kind of farce and the only thing that can be said about the Pacific nuclear forces is much much more improbable much more implausible thing than the Atlantic one in 100 years. So in fact I think that when you look at it it's quite apparent that that there are no easy choices for these countries. But the commitments
of the external powers are terribly important for the safety and looking at it from the standpoint of worn external power the United States it's important also because we think that. These are our turn it is nuclear self-defense are not only bagged her and them but in any case they're trying it would be bad for us. It would be a deterioration in the world environment and that's the reason that we and them spending a lot of time talking about the spread of nuclear weapons and doing some negotiations at Geneva or on the on the nonproliferation treaty but a nonproliferation treaty doesn't really go to the heart of the matter and because whatever people sign it isn't really going to affect their behavior if in fact they don't feel safe from nuclear attack under without Here they are a weapon you can be quite sure of
that if this is the case that some of them were everything they can to try to improve the situation of nuclear self-defense seems the and you know turn it in. They were they'll get it. This raises the question then of the external commitment and the question is whether the Chinese a Chinese program to obtain a capability to strike the United States will have the obvious hoped for effect of excluding the United States from the area. And I think there are two things to be said about there. First that it's more likely that even though this person is a very impressive technical achievement it's unlikely that it would that it would do that first. It's unlikely that
this will be a force that will be capable of retaliation and that is capable of a so-called second strike of striking back after being attacked. And second it lies within the power of either of the two largest nuclear countries the Soviet Union and the United States. To preclude any substantial damage that might be done to them even in a desperate first strike by the Chinese and they can do this by putting up a fin area ballistic missile defense which is quite inexpensive and which is now which has been referred to in the past but perhaps not as emphatically as it has and last week or so that we may have seen some of the testimony recently released Mr McNamara's recent press conference and the testimony of John Foster but most
recently his press conference are carried to in any case this is a capability based on some advanced phased array radars some long range ballistic interceptors and some which use very advanced techniques for destroying incoming warheads in a very wide area and using some high acceleration short range missiles to protect the essential elements of the system and its current attack should be mentioned because. It's very hard to ever see the for the the phrase ballistic missile defense without also saying associated with the phrase fantastically costly. It's sort of the stock epithet. I'm sure
there are with all of these editorial writers present some of you must at least be guilty of doing it and the remark Mr. Cooper an interview some time ago it's rather like the way where Homer uses rosy fingered dawn. So his daughter and Dawn is always rosy thingan of defuses always never at a loss listed missile defense is supposed to be fantastically costly but people are targeting him. In fact there's been an area that it crossed over like three and a half billion dollars over a wide extended period years roughly half a billion dollars a year to sort of locate this field what this means that it's tactically costly I should mention isms since it's clearly more than any of the war
powers really question is how this compares with of course the familiar in this area. Well it's less than a tenth of what we were paying at the end of the 1950s for defense against war it's something that all all all. What our gross national product of the period so it's clearly a modest expense and what this says is that. It lies within the capability of the two largest countries at an expense that is very modest for them to essentially preclude damage from even a desperate first strike by the Chinese. And it can do this. Safety can be obtained without initiating a nuclear exchange. Now that has significance for all the sorts of things that
concern the the countries that are looking at the year 1975 which they read in Mr. McNamara's past your statement. Evidently they think of it as January 1st 1975 America when the Chinese will have a currently ballistic missile. Because there they listen to the terms who say that the Chinese saw years of experience made talk big but they're always extremely prudent. They're a little worried when they see that the same or China hands didn't and to support anything like the irrationality of the gravely not to say the Red Guard. In any case they don't know how they could get their money back if in fact the Chinese didn't behave rationally if they did use nuclear weapons in spite of the threat that the threat made by the
United States to retaliate and they feel that perhaps the United States would be worried about getting into some sort of crisis of escalation in which nobody knows exactly how this thing would end. So they're worried about Chinese irrational behavior and they're also worried about American concern about getting involved in something they're already irrational in the nuclear exchange involving the United States. So the fact that it lies within the book with the power of the United States to preclude damage even from an irrational act is itself a significant and impressive to countries of this sort. In any case the sort of thing that I've been saying is that. These countries are concerned about a Chinese nuclear threat. They are concerned about their nuclear safety. They'll look for
commitments for protection from outside and if they can't get it they're there but try desperately to protect themselves. No. Isn't there another round turn or can't we have for example some sort of United Nations care team. Aren't we getting into problems of being the world policeman show you must have heard that phrase even if UN used. I'm inclined to say that the discussion of these matters isn't terribly impressive but I haven't found it so because I haven't been able to find anybody who advocates that believe be or a policeman in the sense that we get involved in every form internal or external every place in the world. On the other hand for me perhaps the largest disaster associated with Vietnam is the growth of the
rather extreme neo isolationist which looks for a contraction of American commitment. And I think moves to the opposite extreme there because the truth is that even if you could have a guarantee from some international organization that it was potentially universal whether or not such guarantees were fulfilled would after a depend on the risks involved filming that would be undertaken by the major powers that be a part of this organization. And what risks they would undertake really turn out to be very much the same sorts of things as they don't involve the same sorts of considerations as any unilateral commitment. So in fact whether in the whether tacit or explosive with a unilateral or in the form of an alliance guarantee or in the form of the UN sort of potentially universal collective
security guarantee the commitments of large powers are involved so long as you have a world in which you have several countries which have nuclear weapons and a great many that don't have don't have them and that are concerned about a possible nuclear threat and I think that. Neo isolationism is not merely a pure stouter at this day but also it could be just the direction in which a policy could go. You just heard Professor Albert waltz debtor of the University of Chicago discussed China's nuclear capability. Professor walls that are spoke at a special conference on China held by the University of Chicago the Center for Policy Studies with the support of the Johnson Foundation of race in Wisconsin. The final program in the in the series will be devoted to the triangular relationship between
- China's nuclear capability
- Producing Organization
- University of Chicago
- Contributing Organization
- University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
- AAPB ID
- This program features a lecture by Albert Wohlstetter of the University of Chicago.
- A series of talks from the University of Chicago dealing with current events in China.
- Global Affairs
- Media type
Producing Organization: University of Chicago
Speaker: Wohlstetter, Albert J.
- AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-46-7 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
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- Chicago: “China: Policy and perspective; China's nuclear capability,” 1967-11-27, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 20, 2021, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-fq9q6d5f.
- MLA: “China: Policy and perspective; China's nuclear capability.” 1967-11-27. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 20, 2021. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-fq9q6d5f>.
- APA: China: Policy and perspective; China's nuclear capability. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-500-fq9q6d5f