Monday, April 2, 2012

BMD and Theater Stability in Northeast Asia

This is another interesting development in the context of the upcoming North Korean rocket launch. It would appear it isn't just South Korea and Japan preparing to shoot the rocket down if necessary, but Taiwan as well.

A military spokesman yesterday refused to comment on media reports alleging that two advanced anti-missile systems — the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) and Tien Kung-III “Sky Bow” (TK-III) air defense systems — had been deployed in eastern Taiwan to deal with the possible launch of a North Korean rocket later this month.

Ministry of National Defense spokesperson David Lo (羅紹和) said the military was collecting information about Pyongyang’s anticipated rocket launch and added that the military had requested its anti-missile units monitor and respond to the situation as appropriate.
Something has been on my mind, and it goes back to something discussed on the blog last week by Bryan McGrath. A lot of people were up in arms about the President making the comment that he would be better positioned to negotiate with Russia on nuclear issues after the election - because he won't be running for reelection. In a democracy we elect our leaders to represent us, and we bestow upon them through that election process the trust to make decisions for the people in scenarios like a nuclear agreement with Russia. Some are really bent out of shape that the President would suggest this issue would be easier to manage after an election. I am not one of those people, the exchange itself didn't bother me, what bothered me was what Bryan quoted in the speech given the next day by President Obama in his attempt to address the issue. Specifically:
"I don't think it's any surprise that you can't start that a few months before a presidential and congressional elections in the United States, and at a time when they just completed elections in Russia and they're in the process of a presidential transition where a new president is going to be coming in in a little less than two months.

So it was a very simple point, and one that essentially I repeated when I spoke to you guys yesterday, which is that we're going to spend the next nine, 10 months trying to work through some of the technical aspects of how we get past what is a major point of friction -- one of the primary points of friction between our two countries, which is this whole missile defense issue. And it involves a lot of complicated issues. If we can get our technical teams to clear out the underbrush, then hopefully, in 2013, there's a foundation to actually make some significant progress on this and a lot of other bilateral issues.

So I think everybody understands that -- if they haven't they haven't been listening to my speeches -- I want to reduce our nuclear stockpiles. And one of the barriers to doing that is building trust and cooperation around missile defense issues. And so this is not a matter of hiding the ball, I'm on record. I made a speech about it to a whole bunch of Korean university students yesterday. I want to see us, over time, gradually, systematically, reduce reliance on nuclear weapons."
Bryan McGrath is right, the two issues of Russian nuclear weapons and Ballistic Missile Defense cannot be linked, and the President needs to seek better advice regarding Ballistic Missile Defense if he has somehow confused it with an issue he appears to care a lot about - which is a nuclear free world. I appreciate that President Obama has high goals regarding nuclear weapons, but I am not convinced at all that President Obama appreciates Ballistic Missile Defense and the strategic role it is playing in the 21st century that has absolutely nothing to do with cold war era nuclear exchanges.

Playing out before our eyes in Asia is politics of the highest order with North Korea, and it is almost certain that the President's own National Security Council has warned him by now that under no circumstances can North Korea be allowed to launch the rocket planned for launch sometime during the next 2 weeks. The Obama administrations policy for North Korea has been to break the cycle of North Korean provocations and specifically to get North Korea to stand by agreements made within the six-party talks framework. By every definition the rocket launch will repeat a cycle of breaking agreements within the six-party talks, and if allowed to be successful will signal to regional partners that the US policy for North Korea has failed - again. Given the amount of attention without detail that China is putting into North Korea over the last few weeks, it appears that China is becoming increasingly frustrated with Pyongyang like everyone else.

The US is pulling back food aid to North Korea because the US claims that the food deal agreed to last month included a moratorium on long range missile tests, and the rocket launch is seen as a long range missile test. North Korea sees the suspension of US food aid as us breaking the agreement first. Whether you agree or not that the US should be pulling back food aid, it is very hard to claim the US has broken the cycle of provocation with North Korea, and many experts are suggesting that no matter what happens - North Korea will simply test another nuclear weapon at the end of this current diplomatic dustup - which is the very definition of repeating the cycle of provocation the Obama administration policy for North Korea claims to be aimed to prevent.

