Back home in Beijing, China made another clear statement about its ambitions to assert control over its own backyard Thursday at a massive military parade to commemorate the end of its war with Japan in 1945, the last of the regional conflicts that constituted World War 2.
The parade debuted a new ballistic missile that some analysts say will be capable of sinking aircraft carriers, the most important hardware component of the U.S.’s security guarantee to allies such as Japan. The Dongfeng (East Wind) DF-21D missile is designed to go into orbit like an inter-continental ballistic missile before re-entering the atmosphere and delivering its payload on or near a ship. With a range of some 900 miles, the missiles could easily cover the East China Sea, making it much harder for the U.S. Navy to intervene in places like the Taiwan Strait.
Hitting a moving target with a ballistic missile is hard. It also risks escalation into full-fledged nuclear war whether or not the warhead is nuclear. A ballistic missile launch looks like a ballistic missile launch, and an incoming warhead looks like an incoming warhead, no matter if the payload is nuclear or not. There’s no way to tell the difference until the thing goes “Boom!” by which point the intended target might have already told HQ it is under nuclear attack.
That’s a mighty big risk to take.
But the risks might be worth it, to take out a US Navy carrier battle group. When Pearl Harbor was struck by Japan, FDR rallied the nation, the Navy almost immediately invented a new carrier-based naval doctrine, and we avenged that attack in the most thorough way imaginable.
Would today’s leadership, civilian or military, be so bold if China sank one of our carriers? Or would we acquiesce?