Belmont Club

Crouching bear, hidden dragon

The Asia Times argues that the US decision to forgo the Eastern European missile shield implies an expansion in the US Navy’s capability against Chinese missiles. The article suggests the Chinese will be wary and openly wonders whether the implications were thought through. The Asia Times article raises a number of questions which it does not answer:

  • Will the Navy get the funding to build the new missile defense ships?
  • Did the administration please Russia only to accidentally displease China? Or was it a calculated move?
  • Was the Obama decision to abandon the Eastern European systems (assuming the ships are built) really a better defense choice?

Peter J. Brown writes:

United States President Barack Obama and members of his administration are going to great lengths to explain the reasons why the US abruptly changed course with respect to its anti-missile strategy for Europe. In the process, little or nothing has been said about the impact of this new plan on Asia.

Silence or not, both China and Japan must assess the consequences of this activity because what the US is now proposing for Europe in terms of missile defense is right in line with what has been unfolding all along in East Asia, where the US Navy forms the front line for the US missile shield, backed by land-based interceptors in increasing numbers and a powerful radar network both on land and at sea. …

The US decision does not put Asia at risk, but it does not fit well with current US efforts to improve ties with China at a time when North Korea is happy to cast itself as the largest dormant volcano in Northeast Asia. Obama is displaying a lack of predictability, and this weighs on US-China relations. Making China uncomfortable at this point is not a good idea because Beijing equates a failure to appreciate the need for predictability with instability, and perhaps even distrust. …

China cannot ignore the fact that by implication, this US emphasis on “greater flexibility” is not limited to threats in Europe. Furthermore, by making such an abrupt change of direction in Europe, China must be wondering if the US might engage in the same behavior right on its doorstep. …

Given that the core of the new US anti-missile defense strategy in Europe involves a layered approach starting with the careful placement of US Navy BMD-capable, Aegis-equipped warships, and augmented quickly if circumstances warrant by a surge of additional ships, it looks like China faces an uphill battle.

At the time of the recent North Korean satellite launch – keep in mind that many experts have challenged North Korea’s depiction of the launch as a satellite launch as opposed to a long-range missile test – only two US Navy BMD-capable, Aegis-equipped destroyers out of a total of 15 of this type were assigned somewhere other than the Pacific. In addition, there were three US Navy BMD-capable, Aegis-equipped cruisers assigned to the Pacific Fleet, bring the total to 18 ships in the Pacific. …

This naval force restructuring triggered by the Obama administration’s decision coupled with the fact that a surge mechanism is built into the overall formula means that the US Navy’s capabilities in this regard will undergo a significant expansion – sooner rather than later. New ships may have to be built to accomplish this objective.

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