Asia Program

Events

Reconciling U.S. Defense Requirements and Chinese Security Concerns

June 05, 2000 // 12:00am

By Gang Lin

David M. Finkelstein, Senior Specialist, Center for Naval Analyses Corporation
David R. Tanks, Senior Defense Analyst, Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis
Pan Zhenqiang, Major General and President, Institute for Strategic Studies (Beijing)
Ming Zhang, Director, Asia Research Institute

U.S. plans to develop a national missile defense (NMD) and to share theater missile defense (TMD) technology with Japan, Taiwan and perhaps South Korea have aroused a heated domestic debate in the United States on the technological reliability, economic cost, strategic applicability and political implications of ballistic missile defense. Both Tokyo and Taiwan have shown interest in joining a TMD system, despite Beijing's strong opposition. What are TMD's political implications for Washington-Tokyo-Beijing relations and cross-Taiwan Strait affairs? Will TMD result in Beijing's reconsideration of its current policies on arms control and nonproliferation issues, or bolster independence tendencies in Taiwan? Are there alternative ways to address U.S. defense requirements and Chinese security concerns?

More than 120 military analysts and Asia experts examined these and related issues in a June 5 seminar Theater Missile Defense and U.S. Foreign Policy Interests in Asia, sponsored by Woodrow Wilson Center's Asia Program. During the seminar, four distinguished policy analysts explored TMD's political implications for U.S. foreign policy interests in China, Taiwan, Japan and the Korean peninsula. Panelists agreed that discourse in Asia about TMD revolves less around operational than political issues, such as psychological reassurances, strategic intentions and political resolve. They differed, however, as to whether U.S. TMD cooperation with Japan and/or Taiwan would constitute a violation of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and the international nonproliferation regime, and whether an Asian-based TMD system would contribute to regional stability, or spark an accelerated arms race in East Asia.

David Finkelstein of the Center for Naval Analyses Corporation listed three common misunderstandings about TMD:

1. portraying TMD as a "magic system" that can defuse the ballistic missile threat
2. believing that the sale of TMD to a second party gives the United States the ability to determine how that party uses its TMD system
3. regarding TMD as a system to cover the entire "theater" of a unified command


According to Finkelstein, both China's objections to TMD and Japanese and Taiwanese positions on the TMD issue are driven mainly by political considerations.

David Tanks of the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis argued that the United States could most effectively protect its security interests in Asia by combining two kinds of deterrence: deterrence by punishing through nuclear retaliation, and deterrence by denial through missile defense systems. Given China's emergence as a major power and North Korea's 1998 launch of a Taepodong missile, the United States needs to develop both TMD systems in Asia and a national missile defense system for the protection of American soil.

Pan Zhenqiang of the Beijing-based Institute for Strategic Studies, an organization closely affiliated with the People's Liberation Army, contended that TMD would not bring security, peace or stability to the United States and Asia. From Beijing's perspective, TMD is another strong indication of U.S. containment strategy against China, aimed at neutralizing the latter's minimum nuclear capability. According to Pan, the United States cannot expect to build its security on the insecurity of others, or on military supremacy. TMD will erode trust among the major players in Asia, fuel regional tensions, and inevitably lead to the further proliferation of missile technologies.

Ming Zhang of the Asian Research Institute argued TMD would bring many unwanted security consequences to the United States. China will produce countermeasures against TMD and export them to other countries. Beijing may continue to violate the MTCR and accelerate its nuclear missile force modernization. Further, TMD and NMD may cause further nuclear and missile proliferation in Asia and foster a closer cooperative relationship between China and Russia.

Following the seminar, two of the four speakers, David Finkelstein and Ming Zhang, repeated their presentations at a June 6 Capitol Hill breakfast, attended by senior congressional staffers. The participants agreed that China should not have a veto over U.S. decisions on TMD and NMD. They also recognized that Beijing's reaction against TMD could be tracked to its concerns over Taiwan, and specifically to the fear that a Taiwan under a TMD umbrella would refuse to talk with Beijing on unification. There was a general consensus that it is necessary to redefine the TMD debate so as to find appropriate methods to accommodate both U.S. defense requirements in Asia and Chinese security concerns.

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