Cover: China's Evolving Approach to "Integrated Strategic Deterrence"

China's Evolving Approach to "Integrated Strategic Deterrence"

Published Apr 7, 2016

by Michael S. Chase, Arthur Chan


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نهج الصين المتطور إزاء "الردع الاستراتيجي المتكامل"

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Research Questions

  1. How does China see and implement integrated strategic deterrence?
  2. How are China's strategic-deterrence concepts evolving in response to external circumstances?
  3. What are China's evolving deterrence capabilities?
  4. What are the implications of China's growing capabilities in strategic deterrence?

Drawing on a wide range of sources, including Chinese-language publications, this report finds that China's strategic-deterrence concepts are evolving in response to a changing assessment of its external security environment and a growing emphasis on protecting its emerging interests in space and cyberspace. At the same time, China is rapidly closing what was once a substantial gap between the People's Liberation Army's strategic weapons capabilities and its strategic-deterrence concepts. Chinese military publications indicate that China has a broad concept of strategic deterrence, one in which a multidimensional set of military and nonmilitary capabilities combine to constitute the "integrated strategic deterrence" posture required to protect Chinese interests. For China, powerful military capabilities of several types — including nuclear capabilities, conventional capabilities, space capabilities, and cyberwarfare forces — are all essential components of a credible strategic deterrent. Chinese military publications indicate that nonmilitary aspects of national power — most notably diplomatic, economic, and scientific and technological strength — also contribute to strategic deterrence alongside military capabilities.

Key Findings

Chinese Strategic-Deterrence Capabilities Are Catching Up with Ideas Embodied in Its Concept of "Integrated Strategic Deterrence"

  • This is true across the nuclear, conventional, space, and information warfare domains.
  • China is deploying a more-credible nuclear deterrent comprising improved silo-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and more survivable, solid-fueled road-mobile ICBMs and nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines.
  • Some publications by PLA Air Force officers call for modernizing China's ability to deliver nuclear weapons by air.
  • Beijing is also strengthening its conventional military forces, and the air, naval, and missile capabilities most relevant to countering U.S. military intervention provide China with increasingly potent conventional deterrence capabilities.
  • Beijing is improving its space and counter-space, cyber, and electronic warfare capabilities, which it sees as key components of strategic deterrence and as essential to deterring or fighting modern, information technology–enabled warfare.

China's Growing Strategic-Deterrence Capabilities Increasingly Enable It to Put Its "Integrated Strategic Deterrence" Concepts into Practice

  • Chinese military publications are replete with references to how China can conduct deterrence operations under general peacetime conditions, such as by displaying its strength in military parades and exercises, official and unofficial media reports, satellite imagery, and via the Internet.
  • China discusses higher-intensity deterrence actions that could be conducted to deter U.S. military intervention in a crisis or to reduce the likelihood of further escalation in a conflict scenario.
  • High-intensity deterrence actions include raising the readiness level of the strategic missile force, conducting launch exercises, or carrying out information attacks or even limited firepower attacks as a warning.


  • China's strategic-deterrence capabilities continue to grow, analysts will need to watch carefully for signs that Chinese leaders are considering changes to policy and strategy that could be enabled by some of their new capabilities.
  • The United States will need to invest in maintaining its own strategic-deterrence capabilities, enhance the survivability and resilience of its forces in the region, and reduce its dependence on space and information systems that are potentially vulnerable to disruption.
  • Washington will also need to work to build shared understanding by pursuing a broader U.S.-China dialogue on strategic-deterrence and stability issues.
  • Washington will likely have to take an increasingly multidimensional approach to assuring its allies that the United States will continue to maintain the capability and the resolve to support them in a crisis, even as China further strengthens its "integrated strategic deterrence" capabilities.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was conducted by the RAND Center for Asia Pacific Policy (CAPP) within the International Programs at the RAND Corporation.

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