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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 55, March 2001

China & US Comment on NMD

Briefing by Ambassador Sha Zukang

Statement by Ambassador Sha Zukang, Director-General of the Department of Disarmament and Arms Control, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, press briefing on National Missile Defence, Beijing, March 14, 2001.

"I'm very pleased to have this opportunity to brief you on the missile defence issue. The US NMD programme has aroused extensive concerns among the international community. It is no news that China is opposed to the US NMD programme. For two basic reasons: firstly, we don't believe that NMD is in the interest of international peace and security as a whole; secondly, it will compromise China's security.

What I want to emphasize here is that China does not want to see a confrontation between China and the US over the NMD issue nor an arms race between the two countries. We are against NMD, not because we intend to threaten the security of the US with our nuclear weapons. We just hope that the existing mutual deterrence between the two countries can be preserved. As is known to all, China's nuclear arsenal is the smallest and least advanced among the five nuclear powers. Yet, China is the first to pursue the policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons. Of course, China will not allow its legitimate means of self-defence to be weakened or even taken away by anyone in anyway. This is one of the most important aspects of China's national security. Speaking from the international perspective, the US NMD programme will have a series of far-reaching negative consequences for the international security environment.

Firstly, the US NMD programme will jeopardize the global strategic balance and stability, and undermine the mutual trust and cooperation among major powers. Here, I would like to point out that 'strategic balance' and 'strategic parity' are two different concepts. The significance of the ABM treaty lies in the fact that, by prohibiting the deployment of nation-wide missile defence systems, it has maintained the strategic balance between the two nuclear superpowers, and by extension, has maintained the strategic balance among all the nuclear-weapon states. The US development and possible deployment of NMD will disrupt the existing strategic equilibrium among major powers, and jeopardize the security interest of other countries. This will undoubtedly arouse suspicion and mistrust among major powers, hampering their coordination and cooperation in international security affairs.

Secondly, the US NMD programme will hamper the international arms control and disarmament process and even trigger a new round of arms race. As the only remaining superpower, the US already possesses the largest and most advanced arsenal in the world, nuclear and conventional. In addition, the US pursues a nuclear deterrence policy based on the first use of nuclear weapons. Under such circumstances, NMD will become a multiplier of the US strategic offensive force. And the NMD programme is, in essence, an US programme of unilateral nuclear expansion, which harbours the inherent danger of triggering an arms race at a higher level. To be specific, it may start off an arms race in outer space, and may also extend the arms race from offensive weapons to defensive weapons.

Thirdly, the US NMD programme will undermine the international non-proliferation regime and efforts. The US claims that its development of missile defence systems is intended to counter the increasing threats posed by missile proliferation. I for one, and I don't think I'm alone, do not share the US assessment of the missile threats. To say the least, the US has over-exaggerated the missile threats from the so-called 'countries of concern'. In my view, the development of NMD is tantamount to drinking poison to quench thirst. NMD is not a solution to the problem of missile proliferation. Instead, it will undercut the very foundation of the international non-proliferation regime, and even stimulate further proliferation of missiles.

Fourthly, the US NMD programme will increase the weight of the military factor in international relations in detriment to international peace and security. The international debate around the NMD issue is, in essence, about what kind of international order should be established, and a choice between unipolar and multipolar world. More and more people have come to realize that, the real motive behind the US NMD programme is to seek its own absolute security. Once NMD is deployed, no matter whether it is really effective or not, it would further strengthen the US tendency towards unilateralism, and the tendency to use or threaten to use force. As a result, military factor will play a bigger role in international relations, and huge amount of financial resources and materials that would otherwise be devoted to economic development will be diverted to arms buildup. Under such circumstances, how can a country enjoy real security? How can the world remain stable?

Fifthly, NMD is not conducive to peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region. The implementation of NMD programme by the US will not only undermine global strategic balance and stability, but also disrupt efforts for security in the Asia-Pacific region. Moreover, the US also intends to deploy TMD in the region. Research and development of TMD itself may not constitute a violation of the ABM treaty. But, the crucial question is how large is the scale and what are the nature and function of the TMD that the US is preparing to deploy in Asia. If this TMD can be used as part of NMD and constitute the front deployment of NMD in the region, then its negative impact on regional security and stability will be no less than the NMD itself."

