7 May 2021

China’s Nuclear and Missile Capabilities: An Overview

Maj Gen PK Mallick, VSM (Retd)

Since China first conducted a nuclear weapon test in 1964, its nuclear doctrine has remained unchanged and is underpinned by two principles: a minimum deterrent doctrine and a No First Use (NFU) policy. China’s 2019 defence white paper states, “China is always committed to a nuclear policy of NFU of nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstances, and not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones unconditionally.” 

However, a recent U.S. Department of Defence (DoD) report claims that the scope of China’s nuclear modernisation and its lack of transparency “raise concern that China is not only shifting its requirements for what constitutes a minimal deterrence but that it could shift away from its longstanding minimalist force posture.” The data available show that China is modernising and expanding virtually every element of its nuclear forces, including each aspect of its nuclear weapons and missile, sea, and air delivery systems. What is not clear are China’s current and planned holdings of nuclear weapons, China’s future plans for deploying additional delivery systems, its commitment to some form of NFU, first preemption, or launch on warning, and the extent to which it will accept what might be called a form of ‘minimum assured destruction.

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Preparing for Heightened Tensions Between China and India

Daniel S. Markey


After a tumultuous year that featured the deadliest China-India border clashes in over four decades, the two sides agreed in early 2021 to a simultaneous military disengagement from one part of their contested border in the region of Ladakh. That accord reduced the immediate risk of an armed confrontation, but tensions remain high and warning indicators for conflict continue to blink red. As Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar noted, 2020 left the China-India relationship “profoundly disturbed.”

A 2015 Contingency Planning Memorandum (CPM) highlighted the risk of armed confrontation between China and India to U.S. security interests. That risk remains and needs to be addressed. The Joe Biden administration should use the breathing room offered by recent de-escalatory initiatives in South Asia to calibrate its growing strategic partnership with India in ways that lessen the risk of renewed border tensions and potential conflict with China.

New Concerns

The 2015 CPM assessed that China-India relations were sufficiently stable that no single issue or crisis was likely to provoke a violent clash between them. Both sides appreciated the need to insulate their growing ties of trade and investment from other disputes and proved themselves deft managers of routine border dustups. Yet the CPM also found that multiple, overlapping disputes would pose a special challenge for peaceful crisis management by Beijing and New Delhi: a wider context of serious bilateral tensions would raise the political and strategic stakes associated with backing down or appearing weak in any single dispute, and overlapping crises would complicate the mechanics of timely intelligence gathering, decision-making, and signaling required to avoid violence.

Koo: India’s Latest Local Social Media Platform

By Prithvi Iyer and Kabir Taneja

Social media has greatly reconfigured the relationship between the state and its people, especially by becoming the primary avenue through which dispensations engage in narrative control, manage public opinion about policy and monitor dissenting views. To forge an alignment between the interests of the state and the discourse taking place on social media platforms has become an important policy imperative in recent years. Thus, when big technology companies such as Twitter are perceived to be going against the interests of a state, the social media marketplace that has come to resemble a ‘splinternet’, props up alternatives seemingly more sympathetic to the government’s interests.

In India, this was evident with the rise of Koo, a microblogging site emulating Twitter but promising an India centric social media experience. Barely a year old, the app was founded through the AtmaNirbhar app challenge, a government initiative encouraging self-reliance in the field of science and technology, interestingly placing social media parallel to issues such as defense technology, energy and so on. Koo’s popularity first surged in response to the clashes between India and China at Galwan Valley in summer 2020. This was the first time that a technology platform in India seemed to be responding and extracting value through geopolitical tensions with an adversary. Before this, technology platforms operated on this ambition of an interconnected world without borders, unified by technology. However, the emergence of a splinternet and governments seeking a monopoly on online discourse to fulfill strategic aims has meant that ambivalence of technology companies towards geopolitical tensions may no longer be feasible. Koo greatly benefitted from the Indian government’s decision to ban Chinese applications, a direct reaction to the Galwan crisis, as Indian users were pushed to seek homegrown products to cater to their needs and in the social media space, Koo was there to fulfill that need.

India: An Ambivalent Partner for the West

Christian Wagner, Jana Lemke

The relationship between India and Western countries is increasingly characterised by a paradox. On the one hand, the country’s rise has caused both sides to increasingly share geostrategic interests, for example in the Indo-Pacific. On the other hand, dif­ferences are growing as New Delhi’s domestic policy moves further and further from Western ideals – this applies to economic policy as well as the state of Indian democ­racy. This change is affecting India’s relations with Germany and Europe as the pro­motion of Indian industry and the restriction of democratic rights also affect Euro­pean companies and civil society organisations respectively. The narrative of a part­nership with India based on shared values, which has been cultivated for decades in Europe and the USA, will shift more towards coinciding strategic interests and less towards common democratic values.

