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7. National Intelligence Estimate1

NIE 13–8–69

[Omitted here is the Table of Contents.]


The Problem

To assess China’s strategic weapons program and to estimate the nature, size, and progress of these programs through the mid-1970’s.


The development of strategic weapons systems has been given a high priority in China. Despite economic and political crises over the past decade, work has continued and the Chinese already have in place many of the research and development and production facilities necessary to support important ongoing strategic weapons programs.
As a result of these efforts, Communist China already has a regional nuclear strike capability in the sense that it could now have a few thermonuclear weapons for delivery by its two operational medium jet bombers. China could also have some fission weapons in stock.
This limited capability will undergo modest augmentation in the next few years as the Chinese produce medium jet bombers and move ahead with the development of strategic missiles and compatible thermonuclear warheads. Medium-range ballistic missile (MRBM) deployment could begin this year or more probably in 1970, reaching a force of some 80–100 launchers in the mid-1970’s.
As for intercontinental ballistic missiles, if the Chinese achieved the earliest possible initial operational capability (IOC) of late 1972, the number of operational launchers might fall somewhere between 10 and 25 in 1975. In the more likely event that IOC is later, the achievement of a force of this size would slip accordingly.
But many uncertainties remain which leave in doubt the future pace, size, and scope of the Chinese program. In general, the Chinese are taking more time in the development and production of modern weapons systems than we judged likely several years ago. China lacks the broad base in technical and economic resources essential to rapid progress in the complex field of modern weapons. This situation has been aggravated, and will to some degree be prolonged, by the disorders, confusion, and uncertainties of the domestic political situation.
We have no evidence on how Chinese leaders will adjust the competing priorities between advanced weapons production and deployment and the investment requirements for healthy growth in agriculture and the general industrial sectors. At a minimum, however, we believe Chinese planners will come to recognize, if they do not already, that China cannot begin to match the nuclear strike capability of the superpowers. This may lead them to forego large-scale deployments of early missile systems, hoping to gain an important deterrent effect and added political influence from the possession of a relatively few operational missiles and aircraft.
So long as the Chinese strategic force remains relatively small and vulnerable, a condition which is likely to persist beyond the period of this estimate, the Chinese will almost certainly recognize that the actual use of their nuclear weapons against neighbors or the superpowers would involve substantial risks of a devastating counterblow to China.
We believe that for reasons of national prestige the Chinese will attempt to orbit a satellite as soon as possible. An attempt this year would probably involve the use of a modified MRBM as a launch vehicle.

[Omitted here are paragraphs 1–44, comprising the Discussion portion of the estimate, which include General Considerations and Trends and Prospects (Nuclear Program, Nuclear Materials Production, Delivery Systems, The ICBM Program, and Space Program).]

  1. Source: National Archives, Nixon Presidential Materials, NSC Files, NSC Institutional Files (H–Files), Box H–037, SRG Meeting, China NPG [Part 1], 5/15/69. Top Secret; Controlled Dissem. Another copy is in Central Intelligence Agency, Job 79–R1012, NIE and SNIE Files. According to a note on the covering sheet, the CIA and intelligence organizations of the Departments of State and Defense, the AEC, and the NSA participated in the preparation of this estimate. All members of the USIB concurred with the estimate on February 27 except for the representative from the FBI, who abstained on the grounds that the subject was outside his jurisdiction. This estimate was included with the materials for the May 15 SRG meeting of the NSC. The updated version of this estimate—NIE 13–8/1–69—is printed as Document 42. For the full text of this NIE, see Tracking the Dragon, p. 578.