China’s New Missiles and U.S. Alliances in the Asia-Pacific: The Impact of Weakening Extended Deterrence

Author:  Felix K. Chang
April 14, 2016

China’s New Missiles and U.S. Alliances in the Asia-Pacific: The Impact of Weakening Extended Deterrence

Two weeks ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping attended a nuclear security cooperation summit in Washington. At the same time, China has been busily preparing its next generation of nuclear weapons. It has made steady progress on its new DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Last December, China conducted two more tests on the missile, including one that confirmed the DF-41’s ability to be launched from a mobile platform. The DF-41 will be China’s first solid-fueled missile with the range to reach the entire continental United States. The new missile’s range will likely exceed that of China’s older liquid-fueled DF-5 (or CSS-4 according to its NATO designation) ICBM. As a mobile, solid-fueled missile, the DF-41 will be hard to track and able to quickly launch, improving China’s nuclear deterrent. Some believe that China might deploy the DF-41 as early as this year.[1]

China has also been developing a sea-based ICBM, the JL-2. Though the JL-2 has a shorter range than the DF-41, China has built four Jin-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines to carry JL-2 missiles closer to their targets. While those submarines are unlikely for the moment to venture far from their base at Yalong Bay on Hainan Island, American officials confirmed that one of them conducted a patrol late last year. [2] Whether or not JL-2 missiles were on board the submarine is unknown. But if they were, that would make the JL-2 even more elusive than the DF-41, again strengthening China’s nuclear deterrent.

Chinese Ballistic Missile RangesChinese Ballistic Missile Ranges

While China’s nuclear arsenal is small when compared to those of Russia or the United States, there is little doubt as to its enduring importance to Beijing. That much is clear in the special status its nuclear weapons program has held over the last half century. As part of its wide-ranging military reorganization early this year, Beijing elevated its land-based nuclear forces, once a component of the army, to a full-fledged service on par with the army called the Rocket Force.

Many Chinese analysts believe that by creating a more robust nuclear retaliatory capability they can ensure that no country would threaten China with nuclear coercion should a crisis erupt over one of its “core interests,” like Taiwan. As one Chinese official once famously quipped in the 1990s, the United States would never trade “Los Angeles for Taipei.” Hence, China has opposed any proposal that might blunt the effectiveness of its nuclear missiles, even indirect ones, like America’s recent effort to deploy its Theater High-Altitude Air Defense system to protect South Korea and Japan from a possible North Korean missile attack. While Beijing may contend that a state of mutual vulnerability would lead to a more stable security environment between China and the United States, it also complicates a key feature of U.S. alliances in the Asia-Pacific.

Since the Cold War, U.S. allies, like Australia, Japan, and South Korea, have enjoyed what is called “extended deterrence”—a security guarantee that the United States would be willing to use its nuclear forces to deter aggression against them. But that guarantee is dependent on the credibility of the United States to act. Naturally, the United States is more likely to act if potential adversaries are unable to retaliate against it. Once fully operational, China’s new missiles, which can directly threaten the United States, will complicate the credibility of America’s security guarantee to its allies, weakening extended deterrence.

Already American credibility to act has been questioned over the last half decade, due to the Obama administration’s repeated hesitancy in foreign crises. The reliability of America’s security commitments concerns many of its allies in the Asia-Pacific, as China’s military capabilities continue to grow. That has led some U.S. allies to reevaluate their own military postures. Japan has even taken steps to change its constitution to enable its military to take on a more “normal” role to safeguard Japanese interests in the region.

Australia has begun to do the same. Since the early 2000s, several Australian policymakers have argued for a more self-reliant defense. In its 2009 defense planning document Australia stated “in terms of military power… we must have the capacity to act independently where we have unique strategic interests at stake.”[3] Then, its defense white paper this year, Australia indicated that it could only assume American military dominance in the Asia-Pacific for the next two decades, rather than for the “foreseeable future” as it had in the past. [4] As a result, Australia is pressing ahead with a defense review that will culminate in the purchase of a raft of new military hardware. Australia is now considering the purchase of Japanese submarines for its navy. A few Australian analysts have even begun to openly wonder whether nuclear weapons should in Australia’s future.

