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Heritage Scholar Calls for Asian Missile Defense Alliance

Bruce Klingner at the Heritage Foundation is proposing an idea whose time has come: a comprehensive, multi-national missile defense system for Asia. Klingner’s argument begins with an explanation of what should be obvious — that diplomacy has failed to disarm North Korea, as China’s own missile arsenal is growing rapidly. The land- and sea-based system Klingner proposes would protect Asian democracies from both North Korea and China, and enhance U.S. national security, as well. Here’s the abstract:

The United States and its allies are at risk of missile attack from a growing number of states and non ­state terrorist organizations. This growing threat is partic ­ularly clear in East Asia, where diplomacy has failed to stop North Korea from developing nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them on target, and where China continues the most active nuclear force modernization pro ­gram in the world. To counter these growing threats, the U.S. should work with its allies, including South Korea and Japan, to develop and deploy missile defenses, including ground-based, sea-based, and air-based components.

Read the rest here.

Until recently, only cranks like me could propose things like this, and few would have thought we’d see much interest in this in Asia. As recently as two years ago, Asian nations might have seen good diplomacy with China as a cheaper and equally plausible way to mitigate any security threat from China. Today, all of this is revealed as dangerously wishful by China’s own bullying — its failure to throttle North Korea, its risible claims on the Yellow and South China Seas, and its provocations of skirmishes with Japan. In Washington, there is a sizable Hail Ants crowd that loves to speak admiringly of how Chinese diplomacy, unburdened by the whims of the electorate, takes the long view. I’m really not seeing the evidence for that in recent events. Instead, I see a Chinese political class unburdened of the need for objective analysis, beholden to enforced group-think, and addicted to emotional, bombastic nationalism.

Regular readers know that I’ve long advocated removing U.S. ground forces from Korea, but this is the sort of alliance I could support enthusiastically. Our Asian military alliances are still modeled on the deterrence of Cold War-era threats. They are in dire need of modernization to keep peace in the region until the the political systems of China and North Korea inevitably yield to the demands of the governed and become representative states, living (more or less) at peace with their neighbors. The stand-off capability of U.S. air and naval power will be essential to building a modernized Pacific Area Treaty Organization, and beleaguered Taiwan is the exception that proves just how essential. Its conventional deterrent is declining as it loses is qualitative and quantitative edge, as China’s missile force grows to overwhelming strength, and as U.S. security guarantees to a diplomatically marginalized Taiwan become tenuous. This widening military imbalance raises the risk of Chinese aggression, which is why one day, Taiwan should be invited into this alliance, too.

5 Comments

  1. Klingner’s piece referenced above mostly discussed strategic defense, although he did make mention of conventional tactical and strategic offense, with a focus on South Korea dealing with North Korea. Now, North Korea proved, or at least wants us to believe, it can build/test nuclear weapons, and showed that it can build/test/operate ballistic missiles. Ummmm . . . why then should South Korea not, or not be allowed, to do the same? How about Japan? How about Taiwan? Hell – how about Vietnam? South Korea knows a little about nuclear technology. Just like Japan. And Taiwan. And soon, Vietnam. I know – South Korea has a noisy/hefty pacifist/appeasement-based opposition. The post-war Constitution of Japan outlaws anything that looks like “offensive” military capabilities. Hardly anyone recognizes Taiwan as a nation anymore. No one has paid attention to Vietnam since 1975. I know all that. The point is that between recent aggressive policies and the North Korea puppet, the PRC, with its present and foreseeable management, has shown itself as certainly a long-term threat to all four of these nations. Oh – and if Vietnam fears the PRC, it should equally fear Burma/Myanmar – another less-than-rational nation apparently trying to get nuclear weapons. A nation apparently most friendly with Beijing, Pyongyang, and Tehran. Obviously, if the PRC really felt like it, it could steam-roll over all these nations. At the same time. One objective of statecraft, as I see it, is to prevent foreign power invasion, through diplomacy, deterrence, or offensive warfare, in that order of preference. In dealing w/North Korea and the PRC, diplomacy did not work, or will shortly fail objectively and undeniably. Nuclear weapons, with effective missiles to deliver them, would serve as effective deterrence, and the PRC would have a hard time crying foul, based on its own recent behavior and the behavior of its satellite North Korea over these many decades. And if the U.S. starts with drama and tries to obstruct, then . . . I’m sure our Israeli friends will help, if necessary, if asked nice. Of course, nuclear weapons ideally would NOT proliferate. At least in eastern Asia, the party responsible, directly and indirectly, is the Chinese Communist Party.




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  2. I always felt that Missile Defense was an impractical idea. Shooting down a missile flying at multiple mach speeds seems too much like trying to shoot down a bullet.

    Given the accuracy of modern ballistic and cruise missiles Korea, Japan and even Taiwan could probably deter against any conventional or even nuclear attack by China on their own with a reasonable number of such missiles even without nuclear tips on them.

    Standard naval blockades or other mischief by China would also pose risks to China. Harassing merchant ships with destroyers and cruisers will look really bad on CNN. Also, imagine the embarrassment of losing such a cruiser or destroyer to a “mine.”

    If China tried to impose a no-sailing zone with missiles (the only country this would probably be feasible is Taiwan) this would also be risky if the other side also has a supply of missiles. If China pushes things too far, even Taiwan could get desperate and launch a strike of its own. Again, this would be really embarrassing and sniping with missiles as in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980’s would be devastating for China’s business interests.

    Although China’s recent behavior is unworthy of a global leader, its economy is already wired into the global trade and financial networks. This exposes it to the vulnerabilities of a great power as well as providing benefits. China has far more to lose from disruption of trade than any of its neighbors. I hope one day China will get better leadership fitting with its economic status.

    North Korea is a different story all together. But the only countries it reasonably threatens with its missiles are South Korea and Japan. Each is capable of dealing with any mischief North Korea is likely to make.




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  3. Missiles can hit missiles: the problem is seeing them in time — but with the new X-37B, there will soon be a way we in the USA can now see them at once. So we have some security — but the Japanese, South Koreans and Taiwanese don’t.

    There is no way to “deter” a nuclear launch. We and the Russians engaged in Mutually Assured Destruction, which meant that we would launch a huge counterstrike once we were assured a first strike was on its way. Forget any considered Presidential decision to use “the football,” think Dr. Strangelove instead. This “deterrence” only worked because it was automatic and overwhelming and directed against an opponent who, notwithstanding Marxist doctrines, realised that war was less attractive than Peace.

    The problem with North Korea is that there is no such assurance. We think the gummint there is rational, but we fear its internal motivations.

    China is as nervous as we, and with more cause, because they are closer. The NorKs do not necessarily like the Han Chinese (as distinct from the Manchurians) — and Beijing is now in missile range. So is Vladivostok. The only thing holding the Chinese back from intervening to stop the DPRK from behaving “adventurously”, I believe, is that the NorKs have not yet found a way to miniaturize and weaponize their bomb. (Personally, I now feel they don’t yet have one; that their plutonium bombs have fizzled, and that is why they have embarked on a crash course to make and develop a much simpler Uranium bomb.)

    But there is every reason now for Japan, Taiwan and South Korea separately to engage in active missile defense, but to co-ordinate their activities. The defense has to be separate, because committees can’t decide swiftly enough: the collaboration has to be open because the Japanese have this little problem with their own history.




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