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Co-Director of Program on Science and Global Security, Princeton University
June 1, 2018
U.S. Pushes Missile Defense Globally

Tom Z. Collina

The United States in recent months has taken steps to expand missile defense capabilities in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe, with the declared goal of countering developing missile programs in North Korea and Iran.

China and Russia, however, say this expansion could eventually undermine the viability of their strategic forces, leading Moscow to resist U.S. calls for bilateral arms reductions and motivating China and Russia to build new weapons to counter planned defenses.

As part of its effort to shift defense resources to Asia, the United States is expanding missile defense cooperation with Japan and South Korea. The Pentagon announced in August that it would field a second missile-tracking X-band radar in Japan; the Defense Department deployed a similar radar at Shariki, in northern Japan, in 2006.

Japan has purchased the U.S. Aegis missile defense system, as well as Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) IA interceptors, early-warning radars, and command and control systems. Japan and the United States are co-developing the SM-3 IIA missile, which would also be deployed in Europe.

South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met in Washington on Oct. 24 and agreed to continue to cooperate on missile defense and to “enhance the interoperability” of their command and control systems.

This partnership reportedly would include joint research on a “Korea Air and Missile Defense” system, involving a new radar and Standard Missile interceptors for Aegis-equipped destroyers deployed near Korea. Earlier in October, the United States agreed to let Seoul develop missiles having a payload of 500 kilograms with a range of up to 800 kilometers, up from a limit of 300 kilometers (see p. 22). Seoul officials say that South Korea will cooperate with the United States on regional defenses but not longer-range systems that might upset China, South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency reported Oct. 26.

According to an Aug. 23 Wall Street Journal story, U.S. officials have been evaluating sites in Southeast Asia for a third X-band radar, possibly in the Philippines, to create an “arc” that would allow the United States and its regional allies “to more accurately track any ballistic missiles launched from North Korea, as well as from parts of China.”

The U.S. X-band radars, know as AN/TPY-2s, could be networked with mobile missile interceptors deployed on U.S. Aegis-equipped ships at sea and with land-based interceptors in the region, according to experts. Panetta has said that such systems in Asia are intended to protect against missile threats from North Korea, which conducted a failed test of a long-range ballistic missile in April.

Some experts, however, say that China is also part of U.S. thinking. “In terms of missile defense, the U.S. talks about North Korea, but China is part of the long term outlook,” Steven Hildreth, a missile defense specialist with the Congressional Research Service, said in an Oct. 22 e-mail to Arms Control Today.

The Chinese Ministry of National Defense responded to the August announcement of the plans for the radar in Japan by stating that countries should avoid situations “in which one country tries to let its own state security take priority over other countries’ national security.” Beijing objected to the first radar in Japan in 2006.

Beijing, which is secretive about its nuclear weapons program, reportedly is responding to U.S. moves by expanding its relatively small nuclear arsenal and working on new mobile missiles, such as the DF-41, and countermeasures to help its missiles evade U.S. defenses.

In Europe, the United States is spending billions of dollars to deploy an array of missile interceptor systems, such as SM-3 interceptors based on Aegis-equipped ships and at two land-based sites in Poland and Romania, in four phases through about 2020. NATO announced at its May summit in Chicago that the first phase of the system, including one ship with SM-3 IA interceptors and an X-band radar in Turkey, has given NATO an “interim capability.” The SM-3 IA failed its most recent intercept test on Oct. 25.

Russian officials have said that the ongoing U.S. and NATO missile defense deployments in Europe are a threat to Moscow’s strategic deterrent. In response, Moscow is resisting further bilateral reductions in nuclear stockpiles beyond those called for in the 2010 New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and is planning to modernize its forces. The plans include developing by 2018 a new 10-warhead intercontinental ballistic missile optimized to penetrate missile defenses.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin told NATO delegates in Moscow Oct. 18 that Russia’s response to NATO’s missile defense plan “is currently mostly virtual, political, and diplomatic in character, but under certain circumstances, we would be forced to deliver a technical response, which I don’t think you’ll like.”

In the Middle East, the United States is focused on selling its missile interceptor systems to Persian Gulf states. A number of countries in the region already deploy U.S.-supplied Patriot short-range interceptors and are considering buying longer-range systems under the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program. Last year, for example, the United Arab Emirates became the first country to buy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense intermediate-range interceptor system, for $3.5 billion.

As more Gulf states buy U.S. missile interceptor systems, the United States will work to promote interoperability and cooperation among those states, Frank A. Rose, deputy assistant secretary of state for arms control, verification, and compliance, said Sept. 10 at a missile defense symposium in Berlin. This aspect of the plan is similar to the one for Europe, where NATO is integrating the new, U.S.-supplied interceptor systems with existing NATO short-range interceptors and sensors.

In the future, as the United States deploys additional Navy ships with SM-3 interceptors, it could assign some of those ships to the Persian Gulf, Asia, or Europe. U.S. mobile systems “can be relocated to adapt to changing regional threats and provide surge defense capabilities where they are most needed,” Rose said.