A Chinese Nuke Bears U.S. Fingerprints

  • Share
  • Read Later
If the doomsayers are right and the worst-case Cold War II with China comes to pass, the U.S. will at least have a good idea of how their nukes work. Burrowing deeper into the contents of a pair of top-secret reports on China's alleged nuclear espionage, the New York Times reports that Beijing has indeed put some of those stolen secrets to use -- on a small, mobile ICBM called the Dong Feng-31, expected to be ready for deployment as early as 2002 or 2003. "The DF-31 ICBM will give China a major strike capability that will be difficult to counterattack at any stage of its operation," a 1996 Air Force intelligence report stated. And they got its brains, or at least some of them, from a U.S. lab.

But TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson, while acknowledging that a whole lot of pilfering has been going on -- and that the U.S.' face should be plenty red over it -- doesn't think that the advances made by the Chinese count for all that much. Especially since the DF-31 technology is from the 1970s. "The wonder isn't so much that the Chinese have this miniaturization technology, it's that it took them so long to put it to use," says Thompson. "And remember: The Chinese already have nukes pointed at us. The question isn't what variations they have, it's what they intend to do with them." China can start Cold War II any time it wants. But destruction would have been mutually assured with or without the likes of Wen Ho Lee.