India’s rise since the 1990s has made it an important partner for Western countries. It boasts a growing number of strategic part­nerships and economic successes, carries weight in institutions of global governance and participates in the Quadrilateral Secu­rity Dialogue (the Quad) – all of which underscore India’s newfound geostrategic importance. The Biden administration has reiterated that the country is a central pillar of the USA’s Indo-Pacific strategy. The Euro­pean Union has announced a connectivity partnership with India that will put the already good relations between the two on an even broader footing. The German gov­ernment’s Indo-Pacific guidelines emphasise cooperation with “value partners” in the region, which includes India. New Delhi, for its part, needs bilateral exchange with Western states in order to advance the country’s path towards economic and mili­tary modernisation.

Indo-Pacific strategies, perceptions and partnerships

Cleo Paskal

As the Indo-Pacific's strategic importance increases, countries around the world are developing new policies to strengthen their reach in the region. While there is a long history of international partnerships in the Indo-Pacific, many recent forays in the region are in response to China’s economic, political and military expansion there.

This paper is based on field research, roundtables and face-to-face interviews in seven countries (including China) chosen to provide a variety of perspectives and insights on the Indo-Pacific, particularly regarding policy strategies and objectives.

The research uncovered shared internal divisions within the sample countries in how they perceive and engage with China. In a sense, against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, some of these divisions have since been resolved with countries generally more cautious towards China. Regardless of intentions, a broad understanding of the different actors in the region is crucial for countries seeking to form strong partnerships and to establish a successful Indo-Pacific strategy.

Afghanistan: Still too Early to Expect Peace

Dr Qaisar Rashid

The immediate challenge before the Biden Administration is how to get past the 1 May withdrawal deadline peacefully and establish a new one. Its long-term challenge is to bring the Taliban around to the understanding that elections, democracy and an intra-Afghan concord are to Afghanistan’s advantage.

Key Points

The proposal for a Transitional Government is an attempt to get past the 1 May deadline for the withdrawal of foreign troops from Afghanistan.

The change of government in the US does not make it incumbent upon the Taliban to re-orient and conform to that new situation.

The Taliban are driven by certain constraints that force them to reject most proposals.

Passing the 1 May deadline without the Taliban’s concurrence could provoke a hostile reaction from them.

Internet from Space

Dr Daniel Voelsen is a Senior Associate in the Global Issues Research Division at SWP.

A number of companies from the US and China plan to build networks of several thousand satellites each to enable access to the Internet from any point on Earth. These satellites will be stationed in low Earth orbit.

If these plans are put into practice, the global Internet infrastructure will acquire a whole new dimension. This would have far-reaching consequences for Internet access, the security and resilience of Internet infrastructure, and power relations in global Internet governance.

The home countries of the leading companies – above all the US, followed by China – would have extensive potential for political influence. They would be able to control, at the level of the Internet’s global infrastructure, the worldwide flows of information.

This research paper draws two scenarios to illustrate the range of possible developments and the corresponding potential responses: one describes the development of global oligopolies, the other a form of politically regulated global competition.

German and European political decision-makers should use regulations and public funding to work towards a future Internet infrastructure that is secure and reliable. The basis for this is the redundancy and diversity of the underlying technology. To this end, the new satellite constellations can be an important part of an appropriate mix of technologies.

It would be both politically and economically desirable for Europe to build its own constellation.

Home advantage: How China’s protected market threatens Europe’s economic power

Agatha Kratz, Janka Oertel 

China’s vast yet protected home market has allowed some of its firms to acquire a scale that provides them with significant advantages when they compete in other markets.

These firms are able to undercut European companies both in the EU and around the world, including in sectors key to Europe’s future economy and security, from energy to telecommunications.

The EU urgently needs to incorporate the concept and reality of this ‘protected home market advantage’ into its thinking on China.

Europe can defend its own industries by adopting an integrated policy approach, working with like-minded partners around the world, and even prising open closed parts of China’s domestic market.

The EU should also look to enhance its single market – both as a defensive measure and a way to improve its strategic sovereignty.


China’s grand industrial strategy and what it means for Europe

Frederico Mollet

In its 14th Five-Year Plan, China has mapped out a grand economic and industrial strategy that upends many of the assumptions that underpin the EU's approach - how can the Union respond?

