Internal Archive News
 
Source: Global Times, Date: 8 Oct. 2012
U.S. Interceptor Missile System Poses Threat To Russia And China
By: By He Yun
Story Code: 193
 
U.S. Interceptor Missile System Poses Threat To Russia And China
At the moment, the US missile defense system is not yet effective enough to intercept ICBMs from China and Russia. However, according to US President Barack Obama’s Phased Adaptive Approach, the missile defense system to be completed by 2018, featuring SM-3 Block IIA interceptors, will be able to intercept intermediate-range missiles.

A further development in phase IV, featuring SM-3 Block IIB interceptors, will be able to cope with not only medium- and intermediate-range missiles, but also longer range missiles, including ICBMs.

China and Russia will inevitably have to face the prospective threats posed by US missile defense systems to their nuclear deterrent.

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US missile defense is a long-standing concern of both Russia and China, stemming back to worries over the US “Star Wars” program initiated in the 1980s. In recent years, US initiatives to place missile defense systems in Japan, Poland, and elsewhere have caused concern in both Moscow and Beijing.

On the US side, official voices have spoken of “growing global cooperation on ballistic missile defense,” as suggested by, among others, US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul on September 10, who stated “in the future NATO and Russia might work together on missile defense.” But current reality offers a stark contrast to this talk of cooperation.

US-Russian cooperation on missile defense effectively stalled after NATO rebuffed the Russian offer of a “sectoral” missile defense that would allow Russia to take charge of building missile defenses against Iran for the defense of Europe.

Hopes for effective early warning data sharing between Moscow and Washington have also diminished. Although the US and Russia conducted a joint threat assessment of the Iranian missile issue, there is no agreement as to what should be done.

In Asia, the US is expanding its missile defense efforts, planning to deploy a powerful X-band early warning radar system in southern Japan to supplement the existing X-band radar that the US has already positioned in Aomori Prefecture in northern Japan.

There are also discussions about a third radar to be deployed in Southeast Asia, possibly in the Philippines. Recent territorial disputes between China and its neighbors, in which some Chinese analysts see the hand of the US, add additional tension to these possible placements.

The US Department of State claims that these new radars are designed to counter the North Korean missile threat, and not directed at China. However, a closer look says otherwise. Early warning radars need to be placed as close as possible to the missile launch site. For that purpose, these radars would work most effectively if placed near a potential North Korean missile launch trajectory, such as in Northern Japan.

Since the US has already deployed an early warning system in that area, China has understandable questions over other deployments in southern Japan and the Philippines.

Taiwan claims that the early warning radar it purchased from the US is nearing completion. If Taipei and Washington enter a data-sharing agreement, Taiwan will be covered by these early warning radars, which will provide extensive information of any conventional missile launches and therefore greatly undermine the mainland’s conventional deterrent toward Taiwan.

Another concern that the US has failed to address is the future deployment of missile defense systems.

At the moment, the US missile defense system is not yet effective enough to intercept ICBMs from China and Russia. However, according to US President Barack Obama’s Phased Adaptive Approach, the missile defense system to be completed by 2018, featuring SM-3 Block IIA interceptors, will be able to intercept intermediate-range missiles.

A further development in phase IV, featuring SM-3 Block IIB interceptors, will be able to cope with not only medium- and intermediate-range missiles, but also longer range missiles, including ICBMs.

So far, the US has rejected Russian requests of a legally binding guarantee on posing “military-technical criteria” to limit future missile defense development. Given this decision is unlikely to be reversed, it means that though, at the moment, US missile defense could only be reasonably used against North Korea and Iran, in the long run, China and Russia will inevitably have to face the prospective threats posed by US missile defense systems to their nuclear deterrent.

This is especially the case for China, whose nuclear stockpile is considerably smaller than either of the other powers. It is in nobody’s interests for China to be pushed into spending energy, time, and money on building up a greater reserve of ever more sophisticated nuclear weapons in order to maintain a credible deterrent.

But there is still hope, and areas for cooperation, provided that the US is willing to take steps to reach out and assuage fears in Moscow and Beijing. Capabilities are latent, but intentions are not. The US can persuade Russia and China of its benign intentions, if not capabilities, through a variety of potential confidence building measures.

For instance, to dissuade China’s current worries about US early warning radars in Japan, Washington could invite experts from Beijing to visit these sites and assess their capabilities. Washington could also disclose certain non-crucial information about its ballistic missile defense system, such as burn-out velocity, to prove that at least the present missile defense system does not pose any real threat to China’s ICBMs.

These measures may induce good reactions in China, and prompt reciprocation in ways that may increase China’s nuclear transparency.

There is no better defense than cooperation. The US, Russia and China need to cultivate a spirit of cooperation and discussion, thinking beyond the immediate security benefits to the longer term stability and peace of our world.

*The author is a Fulbright fellow at the Center for International and Security Studies, University of Maryland.
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