2012-12-30 By Richard Weitz
“Today, only Russia and China have the capability to conduct a large-scale ballistic missile attack on the territory of the United States, but this is very unlikely and not the focus of U.S. BMD,” the 2010 U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense Review explains. “Both Russia and China have repeatedly expressed concerns that U.S. missile defenses adversely affect their own strategic capabilities and interests.”
China’s concerns and response regarding U.S. missile defenses are similar to Russian concerns but also differ in certain respects.
They both fear that U.S. BMD systems threaten to weaken their nuclear deterrents and undermine one of their main tools for constraining U.S. foreign policy by shielding the United States from their retaliation. The strong U.S. offensive capabilities, both nuclear and conventional, exacerbate these concerns since they increase the U.S. potential for successfully pre-empting Russian and Chinese nuclear missiles before they have been launched.
Although U.S. BMD systems would find coping with a full-scale Russian and Chinese nuclear strike difficult, they would have an easier task if their nuclear retaliatory capacity had been severely weakened by a U.S. first strike that had destroyed many missiles in their silos and disrupted the strategic command-and-control systems.
Even if the United States attained the theoretical capacity to preemptively destroy their strategic nuclear forces in a first strike, Russian and Chinese policy makers still might not anticipate a nuclear war with the United States, but they could reasonably worry that U.S. policy makers might presume that, with an effective missile shield, they could then intervene in other countries without having to heed to Moscow’s and Beijing’s objections.
When launching the most recent Russian campaign against U.S. missile defenses at the 2007 Munich Security Conference, Vladimir Putin explicitly warned that, unless deterred by the Soviet nuclear force, the U.S. military “hyperpower” would be free to impose its unilateral will on other countries without fear of effective military retaliation. Major General Chen Zhou, of the PLA Academy of Military Science, claims that “the US has been using missile defense systems as one of its effective measures to break the global strategic balance” by undermining a key source of China’s power.
Both Beijing and Moscow fear that the United States is using missile defenses to widen and deepen security alliances designed to contain China’s and Russia’s influence. Russians oppose U.S. BMD deployments in eastern Europe and perhaps the South Caucasus, seeing them as a way of strengthening and extending NATO, while Chinese oppose U.S. BMD cooperation with Japan and potentially South Korea and Taiwan, seeing them as a means for Washington to strengthen cross-links between its bilateral alliances.
In order to decrease the vulnerability of its ballistic missiles to a U.S. first strike, Russia and China have expended considerable resources to develop and deploy mobile missiles as well as submarine-launched missiles. The Chinese have significant tunneling to ensure that their mobile missiles have greater flexibility as well. These capabilities can decrease the ability of the United States to destroy Russia’s and China’s missiles before they have been launched, but these systems would become vulnerable to effective adversary BMD systems.
The Chinese media has explicitly argued that Beijing should learn from what Moscow has been doing to oppose U.S. BMD deployments in Europe. A 2010 Guanghzou Daily article quotes Ni Lexiong, an expert on military issues at the Shanghai Institute of Political Science and Law, that, “The US anti-missile system in China’s neighborhood is a replica of its strategy in Eastern Europe against Russia.”
But the Chinese also see U.S. missile defenses as at least partly designed to negate the PLA’s reach out into the Pacific. China’s missiles, armed with conventional warheads, are designed to to keep the U.S. military from intervening in a conflict between China and one of its neighbors.
Unlike Moscow, Beijing has adamantly refused to constrain its missile arsenal by, for example, rejecting suggestions that China accede to the Russia-U.S. Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which exclusively prohibits these two countries from having ballistic or cruise missiles with a range of 500-5,500 kilometers.
The PLA’s missile arsenal includes short-range systems to discourage Taiwan’s independence and deter U.S. and other adversary militaries near China; medium-range missiles to consolidate Beijing’s influence in East Asia; and long-range missiles to deter the United States from interfering in Chinese efforts to achieve these first two objectives.
In addition, China continues to rely on its missile technology exports to Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, and other states to gain money and diplomatic influence.
Editor’s Note: Their export business as well provides investments to continue modernization of their overall missile arsenal. Instead of discussing anti access and anti denial, the real threat to the US and its allies in the Pacific is the evolution of PRC missiles, their reach and effectiveness over time coupled with creating a nuclear sanctuary on the homeland.
Conversely, Beijing has adopted a much less threatening tone in its response to U.S. BMD initiatives than Moscow. The Chinese may have benefitted by seeing how shrill Russian threats to launch preemptive strikes against Poland, Ukraine, and other countries hosting U.S. BMD sites have only alarmed Russia’s neighbors into tightening their mutual defense ties.
In contrast, Chinese officials have not threatened to attack Japan, India, or South Korea to discourage them from supporting Washington’s BMD policies, which could drive these countries closer to the United States and increase the risks of collective containment of Beijing. Unlike in Europe, where the U.S. BMD program has been adopted by NATO as a collective alliance initiative, the U.S. BMD initiatives in Asia (and the Middle East) are proceeding thus far almost exclusively on a bilateral basis.
Furthermore, the Chinese seem more optimistic than their Russian counterparts that they can develop their own sophisticated BMD-penetration aids or missile defenses. Unlike Russian officials who characterize all national missile defense programs as potentially destabilizing, the Chinese simply urge caution in the development and deployment of BMD systems, suggesting that Beijing wants to defend its own incipient missile defense program.
Editor’s Note: And Chinese tunneling coupled with their mobile missiles gives them a significant hedge as the US reduces its nuclear arsenal. And there is a clear trend in the US with nuclear warhead reduction to need to focus on counter-value rather than counter-force simply as the warhead numbers decline significantly.
PRC officials have declined to pursue Russian probes about greater cooperation in this area. Chinese and Russian representatives have thus far largely limited their BMD efforts to issuing joint declarations, though Russia has in principle decided to sell advanced S-400 air defense systems to China that have some missile defense capacities.
Chinese analysts have informally explained that they are weighing the value of working with Russia, but are concerned that Moscow might, as Beijing believes occurred in 2001, abandon China to reach a separate agreement with the United States on the issue. They also worry that, unlike Russia, China lacks any missile defense assets they could offer the United States in return for BMD cooperation.
Whether in collaboration with Russia or alone, China is likely to continue to seek its own BMD capabilities.
Beijing followed Washington and Moscow in developing its own nuclear weapons in the 1960s, an anti-satellite weapon in the past decade, and most recently claims to have tested its own incipient BMD system in 2010. Chinese experts have confirmed that they are debating whether to develop BMD systems as well. Analysis of PRC technical writings show extensive interest in developing passive and active countermeasures to BMD as well as more recently China’s own anti-satellite and BMD capabilities.
Editor’s Note: This would make sense as an adjunct of the overall trajectory of missile development as well. For BMD, it is rooted into more effective command and control of missiles against missiles.
But more cooperative BMD collaboration between China and the United States (and Russia) is also possible. Like their Russian counterparts, China’s authoritarian leaders can more easily overcome domestic or legislative objections to making major concessions on the missile defense issue than can President Obama.
PRC analysts should recognize that China’s expanding offensive nuclear capabilities are making it more difficult for Russia and the United States to agree to further reduce their own strategic forces, which can inflict much more damage on China than any U.S. missile shield.
Similarly, the Chinese military buildup is encouraging influential Japanese, South Koreans, and Taiwanese to develop their own long-range strike weapons as well as more advanced defensive systems to ensure their security as the PRC reaches out deeper into the Pacific.
The featured photo was taken from the following article which provides insights into the Russian approach as well.