With this new plan, the EU can expect tougher competition and greater protectionism in its economic relations with China. A further blurring of the public-private sector distinction in the country's economic model will make it harder to combat unfair Chinese competition. And while China is actively courting foreign investment, it is also signalling greater protectionism to products not made in China, which will lead to European investors' and exporters' interests diverging.

To balance the scales, the EU should adapt its own strategy by:

continuing to develop trade instruments to combat unfair competition at home and abroad;

ensuring that these instruments and institutions can respond to unfair competition from private companies benefiting from state capital investment;

ensuring that the extensive and often opaque government holdings in private firms are reflected in foreign direct investment and export controls;

Xi Jinping Thought on the Rule of Law

In its first “Plan on Building the Rule of Law in China (2020–2025)”, the leadership in Beijing has set out its vision for a coherent and genuinely Chinese legal system. The focus here is on the term “socialist rule of law with Chinese characteristics”. It should “basically take shape” by 2035. Marxist-Leninist legal concepts remain fundamental. The aim is to use the law as a political instrument to make the state more efficient and to reduce the arbitrariness of how the law is applied for the majority of the popu­lation, among other things, with the help of advanced technology. In some areas, for example on procedural issues, Beijing continues to draw inspiration from the West in establishing its Chinese “rule of law”. However, the party-state leadership rejects an independent judiciary and the principle of separation of powers as “erroneous west­ern thought”. Beijing is explicitly interested in propagating China’s conception of law and legal practice internationally, establishing new legal standards and enforcing its interests through the law. Berlin and Brussels should, therefore, pay special attention to the Chinese leadership’s concept of the law. In-depth knowledge on this topic will be imperative in order to grasp the strategic implications of China’s legal policy, to better understand the logic of their actions and respond appropriately.

At the 4th plenary session of the 13th National People’s Congress (NPC), the term “Xi Jinping Thought on the Rule of Law” appeared six times in the annual work report by Li Zhanshu, Chairman of the NPC Standing Committee. The Chinese leadership had been promoting the term “socialist law with Chinese characteristics” for several months. That the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) has now adopted its own five-year plan to establish the rule of law in China illustrates the new quality of these efforts and how strategically embedded they have now become. The Xi administration has understood that law is an important lever in achieving greater international influence. This plan represents the most concrete expression of Xi Jinping’s vision of how the law should be interpreted and applied in China and in the international context.

Defining the Terms

After Xi: Future Scenarios for Leadership Succession in Post-Xi Jinping Era

After nearly nine years in office, Xi Jinping now stands as the overwhelmingly dominant figure in China’s political system, having gained command of the military, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) apparatus, and diplomatic and economic policymaking, all while sidelining or locking up rivals to his leadership. His drive for power, however, has destabilized elite political consensus and dismantled power-sharing norms that evolved since the 1980s. By removing de jure term limits on the office of the presidency—and thus far refusing to nominate his successor for this and his other leadership positions—Xi has solidified his own authority at the expense of the most important political reform of the last four decades: the regular and peaceful transfer of power. In doing so, he has pushed China toward a potential destabilizing succession crisis, one with profound implications for the international order and global commerce.

This paper assesses China’s possible leadership succession scenarios in the coming years and decades. Is Xi akin to Stalin after the purges of the 1930s—a leader who has so thoroughly eliminated rivals and cowered the system that he will remain in power until he can no longer perform the duties of office, leaving a succession battle in his wake? Or will the system produce a Newtonian reaction against his all-encompassing power, either forcing him out of office prematurely or at least pushing him to set a timetable for his departure? Alternatively, what are Xi’s options for a middle path between these scenarios, an orderly succession in the next 5 to 10 years?

This report is made possible by general support to CSIS. No direct sponsorship contributed to this report.

Beijing’s ‘New Normal’ in the Skies around Japan

By Derek Solen

At the beginning of March, it was reported that Japan’s Defense Ministry has been limiting the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force’s (JASDF) scrambling of aircraft. The JASDF has been scrambling its aircraft many times more than the U.S. Air Force and the air forces of NATO do, raising the possibility that this relatively small air force would exhaust its pilots and aircraft. Therefore, limiting the JASDF’s scrambling of aircraft is a prudent measure to preserve the force, but it will not solve Japan’s predicament.

