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"The Case for Missile Defence"

By: Peter Brookes

The Far East Economic Review

September 7, 2000

The case for ballistic missile defence, or BMD, especially in Asia, has not been made convincingly by the Clinton administration, allowing the Chinese, Russians and even America's European allies to admonish Washington in the court of world public opinion. It is time America clearly articulates the need for missile defence in Asia.

The Clinton administration rightly cites the North Korean missile threat as one of the reasons driving the necessity for missile defence, but for some inexplicable reason it has failed to state the more troubling and exigent missile problem in the region: China. Despite White House denials to the contrary, the most compelling reason for the development and deployment of missile defence is the People's Republic of China. Beijing's burgeoning offensive missile capability is altering the region's strategic landscape and undermining stability. It is China that is precipitating an arms race and propelling the need for BMD in Asia.

Regrettably, in an era when considerable international effort has been put into reducing the need for nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, China is moving counter to the times. The PRC is developing one of the most daunting missile challenges in the world today. China's ongoing ballistic missile buildup, robust strategic nuclear-force modernization programme and irresponsible proliferation practices make missile defence a requirement in Asia, not an indulgence.

Though many downplay China's ballistic missile and nuclear-force modernization, the PRC has tested the DF-31, a new mobile intercontinental ballistic missile capable of striking the West Coast of the U.S. It is also developing a submarine-launched version of the DF-31, the JL-2, and an even longer-range mobile ICBM, the DF-41. The JL-2 will give China the capability, for the first time, to target parts of the continental U.S. from maritime areas near the PRC coastline. All are expected to be able to carry multiple warheads and be deployed this decade. Their introduction will enhance and broaden China's strategic force structure and increase its nuclear strike and deterrence capability. China has already deployed over 250 short-range ballistic missiles into its theatre-missile arsenal opposite Taiwan. This number is expected to grow to over 650 missiles in the next five years. These mobile missiles can also be used against Japan, South Korea or Southeast Asia.

Missiles are emerging as one of Beijing's most important political and military instruments of power. They improve China's war-fighting capability, alter the dynamics of deterrence in the region, shift the balance of power in Asia and are a source of provocation and instability. The preponderance and asymmetry of the Chinese missile force may reduce Beijing's willingness

to compromise and increase the propensity for coercive diplomacy or force. This should be cause for concern. In any confrontation with Beijing-political or military-Washington would have to be mindful of China's improved strategic operational flexibility and sophistication; how these changes limit American freedom of action; and how they influence U.S. friends and allies. Washington must acknowledge the possibility of conflict with Beijing especially over the issue of Taiwan, North Korea or the South China Sea, and plan accordingly.

The Chinese have vociferously condemned American missile-defence programmes as destabilizing instruments of American hegemony. However, the PRC's international arms control and diplomatic crusade against missile defence represents an effort to deflect attention from the real issue, which is the direction, scope and pace of its strategic nuclear weapons and ballistic

missile programmes. Contrary to Beijing's assertions, a regional arms race will be based upon the deployment of Chinese offensive missiles and the PRC's perceived regional ambitions, not the fielding of missile defence.

There will certainly be consequences to the deployment of missile defence in Asia, but the cost of ignoring the evolving Chinese missile threat greatly outweighs the price of responding. Not proceeding with BMD will leave the U.S. and its Asian friends and allies defenceless and open to coercion and intimidation by the PRC. The deployment of an effective BMD will demonstrate

America's continuing commitment to the region and dissuade states from pursuing missile programmes. It will enhance stability, discourage adventurism, deter aggression and ultimately stem misperception and miscalculations. BMD provides a capability to prolong peace and stability in Asia. The threat to peace in Asia is missiles not missile defence.

 
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