The contention over the quantity and quality of regional missile defenses forward-deployed by the United States in the Asia-Pacific region animates much of the US–China disagreement about strategic stability. The Chinese argue that the deployed assets exceed reasonable defensive requirements and suggest that if these missile-defense deployments continue, they will be forced to increase the size of their nuclear arsenal. In disagreement, the United States claims that regional missile defenses are defensive by design, limited in scope, and necessary to defeat a North Korean missile campaign. In this article, a series of simulation experiments were developed to empirically test these opposing arguments over missile defenses and strategic stability. The simulations indicate that current deployments are necessary for defense and proportional to the threat. The analysis also argues that current deployments do not possess the ability to alter the US–China strategic nuclear balance significantly. The article concludes with a discussion of other subjective aspects of national security that may explain Chinese concerns and explore possible ways to reassure China.
"China has amassed a large arsenal of regional ballistic missiles capable of ranging all of Asia-Pacific. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) has also developed detailed doctrines articulating the use of these missiles to deny the United States and allied nations’ freedom of action during a regional contingency. The PLARF practices many of its exercises based on these doctrines and under realistic conditions that mimic adversary counter-tactics. In response, the U.S. and allied states deploy significant ballistic missile defense assets to deter and defend against the use of missiles. In this paper, an empirical evaluation of the performance of these regional missile defenses is conducted. The results indicate that regional missile defense remain robust and effective against small coercive signaling strikes. Against a limited suppression strike campaign aiming to delay and disrupt military movements, missile defenses remain robust if an early warning is available. Finally, against a large-scale coordinated missile campaign, missile defense assets are spread thin, and marginal cost to the defense is substantially high. If China can launch multiples waves of large-scale missile salvos or if critical missile assets are rendered nonfunctional, it could cause severe damage to military capabilities."
© Clements Center for National Security 2019