The U.S. is planning escalation of its war program in Asia. There is news on its plan to deploy missile in Asia. The move will increase tension in the continent amid threat of new arms race.
The U.S. is hoping to deploy new ground-based intermediate-range missiles to Asia “sooner rather than later,” U.S. defense chief Mark Esper said of a move that could have huge ramifications for regional security.
Esper’s remarks were likely to raise already-soaring tensions with China and add to fears of a new arms race involving the U.S., China and Russia.
“Yes I would like to,” Esper said late Saturday when asked if the U.S. was considering deploying new medium-range conventional weapons in Asia now that Washington is no longer bound by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty from which the U.S. formally withdrew a day earlier.
“We would like to deploy a capability sooner rather than later,” Esper said, according to a transcript released ahead of his arrival in Sydney for the start of a weeklong tour of Asia. “But with, you know, programs like this, it takes time. You have to design and develop, and test and do all those types of things. I would prefer months,” he said in regards to a deployment. “But these things tend to take longer than you expect.”
Esper did not say where the missiles would be based, but experts have said Asian allies such as Japan and Australia, as well as the U.S. territory of Guam, were among possible deployment sites.
“I wouldn’t speculate because all those things depend on our plans,” Esper said. “Those are things you always discuss with your allies.”
Esper said the US should look at bringing in other nuclear powers and expand the types of weapons controlled by the treaty.
He added that he does not believe this will trigger a new arms race, but said the US needs to deploy missile capabilities that can protect Europe and the Pacific region.
Esper said the U.S. plans should not come as a shock to China.
“That should be no surprise because we have been talking about that for some time now,” he said.
“And I want to say that 80 percent of their inventory is INF range systems. So that should not surprise that we would want to have a like capability,” he added.
This figure – 80 percent – differed from previous statements by the U.S., including one in 2017 by then-Pacific Command chief Adm. Harry Harris, the current American ambassador to Australia.
Harris told a House Armed Services Committee hearing in February of that year that approximately 95 percent of the missiles in the People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force arsenal fall in the 500 to 5,500-km range — meaning key U.S. facilities throughout Japan could already be within range of thousands of difficult-to-defeat advanced ballistic and cruise missiles.
The U.S. signaling plan to deploy INF-range missiles to the Indo-Pacific Theater is a signal to China that the U.S. decision to pull out of the INF is not just based on Russia’s material breach, but also on China’s growing arsenal of missiles in this range.
Esper’s comments come amid an increasingly acrimonious trade war between the U.S. and China, as well as a plethora of security challenges facing the two countries. These include a row over freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, where Beijing has built up and fortified a series of islands.
The U.S. fears the Chinese outposts could be used to restrict ship movement in the South China Sea, which includes vital sea lanes through which about $3 trillion in global trade passes each year. The U.S. military regularly conducts “freedom of navigation operations” (FONOPs) in the area. The Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Brunei have overlapping claims in the waters, where the U.S., Chinese, Japanese and some Southeast Asian navies also routinely operate. Neither Japan nor the U.S. has claims in the waters, but both allies have routinely stated their commitment to a “free and open Indo-Pacific.”
China says it has deployed the advanced weaponry to the islets for defensive purposes, but some experts say this is part of a concerted bid to cement de facto control of the waters.
Some regional security experts have even speculated that the Chinese military may be practicing for pre-emptive missile strikes on the forward bases that underpin U.S. military power in the Western Pacific.
In 2017, U.S. naval officer Cmdr. Thomas Shugart, then a senior military fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a think tank in Washington, unearthed commercial satellite imagery that appeared to show sites in China’s Gobi Desert for practicing these strikes that resembled mock-ups of important American military facilities in Japan such as the naval base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, and the air bases in Kadena, Okinawa Prefecture and Misawa, Aomori Prefecture.
According to Shugart, such a pre-emptive strike could be “a very real possibility, particularly if China believes its claimed core strategic interests are threatened in the course of a crisis and perceives that its attempts at deterrence have failed.”
Hours after the U.S. withdrawal from the INF, Esper said in a statement that the US would jumpstart previously-stalled research banned under the agreement, which he said is in the “early stages” of development.
“Now that we have withdrawn, the Department of Defense will fully pursue the development of these ground-launched conventional missiles as a prudent response to Russia’s actions and as part of the Joint Force’s broader portfolio of conventional strike options,” the statement said.
“The Department of Defense will work closely with our allies as we move forward in implementing the National Defense Strategy, protecting our national defense and building partner capacity,” it added.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Friday in announcing the formal withdrawal, that the Russian missile system prohibited under the agreement was a “direct threat to the United States and our allies.”
Trump blames Russia
U.S. President Donald Trump has pinned much of the blame for Washington’s exit from the INF agreement on Russian violations of the landmark pact. But a closer look shows that China’s buildup of its missile forces — a grave threat to U.S. military bases in Japan and elsewhere in the region — also played a large part in the decision to abrogate the 1987 arms-control deal.
