‘It’s a Direct Threat to Russia’

PHOTO by kamski / Depositphotos
China and Russia consider US missile shield a threat to their security

Representatives of Russia and China’s militaries have spoken out against the threat of the US missile shield. Russia believes that Washington is building a nuclear missile defence system directly aimed at Russia and China. The very same missile shield can be quickly reconfigured to launch ballistic missiles, and the missile shield is capable of shooting down Russian satellites. Gazeta.Ru interviewed experts to better understand the issues facing the US, Russia and China in relation to the missile defenсe system.

The United States decided to deploy its missile shield in Europe while at the same time failing to provide guarantees that it was not aimed at Russia, according to a statement made on Oct. 11 by Major General Cai Jun, Deputy Chief of Operations of the Joint Staff Department of China's Central Military Commission.

“In reality, it is a direct threat to Russia,” the major general said.

Previously, Major General Cai claimed that Washington was “deliberately exaggerating the threat from the so-called potential missile strike zone, developing a missile defence system greatly exceeding the actual requirements for protecting its territory.”

The Russian General Staff issued a similar statement. During a briefing on ballistic missile defence issues, Russian Lieutenant General Viktor Poznikhir noted that the configuration and anti-missile capacity of the US missile shield do not correspond to the real and potential threats against the United States.

Poznikhir explained that North Korea only demonstrates its ability to build long-range ballistic missiles. Moreover, Poznikhir said, Moscow believes there is no point in considering missile threats from Iran because of the successful deal regarding its nuclear programme, emphasising that the US keeps on expanding its own missile defence system.

“What we have here is a primarily anti-Russian and anti-Chinese missile defence system deployed under the pretenses of combating North Korean and Iranian ‘missile threats,’” the general concluded.

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A military parade marking the 70th anniversary of China's victory in the War of Resistance against Japan and the end of the World War II. Beijing, China, 2015

The United States Versus China

According to Alexey Maslov, faculty head for the World Economy and International Affairs / School of Asian Studies at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, China made several statements about three years ago saying that the American missile shield is useless against China’s and Russia’s ICBMs. Maslov believes that it was a key tenet of China’s military propaganda.

“Beijing previously announced that the MIM-104 Patriot system, used by the US in their missile defence shield, will be unable to detect missiles launched from the Asia Pacific region adjacent to China,” Maslov said. “Eventually, the United States deployed missile defence systems near China.”

Maslov believes that there is another reason behind this decision: the US understands that it’s losing its political footing in the Pacific. On the other hand, China is gaining a foothold there and becoming a regional leader.

“Washington is coming back to this region with a defensive doctrine – the US is ready to deploy its ‘missile umbrella’ primarily over South Korea and possibly Japan, becoming a moderator of armed conflicts – this, of course, is frowned upon by China.”

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American Patriot air defence missile

In early September, the US and South Korean presidents defended the deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, or THAAD, an advanced US missile system, in South Korea.

Despite Barack Obama emphasising that it was purely a defensive system aimed at containing threats from North Korea, China was less than thrilled about it. Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the Communist Party of China, announced that the deployment of THAAD in South Korea may “exacerbate existing conflicts.” On Monday, South Korea and the United States launched a joint navy military drill called Invincible Spirit 2016. The Yonhap News Agency reported that the exercises would for the first time take place along the whole length of South Korea’s shoreline, in both the Yellow Sea and the Sea of Japan, and near Jeju Island, the southernmost island belonging to South Korea.

In turn, Russia and China scheduled joint missile defence exercises. On Sept. 19, both countries successfully carried out a weeklong military drill in the South China Sea.

Maslov considers the continuation of coordinated Russian-Chinese military efforts to be a countermeasure against the United States. He believes that the military is where cooperation between Russia and China is closest and most successful. As far as US-Chinese relations go, despite the development of economic ties, military and political conflicts have been rapidly escalating.

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“We’re talking not only about US-Chinese tensions over islands in the South China Sea but also about US attempts to deploy new armaments in that region,” Maslov said. “Consequently, China claims that the American missile defence system is excessive. Washington is essentially resuming the arms race, which is extremely unfavorable to Beijing at this point. China is only starting to deploy its missile systems and is probably concerned that it won’t be able to keep up with the US.”

