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US playing strategic arms game

Updated: 2013-01-10 22:11
By Hu Yumin ( chinadaily.com.cn)

The US could cut its defense spending because of the fiscal cliff. But it would be wrong to assume that such a cut will weaken the US military.

In fact, the US has allocated more funds for the development of Prompt Global Strike, a system that can deliver a precision non-nuclear weapon strike anywhere in the world within 1 hour. The number of such weapons in the US armory will continue to grow, with the Russian Defense Ministry estimating that Washington will have 1,500 to 1,800 sea- and air-based first-strike cruise missiles by 2015 and 2,500 to 3,000 by 2020.

The US aims to combine PGS with its space and anti-missile technologies to form an integrated defense system, which could render other countries' strategic weapons, including nuclear arms, almost useless. It intends to break the global and regional strategic balance, minimize other countries' capability of strategic counterattack during emergencies and squeeze their strategic space.

This could put other countries in a dilemma: they either lose the capability to launch a strategic nuclear counterattack or use nuclear weapons first to avoid devastation.

Russia's army, navy as well as air force still have the capability to deal with any challenge. Moscow's Topol-M missiles are its major strategic nuclear deterrent and the project to deploy them is the most important part of its national armament planning. Russia has a reliable protection system, which also consists of multi-range anti-aircraft missiles to defend against air attacks from even high-precision non-nuclear weapons.

The Russian army has a multi-level firepower system, comprising C-400 and C-400M anti-aircraft missiles, and Thor and Amor anti-aircraft missile launchers, which is regarded as the best anti-aircraft power combination targeting PGS.

Since Russia's strategic weapon system is better than China's in terms of numbers, mobility and protection capabilities some experts believe that the US army's PGS poses a greater threat to China than Russia.

To many defense experts' surprise, Chinese military experts seem to pay more attention to missile defense while ignoring the precision-guided prompt long-distance strike system. Some experts even say that China faces a difficult choice. On one hand, it is not sure of being able to build an effective protection system. On the other, even if it can build one, it will expose its limited and covert strategic missile launching bases.

During talks on strategic arms reduction, Russia has opposed the US' use of nuclear weapons delivery vehicles for non-nuclear military objectives because it not only helps the US save huge amounts in defense spending, but also boosts its PGS project.

It is highly likely that Russia will stick to its stance at future strategic weapons reduction talks. But the fact is Russia can hardly stop the US from going ahead with its plan. Apart from demanding restrictions on the deployment of the European Antimissile System and seeking other nuclear powers' support, Russia does not have the bargaining chips to force the US into accepting its demand.

Major countries know that the advances made in military science and technology have made strategic stability in nuclear and non-nuclear fields highly correlated, especially during the strategic deployment process. And over-dependence on nuclear power, especially during an emergency, can undermine a country's national security.

But since other countries, compared to the US, are at a disadvantage in terms of conventional weapon systems, they have to adopt asymmetric corresponding actions. Global strategic stability depends more on the stability in Europe and Northeast Asia. This is something that the international community should understand and tell the countries that are calling for a "nuclear-free world" not to develop conventional weapons to replace nuclear ones, because it will have serous consequences on international security.

Some insightful people in the US have indeed emphasized the importance of maintaining global strategic stability. In 1967, Robert McNamara, then US secretary of defense, suggested that the former Soviet Union restrict the development of its anti-missile system to avoid escalating tensions. Initially, the Soviet Union opposed the idea but eventually it accepted it because it realized that developing the anti-missile system was destabilizing the world. This led to the 1972 Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems between the Soviet Union and the US.

In 1985, when the US began experiments on how to use missiles to destroy low earth orbit satellites, many American senators and scholars said a US-Soviet Union race in this field was dangerous. Since the Soviet Union had unilaterally stopped its anti-satellite experiments in 1983, the US also gave up its tests later.

People who value peace hope that long-distance launching vehicles for precision-guided conventional warheads and missile defense systems will be part of the agenda at the strategic arms reduction talks.

The author is a senior research fellow with China Arms Control and Disarmament Association.

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