Tags: China | Rejects | U.S. | Nuclear | Missile | Report

China Rejects U.S. Nuclear Missile Report

Sunday, 13 January 2002 12:00 AM

But as he called the estimate into question, foreign ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi stressed that China would strengthen its national defense "in accordance with its own needs."

If China does increase its number of inter-continental ballistic missiles capable of reaching targets in the United States to between 75-100 as predicted, it would potentially be able to overcome any national defense system in place by then, experts believe.

Although the stated aim of President Bush's proposed missile defense system is to defend the U.S. against missiles launched by rogue states -- rather than by Russia or China -- the two countries have spearheaded opposition to the plan. The envisaged system would reportedly provide an effective umbrella against China's current arsenal of some 20 ICBMs.

The report released Wednesday is an unclassified summary of a "national intelligence estimate" of missile threats up until 2015, produced by U.S. civilian and military intelligence agencies in response to requests by the Senate Intelligence Committee for annual threat assessments.

The report says China is developing at least three new missile systems -- two truck-launched systems and one submarine-launched -- which could be ready by 2010, and is working on the ability to fire missiles from mobile launchers and to equip them with multiple warheads.

Apart from its 20 or so silo-based ICBMs with a range of 13,000 kms., it also has several medium-range submarine-launched ballistic missiles.

China also has another dozen nuclear missiles which can reach targets in Russia and elsewhere in Asia, and is expanding its arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles thought intended primarily to be aimed at Taiwan.

"Beijing is concerned about the survivability of its strategic deterrent against the United States and has a long-range modernization program to develop mobile, solid-propellant ICBMs," the report says.

The various intelligence agencies involved in the assessment differed in their projections of the overall size of the ballistic missile forces over the next 15 years, ranging from 75 to 100 missiles "deployed primarily against the United States."

By 2015, the report said, "most of China's strategic missile force will be mobile."

Phillip Saunders of the Monterey Institute of International Studies, said late Thursday the aim of China's modernization program was to move from liquid-fuel, silo- or cave-based missiles that are inaccurate and take a long time to prepare for launch, to a newer generation of solid-fuel, mobile missiles, capable of a quicker launch and somewhat more accurate.

The program was underway well before the recent round of interest in missile defense. Nonetheless, American missile defense plans played into the issue to a significant degree, said Saunders, who heads the institute's East Asia Nonproliferation Program.

"One of the important factors that determine how many missiles they build is the kind of ballistic missile defenses that the United States deploys."

A key variable in the "how many missiles" question will be China's judgment on what kind of missile defenses the U.S. will deploy, and how effective they're likely to be.

(Another variable will be whether the missiles China deploys would incorporate technologies aimed at defeating missile defense systems, such as decoys and other counter-measures. If such abilities were available, fewer missiles would be needed.)

Saunders agreed that a large number of missiles would potentially be able to overwhelm a defensive shield.

This could either be achieved by the enemy firing more missiles than there are interceptors to shoot at them, or more likely by overloading the sensor and radar capabilities that track the incoming missiles, figure out where to destroy them, and guide the interceptors.

But in the U.S.-China strategic context, he argued, it would be highly unlikely China would ever be in a situation in which it decided to launch all of its ICBMs in a bid to beat a defense system.

"For China, the key issue is to have a survivable second-strike capability. So that if the U.S. were to launch an attack, China would have enough missiles - and being mobile would help - to retaliate and penetrate U.S. defenses. Those are the circumstances under which the Chinese would feel secure."

Saunders said one way to minimize a Chinese build-up would be to have ongoing dialogue about American missile defense plans and about what type of Chinese response the U.S. would regard as reasonable.

"For China's part, it should talk more frankly than it has in the past about its own strategic plans and how they interact with what the U.S. does."

There had been some positive signs recently, he said, including a visit by senior U.S. officials to brief the Chinese beforehand on Bush's announcement last month that the U.S. was withdrawing from the ABM Treaty.

The 1972 U.S.-Soviet treaty prohibited missile defense systems of the type being pursued by Washington.

The report also said North Korea and Iran - and possibly Iraq - are by 2015 likely to have developed missiles capable of reaching the U.S. and that, "barring significant changes in their political orientations," they could pose ICBM threats to the U.S.

The three are among the handful of hostile states usually identified as the source of potential non-conventional threats to America.

The administration has suggested that countries like these may not be as restrained by the possibility of a devastating U.S. nuclear response as the former Soviet Union had been. Threats from such unstable states made a missile defense umbrella necessary, officials argue.

The intelligence report also says China, North Korea and Russia continue to assist countries like Iran and Pakistan in their missile programs.

Russia's own nuclear capacity is expected to continue to diminish in size in the absence of a significant increase of funding from Moscow - irrespective of future arms control agreements.

From a high of some 10,000 warheads in 1990, Russia now maintains almost 4,000 warheads on its ICBMs and sub-launched ballistic missiles. That number would likely drop to below 2,000, the report estimated.

Nonetheless, Russia will still have the largest arsenal of nuclear weapons able to threaten the United States.

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But as he called the estimate into question, foreign ministry spokesman Sun Yuxi stressed that China would strengthen its national defense in accordance with its own needs. If China does increase its number of inter-continental ballistic missiles capable of reaching...
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Sunday, 13 January 2002 12:00 AM
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