‘Wake-up call’: Top Republicans sound alarm over China’s nuclear expansion

Last updated on February 7, 2023

Top Republicans on Capitol Hill are raising alarms over news that China has surpassed the U.S. in its number of launchers for land-based nuclear missiles — and arguing for the U.S. to expand its own arsenal to keep pace.

Four GOP leaders on the House and Senate Armed Services committees said the revelation about China’s nuclear capability, made in a Jan. 26 letter from the top commander of U.S. nuclear forces, is a warning that Beijing’s arsenal is expanding faster than anticipated, though the U.S. still has more warheads and intercontinental ballistic missiles.

“This should serve as a wake-up call for the United States,” said House Armed Services Chair Mike Rogers (R-Ala.), Senate Armed Services ranking member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo) and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) in a joint statement. “It is not an understatement to say that the Chinese nuclear modernization program is advancing faster than most believed possible.

“We have no time to waste in adjusting our nuclear force posture to deter both Russia and China,” the lawmakers said. “This will have to mean higher numbers and new capabilities.”

Lamborn and Fischer are the top Republicans on the Armed Services subcommittees that oversee nuclear weapons programs.

The head of U.S. Strategic Command, Gen. Anthony Cotton, told lawmakers in a letter dated Jan. 26 that the U.S. retains a larger inventory of ICBMs and nuclear warheads, but that China has exceeded the U.S. in the number of fixed and mobile land-based launchers for those missiles. The Wall Street Journal first reported the letter.

The information came in response to a December letter from Republicans Rogers, Lamborn, Fischer and then-Senate Armed Services ranking member Jim Inhofe.

The revelation is likely to only further fuel uproar in Washington over Beijing, after a Chinese surveillance balloon traversed the U.S. before it was shot down last week.

Biden administration officials are set to brief the full Senate on the balloon on Thursday. The House is also likely to soon get briefed, leaders say. And House Republicans are weighing a resolution condemning China for the flap.

China’s military modernization, including its nuclear capabilities and a potential invasion of Taiwan, have been an early focus for Republicans.

House Armed Services held its first hearing Tuesday on the threat posed by China. During the session, Rogers broached the ICBM launcher news and warned of China’s nuclear expansion, urging the U.S. to act immediately to deter Beijing.

“The [Chinese Communist Party] is rapidly expanding its nuclear capability. They have doubled their number of warheads in just 2 years,” Rogers said at the outset of Tuesday’s hearing. “We estimated it would take them a decade to do that.”

The U.S. is undertaking a long-term overhaul of all three legs of its nuclear arsenal as well as fielding new weapons introduced under the Trump administration’s 2018 nuclear blueprint.

Low-yield warheads have been deployed aboard ballistic missile-carrying submarines. Congress has also preserved funding to develop a new sea-launched nuclear cruise missile that the Biden administration sought to cancel.

Nancy Vu contributed to this report.