China Brief,

o Editor's Note to the Special Issue on Chinese Information Operations (April 2021)

o China Learning From Russia’s “Emerging Great Power” Global Media Tactics

o A Different Kind of Army: The Militarization of China’s Internet Trolls

o How the CCP Mobilized a Cross-Border Disinformation Campaign Against the Czech Senate Speaker

o Exploring Chinese Military Thinking on Social Media Manipulation Against Taiwan

o Xinhua Infiltrates Western Electronic Media, Part One: Online “Advertorial” Content

Europe’s green moment: How to meet the climate challenge

Susi Dennison, Rafael Loss, Jenny Söderström

EU member states are publicly committed to the European Green Deal, but are divided over the details of its implementation.

They have different views on issues such as the proposed carbon border adjustment mechanism, the role of nuclear energy in Europe’s future energy mix, bridging technologies in the transition to net zero, and the socio-economic consequences of closing down carbon-intensive industries.

Member states are not divided into two diametrically opposed camps but rather agree or disagree with one another in varying constellations.

This makes the implementation of the European Green Deal an intricate puzzle – yet achievable if coalitions of states push one another to implement its constituent parts.

The EU needs a strong foreign policy strategy to manage the geopolitical dimension of the deal and to generate the political resolve to drive climate action.

The bloc also needs to mitigate the socio-economic challenges of implementing the European Green Deal if the effort is to succeed.


Security at the frontier

As middle powers with shared characteristics and outlooks, the UK and Japan are well placed to work together in a number of new security areas. This report draws on the Chatham House ‘Security at the Frontier’ conference to examine the latest developments in cyberspace, outer space, the Arctic and electronic warfare.

Further collaboration between the UK and Japan will allow both countries to learn from each other’s experiences in dealing with challenges in these new frontiers, such as cyberattacks, and ultimately bolster the rules-based international order.

The Path of Least Resistance

Margarita Konaev and Husanjot Chahal 

As multinational collaboration on emerging technologies takes center stage, U.S. allies and partners must overcome the technological, bureaucratic, and political barriers to working together. This report assesses the challenges to multinational collaboration and explains how joint projects centered on artificial intelligence applications for military logistics and sustainment offer a viable path forward. Download Full Report

Executive Summary

The United States’ global network of alliances and partnerships is a force multiplier in the strategic competition against China and Russia. With artificial intelligence as the focal point of this competition, fostering AI defense and security cooperation is becoming increasingly important. In fact, in its final report, the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence has recommended strengthening AI interoperability with U.S. allies and partners as a key element of building an AI-ready force by 2025. The AI future of the United States is then inherently intertwined with that of our allies and partners.

Although there are powerful incentives for multinational collaboration on AI, there are also nonnegligible technical, bureaucratic, and political barriers that could prevent like-minded nations from realizing a shared vision for the responsible use of military AI. This issue brief summarizes these challenges and then makes the argument that multinational collaboration on AI applications for military logistics and sustainment offers the path of least resistance. Our key takeaways are:

Mapping Research Agendas in U.S. Corporate AI Laboratories

Tim Hwang

Leading U.S. companies are investing in the broad research field of artificial intelligence (AI), but where, specifically, are they making these investments? This data brief provides an analysis of the research papers published by Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft over the past decade to better understand what work their labs are prioritizing, and the degree to which these companies have similar or different research agendas overall. The authors find that major “AI companies” are often focused on very different subfields within AI, and that the private sector may be failing to make research investments consistent with ensuring long-term national competitiveness.Download Full Report

Executive Summary

Within the broad research field of artificial intelligence (AI), it is worth understanding, specifically, what leading U.S. companies invest in. This data brief conducts an analysis of the research papers published by Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft over the past decade to better understand what work their labs are prioritizing, and the degree to which these companies have similar or different research agendas overall.

We find the following:

Trust the Process

By Loren DeJonge Schulman and Ainikki Riikonen

The United States is navigating a new paradigm of competition, one that centers not merely on traditional measures of military might, but on technology innovation and its contributions to comprehensive national power. Technology and innovation are critical enablers of American military, political, and economic power. To succeed in great-power competition, the United States should adopt a national technology strategy. This report does not offer the content of a strategy—that is outlined in another report in this series, “Taking the Helm: A National Technology Strategy to Meet the China Challenge”—but it offers a framework for the bureaucratic connective tissue necessary to bring a strategy to life.

To effectively execute a national technology strategy, the U.S. government will need to create new processes to develop, implement, and monitor and evaluate the strategy. It will also need to optimize existing processes in new ways, as bureaucratic foundations in this space have so far been uncoordinated, under resourced, and undervalued. Institutions such as the National Security Council (NSC), National Economic Council (NEC), and Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) are, in their current structure and partitions, not fully equipped to meet the challenge of creating and executing a coherent response to this challenge. To support a strategy, this report offers key ingredients for designing processes but does not prescribe detailed action plans; the best design is not the one that is most “right” but the one that leadership will use. It does offer sample tactics for policy interventions, using the promote-protect-partner-plan framework proposed in the CNAS report “Taking the Helm” as a foundation.

