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<em>The Minimum Means of Reprisal: China's Search for Security in the Nuclear Age</em>

The Minimum Means of Reprisal: China's Search for Security in the Nuclear Age

American Academy Studies in Global Security

Book, MIT Press

March 2007

Author: Jeffrey G. Lewis, Former Executive Director, Project on Managing the Atom/Science, Technology, and Public Policy Program

Ordering Information for this publication

Belfer Center Programs or Projects: International Security; Managing the Atom; Science, Technology, and Public Policy



Among the five nations authorized under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty to possess nuclear weapons, China has the smallest nuclear force and maintains the most restrained nuclear posture. In The Minimum Means of Reprisal, Jeffrey Lewis examines patterns in Chinese defense investments, strategic force deployments, and arms control behavior to develop an alternative assessment of China's nuclear forces.

The Minimum Means of Reprisal finds that China's nuclear deployment and arms control patterns stem from the belief that deterrence is relatively unaffected by changes in the size, configuration, and readiness of nuclear forces. As a result, Lewis argues, Chinese policy has tended to sacrifice offensive capability in favor of greater political control and lower economic costs.

The future of cooperative security arrangements in space will depend largely on the U.S.-Chinese relationship. Lewis warns that changes in U.S. defense strategy, including the development of new strategic forces and the weaponization of space, will prevent the United States from reassuring China in the event that its leaders begin to lose confidence in their restrained deterrent. The result may further damage the already weakened arms control regime and increase the threat to the United States and the world. Lewis provides policy guidance for those interested in the U.S.-Chinese security relationship and in global security arrangements more generally.

Read a sample chapter (.pdf).

Jeffrey Lewis was Executive Director of the Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard University's Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He remains an affiliate of the project. He was formerly a Research Fellow at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy's Center for International and Security Studies.


Praise for The Minimum Means of Reprisal:

"The Minimum Means of Reprisal reveals the unique nature of the Chinese nuclear philosophy and provides rigorous and convincing evidence on China's approach to nuclear deterrence. Lewis offers a fresh, informative, and valuable perspective on China's nuclear and arms control behaviors. Anyone interested in the U.S.-China relationship should read this book."
Li Bin, Professor and Director of the Arms Control Program at the Institute of International Studies, Tsinghua University, Beijing

"Jeffrey Lewis builds his analysis of the U.S.-China strategic relationship on solid historical data. His theoretically grounded work is certain to spark debate and valuable discussion in the political science and policy communities. A valuable read for anyone interested in security issues, China, and U.S.-China relations."
Joan Johnson-Freese, Chair of the National Security Decision Making Department, Naval War College, and author of Space as a Strategic Asset


For more information about this publication please contact the MTA Program Assistant at 617-495-4219.

For Academic Citation:

Lewis, Jeffrey G. The Minimum Means of Reprisal: China's Search for Security in the Nuclear Age. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, March 2007.

Document Length: 200 pp.

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