Why China bothers about THAAD Missile Defense

The United States has announced that it will deploy Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system to the Republic of Korea. China has objected as it fears encirclement. The United States should continue to engage with China via official and other channels to mitigate concerns and avoid misperceptions.

On July 8, 2016, South Korea and the United States announced the decision to deploy Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system to the Republic of Korea. The THAAD defense system will eventually be deployed and operated by U.S. Forces in Korea (USKF) “to protect alliance military forces … and not directed toward any third-party nations.” The purpose of the deployment was to establish a defense against the growing North Korean missile threat. China, however, has strongly objected. Chinese analysts argue that the THAAD radar will be able to surveil the entire Chinese mainland.

To reassure China that the range of the radar is limited, the United States had offered to provide a technical briefing to China on the system on the sidelines of the most recent Nuclear Security Summit. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced: “We realize China may not believe us and also proposed to go through the technology and specifications with them … and prepared to explain what the technology does and what it doesn’t do and hopefully they will take us up on that proposal.” China declined the offer. Commenting on the issues, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said that China does not view matter “as simply a technical one.”

Hong Lei is correct. The matter is not a technical one. China fears encirclement by the United States and its allies. It is not the THAAD radar that is impelling official Chinese objection. The radar would not be able to provide any new information beyond what the United States is already capable of obtaining. The U.S. early warning satellites can already track the heat signatures of missiles (including Chinese missiles) during their powered flight throughout the world. The THAAD radar would have to be able to observe “the decoy-deployment process of [Chinese] strategic missiles” after missile burnout to affect the Chinese deterrent in a meaningful fashion. It then has to continue to track and discriminate warheads and decoys. However, the operating parameters of the THAAD radar, proposed for possible deployment in South Korea, cannot permit it to track warhead and decoys launched along trajectories of Chinese Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) heading to the United States.

Presuming parameters within reasonable margins, a THAAD radar would have a maximum range of approximately 800 kilometers under even highly optimistic conditions. As shown in Figure 1 below, at a range of 800 kilometers, a THAAD radar deployed in South Korea would have essentially zero ability to track and discriminate Chinese missiles heading to the United States. Even one possible trajectory that might be momentarily observable could be lofted to avoid THAAD radar detection.

THAAD_range
Figure 1. Coverage of THAAD Radar (with 800-Kilometer Range) against Strategic Chinese Missiles. Note: The blue dots represent the locations of mobile Chinese ICBM units. The black dot represents the locations of silo-based Chinese ICBM units. The red lines represent the trajectories of Chinese silo-based/mobile ICBM missiles. Finally, the yellow dome represents the extent of an 800-kilometer range THAAD radar located in Pyeongtaek, near Seoul.

So, what is motivating Chinese opposition to the deployment of THAAD in South Korea? A prominent argument is that even mild U.S. missile defense postures in the region will over time accumulate increasing capabilities, and can, therefore, be quickly converted to a larger threatening posture. Some Chinese claim that the United States is beginning to form a balancing coalition with Japan and South Korea with the intent to encircle China with an interlinked missile defense system. Others argue that this possibility would fundamentally alter the strategic balance and stability between the U.S. and China and, in turn, could force China to increase its nuclear arsenal.

It is certainly in neither nation’s interest to foster such increases in nuclear weapons. Recognizing this, the U.S. has repeatedly pointed out that the regional missile defense systems do not and are not intended to alter the strategic stability. For example, the recent U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense Review stated: “Engaging China in discussions of U.S. missile defense plans is also an important part of our international efforts … maintaining strategic stability in the U.S.-China relationship is as important to the administration as maintaining strategic stability with other major powers.” The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review also made similar commitments.

The United States should continue to engage with the Chinese on both official and other channels to mitigate concerns and avoid misperceptions. Misinformation and misperception should not be fueling disagreements. However, such engagements also need to take into account Chinese offensive missile capabilities. Currently, ranges of Chinese missiles extend to U.S. bases as far away as Guam. China is also believed to have around 1,200 short-range missiles. China’s medium-range missile inventory may include as many as 400 CSS-6 missiles (with a range of 600 kilometers) and around 85 CSS-5 missiles (with a range of 1,750 kilometers). China also possesses a significant number of medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

Why does China need such a large arsenal of offensive missiles? One potential explanation is that these missiles could target U.S. forward-deployed forces, allied forces and bases in the region. Under such a scenario, missile defense in the Asia-Pacific region could offer limited defenses against Chinese short- and medium- range missiles, thereby strengthening regional deterrence and stability. If China, indeed, wants to limit U.S. missile defenses in the Asia-Pacific, it should cooperatively work to diminish the threats from all missile arsenals in Northeast Asia.