Questions and Answers

"Question: 'The United States claims that the purpose of developing NMD is to defend against the missile threat from 'rogue states' like North Korea, Iran and Iraq. How do you comment on this? And what role can China play in missile non-proliferation?'

Ambassador Zukang: '... [A]s far as missile proliferation is concerned, I would say, depending on what angle you look at it, this issue has been half solved, or half unsolved. In a sense we do have a regime, called MTCR, Missile Technology Control Regime. To be fair, this MTCR so far has played a certain role in containing or delaying the proliferation of missiles and missile technologies. But due to its inherent weakness, to say the least, MTCR must be improved. In addition to MTCR, there have been many other initiatives and proposals such as the Russian proposal to establish a Global Control System (GCS), the MTCR members' initiative to formulate a Code of Conduct, and the Iranian proposal to establish the United Nations Governmental Expert Group on [the] missile issue. In 1998, when former US President Clinton was in China, he and President Jiang Zemin issued a joint statement in which China promised to 'actively study' joining MTCR. On November 21 last year, by the end of the term of the Clinton Administration, the US and China respectively issued a statement. In that statement, we have made clear that China does not intend to help any country, in any way, develop missiles that can be used to deliver nuclear weapons, that is 300/500 [kilometer] category missiles. We believe that through comprehensive and non-discriminative efforts, the so-called 'missile proliferation' issue can be resolved through diplomatic and political means, that is to say, through dialogue and consultations based on equal participation. National Missile Defence is not the way to solve it. ...'

Question: 'If NMD goes forward, will China withdraw from CTBT? If the US sells Aegis [missile destroyers] to Taiwan, will China make a direct link between the US arms sales to Taiwan and China arms trade policy?'

Ambassador Zukang: 'I understand this is a hypothetical question. CTBT is a very important treaty, and maybe the most important treaty in the nuclear disarmament field. CTBT is important in the sense that it would cap the qualitative development of nuclear weapons. ... To sign CTBT, China made great sacrifice. After United States conducted over one thousand tests, and after Russia conducted almost one thousand tests, China had to stop after a little bit over 40 tests. Yet, China decided to comply with the wish of the international community. China actively participated in the CTBT negotiations, and was the first to sign the treaty besides the host country. China is now in the process of ratification. Now it lies with our National People's Congress. We hope that the US will ratify CTBT as early as possible. Personally, as a disarmament guy for the past 16 years, I don't believe CTBT should be linked with the much-discussed National Missile Defence. Having said that, the pursuit of NMD is not good for the effective implementation of CTBT. ... Much has been said about US arms sales to Taiwan. As you all know, we hate the idea. We condemn this idea. Don't forget Taiwan is the territory of China. Some guy in the world treats Taiwan as if it were one of their states, and even more important than any of their states. This is most ridiculous. It is a violation of international law. Taiwan is part of China. That is none of your business! This is very clear. Arms sales to one part of a sovereign country is wrong. It's illegal. ...'

Question: 'You have talked about the possibility of a new round of arms race. We all know that the arms race during the Cold War brought about the collapse and bankruptcy of the USSR. Are you afraid that an arms race against NMD could lead to the same outcome for China?'

Ambassador Zukang: '... As you know, according to the so-called most reliable information by the United States, we have a few, something like between 18 and 24 nuclear weapons which are able to reach the US That's what the US side said and I don't know personally how many warheads we have. ... In addition to the fact that we have very limited number of nuclear warheads, China has voluntarily and unilaterally undertaken not to be the first to use nuclear weapons and not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states. So, the facts I referred to above fully demonstrate that we have a few nuclear weapons purely for self-defence. We have never involved ourselves in any arms race. As for whether we are afraid of something, the Chinese people are not even afraid of death! So I don't think there is anything China is afraid of. But that doesn't mean China is anxious to have arms race with anyone. We didn't participate, we are not participating, and we will never participate in any arms race. Then, logically, you will ask me what you are going to do if the United States decides to deploy NMD? Firstly, we hope the United States will give up the idea, just as they did with SDI or Star Wars. That's our hope. If the US is bent on developing NMD, I think we should have reason to be confident that we can deal with it. The earth will continue to exist and the life will continue. Perhaps with NMD, the quality of people's life will be somewhat affected...'