Trump said in October that the U.S. would scrap the 1987 treaty between U.S. and Russia, which banned all land-based missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 km (310 to 3,420 miles).
The pact covered missiles, known as short- and intermediate-range, that can carry both nuclear and conventional warheads, but did not ban air- or sea-launched weapons.
The bilateral pact, however, had left China unconstrained to amass a missile arsenal that puts U.S. and Japanese forces at risk, according to observers. But its unraveling had been on the cards for months amid worsening ties between Russia and the U.S.
In 2014, the administration of then-U.S. President Barack Obama blamed Russia for testing a cruise missile in direct violation of the accord.
Washington is now free to compete with China, whose arsenal is largely made up of weapons prohibited under the INF Treaty, to which China was never a signatory.
New arms race
Signed in 1987 by US and Soviet Union leaders – Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev – the INF treaty was meant to eliminate the presence of land-based nuclear missiles and medium-range arsenals between 500km and 5,500km from Europe.
In February, Washington announced that in six months it would suspend its participation in the pact unless Moscow destroyed missiles, which the US and its NATO allies alleged that they violate the agreement.
The treaty’s expiration now enables the US to resume development of its own medium-range, land-based arsenal.
Currently, the US military plans to test a land-based cruise missile and a ballistic missile previously banned under the INF treaty between August and November of this year.
Some Pentagon estimates have suggested that a low-flying cruise missile with a potential range of about 1,000km could be flight-tested this month and be ready for deployment in 18 months.
A ballistic missile with a range of roughly 3,000-4,000km could take five years or more to deploy. Neither would be nuclear armed.
In a Pentagon report published in May, the U.S. Defense Department said that it expects China to add military bases around the world to protect its investments in its ambitious One Belt, One Road global infrastructure program.
Beijing currently has just one overseas military base, in Djibouti, but target locations for military basing could include the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and the Western Pacific, the report noted.
Russia would not get sucked up in arms race, but would respond to U.S. missile deployments in Asia
Russia said on Monday it would take measures to defend itself if the United States stationed missiles in Asia following the collapse of a landmark arms control treaty – the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).
It is widely assessed that Japan would be the place to deploy a U.S. missile launch system.
U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on Saturday that he was in favor of placing ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles in Asia relatively soon.
Asked about the possible U.S. missile deployment, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Russia did not plan to get sucked into an arms race with the U.S., but that it would respond defensively to any threats.
“If the deployment of new U.S. systems begins specifically in Asia then the corresponding steps to balance these actions will be taken by us in the direction of parrying these threats,” Ryabkov told a news conference.
He said Moscow assesses that Tokyo would soon station the U.S. MK-41 missile-launching system in Japan.
“The universal MK-41 launch system that will appear, it seems, in Japan can also be adapted to be used to launch medium-range cruise missiles. So these new systems when they appear in Japan will without doubt also be taken into account during our corresponding planning,” he said.
Putin to Trump: We’ll develop new nuclear missiles if you do
Russian President Vladimir Putin warned on Monday that Moscow would start developing short and intermediate-range land-based nuclear missiles if the United States started doing the same after the demise of the INF.
The U.S. formally left the INF treaty with Russia on Friday.
The pact banned land-based missiles with a range of between 310 and 3,400 miles (500-5,500 km), reducing the ability of both countries to launch a nuclear strike at short notice.
Putin on Monday ordered the defense and foreign ministries and Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence service to closely monitor any steps the U.S. takes to develop, produce or deploy missiles banned under the defunct treaty.
“If Russia obtains reliable information that the United States has finished developing these systems and started to produce them, Russia will have no option other than to engage in a full-scale effort to develop similar missiles,” Putin said in a statement.
U.S. officials have said the United States is months away from the first flight tests of an intermediate-range missile that would serve as a counter to the Russians. Any deployment would be years away, they have said.
Putin issued his warning after holding a meeting with Russia’s Security Council to discuss the U.S. move, which Moscow had argued against for months, warning it would undermine a key pillar of international arms control.
Putin said Russia’s arsenal of air and sea-launched missiles combined with its work on developing hypersonic missiles meant it was well placed to offset any threat emanating from the United States for now.
But he said it was essential for Moscow and Washington, the world’s largest nuclear powers, to resume arms control talks to prevent what he described as an “unfettered” arms race breaking out.
“In order to avoid chaos with no rules, restrictions or laws, we need to once more weigh up all the dangerous consequences and launch a serious and meaningful dialogue free from any ambiguity,” Putin said.
Officials from Trump’s administration, speaking on condition of anonymity, have said Russia has deployed “multiple battalions” of a cruise missile throughout Russia in violation of the defunct pact, including in western Russia, “with the ability to strike critical European targets”.
Russia denies the allegation, and claims the missile’s range put it outside the treaty and rejected a U.S. demand to destroy the new missile, the Novator 9M729, known as the SSC-8 by the NATO Western military alliance.