Orders for the Commander of the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) to submit a report on means of nullifying China’s underground tunnel network were outlined in the new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) signed by President Barack Obama on January 2.
The NDAA-directed report will further seek to identify knowledge gaps regarding China’s nuclear weapons programs, a request which was likely spurred by a controversial 2011 study out of Georgetown University entitled “Strategic Implications of China’s Underground Great Wall.”
The researchers claimed that China’s Second Artillery Corps, a secretive branch of the country’s military tasked with protecting and deploying its ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads, had dug some 3,000 miles of tunnels which currently housed up to 3,000 nuclear warheads — ten times US intelligence estimates.
The report drew a firestorm of criticism via its unconventional Internet-based research methods, which relied on Google Earth, blogs, military journals and even a fictional television program about Chinese artillery soldiers, to reach its conclusions.
But the questionable conclusions of the Georgetown report and Washington’s drive to more properly assess China’s military capability, are more reflective of Washington’s own ‘nuclear strategy’ than Beijing’s ambitions, James Corbett, editor of the Japanese-based Corbett Report news website, argues.
RT: The U.S. government is operating on the assumption that there are three thousand kilometers worth of tunnels crisscrossing China. Is that something you’d find believable?
James Corbett: Well, I’m not even sure that the US government really believes it. This is really on the back of a study that was commissioned out of George Town University last year — or two years ago now — that found that in this network of tunnels that we do know exist and can see from satellite telemetry…and it’s just sheer speculation what exists within them at this point. US intelligence estimates puts the Chinese nuclear arsenal at 300 but this study out of George Town in 2011 estimated that it could house as many as 3,000 nuclear warheads. So basically as part of the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act] 2013 they’re basically saying that now STRATCOM is going to have to issue a report to identify the potential problems involved in this and whether or not they’ll be able to confront this with conventional or nuclear forces in the event that they actually need to take action.
RT:We’ve got most of America’s ballistic submarines, we’ve also got more US ships moving to the Pacific, the Pentagon all the while promising to contain China, and now planning for a possible nuclear strike. That’s not exactly going to help already strained relations, is it?
JC: It really isn’t. I don’t think we have to look at this report within the context of their going to move in with a nuclear strike right at this point but I think it has to be seen as a wider part of US nuclear policy that’s been stretching out for decades now, trying to come up with ways to justify the existence of some of the US’ existing nuclear arsenal and looking for ways to create new weapons. So, for example, we have the B61-11 nuclear bunker busters with a 400 kiloton yield that they’ve been harboring and talking about for the better part of a decade now in relation to Iran and trying to bust through into Iran’s underground nuclear facilities or alleged nuclear facilities. Now they’re just shifting that rhetoric over to the Asia-Pacific as part of this Asia-Pacific pivot. I think to a certain extent this is just to justify the existence of the US arsenal and to make sure that things like the new START —the strategic arms reduction treaty — basically gets scuttled before it gets off of the ground. And there’s a lot in this new NDAA that really seeks to undermine the president’s ability should he ever want to actually reduce the nuclear stockpile. So I think the congress is definitely trying to get their foot in the door and stop any types of arms reductions before they can actually be implemented.
RT:There are certainly some who say that the American president is powerless when going head to head with the military industrial complex. We’ve been getting reports that there have been some rather peculiar, high altitude jet forays between China and Japan, some Japanese jets tailing Chinese jets, basically playing high altitude games of cat and mouse, possibly reigniting another territorial dispute. Is it possible that those two could get involved in something slightly more intense?
JC: It certainly could, and of course the more bellicose that the US becomes against China, the more safe Japan will feel in either threatening or responding to these aggressions. So I think it really only serves to put a match next to this powder keg that is the Asia-Pacific region, especially now that this really is heating up and that the American is turning here, we’re going to see more and more of these types of situations come along that could justify even further military intervention. So we have to look at the types of nuclear rhetoric that is coming out right now as not necessarily an intent to strike soon, but [as something] to keep our eyes on as this rhetoric continues to ratchet up.