Rise of China, demise of INF seen prompting missile migration on world’s chessboard

by WorldTribune Staff, August 4, 2019

After the Trump administration on Aug. 2 pulled the United States out of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, analysts say the U.S. may now seek to prioritize deployment of conventional medium-range missiles near China rather than Russia.

The United States “has made it very clear” it is concerned its military position in the Asia Pacific region has been weakening with respect to China, said Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat-reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, a Washington, D.C. think tank. “And it views the ability to place missiles in the region as a way to halt that trend.”

China, which has the world’s fourth-largest nuclear arsenal, was never bound by the INF Treaty.

The INF “collapsed amid U.S. accusations that Russia developed, and later deployed, a missile system in violation of the deal,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) reported on Aug. 2. “Moscow both denied the allegation and asserted that U.S. missile-defense systems in Eastern Europe violated the treaty.”

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted: “The US and NATO agree: Russia violated the INF, and leaving the agreement is in the best interests of our collective security. Treaties are worthless unless respected by all signatories.”

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted on Aug. 2: “Today, the #INFTreaty ceases to exist. Russia bears sole responsibility for the Treaty’s demise. #NATO will respond in a measured & responsible way and continue to ensure credible deterrence & defence.”

China, which is continually building up its nuclear arsenal, currently the world’s fourth-largest, was never bound by the INF Treaty.

Related: Bolton in Moscow: U.S. bound by INF but Russia, China, Iran, N. Korea are not, October 23, 2018

According to the U.S. 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, China “is modernizing and expanding its already considerable nuclear forces. Like Russia, China is pursuing entirely new nuclear capabilities tailored to achieve particular national security objectives while also modernizing its conventional military, challenging traditional U.S. military superiority in the Western Pacific.” Furthermore, the report says China, like Russia, has added: “…new types of nuclear capabilities to their arsenals, increased the salience of nuclear forces in their strategies and plans, and engaged in increasingly aggressive behavior, including in outer space and cyberspace.”

According to the 2019 Defense Intelligence Agency report on “China Military Power”, “China is developing a new generation of mobile missiles, with warheads consisting of multi¬ple independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs) and penetration aids…”

National Interest noted that China, over the last decade, has developed and deployed new nuclear DF-31 and the DF-31A mobile ICBMs, a MIRVed version of their DF-5 silo-based ICBM, the type 094 ballistic missile submarines carrying JL-2 SLBMs and H-6J cruise missile-carrying bombers. The reported range of the H-6J, 8,000-km, would make it a heavy bomber under the New START Treaty range definition. Additionally, the Chinese J-20 air-launched cruise missile is nuclear capable. Indeed, in December 2013, a story in the Chinese state media talked about China’s H-6K bombers launching nuclear-armed cruise missiles against U.S. bases in South Korea and Japan.

The Japan Times noted that China’s buildup of its missile forces — “which pose a grave threat to U.S. military bases in Japan and elsewhere in the region” — may also have played a large part in the U.S.’s decision to withdraw from the 31-year-old INF Treaty.

More importantly for Tokyo, “a growing number” of the Chinese missiles put U.S. bases in Japan in range, the Pentagon said in a 2018 report. PACOM’s Harry Harris told the House Armed Services Committee that approximately 95 percent of the missiles in the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force arsenal fall in the 500 to 5,500-km range — meaning key U.S. facilities throughout Japan could already be within range of thousands of difficult-to-defeat advanced ballistic and cruise missiles.

The United States has not said whether it would seek to deploy intermediate-range missiles in the wake of the INF’s demise.

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The regime of Chinese supreme leader Xi Jinping has called on the Trump administration to stick to the INF agreement to prevent a missile buildup in Asia.

“Given the relatively modest size of Beijing’s arsenal, the capability of any potential adversary to strike launch sites or nodes deep within Chinese territory would be an unwelcome development,” Samuel Charap, a fellow at the Rand Corporation, said in testimony submitted to a congressional committee in April.

Charap said that, if the United States were to place missiles in Asia, Russia could follow suit east of the Ural Mountains.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in March he would not order the placement of missiles in any particular region until the United States did so.

The Soviet Union deployed missiles in regions east of the Urals, but had to destroy them as part of the INF Treaty.

Charap said that was “a major diplomatic coup” for China, since it removed a major threat.

Thomas Karako, director of the missile-defense project at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the United States will test ground-based missiles later this year. But he also said it could take ones currently deployed at sea and put them on a truck to create a mobile land-based weapon.

“Everybody understands the utility of mobile missiles — you can hide and distribute them. We may get back into that game,” Karako told RFE/RL.

Russia has used truck-based mobile systems for its intercontinental ballistic missiles for years.

Poland — which is expected to host part of a U.S. missile-defense system beginning next year — would likely be in favor of hosting ground-based missiles to counter a Russia threat, said Marcin Gaweda, president of the Warsaw Institute Foundation, a Polish think tank.

“If the Pentagon makes such a proposition, it is going to be beneficial for both the United States and Poland,” he told RFE/RL.

Romania already hosts a U.S. missile-defense system, and Moscow has asserted that the technology used in that, and the proposed Polish system, known as Aegis BMD, or Aegis Ashore, violated aspects of the INF.

If Washington places ground-based missiles in Europe, it could provoke Russia and lead to a new arms race, said Jon Wolfsthal, a former senior director for arms control and nonproliferation at the White House National Security Council.

“Deploying cruise missiles or ballistic missiles in European territory does not make America and NATO safer,” he said. “All it does is increase the risk that an escalation can spiral out of control quickly. And that is why you are seeing European allies show extreme reticence in suggesting that they might be willing to accept them.”


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