Skip to content
Report | 13 December 2022

Emerging and disruptive technologies, nuclear risk, and strategic stability: Chinese literature review

Image of Fei Su

Fei Su |Researcher with SIPRI’s China and Asia Security Programme

China Cyber Emerging technologies Nuclear Security Security Global Security

With emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs) increasingly becoming a new field of military competition among great powers, serious questions have been raised about whether the emergence of EDTs and their integration into military doctrines, procurement, training, and operations will fundamentally change the ways modern warfare will be conducted, especially whether they will undermine the relevance of nuclear deterrence. Will the application of EDTs lead to a new revolution in military affairs? And how might this development affect the strategic stability between potential nuclear adversaries?

This literature review, by Fei Su and Dr Jingdong Yuan, introduces Chinese perspectives by annotating analyses drawn from Chinese academic and professional publications to explore new ways forward for mitigating the risks posed by EDTs (in particular, focusing on AI and automation, quantum technology, 5G and counterspace capabilities). To make a comprehensive assessment of current developments in China, the authors have focused on open-source publications in the Chinese language. These include primarily publications accessed through China National Knowledge Infrastructure (CNKI), a prominent comprehensive database of Chinese academic journals, newspapers, research papers, and other openly available documents and papers.

Based on the overall content and focus of the literature, the paper makes several general observations:

  1. While the Chinese literature indicates that science and technology have always been an area of focus, there was a noticeable surge between 2015 and 2016 in Chinese literature on EDT-related research. The majority of the research focuses on general conceptual rather than policy specific issues, especially on discussions directly related to China’s own military strategy.
  2. The concept of EDTs in the Chinese literature often refers to the established understanding as framed by western scholars/analysts and stated in official western documents. While there are analyses on conceptual discussion related to EDTs, there is no clear distinction when it comes to specific technologies. A given technology can be defined both as emerging and/or disruptive in different articles during the same time period.
  3. The existing Chinese literature is dominated by analyses of specific technologies and their implications for military affairs, with much less focus on the interplay between multiple EDTs and their impacts on strategic stability and even less on nuclear stability.
  4. Instead of detailing its own development and planning on EDTs, most Chinese analyses describe, explore, and explain other countries’ developments in this area. In particular, there is a preference to research the developments and policies in the US, Russia, India, Korea, Japan, and overall discussion at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
  5. Much of the existing literature discusses major power competition in EDTs, focusing on Sino-US competition in future warfare and analyses of developments in major military powers, including Russia and NATO countries. Possible confidence-building measures and crisis management mechanisms are seldom discussed and are usually contained in general political science and international relations journals.

Read the literature review here.

The opinions articulated above represent the views of the signatories and do not necessarily reflect the position of the European Leadership Network or any of its members. The ELN’s aim is to encourage debates that will help develop Europe’s capacity to address the pressing foreign, defence, and security policy challenges of our time.

Image: Flickr, Christiaan Colen