The great unexamined story today regarding
ballistic missile defense (BMD) in Asia is the unspoken effect that
actions by the People's Republic of China (PRC) are having on
America's consideration of its own future missile defenses. The
Clinton Administration decries missile programs in Iran, Iraq, and
North Korea, but for some inexplicable reason it fears mentioning
the "C" word: China.
White House says hardly a word about China's ongoing ballistic
missile buildup, its irresponsible proliferation practices, or its
robust strategic modernization program. I am at a loss to explain
why this silence persists. China's national security policies and
practices are critical to peace and stability in Asia and to
American interests. The PRC's actions are having a direct effect on
American deliberations about missile defenses. We must make this
clear to Beijing.
CHINA'S NEW STRATEGIC CHALLENGE
In perhaps the most benign strategic security environment
it has ever experienced, the PRC is pressing ahead with an
ambitious conventional ballistic missile and strategic nuclear
force modernization program.
While most perceive that the threat of war
has receded, China is increasing the size and capability of the
People's Liberation Army's (PLA) ballistic missile and strategic
nuclear forces--known within the Chinese military as the Second
Artillery. Regrettably, this development presents the United
States, its friends, and allies with a new strategic challenge in
Asia that must be considered and addressed.
Though many downplay China's conventional
military and nuclear force modernization, the PRC has tested the
DF-31, a land-mobile, multi-stage, solid-fueled intercontinental
ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking the west coast of the
DF-31 is a significant technological leap over the twenty or so of
the 1960s-era, silo-based, liquid-fueled CSS-4 ICBMs China
currently fields. When it is deployed, the DF-31 will be the
world's second type of the more evasive, less vulnerable
land-mobile ICBM, following the Russian SS-25.
PRC is also developing a submarine-launched version of the DF-31
and an even longer-range mobile ICBM, the DF-41. The JL-2
submarine-launched ballistic missile, with its 8,000 kilometer (km)
range, will give the Chinese the capability, for the first time, to
target parts of the continental United States operating from
maritime areas near China's coastline. Its deployment, which is
expected in the latter half of this decade, will enhance and
broaden China's strategic force structure and increase its nuclear
DF-41 ICBM, with a range of 12,000 km, is also scheduled to be
deployed later this decade, and is expected to be capable of
reaching targets anywhere in the United States. The Cox Committee
report released by Congress last year assessed that both the DF-31
and DF-41 will carry multiple warheads.
is further unclear whether these new systems will replace older
systems or augment the existing force structure. If these missiles
are meant to enlarge the current force, it would represent an
effort by Beijing to improve both the quality and quantity of its
strategic nuclear arsenal. Into its ballistic missile force, China
has already deployed over 250 short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM)
opposite Taiwan. This number is expected to grow to over 650
missiles in the next five years, according to the Pentagon. These
mobile missiles, which can be redeployed to areas other than the
vicinity of the Taiwan Strait, pose a potential threat to South
Korea, Japan, and U.S. forces stationed there. This missile buildup
is undermining stability in the region.
September 1999 National Intelligence Council paper, "Foreign
Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United
States Through 2015," reports that in 15 years China will likely
have tens of missiles targeted against the United States including
a few tens of the more survivable mobile missiles incorporating
smaller nuclear warheads influenced by U.S. technology gained
Cox Committee report estimates that the Chinese will deploy over
100 ICBMs with over 1,000 warheads by 2015. Yet others estimate
that the PRC will field an even more muscular force of between 150
and 200 ICBMs by 2010.
According to the nonpartisan Congressional
Research Service, China has increased the range, accuracy,
survivability, reliability, safety, mobility, and response
capability of its strategic and conventional missile forces, and in
the future could employ a multiple, independently targeted re-entry
vehicle (MIRV) capability with improved penetration aids and
Further exacerbating the situation are China's proliferation
practices. Beijing sells missiles, equipment, and enabling
technology to Iran, Pakistan, North Korea, Syria, and Libya. The
Director of Central Intelligence reports that the PRC remains a
"key supplier" of technology inconsistent with nonproliferation
goals--particularly missile and chemical technology. China is
primarily responsible for Pakistan's nuclear program. These
policies and practices undermine American interests and destabilize
both South Asia and the Middle East.
Clinton Administration asserts this upgraded conventional missile
and strategic force capability is consistent with China's general
military modernization program. Others are less sanguine about
Though the Chinese Second Artillery has
not yet achieved parity with U.S. forces, these developments will
clearly improve the PLA's war-fighting capability, alter the
dynamics of deterrence in the region, shift the balance of power in
Asia, and be a source of instability.
QUESTIONS FOR THE U.S. AND ITS
These changes pose many unanswered questions: For instance, what is
driving this arms buildup? Would China threaten the United States,
or its forward-deployed forces, with attack if Washington
interfered with Beijing's policy toward Taiwan or took military
action against North Korea? Over time, how credible will American
extended deterrence in Asia remain? Will Taiwan, Japan, and South
Korea see a need for their own nuclear option or an offensive
Delhi feel compelled to increase its missile and nuclear arsenal
leading to an arms race with Beijing and Islamabad and greater
instability on the South Asian subcontinent? How will Russia
ultimately respond to a growing Chinese nuclear and missile
capability? Clearly, in any confrontation with Beijing--political
or military--Washington would have to be mindful of the PLA's
improved strategic operational flexibility and sophistication; how
these changes limit American freedom of action; and how they
influence our friends and allies. The question remains: How should
the U.S. respond?
