Swords of China Into Plowshares
Part 2 of 3 (Click
here for Part 1)
Prof. Shimon Silman, RYAL Institute and Touro College
Into Swords – The Development of China’s Nuclear Technology
part 1 we explained that the transformation of military technology to peaceful
uses – "swords into plowshares" – that is sweeping the globe,
includes China. In fact, it was a group of Chinese physicists who identified
this transformation as the trend of history.
just a few decades ago, before the declaration of "swords into
plowshares," when China was first developing its nuclear weapons, all of
its civilian resources were put at the disposal of the military to develop
weapons, especially nuclear weapons. This phase of China’s history could be
characterized by "Plowshares Into Swords" (a phrase found in
the Prophet Yoel, who was instructing the people to prepare for war. My
appreciation to Levi Yitzchok Silman for bringing this verse to my attention.)
this part of the paper we will trace the history of the development of China’s
nuclear technology and in part 3 we will describe the transformation of its
nuclear technology to peaceful uses – the "swords into plowshares"
phase. Our report is based on a paper of Prof. Yitzhak Shichor of the Hebrew
University entitled "Peaceful Fallout: The Conversion of China’s
Military-Nuclear Complex to Civilian Use."
the Mao era, from the early 1950’s to the late 1970’s, China’s nuclear
complex was launched, built, and expanded primarily for military ends, using
considerable civilian resources including funds, manpower, and equipment. China’s
leadership was aware of the peaceful use of nuclear energy and technology as
early as the 1950’s and had done some initial research in this direction, but
civilian considerations were subordinate to military considerations. This was
especially so since the late 1950’s, as its threat perception increased and
its relations with the U.S. and Russia deteriorated. Its scarce economic
resources were allocated to developing a military-nuclear complex, and its
civilian output was only about 5% by the late 1970’s, at the end of the Mao
initial stages of China’s nuclear weapons development began in about 1952.
China had recently established the Research Institute of Modern Physics, drawing
on Chinese physicists at home and abroad. Those who returned from abroad brought
with them personal connections, books, equipment, and materials, which provided
the foundation for China’s nuclear research.
January 1955 China and Russia began collaborating on nuclear research. In March
1956, China, Russia and 10 other socialist countries formed the Joint Atomic and
Nuclear Research Institute in Dubna (near Moscow). The next month, Mao Zedung
declared that China "would not only have more aircraft and large guns, but
also atomic bombs." Russia continued its nuclear scientific and
technological assistance to China, and on October 15, 1957, the two governments
signed an "Agreement on Producing New Weapons and Military Technical
Equipment and Building Comprehensive Nuclear Industry in China."
in 1958, however, Russia secretly decided to back off from this deal and, as
Sino-Soviet relations began to deteriorate, China decided to start all over
again and develop an atomic bomb on its own. In the spring of 1960, scores of
scientists were mobilized to work on nuclear weapons and missiles projects for
the Nuclear Weapons Research Institute. Despite a major setback later that year,
when Russia suddenly stopped the supply of equipment and recalled hundreds of
nuclear experts, who took blueprints and information back with them, China
proceeded with its plan to develop an atomic bomb, more determined than ever.
this point the plowshares into swords conversion took place in China.
Much effort was exerted to ensure the supply of all the manpower, materials, and
equipment needed by the nuclear industry. By the end of 1963, over 400
factories, institutes, colleges and universities all over China contributed to
the effort. Throughout the 1960’s and 70’s, China’s nuclear weapons
development proceeded at a steady pace. As its nuclear program gathered
momentum, China’s threat perception increased. Mao claimed, "If we are
not to be bullied in the present-day world, we cannot do without the bomb."
Consequently, he gave priority to nuclear weapons development over conventional
weapons development. Even the natural spin-off of nuclear technology – nuclear
power for civilian use – was very slow in developing in China. Strategic
weapons programs outdistanced all other modern economic activities in China.
the late 1970’s, after Mao’s death, China put forward a policy that its
surplus military manpower and equipment be used for civilian purposes. This was
not yet a "swords into plowshares" policy, since China’s threat
perception was still very high, considering Russia as the most immediate threat
to its security. The policy was put forth primarily for economic reasons. They
realized that much of the nuclear and conventional defense industry potential,
used in the past almost exclusively for military production, had a surplus
capacity, which could be used for civilian purposes. It was a matter of putting
this surplus to practical use.
policy was described by the Chinese as "preserving military needs while
converting to civilian production." It was a sort of dual-use technology
policy – assuring military production while developing civilian goods.
the case of China’s nuclear technology, there were four main obstacles to such
conversion: 1) China’s nuclear industry had been developed in total secrecy
and under tight security measures, totally ‘secluded from market forces; 2)
The technologies it used were dangerous and the nuclear industry was so
specialized for military purposes that the existing production facilities and
equipment could not be directly converted to civilian production, and its
management system, operational methods and work styles were incompatible with
the requirements of civilian production; 3) Two thirds of China’s nuclear
complex were located in deserts and mountain regions, far away from urban
commercial centers; 4) The nuclear industry had no experience in what was to
become its principal civilian application – nuclear power plants.
was necessary to reduce centralized state control and increase flexibility,
initiative, and competition. One of the organizational measures taken in this
direction in the 1980’s was to allow each of the defense industries to
establish its own trading corporations. Several corporations were set up to deal
with specific civilian aspects of China’s nuclear industry, such as the China
Isotope Co., China Nuclear Instruments and Equipment Corp. and the Nuclear
Industry Development Research Center. At the same time, a gradual process of
changing the names and the nature of the defense-industrial government
ministries began. For example, in 1988, the Ministry of Nuclear Industry was
replaced by the China Nuclear Industry General Corporation (CNIGC) under a newly
created Ministry of Energy Resources.
the "swords into plowshares" declaration in 1992, China’s threat
perception was greatly reduced, and a genuine "swords into plowshares"
process began in China. Russia was no longer the threat that it formerly was and
China found that it no longer needed the vast nuclear arsenal it had developed
nor the vast army it had organized.