Introduction: Competing Explanations for the Underdevelopment of China’s Nuclear Doctrine

  • Paolo Rosa


This chapter analyses the different explanations of China’s nuclear doctrine and their limits. When China tested its first atomic bomb and entered the exclusive club of nuclear states, it could learn from the other countries about the complex debate on nuclear doctrine: deterrence stability versus instability; counterforce strategy versus countervalue strategy; general war versus limited nuclear war; strategic employment versus tactical use; etc. All of these cases notwithstanding, Beijing chose not to elaborate on the development of a military doctrine about targeting and employment. A first explanation for the underdevelopment of China’s nuclear doctrine is based on a rational model. A second group of explanations takes into consideration the role played by the traditional political-military culture in the development of China’s nuclear doctrine. The third group of explanations focuses on the communist leaders’ belief systems.


Action-reaction Strategic culture Mao’s military thought 


  1. Burr, W., & Richelson, J. (2000/2001). Whether to ‘Strangle the Baby in the Cradle’: The US and the Chinese Nuclear Program, 1960–64. International Security, 25(3), 54–99.Google Scholar
  2. Ching, J. (2004). Confucianism and Weapons of Mass Destruction. In S. H. Hashmi & S. P. Lee (Eds.), Ethics and Weapons of Mass Destruction. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  3. Christensen, T. (1996). Chinese Realpolitik. Foreign Affairs, 75, 37–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Deillos, R. (1994). Chinese Strategic Culture (Centre for East-West Cultural and Economics Studies Research Paper No. 1 and 2).Google Scholar
  5. Deng, X. (Various years). Selected Works.
  6. Feng, H. (2005). The Operational Code of Mao Zedong: Defensive or Offensive Realist? Security Studies, 14(4), 637–662.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Fravel, M. T., & Medeiros, E. S. (2010). China’s Search for Assured Retaliation. The Evolution of Chinese Nuclear Strategy and Force Structure. International Security, 35(2), 48–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Freedman, L. (1988). I Exist; Therefore I Deter. International Security, 13(1), 177–195.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Halperin, M. H., & Perkins, D. (1965). Communist China and Arms Control. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  10. Holloway, D. (1984). Soviet Union and the Arms Race. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Hsieh, A. L. (1962). Communist China’s Strategy in the Nuclear Era. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall.Google Scholar
  12. Hsieh, A. L. (1964). China’s Secret Military Papers. China Quarterly, 18, 79–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Ivanhoe, P. J. (2004). ‘Heaven’s Mandate’ and the Concept of War in Early Confucianism. In S. H. Hashmi & S. P. Lee (Eds.), Ethics and Weapons of Mass Destruction. New York: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Jencks, H. (1982). From Muskets to Missiles. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.Google Scholar
  15. Johnston, A. I. (1995). Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Chinese History. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  16. Johnston, A. I. (1996a). Cultural Realism and Strategy in Maoist China. In P. Katzenstein (Ed.), The Culture of National Security. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  17. Johnston, A. I. (1996b). Prospects for Chinese Nuclear Modernization: Limited Deterrence Versus Multilateral Arms Control. The China Quarterly, 146, 548–576.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Kahn, H. (1965). On Escalation. New York: Praeger.Google Scholar
  19. Lewis, J. (2007). The Minimum Means of Reprisal. China’s Search for Security in the Nuclear Age. Chicago: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  20. Lewis, J. (2014). Paper Tigers: China’s Nuclear Posture . Adelphi Book No. 446.Google Scholar
  21. Lewis, J. W., & Xue, L. (2006). Imagined Enemies: China Prepares for Uncertain War. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Lin, B. (1966). Long Live the Victory of People’s War!: In Commemoration of the 20th Anniversary of Victory in the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japan. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.Google Scholar
  23. Lin, C. P. (1988). China’s Nuclear Weapons Strategy. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  24. Mao, Z. (Various years). Selected Works.
  25. Mearsheimer, J. (2001). The Tragedy of Great Power Politics. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  26. Nathan, A. J., & Ross, R. (1997). The Great Wall and the Empty Fortress: China’s Search for Security. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  27. Nie, R. (1988). Inside the Red Star: The Memoirs of Marshal Nie Rongzhen. Beijing: New World Press.Google Scholar
  28. Powell, R. (2015). Nuclear Brinkmanship, Limited War, and Military Power. International Organization. Scholar
  29. Powell, R. L. (1965). Great Powers and Atomic Bomb Are ‘Paper Tigers’. China Quarterly, 23, 55–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Rice, C. (1986). The Making of Soviet Strategy. In P. Paret (Ed.), Makers of Modern Strategy. Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Rosa, P. (2010). Lo stile del drago. Processi e modelli della politica estera cinese. Soveria Mannelli: Rubbettino.Google Scholar
  32. Rosa, P. (2014). Culture strategiche: l’immagine cinese della guerra. Sulla via del Catai, 10, 23–40.Google Scholar
  33. Sagan, S. D. (1996/1997). Why States Build Nuclear Weapons? Three Models in Search of a Bomb. International Security, 21(3), 54–86.Google Scholar
  34. Sauer, T. (2009). A Second Nuclear Revolution: From Nuclear Primacy to Post-existential Deterrence. Journal of Strategic Studies, 35(5), 745–767.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Sawyer, R. (Ed.). (1993). The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  36. Scobell, A. (2003). China’s Use of Military Force: Beyond the Great Wall and the Long March. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Snyder, J. (1977). The Soviet Strategic Culture: Implications for Limited Nuclear Operations. Santa Monica: RAND.Google Scholar
  38. Sokolovskii, V. D. (1963). Soviet Military Strategy. Santa Monica: Rand.Google Scholar
  39. Swaine, M. D., & Tellis, A. (2000). Interpreting China’s Grand Strategy. Santa Monica: RAND.Google Scholar
  40. Tsou, T., & Halperin, M. (1965). Mao Tse-tung’s Revolutionary Strategy and Peking’s International Behavior. American Political Science Review, 59(1), 80–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Waltz, K. (1979). Theory of International Politics. Boston: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
  42. Wang, Y. K. (2011). Harmony and War. Confucian Culture and Chinese Power Politics. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  43. Yost, D. S. (1985). France’s Deterrent Posture and Security in Europe (Adelphi Papers No. 194 and 195).Google Scholar
  44. Zhang, T. (2002). Chinese Strategic Culture: Traditional and Present Features. Comparative Strategy, 21(2), 73–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of TrentoTrentoItaly

Personalised recommendations