Washington must insist upon a dialogue with Beijing on nuclear and
missile issues, especially its ambitions and intentions. It is
unlikely that the Chinese fully share American logic on security
issues and a high-level discourse on this matter leading to greater
transparency and understanding is critical.
Regrettably, the PRC to date has been
unwilling to discuss the Second Artillery in a substantive
manner--perhaps so as not to draw attention to its force
modernization or be constrained by arms control initiatives.
Resistance by Beijing to engage in a
colloquy would make attempts at confidence- and security-building
measures unfeasible. The nuclear and missile issue must be made a
priority of any security dialogue with Beijing, and China must
understand the consequences of its modernization efforts on the
United States' decision-making process regarding BMD.
inexplicable PRC strategic forces and missile buildup will also
reinforce the view of the "China threat" in the U.S. and in the
region and may create a security dilemma in Asia resulting in an
unintended and spiraling arms race with Tokyo, Taipei, and
, the U.S. must consider strategic arms control with Russia in the
context of China. Further reductions in the U.S. ICBM force under
START III or any other agreement will increase the ratio of Chinese
to U.S. forces and may have an effect on the capacity of American
deterrence in Asia.
Washington must not view its arms control
initiatives with Moscow in isolation from Beijing's strategic
modernization efforts. The U.S. should fully consider the
consequences of changes in American nuclear force capability while
China is increasing the size and sophistication of its arsenal.
this regard, Washington must conduct a comprehensive review of its
strategic force structure, plans, and policy and undertake a
reevaluation of the threat to properly assess the effects on
American national security arising from modifications to the
nuclear triad. To this end, getting China to affirm its nuclear
weapons ceiling is paramount if the United States is to move
forward with certain arms control initiatives and further
contractions in its force.
Considering the many open questions
regarding China's future in the international arena, parity or near
nuclear parity with the PRC is not in the U.S. interest at this
point. In addition, Washington must also make clear to Moscow that
the Kremlin's desire for further reductions in nuclear stockpiles
may be tied to Russia's restraint over the transfer of strategic
systems or technology to Beijing. Washington must not aid, abet, or
tolerate those who assist China's emergence as a nuclear or
military peer competitor of the U.S.
the development and deployment of a robust, highly capable American
BMD program must go forward with all deliberate speed. Washington
should stop denying that there is a link between China's nuclear
modernization, conventional missile buildup, and proliferation
practices and the requirement for BMD. These issues are
Claiming that missile defense is the
product wholly of North Korea and other "rogue" states is
disingenuous and the Chinese do not believe it anyway. BMD is
directed at missiles, be they Iranian, Iraqi--or Chinese. The U.S.
must take the appropriate steps now to shape the strategic
environment in Asia. Accordingly, a vigorous expression of U.S.
concerns regarding China's strategic buildup and a firm statement
of Washington's willingness to proceed with a highly effective BMD
program may lead Beijing to rethink the utility of its
modernization program and proliferation policies.
There is an arms race in Asia and it began
with China's buildup of missiles opposite Taiwan. Washington must
acknowledge the possibility of conflict with the PRC--especially
over the issue of Taiwan, or even North Korea--and plan accordingly
for preserving and protecting U.S. national security interests and
those of our friends and allies.
surprisingly, the Chinese have vociferously condemned American BMD
programs as destabilizing and an instrument of American hegemony.
But Beijing must comprehend that the development and ultimate
deployment of these defensive systems are in part due to China's
increased offensive capability and proliferation practices.
fact, Chinese strategic modernization has been underway for over 15
years and predates the current missile defense debate in Asia. It
is further widely asserted that China's strategic force
upgrades--including MIRVing--and expansion will proceed regardless
of a decision to deploy BMD.
PRC's international arms control and diplomatic crusade against
missile defenses is most likely an effort to deflect attention from
the real issue: the direction, scope, and pace of China's strategic
nuclear weapons and ballistic missile program and its desire to
retain and broaden this asymmetric capability.
Contrary to the assertions of Beijing, a
regional arms race will be based upon the deployment of Chinese
offensive missiles and the PRC's perceived regional and global
ambitions--not the fielding of American ballistic missile defenses.
Chinese claims to the contrary are a "red herring."
Changes in Chinese capability, doctrine, and proliferation
practices require an appropriate response from the United States to
deter and, if necessary, defend against it. There will certainly be
consequences to the deployment of American missile defenses, but
the cost of inaction to U.S. national security in the face of the
evolving Chinese missile threat and proliferation to countries of
concern greatly outweighs the cost of action.
development and deployment of American BMD systems will provide
greater freedom of action and a broader range of policy options and
potential responses to the American National Command Authorities
than our force structure would without them. U.S. strategic
forces--including missile defenses--must retain the capability to
deter wars, preclude crises from evolving into major conflicts, and
to win wars rapidly and decisively should it become necessary.
PRC is pursuing the power-projection capability to deter, and, if
necessary, defeat any adversary in a conventional or nuclear
military conflict over resources and territory around China's
Regrettably, in an era where much
international effort has been put into reducing the need for
nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, China, in spite of its
public statements, appears to be moving counter to the times.
international security talks with Beijing resume after the hiatus
that followed the accidental bombing of the PRC embassy in Belgrade
last year by NATO forces, it is time for the United States to bring
the arms race being precipitated by Beijing and the Chinese Second
Artillery front and center of political-military discussions with
the PRC in an effort to stem misperceptions, preclude a dangerous
arms race, and ultimately avoid the deadly risk of miscalculation
and military conflict.
Peter Brookes is the Principal Adviser for East
Asian Affairs with the majority staff of the Committee on
International Relations of the U.S. House of Representatives. The
views expressed here are his own.