China’s Emergence as a Second Nuclear Peer: Implications for US Nuclear Deterrence

June 2023 No Comments

Speaker: Dr. Brad Roberts (LLNL)

Date: 21 June 2023

Speaker Session Summary

SMA hosted a speaker session with Dr. Brad Roberts (Center for Global Security, LLNL) as part of its SMA STRATCOM Speaker Series.

The deterrence landscape has changed drastically and quickly during the decades since the Cold War. In response to these changes, USSTRATCOM is reforming its nuclear deterrence strategy to protect against emerging short-term nuclear threats and the long-term threat of nuclear parity with two adversarial nations, Russia and China. Dr. Roberts commented that the rewriting of US nuclear deterrence inspired the report from the Center for Global Security at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which was written by a diverse working group, and includes more than 100 different findings and recommendations. The group examined how the US can prepare both militarily and politically for competition with two near-peer nuclear adversaries. He emphasized that while short-term nuclear competition is a triad between the US, China, and Russia, both North Korea and Iran could emerge as disruptive nuclear actors in the future. The report gives recommendations for the required size of the overall US nuclear arsenal and the required nuclear force in each military theatre.

Reforming its current political relationships with Russia and China will be crucial to address new emerging and long-term nuclear threats for the US. Dr. Roberts emphasized that political hedging is crucial for avoiding future nuclear competition. He argued that the US should try to build better political relationships with Russia’s and China’s future leaders to increase the likelihood of new bilateral arms control deals between all nuclear powers. The US should also be prepared for Russia or China to suddenly start mass producing nuclear missiles to overmatch the US’s nuclear capabilities. US allies can, and should, play a stronger role in future nuclear deterrence. While the US is currently obliged to give dual-use technology and weapons to its allies, it has been reluctant to do so. This reluctance is because the US wants to keep the likelihood of nuclear escalation to a minimum. Dr. Roberts also pointed out that USSTRATCOM should receive strong support from Congress to rebuild and modernize its nuclear arsenal, because it is a salient topic and is currently receiving strong bipartisan support. 

Speaker Session Recording

To access LLNL’s report, please visit CGSR_Two_Peer_230314.pdf (

Biography: Brad Roberts has served as director of the Center for Global Security Research at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory since 2015. From 2009 to 2013, he was deputy assistant secretary of defense for Nuclear and Missile Defense Policy. In this role, he served as policy director of the Obama administration’s Nuclear Posture Review and Ballistic Missile Defense Review and led their implementation. Prior to entering government service, Dr. Roberts was a research fellow at the Institute for Defense Analyses and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, editor of The Washington Quarterly, and an adjunct professor at George Washington University. Between leaving the Office of the Secretary of Defense in 2013 and assuming his current responsibilities, Dr. Roberts was a consulting professor at Stanford University and William Perry Fellow at the Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC). While at CISAC, he authored a book entitled The Case for US Nuclear Weapons in the 21st Century, which won the Choice Award for Outstanding Academic Title in 2016. 


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