China's nuclear weapons do not pose a "direct threat" to the United States, the man in charge of America's arsenal said Wednesday in calling for greater dialogue with the Chinese.
"We would like to have routine contact and conversations with China's military," General Robert Kehler, head of Strategic Command, which oversees US nuclear deterrence, told the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington.
"We think there would be tremendous benefit to that in both China and the United States, in particular to help us avoid some misunderstanding or some tension in the future."
The STRATCOM commander said that although the United States and Russia account for roughly 90 percent of the world's nuclear weapons, dealing with the Chinese on the matter would become increasingly important.
"I do not see the Chinese strategic deterrent as a direct threat to the United States. We are not enemies," he said.
"Could it be (a threat)? I suppose if we were enemies it could be and therefore we at least have to be aware of that."
Kehler admitted concerns over the 2013 budget as the Pentagon tightens its belt following the global economic downturn, saying he was most worried about investment in the actual nuclear weapons, not their delivery systems.
"There is investment money there for long-range strike aircraft, there's investment there for a follow on to the Ohio class ballistic missile submarine," he said.
"I am most concerned that we make sure that we have the appropriate investment in place for the weapons complexes."
Fiscal pressure has forced US military chiefs to scale back projected spending by $487 billion over the next decade, a task they have described as tough but manageable.
But a threat of even more dramatic defense cuts also looms on the political horizon.
If Congress fails to agree by January 2013 on how to slash the ballooning deficit, dramatic defense reductions of about $500 billion would be automatically triggered under a law adopted last year.