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article imageOp-Ed: China’s new nukes — Cold War logic doesn’t work this time

By Paul Wallis     Aug 24, 2012 in World
Sydney - China is developing a new range of long range nuclear missiles. China’s existing arsenal of 70 ICBMs and 410 warheads is currently “believed able to hit the US west coast”. The talk is now of a new Cold War arms race. Sorry guys, not this time.
Space Daily has an article from Voice of Russia which explains the Cold War logic:
On Thursday, Washington signaled its readiness to deploy elements of the US missile shield in Asia and the Far East, something that is almost certain to prod China to further expand its regional clout by notably beefing up its military might. Alexander Larin is expert of the Moscow-based Far East Institute.
"It is only natural that China continues to strengthen its army's defense capabilities," Larin says.
"We, however, should take into consideration the unfolding competition between China and the US over a spate of areas in Eastern Asia, a zone of China's vital interests. Beijing is trying to oust the US from these areas and undermine its influence there, something that spreads to a military sphere and makes China start an arms race."
The trouble with this theory is that it’s trying to write history in advance. If you read military history, you get a panoramic view of the thinking that causes and fights wars- Pre-war, during the war, and post war evaluations. Usually, these things have nothing in common. What was considered a great idea before the war turns out to be a stupid idea. Mistakes, misconceptions, and in many cases pure stupidity are often the major topics of the postwar evaluations.
China, as a matter of fact, is playing catch-up with its own technology, to start with. It is now a space-going nation with far superior technology to the much older missile classes of the past and a whole generation of new systems. You don’t own a Rolls Royce and ride a kid’s tricycle to work.
In tandem with this is the fact that a Cold War in Asia simply wouldn’t work. This isn’t Europe. The demographics of power and politics are totally different. Therefore the military considerations are different. What is China supposed to do, invade some pathetically poor little neighbouring country “on principle”? What the hell for? In modern military terms, that makes absolutely no sense.
China is not in “expansion mode”. Nor is it likely to be. It has enough on its plate with its internal management and development. The little territorial spats are more matters of prestige than military issues. Nor do the territorial spats exactly lend themselves to military operations. Imagine trying to park a fleet and troops on those rocks they’re arguing about in the South China Sea against any real opposition, and maintaining them there. It’s ridiculous.
The nearest thing to a political and military rival China has in the region is India. The two nations have better things to do with their time than waste money on futile posturing. They are already quite capable of doing each other significant damage, but can anyone realistically see a full scale war working, even in theory? It’d be a logistic nightmare for both.
China and the US, or how to find an excuse for more military contracts
The continuous drones from Washington about China’s military might and other clichés really don’t stand up to much scrutiny. China’s geographical position alone should tell a story. China is surrounded by non-threats. Who’s going to attack them? Their trading partners?
Who “should” they attack? Taiwan? The PRC has a lot of interests in Taiwan. It also has a lot of business partners and a convenient non-PRC located base for business. They’d be attacking themselves and their own money. Taiwan would be no use to China as a cinder, anyway.
“Undermining the US influence in Asia” is a bit hilarious. Have a look at the US presence in Asia, particularly the military presence. This is exactly the military profile the US is rewriting from scratch. It’s big, cumbersome and hopelessly out of date in terms of actual US military issues. A carrier group and a few subs could take care of the Pacific and maintain a strike capacity. US bases in the region date back to the Second World War.
The rest of the US presence in Asia is commercial. It’s a bit hard to see China developing nukes to attack junketing businessmen and management scientists on lecture tours. While a first strike on management scientists might help the world as a whole, the business guys would merely be replaced.
Politically, the US “conflict” with China so far consists of:
1. Rhetoric
2. Needling China about its internal issues
3. An ongoing multi hundred billion dollar annual trade situation
4. A demand for more Chinese tourists
5. Selective myopia on various local issues
6. Misreading the PLA’s rebuilding program
7. Babble
Some basis for a war, but then the original Cold War was a 40 year goldmine for military contracts, wasn't it?
Shield, sieve or cosmetic presence?
The US missile shield theory is worthy of a look. In its previous incarnation, the idea of a missile shield deployed in Poland was scoffed at by both military analysts and Russia. The Russians were laughing their heads off. They pointed out that any missile base as proposed could simply be saturated with short range missiles or other tactical means. The base couldn’t have worked at all.
The US anti-missile technology is a roughly third generation removed from the original Patriots, which were barely able to hit comparatively primitive missiles like Scuds. These systems have improved considerably, but the truth remains that hitting an ICBM is not a simple process. That’s particularly the case with multiple warhead missiles. A missile shield would in practice be more like a sieve.
Then there’s the little matter of worthwhile targets and military priorities. Where you put your shield may not be where the other guy thinks is worth hitting. The shields may also simply be irrelevant. They can be targeted by conventional weapons. They need to be defended, too. The minute an opponent knows where they are, they become less effective, simply because their ability to hit targets is based on location and they become targets themselves.
Shielding the entire world by ringing China with shields would take literally hundreds of shields, deployed at great cost around the world, for no particular reason other than to have them there against a theoretical threat which may itself become obsolete as new systems and space-based capabilities emerge.
The shield theory has another problem. Pre-shield doctrines are a clue. During the Cold War, the sabre-rattling logic trundled along until it hit a real deterrent- The inability of Russia and the US to effectively shut down each other’s strike power. Russia’s mobile launchers and the US subs were too hard to hit. They were guarantees of massive retaliation. It was an insoluble problem.
China has its version of mobile launchers. These things are comparatively cheap systems. They’re hard to hit, easy to hide, and they would probably be able to fire most of their capacity. Even if the shields worked 100%, they have only so much realistic ability to stop a wave of nukes. Extrapolate a simple increase in mobile systems to the ability of the shields to achieve any given hit rate. You’ll get some interesting numbers.
The US might also want to look at another issue- It has flagged the development of its own micro-nukes and a very wide range of other advanced systems. Using the same logic as that used to decry China’s military policies, if any other country was developing weapons at the same rate as the US, the US would be putting in place deterrent systems against its own policies.
If you guys want World War Three, you’re going to have to do better than this. A credible threat, a credible enemy and a credible basis for war are required, and they’re just not here. You could try assassinating an archduke in Sarajevo, if you think it’ll help, but I doubt it.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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