Jaganath Sankaran is a Research Scholar, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM), University of Maryland, College Park, USA. Bryan L. Fearey is Director, National Security Office, Los Alamos National Laboratories, Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA. They are the authors of “Missile defense and strategic stability: Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea”, Contemporary Security Policy, 38, forthcoming. It is available here.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not represent those of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Department of Energy or any other U.S. government agency.

Un(wo)manned Aerial Vehicles: How UAVs Influence Masculinity In The Conflict Arena

CSP_Blog_16_01_KunashakaranAs a result of the introduction of drones (or UAVs), there have been numerous studies on the moral and ethical uses of an asymmetrical warfare, a war where one side is vastly superior to the other. However, not much research has been done into the intrinsic effects of these technologies.

How do they affect soldiers? How do they transform the role of gender in the society? Are they really the “silver bullet” that policymakers have been looking for: a machine that keeps troops far away from the ugliness of war? Or do they in fact bring the conflict zone closer than ever before?

Albert Camus once said that “there are causes worth dying for, but none worth killing for”. With the technological advancements of drones and the continuous distancing of troops from the warzone, the question is not so much of what militaries would kill for, but rather how they could potentially suffer from the kill.

Talking about masculinity and militaries can get rather tense. And a full article on it seems to simply suck all the air out of the room. However, with the technological advancements that push soldiers further and further away from the battlezone, we need to give more thought to such abstract ideas.

The Evolution of Technology and The Role of Women

Today’s women are beginning to lead in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. In institutions that are considered “manly”, women are beginning to play a leading role. And with the introduction of technology, neither mere brute strength nor physical prowess are deciding factors of what makes an ideal combatant.

When studying the changing dynamics of a conflict zone, gender is increasingly a key consideration.CSP_Blog_16_01_Kunashakaran_wecandoit

With the increasing use of UAVs, and similar distancing technologies that seek to protect troops, it is also time we talked about how women play a role with the technologies that dominate the conflict arena.

Back in the 20th century, World War II had a strong influence on women and the workforce. During this period, fields that were usually reserved for men suddenly saw a previously untapped demographic. An example are the very iconic “Rosie The Riveter” posters. This thrust helped to change the futur
e of the world, and of women in the workforce.

More recently, the US Army has begun to open up previously “men-only” positions to women. But do current deeply-entrenched norms and values in a rather male-dominated society give way that easily? Does the continuous chase for the ultimate killing machine transform traditional masculinity?

The Latent Psychological Effects of Combatant Technology

When writing my article on the influence of UAVs on gender dynamics, it made me think of how we approach the very tricky subject of humanity. Studying the various effects that arise with the increasing distancing of the warzone, I observed that sometimes hardest part is to reconcile the conflict going on “within”.

A stark finding were the significant levels of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) that drone operators suffer from, even when far away from the warzone. This seems counter-intuitive to introducing a technology that “protects” combatants. It is precisely for this reasons that we need to further delve into these latent psychological effects.

PTSD seems to be caused by the incredibly complex juxtaposition of having to constantly switch between a combatant mind-set and then stepping out of the airbase to go home interacting with family or everyday society. This constant psychological switch takes a toll of previously unobserved magnitude on the individual.

Critical Policy Considerations for the Future

This is why, more so than soldiers on the ground, structural policies need to address a vast number of psychological, emotional and social factors. It also begs the question of when we are going to consider the aspect of human fallibility in the design of technologies?

Every day we hear more about robots and cyborgs taking over aspects of daily lives of humans. A rather (seemingly) un-gendered entity encroaches upon humanity and sufficient focus needs to be placed on policies that address this changing dimension. And in the fields of security and the military, advancements in technology keep the battlefield far away from home, with the ease of eliminating an individual resting on an operator’s fingertips.

With the future of warfare teetering on the edge of humanity, the increase of distancing technology in the conflict zone could potentially give individuals a more cavalier attitude towards conflict, resulting in ideas that violence is a need, rather than a last resort. After all, it is a clean war. And human lives are simply collateral damage.

A key consideration for policymakers should be to be a little more introspective, rather than to go out guns blazing and causing irreparable damage to humanity.

Sumita Kunashakaran is currently based in Singapore and is an Associate Consultant at Strategic Moves Pte Ltd and an External Consultant at Asia Aviation Services Pte Ltd. She is the author of “Un(wo)manned aerial vehicles: an assessment of how unmanned aerial vehicles influence masculinity in the conflict arena”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.37, No.1, 2016, pp.31-61 which she completed during her Masters in International Relations at The University of Edinburgh. Access here