Chinese tunnels: And we're worried about Iran's nuclear program?

This author is of the opinion that Iran isn’t developing nuclear weapons. But those who believe otherwise might find themselves distracted by what students at Georgetown University are learning. At the Washington Post, William Wan reports:

Led by their hard-charging professor, a former top Pentagon official, they have translated hundreds of documents, combed through satellite imagery, obtained restricted Chinese military documents and waded through hundreds of gigabytes of online data.

The result of their effort? The largest body of public knowledge about thousands of miles of tunnels dug by the Second Artillery Corps. … designed to hide their country’s increasingly sophisticated missile and nuclear arsenal [which, they’re learning] could be many times larger than the well-established estimates of arms-control experts. … China’s nuclear warheads could number as many as 3,000.

The 3,000 warheads aside, what about the thousands of miles of tunnels, which Wan describes as the distance between Boston and San Francisco? One’s first impulse is to wonder why China would needs that many miles of tunnels to hide nuclear weapons. In fact, it sounds more like a shelter for its citizens to survive a nuclear second (retaliatory) strike after China launches a preemptive strike.

Presumably, though, the tunnels are used to transport nuclear weapons and missiles around the country without detection. Whatever its purpose, the tunnels constitute a massive domestic infrastructure project, the likes of which Americans can only dream of today.

Cross-posted from the Foreign Policy in Focus blog Focal Points.

2 replies »

  1. A couple things trouble me:

    Any first-strike China would ever launch against us would have to be massive enough to cripple us. They couldn’t afford to just poke the beehive.

    It’d be easy to assume we’ll end up in a Cold War-style standoff with China, the same way the U.S. and the Soviets stared each other down. The only thing preventing war was the fear of mutual annihilation. Perhaps it’s not such a fear in China because 1) a tunnel system for protection, and 2) they already outnumber us by a billion. What’s a few hundred million in collatoral damage? (Harsh way to look at it, but most Americans grievously misunderstand the way the Chinese government thinks and operates.)

    Why not a Cold War standoff? Resources. It takes a lot to care for 1.3 billion people. China is already in direct competition with us for oil. More alarming, though, is the fact that they’re facing dwindling water supplies because of climate change. If you think oil is likely to start a war, wait until 1.3 billion people get thirsty.

    I think of Japan in the 1930s, facing a growing population and dwindling resources. They went on the offensive as a preemptive move. And if the Chinese are, indeed, building tunnels as protection, then perhaps they’re trying to be better prepared for some sort of preemptive action than the Japanese were, who finally signed their own eventual defeat by NOT striking the definitive move they needed to at Pearl Harbor.

    Perhaps I’m sounding extreme. Perhaps.

  2. Any country which insists on maintaining over seven thousand nuclear warheads and has a history of aggressive warfare against other countries deserves to die.