Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts The Implications of Missile Defense for Northeast Asia

The Implications of Missile Defense for Northeast Asia

Congress and the Bush administration are committed to building a defense against ballistic missiles. The current U.S. plan calls for fielding ground-based interceptor missiles in Alaska and California, with the first ten missiles scheduled to be operational in October 2004. These will be used to conduct research and development testing, although the administration maintains that they will have some capability to intercept missiles launched from North Korea. Work will also continue on ship-based interceptor missiles and other systems. With the planned fall deployment, missile defense is certain to be an issue in this year’s presidential election, although the Democrats’ candidate is more likely to criticize the specifics of the Bush administration’s plan than the wisdom of building some type of defense.

This article assesses the implications of U.S. ballistic missile defense for security relations in Northeast Asia. While relations among the great powers in Europe have become more cooperative and institutionalized over the last forty years, relations in Asia are still marked by territorial disputes involving the Koreas, Taiwan, China, Vietnam, Brunei, the Philippines, Malaysia, and Japan; an unclear distribution of power; and potentially disruptive power ambitions by major actors. The United States is a significant player in the region, but U.S. interests and commitments often seem difficult for Asian countries to perceive accurately. This is especially true with Washington’s decision to move forward with missile defense.

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