Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 23:14 | SYDNEY
Saturday 21 Jul 2018 | 23:14 | SYDNEY

US-China: Missile envy


Sam Roggeveen


13 October 2008 12:14

I've been remiss in not commenting earlier on the recently announced US arms package to Taiwan. Of particular interest to me is the heavy emphasis on ballistic missile defence. As Danger Room explains, more than half of the US$6 billion package is made up of missile defence equipment, including 330 Patriot missiles (of the most advanced PAC-3 variety).

According to the Pentagon, China could now have over 1000 missiles with the range to hit Taiwan, so even when you include Taiwan's existing missile defences, there's still a big gap. But undoubtedly, these advanced PAC-3 missiles will substantially improve Taiwan's ability to defend key strategic targets, which could be the difference between defiance and capitulation if China wanted to politically intimidate Taiwan.

There's a more worrying geopolitical angle here, and that is the increasingly explicit fashion in which the US is addressing China's ballistic missile capability. This Taiwan package can now be added to the two bits of news I noted in August as evidence that the US is directly and specifically addressing Chinese ballistic missiles in its strategic plans.

Of course, Chinese military capabilities have always figured in US planning, but in these US responses to China's burgeoning missile capability, there is no pretense that the US is developing capabilities for broad, undefined contingencies, or that new weapons will have wide applicability. No, the focus is squarely on China's missiles.

The US reaction is understandable, since some of China's missile capabilities directly threaten US predominance in the region. But the fact that this competition in armaments (it is not yet an arms race) is now so explicit does raise the concern that the US and China are drifting into an adversarial relationship which will only get harder to stop.

Photo by Flickr user Tolka Rover, used under a Creative Commons license.