The ICAS Lectures


The Pacific and Emerging Issues

Peter R. Huessy

ICAS Fall Symposium

October 20, 2015 1:00 PM - 6:00 PM
The Heritage Foundation Allison Auditorium
214 Massachusetts Ave NE
Washington DC 20002

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

Biographic sketch & Links: Peter R. Huessy

The Pacific and Emerging Issues

Peter R. Huessy
Geostrategic Analysis

Twin Pacific and European Missile Defense Issues

Are America and its allies finally standing up for international agreed upon rules of the road and opposing Russian and Chinese hegemony?


Last month's American led naval exercise off Tokyo Bay with the USS Ronald Reagan and the JS Izumo, featured the largest Japanese warship built since WW II. In addition, the first serving Japanese prime minister landed on a US aircraft carrier, the USS Ronald Reagan. And warships from France, Australia, India and South Korea also took part in the naval exercise.

During the exercise the Japanese Prime Minister explained: "By highly hoisting the flag of 'proactive pacifism,' I'm determined to contribute more than ever to world peace and prosperity", a reference to the passage of legislation by the Japanese government that modifies Japan's defense posture to allow the Japanese Self Defense Forces (JSDF) to come to the aid of an ally under fire. Such a new policy is considered a significant departure from Japan's pacifist constitution according to an analysis by the US Naval Institute.

This was the beginning of a "military-diplomatic" signal to China, as subsequently, the United States sailed an American navy warship within 12 miles of island building by the Chinese in the East China Sea. According to one news report, a U.S. defense official told CNN that the destroyer USS Lassen "conducted a transit" within 12 nautical miles of Subi Reef in the Spratly Islands. China has since flown armed naval aircraft over the area in what they termed a "training exercise".

This action by the United States is important, although the obvious question then is "Ok, what do we do next?" US defense officials have noted they will continue to send naval vessels through the area to establish an ongoing presence asserting freedom of navigation and challenging the Chinese exclusive claim to the region.

However, this exercise by the United States should be part of a broader effort to deal with serial aggression by some particularly bad nation-state actors, not just China. Just recently, the Dutch Safety Board concluded the Malaysian Flight 17 was destroyed and its 298 passengers killed by a Russian made Buk missile fired from territory controlled by Russian backed terrorists in Ukraine.

As the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) noted October 14, 2015, "Western leaders who aren't prepared to uphold world order against reckless men like Mr. Putin had better get ready for an ever-expanding no fly zone—and future Flight 17s."

The two issues in Ukraine and the South China Sea are related.

As David Feith also of the WSJ writes, China appears to be creating its own "no sail zone" in the South China Sea. The US Navy patrols took place some 700 miles from China in the South China Sea between Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. China attacked the US saying such patrols violated China's "territorial waters".

David Feith further notes that China is in short seeking to conquer one of the world's most important international waterways where $5 trillion in trade passes through an area of 1.35 million square miles.

Does China sees the whole area as a Chinese lake in which it will or will not give people permission to operate? Feith says yes, China apparently does.

However, as Feith explains, most observers believe China has no historical right to this area and its claims are legally without merit. China's maps of the region submitted to the United Nations in 2009 in support of its territorial claims had English names for the various territories. And ironically, the identical map had been used by the former Nationalist Chinese government in a challenge to similar geographic claims from Imperial Japan. So claims of ancient Chinese ownership of the area are obviously a fiction.

But China's "macro" aggressions in the South China Sea are not dissimilar to China's assertion of similar "control" or "say so" over the actions of other key US allies in the Pacific. For example, South Korea is contemplating allowing the deployment of the American THAAD ballistic missile defense technology to defend against North Korean missile and rocket threats.

But China loudly asserts that the United States and South Korea, by deploying such missile defense technology, are both undermining China's deterrent and should stop such deployments. China implies that the THAAD missile batteries and their associated radars would, for example, give the US or ROK the ability to shoot down Chinese ICBMs.

Now it is true the THAAD technology would defend South Korean from missile launches from North Korea. But THAAD has no ability to interfere with China's strategic nuclear deterrent associated with deterring other nuclear armed powers such as the United States.

Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at the Heritage Foundation, said South Korea should deploy THAAD in order to defend against North Korea's nuclear threat.

But other American analysts do not support such joint work. At a recent Carnegie Endowment meeting opponents of missile defense complained THAAD would undermine China's security and harm US-Chinese relations. This was based on the claim that a South Korean based THAAD missile deployment and associated AN/TPY-2 radar would be able to shoot down Chinese missiles aimed at the United States and not just North Korean missiles aimed at South Korea.

This new criticism included a claim that US officials have deliberately failed to inform the South Korean government about the capability of the American THAAD missile defense technology. And that significant new capability is supposedly contained in the radars (but not the interceptors) that are associated with the potential deployment of the THAAD system.

This new capability, say the critics, is the THAAD radars ability to see into Chinese territory, (they can). Does this mean THAAD is part of an overseas forward-deployed but surreptitiously planned defense of American territory from Chinese missile launches and not just a potential defense of South Korea?

While the associated radars can indeed pick-up Chinese rocket launches some hundreds of kilometers from Korea, the THAAD interceptors cannot intercept a Chinese ICBM fired toward the United States. Its range is far too short. As my colleague Rick Fisher, the Senior Fellow in Asian Military Affairs at the International Strategy and Assessment Center explained, "THAAD does have capability against Chinese or North Korean MRBMs launched toward South Korea" but not against Chinese missiles launched north over the polar region toward the United States.

Fisher explains what is really motivating the Chinese. "It is likely China is really angry about the range of the AN/TPY-2 radar. In an extreme case, one placed on the Korean island of Cheju Do would be able to see roughly half of the Chinese province of Fujian, and major Chinese short range ballistic missiles launched at Taiwan." But THAAD interceptors based in Korea have no possible way of intercepting Chinese missiles launched from China toward Taiwan.

But as THAAD would deepen US benefits from its South Korean alliance, and elements of the system would protect against North Korea, of course China will oppose such activity simply because it wishes to exercise hegemony over the eastern Pacific and continue its capability—and that of its ally North Korea--to threaten the region with missiles—unimpeded.

Trying to block THAAD is also a great way for China to create acrimony in Seoul toward the USA. Never mind that China is responsible—in large part-- for making North Korea a nuclear missile threat. Or that threatened nuclear strikes from North Korea or China against the US would also inhibit the US ability to defend South Korea.

The Chinese strategy is taking a page out of the Russia playbook on Europe. For at least the past 15 years, Russia has fought the deployment of missile defenses in Europe. And specifically for the past six years, Russia has opposed the US program of a European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) to missile defense, claiming it would seriously complicate US-Russian relations.

How would it do so? Russia claims the American missile defense deployments in Europe would be able to shoot down Russian missiles aimed at the United States, and thus undermine its security, the mirror argument of the Chinese claim about our potential Korean based missile defense deployments.

In fact, the Russian protestations over these NATO endorsed missile defense plans for the Czech Republic, Poland and Romania are just as bogus as the Chinese claims.

Computer analysis and simulated tests have shown without question the missile defense interceptors in Europe cannot intercept Russian ICBMs aimed at the United States because the interceptors are (1) too slow and (2) by the time they see the Russian missile launches the interceptors will be chasing a much faster missile that has many minutes head start. And at 6-8 kilometers per second speed, the Russian ICBMs can go much farther in the same period of time than a US missile defense interceptor with a speed of around 3 kilometers per second.

It's simple math. And the Russians know this as they have acknowledged as such in conversations with American missile defense experts.

My own view is that similar to EPAA, there should be no delay in a THAAD deployment in South Korea if the government in Seoul wishes to move forward. Critics of a THAAD and a complimentary radar deployment are arguing—however unintentional-- for the right for China (and North Korea) to launch unimpeded nuclear strikes against South Korea. How is any of this in South Korea's interest? Or that of the United States?

Just as in Europe, where Russia seeks an unimpeded right to threaten missile strikes, China is seeking the same capability to do so in the Western Pacific. Sound and beneficial international rules of the road dictate otherwise. US missile defense policy should reflect that truth.

This page last updated November 4, 2015 jdb