He added that the missile shield is not a direct threat to Russia and China per se, but there are political factors to consider. Beijing and Moscow are concerned that the situation will force them to increase military spending, Maslov explained.

Vasily Kashin, a leading research fellow at the Institute of the Russian Far East, believes confrontations between the US and China provide certain benefits. Kashin explained that China’s official military budget is less than 1.5% of the country’s GDP – much lower than the global average of 2.3%, especially compared to that of the United States, which is around 4%.

“China has considerable reserves to increase its military spending, a luxury most its opponents cannot afford,” Kashin noted. He added that even considering China’s “hidden” spending, actual military spending is no more than 2% of its GDP, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, or SIPRI.

At the same time, the development of missile defence systems, strategic nuclear arms and the construction of a Missile Approach Warning System, or MAW, are China’s main priorities when it comes to its military-industrial complex. As such, they require a significant amount of resources.

Back in the early 2000s, Beijing possessed the fewest deployed nuclear warheads in comparison to almost all UN Security Council members: now it’s the only one of the eight sovereign states with nuclear weapons that is gradually increasing the amount of its ready-to-fire missiles. China still lags behind Russia and United States in terms of nuclear weapons. According to most evaluations, China possesses around 250 warheads ready to fire, whereas Russia and the United States have over 400 each.

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The radar of a Don-2N missile defence system in Moscow Region

Surrounding Russia

Poznikhir said that Moscow hopes Russia and the US will eventually reach an agreement over the missile defence system.

“I’d like to believe such an agreement will eventually be reached,” he said, lamenting that now, “it’s much harder to achieve than in 2011 and 2012, when [Russia] and the US had an ongoing dialogue on missile issues.” Today, Poznikhir explained, “relations between Russia and the US are not at their high point, and military contacts have been shelved.”

In 2002, the United States unilaterally withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, leading to its termination.

Anatoly Khupenen, a retired colonel general and the former commander of the Anti-Aircraft Academy, summed up Moscow’s concern, saying, “the Americans are indeed trying to surround Russia, supposedly acting in self-defence,” Khupenen said. “They’re currently deploying their missile shield in Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic. The issue here is that these are dual-purpose weapons, not just defensive but offensive as well. They’re currently deploying arms capable of engaging ground forces.”

Russia believes that deploying US missile defence systems in Romania and Poland breaches the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces, or INF, Treaty. Poznikhir explained that the Mark 41 Vertical Launching System, used in the missile defence systems in Romania and Poland, are capable of launching not only anti-missile rockets but Tomahawk missiles as well.

“Outfitting the Mk 41 launching systems with Tomahawk missiles in Europe and on ships can be done covertly and quickly,” Poznikhir added.

Mikhail Remizov, President of the Institute of National Strategy, told Gazeta.Ru that the potential of the missile shield against nations with a large nuclear arms stockpile only makes sense in case of a preemptive strike.

Mikhail Remizov

“The missile defence system is meant to prevent a counterstrike, although it is not enough to prevent a strike from a nuclear state,” Remizov said. “So here’s the question: will the remaining missiles be capable of reaching enemy territory? There is no clear answer to this question right now. In ten years, there may be an answer, and we would be at a disadvantage. For example, the General Staff claims that US interceptor missiles can take down ICBMs during their early-stage flight path. The US is also developing hypersonic weapons, further boosting its anti-missile capacity.”

Remizov noted that the issue is resolvable, with the quickest resolution being to boost offensive capacity. Remizov concluded that Russia is soon going to reevaluate the agreements that limit the production and use of such weapons.

“We need to sit down together with the US and prepare a mutually-beneficial missile defence agreement that would dispel the concerns of both Russia and China. If such a legally binding agreement is signed, it would allow mutual control over anti-missile systems and, most importantly, greater predictability of their development,” Poznikhir explained.

However, Poznikhir believes that the United States will dismiss Russia’s attempts to reach agreements that would reduce tensions stemming from the missile shield issue. Poznikhir stated that Moscow has pointed out to Washington several times that its anti-missile systems are capable of threatening Russian and Chinese spacecraft.

Poznikhir said that the United States refuses to guarantee that its missile shield is not aimed against Russia, and the US blocked Russian-Chinese initiatives to address this and other issues regarding the missile shield during the Geneva Conference on Disarmament. Russia believes such actions do not give credibility to Washington’s reassurances.

Author: Inna Sidorkova