Some American policymakers have welcomed the change that weaker extended deterrence has brought. Long-time issues of burden-sharing have eased. They believe that a web of militarily stronger allies can deter China from upsetting Asia’s regional order and do so at a lower cost to the United States. If they are correct, it may usher in a new era of stability. But it also means that the United States will be less able to manage crises in Asia-Pacific, as regional countries will have greater ability to act without it. Should American allies do so, they could draw the United States into a crisis that it would have rather avoided. For those who are concerned about that prospect, it provides an added incentive to pursue ever stronger anti-ballistic missile defenses.

[1]China’s top new long-range missile ‘may be deployed this year’, putting US in striking distance,” South China Morning Post, Mar. 29, 2016; Bill Gertz, “Chinese Defense Ministry Confirms Rail-Mobile ICBM Test,” Washington Free Beacon, Dec. 31, 2015; Bill Gertz, “China Tests New ICBM from Railroad Car,” Washington Free Beacon, Dec. 21, 2015; Keither Bradsheraug, “China Said to Bolster Missile Capabilities,” New York Times, Aug. 25, 2012, p. A5.

[2] Bill Gertz, “Pentagon confirms patrols of Chinese nuclear missile submarines,” Washington Times, Dec. 9, 2015.

[3] Australian Department of Defence, Defending Australia in the Asia Pacific Century: Force 2030 (Canberra: Department of Defence, 2009), p. 48.

[4] Australian Department of Defence, 2016 Defence White Paper (Canberra: Department of Defence, 2016), p. 41.

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8 thoughts on “China’s New Missiles and U.S. Alliances in the Asia-Pacific: The Impact of Weakening Extended Deterrence”

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  3. China threat to Guam? What about the 20000 twenty thousand US nm that can send China to the dinosaur era? Get real. You cant have the cake and eat it.
    The US can easily destroy China a million times.The problem is costs. China will make absolutely sure any US provoked/unprovoked conventional/nuclear attack will extract a prohibitive price tag.
    The US congress is full of guys with connections to the arms lobby. Their job is to promote war so the US public better be careful.

  4. Naturally the US blah blah. The US is used to attacking defenceless countries like NV/Iraq,etc.Then their warplanes can discharge
    their bombs and the crew return to base safe and sound Of course China can be defeated and bombed to the dinosaur age. The caveat is the US will suffer immense damage.Furthermore the PLA are increasing the destructive capability of their nw to ensure 100% times 5 will wreak unacceptable damage on the US.
    The days when the US can punch China ,like in the 19th century and last 50 years
    without retaliation are over. Get real
    China aint aiming for parity with the US military.The capability to respond and retaliate effectively is good enough.
    Btw,you wont hear any US president going to say I am proud to be a Taiwanese because he knows those days are over.

  5. The US doesn’t treat China or for that matter Russia,as an equal.Currently the US can easily destroy both countries but the price for regime change in both countries will spark ww3 and cause massive and unacceptable destruction.
    Now that the verdict has gone against China in the SCS dispute get ready for more US provocations.
    Btw,this panel of judges is a US set up as are most of the international bodies ie WB,ADB,etc.The judges are not impartial and
    until the international court go after both Bush and Blair,I wont trust them.
    Expect China to speed up its military power to give it more capability .Even if the US can launch athousand nm,China must be able to respond with at least a hundred.
    Killing 100million is no different from killing 10 million.If this does not act as a brake on the US,nothing will short of blowing up the whole world.

  6. The moment the US stops its nuclear threat and thaad deployment,there will be peace. China is reacting to the US nt.
    If the positions were reversed,the US will do exactly what China is doing now.If the US keeps on adding more missile defences the PLA will increase it stockpile of nm. You can be assured of this.
    The US immunity from attack in ww2 and present day wars will be athing of the past. There will be no sanctuary for the US military and homeland.

  7. Anyone can claim to be an "official" new source of There are several channels such as highly-followed Twitter accounts or operators of certain big IRC channels that have a lot of following, thus creating bigger attention to anything they But don’t be fooled into thinking it was a real Anonymous, at its core is a meme anyone can You can see two general major influences/streams in what people who use the Anonymous meme do or say: 1 the more "oldschool", "first generation" that was just in it for-the-lulz, think /b/ 2 the more politicaly motivated "second generation" of Anonymous that gradually formed between the Habbo Hotel Raid and Operation But even within the more politicaly-minded operations then did we sometimes have different "official" Anonymous Operations fighting against opposing That’s because everyone and anyone can claim to be Anonymous; it all just depends on how many people you can

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