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U.S. – China co-operation on cyber security

China-U.S. Cyber-Nuclear C3 Stability,  Carnegie Endowment for International Peace,  GEORGE PERKOVICH,  ARIEL (ELI) LEVITE,  LYU JINGHUA,  LU CHUANYING,  LI BIN,  FAN YANG,  XU MANSHU, 9 Apr 21,

Cyber threats to nuclear command, control, and communications systems (NC3) attract increasing concerns. Carnegie and partners have developed a platform of unclassified knowledge to enable U.S.-China engagement on this issue.


This paper was produced through a three-year dialogue led by Carnegie and the Shanghai Institute for International Studies, with inputs and review provided by American and Chinese technical and military experts.



The impact of cyber on nuclear stability is one of the most forward-looking and strategic topics in the current international security field. The Shanghai Institutes for International Studies (SIIS) and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (CEIP) have conducted a joint study around this topic, aiming to provide a reference for the establishment of cyber and nuclear stability mechanisms among nuclear states.

Cyber attacks on nuclear command, control, and communications (NC3) systems have become a potential source of conflict escalation among nuclear powers. Yet major powers have not established effective risk-reduction mechanisms in this regard. While information technology strengthens nuclear strategic forces in many ways, including the modernization of NC3, it also poses an increasingly serious cyber threat to nuclear command and control systems. Cyber operations against the strategic command and control systems of nuclear states—including those probing major vulnerabilities in the command and control systems and satellite communications systems, cyber threats from third parties, and the lack of strategic trust in cyberspace—have exacerbated the impact of cybersecurity on nuclear stability.

Because of the unique nature of nuclear weapons, any cyber incidents concerning nuclear weapons would cause state alarm, anxiety, confusion, and erode state confidence in the reliability and integrity of nuclear deterrent. Cyber attacks against a nuclear command and control system would expose the attacked state to significant pressure to escalate conflict and even use nuclear weapons before its nuclear capabilities are compromised. At the same time, compared to the mature experience and full-fledged mechanisms in nuclear deterrence, crisis management, and conflict escalation/de-escalation among the traditional nuclear powers, states not only lack a comprehensive and accurate perception of the threat posed by cyber operations but also lack consensus on crisis management and conflict de-escalation initiatives.

Given that not enough attention has been paid to this new type of threat on the agenda of security dialogue between nuclear powers, SIIS and CEIP launched a joint research project on cyber and nuclear stability in U.S.-China relations in 2017, focusing on exploring the possibility of building consensus and agreement among nuclear states. It is hoped that the cyber-nuclear nexus will awaken national policymakers to the urgency of maintaining cyber stability and that nuclear states will fully recognize the dangers of cyber attacks and their respective vulnerabilities to such attacks, and thus take steps to reduce nuclear instability accompanying advancing cyber technologies and prevent nuclear war.

…………  Obviously, with today’s evolving information technology, it is in the interest of both countries to avoid war and reduce conflicts that may escalate into war, and it is both the international responsibility of major powers and the common expectation of the international community. Hopefully, this joint study will promote in-depth dialogue and security cooperation between China and the United States and establish a corresponding workable and professional mechanism.

This is an important joint study released by two prominent think tanks in China and the United States, hoping to improve mutual understanding between China and the United States on each other’s security concerns, interests and solutions to problems, promote stability in China-U.S. relations, and facilitate the healthy development of overall China-U.S. relations. I also believe it has important reference value for the two governments on how to bridge differences and forge consensus in sensitive areas. ………


Military and national security experts increasingly warn that the most likely cause of major warfare—conventional or nuclear—between the United States and China is a minor conflict that escalates sharply, even despite the desires and efforts by one or both countries to avert such a spiraling disaster. Cyber operations, whether by China against the United States, or vice versa, are especially prone to provoking an escalation.   It is very difficult for officials who detect an intruder in their country’s strategic computer networks to determine the intruder’s intentions. These intentions might be primarily defensive—seeking to gain warning of a future attack. But they might be offensive—precursors of efforts to disrupt or destroy the functioning of warning systems and/or command and control and communications systems related to a nuclear deterrent. Without knowing what an intruder is seeking to do, those who detect the digital footprints of an intrusion may well assume the worst. Pressure could thus mount quickly to strike first, before the other side can make this more difficult or even impossible.

Such risks are especially evident between the United States and China because these two powers, unlike the United States and Russia, have never defined their strategic relationship as one of mutual vulnerability, with attendant understandings of how to stabilize it. The asymmetry between their nuclear forces and other offensive and defensive capabilities may incline Chinese officials to assume that the United States will at some point act on the temptation to negate China’s nuclear deterrent. Chinese actions, especially in the cyber domain, to try to avoid such a possibility might make U.S. officials fear that China is seeking to impede the U.S. nuclear deterrent. 

These risks will grow as dual-use systems—satellites, missiles, or command and control systems that are used both for potential conventional and nuclear warfare—are deploye  by one side or the other. An adversary may intend only to preempt or retaliate against conventional war-fighting capabilities, but the target of the attack could perceive them to be directed against or at least affecting its own nuclear forces.

This pathbreaking paper, which is being published in English and Mandarin, calls attention to these rising dangers. It is the product of a unique multi-year joint venture between the Shanghai Institute for International Studies and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. It aims to provide a robust open-source foundation for discussion of these issues in both China and the United States, overcoming the barriers of high classification and institutional compartmentation that frequently impede analysis and deliberation. The co-authorship of the paper by Chinese and U.S. teams also aims to overcome (at least partially) barriers of culture and language that render mutual understanding in this domain so difficult.

The paper begins by detailing plausible scenarios of grave concern and providing a framework for analyzing them. It then explores steps that the U.S. and Chinese governments—and, with their encouragement, nongovernmental groups such as think tanks in both countries—could take to diminish inadvertent cyber threats to nuclear command, control, and communication systems. ………….

April 10, 2021 - Posted by | China, politics international, USA


  1. […] platform of unclassified knowledge to enable U.S.-China engagement on this issue. ABOUT THE PROJECT.Read MoreSecurity […]

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