The Dangers of Chinese Naval Strategy: Why China's Doctrine Makes Nuclear War More Likely


Paul R. Dodge

Date of Graduation

Spring 2005


Master of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies


Defense and Strategic Studies

Committee Chair

Bradley A. Thayer


The People’s Republic of China (PRC) has embraced an expansionist grand strategy within the Asia-Pacific maritime region, fueled by outstanding territorial claims, fierce nationalistic sentiment, and the identity crisis of the Chinese Communist Party. This aggressive policy will bring China into direct confrontation with the United States, possibly resulting in U.S. military intervention designed to restore regional stability. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) is largely inadequate to stand up to the vastly superior U.S. naval and air forces in such a high technology conflict. Instead of matching U.S. capabilities symmetrically, the PLAN has adopted a unique naval strategy and force structure that it expects will deter U.S. involvement in a regional conflict. Conventional forces will engage approaching U.S. ships at varying distances from China’s coast, attempting to launch massive waves of simultaneous missile and torpedo attacks. At the same time, nuclear weapons are integrated into the warfighting doctrine, designed to warn, blind, or even directly attack high value U.S. forces. In reality, however, PRC conventional forces will suffer heavy attrition in the early days of such a conflict, leaving China nothing but the nuclear component of its doctrine. Faced with great internal pressure to achieve its strategic objectives, the PRC will be forced to make a choice of either backing down or using its tactical and strategic nuclear arsenals to attempt to salvage the situation. Such a state of affairs would be extremely unstable, risking inadvertent and uncontrolled nuclear warfare.


China, PRC, naval strategy, doctrine, deterrence, sea power, nuclear war

Subject Categories

Defense and Security Studies


© Paul R. Dodge