All we are learning is that the Obama administration is not having any more success than the Bush administration or the Clinton administration did, and that US diplomacy with North Korea is struggling to be relevant in curbing North Korean provocative behavior under any internationally agreed upon process model. It is unknown what impact shooting down the North Korean rocket may have, although it is noted in several circles that taking aggressive action like this with North Korea is in itself a way for the US to attempt to break the cycle of provocation by North Korea - by being provocative ourselves.

I think the US should allow nations in the region deal with the rocket, and the US should simply sit back and provide support for those nations - any and all support requested, but no more or less.

Bigger Picture

Consider for a moment what it looks like if the North Korean rocket goes over Japanese soil. Would a successful shoot down of a North Korean rocket make it more or less likely that Japan would develop nuclear capabilities? What happens if Japan tries to shoot down the rocket and fails? How many scenarios exist in the upcoming North Korean launch where the outcome leaves the Japanese public asking whether they need nuclear weapons to protect themselves? I imagine the Chinese are studying the various possible answers to that last question with considerable detail.

Ballistic missile defense is playing out in Northeast Asia in front of all of us as a major strategic capability bringing allies together against a common foe. South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan are all fielding US Ballistic Missile Defense technology to - perhaps - be used to shoot down the North Korean rocket. At its core, Ballistic Missile Defense is the strategic capability in play right now that forms the foundation of our regional alliances dealing with the regional threat of North Korea, and most importantly (and something President Obama needs to apparently get a briefing on) strategic Ballistic Missile Defense is acting as an alternative for Japan to developing nuclear weapons to counter North Korean nuclear and ballistic weapons development. As a capability, the diplomatic value of Ballistic Missile Defense at this moment in time may be higher than it has ever been in the capabilities history, because BMD serves as a visible reminder of what it means to be in a working strategic relationship where United States is in full support of a nation.

I believe the scenario playing out leads to an important question and discussion - could China or Russia shoot down the North Korean rocket even if they wanted to? Short of the rocket turning towards the Chinese mainland, I am not certain even if under those conditions China could shoot the North Korean rocket down. As for Russia, they have the capability to shoot the missile down, but whether that capability is deployed, trained, and ready to respond in immediate crisis is certainly questionable - and it is important to note that the naval forces of both nations is currently not capable of deploying for purposes of strategic protection from a ballistic missile attack against a partner, friend, or in support of allies.

Both Russia and China have some of the most sophisticated ballistic missiles in the world, but neither country has a credible defense from ballistic missiles that is fielded within the context of an alliance like the US capabilities are, nor are they globally deployable like the BMD capabilities of the US Navy. BMD is a strategic capability that neither Russia nor China has as an offering to friends as a protection in a time of need. When you consider the enormous advantage legitimate Ballistic Missile Defense gives the United States at the strategic and geopolitical level with our Asian allies today, it strikes me as remarkably foolish that on any level the President could potentially be considering conceding that advantage to any competitor for any purpose in a diplomatic negotiation.

The United States should not take for granted the strategic advantage of Ballistic Missile Defense, nor how Ballistic Missile Defense capability translates throughout our alliances to our friends and allies. With all due respect to the President, the suggestion that Ballistic Missile Defense is in play in negotiations with Russia related to nuclear arsenals is a serious miscalculation on his part.

In 2012 Ballistic Missile Defense has become one of the big puzzle pieces that is keeping several of our allies (like Japan and Saudi Arabia, to name a few big ones) from developing their own nuclear arsenals, and removing that incentive from our allies in an effort to simply reduce Russia's nuclear stockpile is counterproductive towards efforts of curbing development of nuclear weapons, and potentially destabilizing in the specific parts of the world the US defense strategy is specifically committed to maintaining stability.

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