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Thread: With East Asian Missile Defense, U.S. Sends a Clear Message to China

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    Default With East Asian Missile Defense, U.S. Sends a Clear Message to China

    With East Asian Missile Defense, U.S. Sends a Clear Message to China

    By Yogesh Joshi, on , Briefing



    The U.S. and Japan recently concluded an agreement to expand their joint missile defense program by installing a new X-Band radar in southern Japan, in addition to the one already located in Shiriki, Japan. Reports also suggest that the U.S. is looking to deploy another of these highly intrusive and sensitive systems somewhere in Southeast Asia, further complementing the missile-defense capabilities of Aegis-equipped U.S. warships that patrol international waters in the region. Combined, the developments suggest that the U.S. intends to build a string of missile defense systems around the arc of the South China Sea.

    Obviously unhappy with these plans, China registered its protest during U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta's visit to Beijing last week. Russia, which already felt threatened by NATO missile defenses on its western borders, is also likely to resent feeling the pinch to the east as well.

    What purpose does missile defense in East Asia serve for the U.S. and its allies? The official narrative in Washington and Tokyo is straightforward: Missile defense is insurance against any unwarranted aggression on the part of a rogue North Korean regime in possession of increasingly robust missile capabilities. However, the strategic calculus driving East Asian missile defense extends beyond Pyonyang and is driven by three principal considerations.

    Of these, U.S. alliance commitments top the list. China’s growing assertiveness coupled with the relative decline of the U.S. has made traditional American allies in the region nervous. Beijing’s assertiveness is most evident in the changing tenor of Chinese diplomacy when it comes to its territorial disputes in the region. Its simmering conflict with Tokyo over the Senkaku Islands has taken an ugly turn, with Beijing resorting to retaliatory economic measures and tacitly approved anti-Japanese demonstrations to back up its claims. The Philippines and Vietnam, which also have territorial disputes with China, are feeling similarly bullied by the East Asian giant. In this environment, to keep its allies assured of their security, the U.S. needs to demonstrate both its intent and its will to take on the Chinese. Missile defense engenders confidence in the U.S. military umbrella while also addressing the credibility problem that accompanies alliance politics.

    Second, the U.S. shift in strategic focus from the Atlantic to the Pacific will primarily be driven by the U.S. Navy, and in particular its carrier fleet. It is no coincidence, then, that the People's Liberation Army's new Anti-Access and Area Denial (A2AD) strategy specifically seeks to target U.S. aircraft carriers in future conflict scenarios involving Taiwan, thereby neutralizing U.S. power-projection capabilities in the Taiwan Strait. To implement the A2AD strategy, China has focused increasingly on anti-ship ballistic missile technology and has demonstrated its ability to successfully attack and destroy naval platforms in the South China Sea. Defending U.S. aircraft carriers and other expensive naval platforms against Chinese missiles is therefore another factor driving Washington’s move toward Asian missile defense.

    Finally, as the world’s sole superpower, the U.S. is responsible for providing public goods, such as open sea lanes of communication in East Asia. However, China’s extended maritime claims in the region risk turning the South China Sea into Chinese territorial waters, a goal that is incompatible with Washington’s commitment to guaranteeing unimpeded access to the South China Sea for all other littoral states in the region. this raises the likelihood that conflicts will arise between the U.S. and China in the future. Missile defense is one way to reduce the perceived advantages in Beijing of initiating hostilities against the U.S. and its allies in the region.

    Many analysts nevertheless
    argue that a U.S.-backed East Asian missile defense architecture could destabilize the precarious balance of power in the region, while others point to the frequent criticisms of missile defense systems as inefficient and ineffective.

    The principal source of instability in the region, however, is the shifting balance of power in East Asia toward China. As its economy has grown, China has redoubled its efforts to accrue military might. Unsurprisingly, all the smaller states in the region are growing ever more wary of Chinese power. In this context, missile defense must be understood as a response by the U.S. and its allies to the imbalances created by China’s growing power.

    Second, while it is true that missile defense cannot provide total security against a barrage of enemy missiles, this criticism misses two important points. First, even if missile defenses have gaping holes, they are better than nothing at all, especially at the tactical level. Second, the value of deploying weapons systems lies not only in their practical use, but also in their ability to communicate seriousness of intent to the adversary. Asian missile defense sends a clear message to China that any revision of the status quo in East Asia will not go uncontested.

    In fact, in one key respect, U.S. military commitments in East Asia are actually to China’s advantage. Asia is already witnessing a region-wide military buildup. If the Unites States cuts down on its security commitments in the region, that trend is only likely to accelerate. In particular, Japan may rethink its pacifist constitution, which, given its advanced technical capabilities, could result in Tokyo quickly achieving robust military capabilities. A U.S. pullback would also force states in the region to rethink their nuclear nonproliferation commitments, as they would increasingly doubt the credibility of the U.S. nuclear umbrella.

    Though China is unlikely to find such an argument persuasive, its opposition to U.S.-backed missile defense in East Asia will not outweigh the logic of balancing Beijing's growing power, which will continue to drive the efforts of the U.S. and its allies in the region.

    Yogesh Joshi is a doctoral student in international politics at the Center for International Politics, Organization and Disarmament, School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, and a CSIS-Pacific Forum young leader. He recently joined the steering committee of the International Network of Emerging Nuclear Specialists and represented India at Global Zero World Summits in Paris (2010) and London (2011).

    Photo: U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta in Tokyo, Japan, October 2011 (Defense Department photo by U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jacob N. Bailey).
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    Default Re: With East Asian Missile Defense, U.S. Sends a Clear Message to China

    Sad thing is, China probably has already gotten ahold of any defensive technology we field through our own government officials. I don't trust our administration in the least to protect any and all military technology.

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    Default Re: With East Asian Missile Defense, U.S. Sends a Clear Message to China

    I don't know there are LAWS against exporting certain things, computers, technology, software, etc.

    Do you honestly think the PRESIDENT would break the LAW?

    LOL
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