This report divides recommendations into stages of strategy development, implementation, and monitoring and evaluation. Themes that cut across these stages include ensuring executive attention, facilitating buy-in among internal and external stakeholders, exercising convening powers, inventorying and coordinating policy tools, acquiring talent and expertise, building pipelines for tailored information and analysis, and establishing a means for reviewing and revising the process and strategy. Overall, designing transparency, clarity, and accountability into the process will create one that leadership can both trust and verify.
Summary of Recommendations


This is a scoping paper for the European External Action Service (European Commission) in collaboration with the Institute of South Asian Studies and National University of Singapore.

As the European Union (EU) embarks on its own distinctive strategic outlook to the Indo-Pacific region, it should contribute to open, safe and inclusive digital connectivity and engage with the region’s thriving digital economies. While Indo-Pacific countries have called for greater maritime presence by European countries in their increasingly contested waters, European actors may have more to offer in the less-discussed but equally contested high-tech and digital domains. Recognizing the opportunities and disruptions that accompany the digital transition and green transformation globally, the EU and its member states need to increase their engagement with governments, commercial and civil-society stakeholders and networks in the Indo-Pacific on a broad array of digitalization issues.
Download paper.

Look back at the webinar launching the report with Asad Beg (European External Action Service), George Cunningham (European External Action Service), Thibaut Kleiner (DG Connect), Maaike Okano-Heijmans (the Clingendael Institute), Karthik Nachiappan ( Institute for South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore​​​​​​​), Romana Vlahutin (Ambassador at large/EEAS Special Envoy for Connectivity).


This report analyses the role of the Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the associated Democratic Union Party (PYD) during the Syrian civil war. The purpose of our research is to obtain a better understanding of the nature, objectives and methods of the YPG/ PYD as a combined paramilitary and rebel force that is involved in a quasi-statebuilding project during an internationalised civil war. We start by examining the critical factors that enabled the swift rise of the YPG: informal arrangements with the Assad regime, support from the Kurdistan Workers’ Party and a pragmatic partnership with the US against Islamic State. This sets the scene for an inquiry into how core YPG strategies to maintain its dominance once it was established – coercive, deal-making, identity and basic service strategies – both shape the group’s behavior and result from its current organization. Finally, we dissect a number of major challenges to future YPG rule, such as its relation with the PKK, intra-Kurdish reconciliation, the US presence in northeast Syria and its interaction with the Arab populations over which it rules.

Based on our analysis, we anticipate a scenario of ‘muddling through’ in which unconditional support from the US will continue at current levels, combined with an abiding US military presence. This will provide the YPG/ PYD with a security umbrella against both regime forces and Turkey, continue the status quo of the YPG/ PYD ruling northeast Syria in authoritarian fashion, make the civil war more ethno-sectarian in nature and prolong the conflict. While such a scenario is arguably more attractive for northeast Syria than a return of the regime, it is also unlikely to improve the area’s current underdevelopment. It will keep other external actors, like the EU, away and allow the PKK to continue to take its share of the area’s revenues.

The primary audience of the report are Western opinion-, policy- and decision-makers engaged with the Syrian civil war and we hope it will help them to craft policies and initiate interventions that are feasible and appropriate to the situation in northeast Syria.

Ethics and Artificial Intelligence

Jamie Baker

The law plays a vital role in how artificial intelligence can be developed and used in ethical ways. But the law is not enough when it contains gaps due to lack of a federal nexus, interest, or the political will to legislate. And law may be too much if it imposes regulatory rigidity and burdens when flexibility and innovation are required. Sound ethical codes and principles concerning AI can help fill legal gaps. In this paper, CSET Distinguished Fellow James E. Baker offers a primer on the limits and promise of three mechanisms to help shape a regulatory regime that maximizes the benefits of AI and minimizes its potential harms.Download Full Report

Executive Summary

Policymakers contemplating the burgeoning field of artificial intelligence will find, if they have not already, that existing laws leave huge gaps in deciding how (and whether) AI will be developed and used in ethical ways. The law, of course, plays a vital role. While it does not guarantee wise choices, it can improve the odds of having a process that will lead to such choices. Law can reach across constituencies and compel, where policy encourages and ethics guide. The legislative process can also serve as an effective mechanism to adjudicate competing values as well as validate risks and opportunities.