Pulling out of nuclear arms pact adds to US options to ‘erode Chinese advantage’
- Withdrawing from cold war-era treaty with Russia would mean US could deploy intermediate ground-based missile systems in Asia
- It could have a significant effect on the military balance between China and the US, especially in the event of a conflict
Withdrawing from a cold war-era nuclear weapons pact with Russia would mean the United States could deploy intermediate ground-based missile systems in Asia to counter China, military experts say.
That would add to the military options available to the US – which can already carry out precise strikes globally – in the event of a conflict between America and China, they added.
The assessment came after US President Donald Trump on Monday said China’s growing arsenal had played into his decision to pull out of the landmark Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which banned short and medium-range nuclear and conventional missiles.
While Beijing is not a signatory to the 1987 treaty, Trump said abandoning the arms control pact was a threat to China, Russia and “anybody else that wants to play that game”, and that the US would build up its nuclear arsenal.
Beijing rebuked Trump, with the foreign ministry saying it would not be blackmailed into joining the treaty. “We have paid attention to the relevant statement made by US President Donald Trump and his adviser John Bolton regarding China in the context of the INF treaty,” ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said in a daily press briefing on Tuesday.
“China has always adhered to the defensive nature of its national defence policy and protects its own state interests. China will not tolerate any blackmail from any country”
Adam Ni, a researcher on Chinese foreign and security policy at the Australian National University, said America’s withdrawal from the treaty would have a significant effect on the military balance between the US and China, especially if a conflict broke out, as it could deploy intermediate ground-based missile systems in Asia.
“The US currently has the ability to strike targets in China through air strikes and sea-based missile systems. The deployment of short or intermediate ground-based missiles to, say, Japan would add to US capabilities in the region and erode the Chinese advantage, which has been built over decades,” Ni said.
Not bound by the nuclear arms treaty, China has built and deployed a sophisticated and modern missile arsenal that means it can target US and allied military assets in the Asia-Pacific region, including its aircraft carriers and airbases.
One of the intercontinental ballistic missiles China is developing, the DF-41, would put the entire US homeland within range, while other modern weapons like hypersonic aircraft and laser guns would add to the threat for America if there were a military clash between the two powers.
Collin Koh, a maritime security specialist at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, said reinstating ground-launched intermediate range missiles would give the US a needed boost, not only for nuclear strikes but also conventional operations.
“[China] has been able to make significant progress in the area of land-based offensive missile capabilities while simultaneously building up the air and sea components. There must have been pressure on the part of the US defence establishment to try to cope with these, with the awareness of the limitations of existing capabilities,” he said.
Trump’s announcement has raised concerns globally, with the European Commission urging the United States and Russia to pursue talks to preserve the treaty and Beijing calling on Washington to “think twice”.
But Liu Weidong, a US affairs expert from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said the US might not start building up short and medium-range land-based missiles even if it pulled out of the pact because such a programme would be costly.