(From the National Interest)
It’s time for America to worry about Chinese ballistic missile defenses (BMD).
That’s the conclusion of a new study by the Federation of American Scientists, which found that while Beijing has not yet decided to build strategic missile defenses, Chinese leaders are seriously thinking about it.
“Unlike some years ago, there is little doubt today that China is developing a strategic BMD capability; their flight tests alone make that clear,” said authors Bruce MacDonald and Charles Ferguson, who spoke with more than 50 Chinese and American experts, including Chinese officials, military officers and academics. While Chinese BMD is in the development stage, it does give Beijing the option of deploying a missile defense capability – or not – depending on its assessment of the international situation.
“At a minimum, it appears that a Chinese deployment of strategic BMD is probably less unlikely than most U.S. defense analysts have in the past assessed,” the study said.
“Given the extended duration of China’s strategic BMD development program, going back two to three decades, it is safe to say that China is not on any crash course to develop, much less to deploy, a strategic BMD system. Nonetheless, China’s program has reached a stage of maturity that gives it a viable option to deploy if it so chooses.”
The report, titled “Understanding the Dragon Shield: Likelihood and Implications of Chinese Strategic Ballistic Missile Defense,” was spurred by what the authors say is a lack of public analysis of just what Chinese ballistic missile defense would mean for the United States.
The answer is that it could have serious – or minor – implications depending on what China chooses to do. MacDonald and Ferguson believe that if China opts to build missile defenses, the most likely scenario would be a limited deployment. A “thin BMD” would pose little threat to the ability of U.S. nuclear forces to strike China, as even Chinese experts conceded to the authors: “There was broad agreement that it would make little sense for China to seek to defend against U.S. nuclear warheads given the potentially several hundred warheads the United States could launch within minutes.”
Yet in what will probably be a blow to American self-importance, the United States would probably not be the main target of Chinese missile defense, but rather China’s neighbors. “The prime impact will be on Indian confidence in its ability to deter China with nuclear weapons,” the study says, as well as sending a signal to Japan. Read more