Active deterrence of Chinese aggression

by RICHARD D. FISHER JR. September 7, 2017

President Trump can take steps to win without a fight

Even though he likely deterred North Korean missile launches against Guam, President Trump's Aug. 8 threat to rain down "fire and fury" on North Korean is not stopping its drive to deploy intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), made clear by Pyongyang's claimed thermonuclear warhead test on Sept. 2, with an estimated force of between 100 and 200 kilotons.

But in addition to demonstrating resolve, even by threatening nuclear retaliation, the administration can still make up for 15 years of neglect in preparing the United States to deter North Korean aggression and to deter potential Chinese military aggression in five regions.

However, there is not much time to prepare. China seeks a navy by the 2030s that can challenge the U.S. Navy almost anywhere; globally deployable amphibious and airmobile troops; and to advance its control of the new "high ground," the earth-moon system. Furthermore, current China-Russia cooperation in "missile defense" could quickly extend to "missile offense." The longer Washington tarries, the more difficult it will be to deter Chinese aggression later. Here is what can be done to deter war on five key fronts:

  • North Korea: To retaliate against a North Korean nuclear strike today, the U.S. would have little choice but to use intercontinental missile-delivered nuclear warheads with high fallout deadly to South Korea and much of Japan. Using these weapons would deplete missiles needed to deter potential nuclear retaliation fromChinaand possibly Russia. The immediate solution is a crash program to deploy a secondary nuclear deterrent in Asia, thousands of new, low-yield tactical nuclear weapons for U.S. naval, land and air forces.

George H.W. Bush's 1992 gamble that withdrawing U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from Asian bases would help convince Pyongyang not to build nuclear weapons failed long ago. Talks need to begin immediately with Seoul and Tokyo to initiate NATO-style joint basing of tactical nuclear weapons, meaning South Korean and Japanese forces would be trained to use them, too.

  • East China Sea: Since it wants to control the East China Sea,Chinawill eventually invade Japan's islands in the Ryukyu Island Chain.China's threat combines massive air power, massive missile strikes and submarine warfare to clear the way for rapid airborne invasion. Washington should urge Japan immediately to quadruple its planned purchase 42 fifth-generation F-35 fighters, an expensive but necessary commitment. As it is working with South Korea, Washington should work with Tokyo to sell or enable production of new, long-range ballistic and cruise missiles to attack Chinese bases, and combat ships to deter Chinese invasion as the key to deterring war.
  • Taiwan: For the first time since the 1950s,Chinaby the early 2020s may have the capability to actually invade democratic Taiwan. By conquering Taiwan,Chinahopes to end the era of U.S. strategic leadership in Asia and turn Taiwan into a major military base for global strategic projection and nuclear forces.Chinawill then direct its aggression against the democracies in Japan and South Korea, and eventually against the United States.

It is thus essential to U.S. strategy in Asia that Taiwan have the means to deter a Chinese invasion. This includes the near-term sale of fifth-generation F-35 fighters, the means to build manned and unmanned submarines, and the means to build thousands of small, cheap, long-range cruise missiles to target the thousands of civilian and military ships China will use to invade Taiwan.

• South China Sea: China is now arming its four major island air-naval bases in the South China Sea, and will make them even larger, absent a strong U.S. response. This should begin with the gift and sale of hundreds of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles to the Philippines, for the purpose of immediately destroying China's new military bases if it uses them.

  • India: Last month's intenseChina-India confrontation in Bhutan's disputed Doklam region illustrates clearlyChina's growing direct military threat to the world's largest democracy.Chinahas already turned Pakistan into a nuclear missile power, which allows Islamabad to conduct a low-boil terror war that diverts India's strategic attention.

Delhi and Washington should be conducting emergency resupply exercises to prepare for future Chinese aggression against India. But it is also time for Washington to invite Delhi, Tokyo, Seoul and Taipei to create an informal multi-sensor surveillance network covering all Chinese territory to enable very early warnings of Chinese aggression.

In addition, Washington needs to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces Agreement with Russia that forbids the U.S. from having medium- and intermediate-range missiles but does nothing to stop China's growing arsenal of both. Furthermore, the U.S. must re-examine its nuclear forces requirements should China and Russia decide to coordinate their nuclear forces.

Finally, Washington cannot abandon the "high ground," and must develop a strategy that combines scientific activism like manned moon exploration with the development of energy weapons, which can be placed rapidly in space, to deter China's development of similar weapons.

Richard D. Fisher Jr. is a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.

A version of this piece also appeared on Washington Times


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