Question: 'As we all know, there is the possibility that TMD system may be deployed in Taiwan someday in the future. Do you think that China is going to get into negotiation with the US on the basis that China reduces its missiles deployed in Fujian Province in order to prevent the US transfer of TMD system including Aegis? Is such arrangement in China's interest?'

Ambassador Zukang: 'You said that Taiwan would deploy TMD? I hope that won't happen. If it happens, we will certainly oppose it. This is a very sensitive issue, because any transfer in whatever form, overt or disguised, piece by piece perhaps even, of TMD to Taiwan, is a violation and interference in China's internal affairs. It will serve as a block for peaceful unification of China. We will certainly take it as a very, very serious issue. ... How to deploy our own missiles, it is our own business, isn't it? Some people are saying, 'don't deploy missiles here and there.' You know, we don't like it, because we have never told others how they should deploy their missiles. Being an oriental country, we always expect equality and mutual respect. ...'

Question: 'Last year when President Putin was in Beijing, the two Presidents issued a joint statement on missile defence issue. So my question is whether the cooperation between Russia and China is digging into military and technical fields apart from political cooperation in order to oppose US NMD plan?'

Ambassador Zukang: 'Well, you touch upon a very sensitive issue. There have been lots of reports indicating that NMD will put China and Russia together, and this is dangerous, this is not in the interest of the United States. Some good-intended friends in the West try to utilize this to blackmail the US Administration by saying that 'look, China and Russia will be together. That's not good'. Well, I have mixed feelings on this, you know. ... [T]he strategic partnership between China and Russia is based on "three No's", namely, no alliance, no confrontation and not targeted at any third party. But having said that...NMD has aroused concerns among all countries, and in particular, Russia and China. As a party to the ABM Treaty, Russia has its legitimate concerns. As far as I know, my Russian friends think NMD is exclusively targeted at them. Right or wrong, it is their judgment. I respect their judgment. We have been told, officially or publicly, that at no time and under no circumstances would Russia agree to the so-called amendment of the ABM Treaty, as requested by the United States, which is tantamount to tearing up of the treaty. Russians have offered some very good proposals, such as establishing a Europe Theater Missile Defence. They have provided with very lengthy explanations of the rationale behind their proposals. We have taken note of that. ...' ...

Question: 'The US claimed that NMD is developed to defend against missile threat from the 'rogue states', but many critics said that the real motivation behind the US NMD programme is against China. How do you comment on that?'

Ambassador Zukang: '... We have noticed and we appreciate the statements by the new US Administration, which say that NMD is not targeted at China - it is not a direct quotation, but the idea is that NMD is not meant for China. The Clinton Administration also said the same thing, and they went as far as to say that "we understand your concern and we are ready to address your concern". The new US Administration said that they are ready to talk with us. So, we appreciate this statement and we are ready to discuss with them. As I said earlier, the political intention is always important, because any action is guided by political intention. But, from the technical point of view, the proposed NMD programme by the former US Administration - not the new Administration, the new one hasn't said anything in detail - would certainly compromise China's defence capabilities. This is our concern. ...'"

Source: Transcript of Ambassador Sha Zukang's briefing on missile defence issue, Chinese Foreign Ministry text, released March 23, http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/eng/9375.html.

Article by BMDO Director

Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, Director of the US Defense Department's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), article published by US State Department, adapted from speech to the Greater Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce, Alaska, March 2, 2001.

"As the Director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, I'm responsible for missile defense programs, the budget for which runs about $4 billion ($4,000 million) a year. The organization has about 500 employees working to turn technology into functioning systems. I want to talk about ballistic missile defense. There's a lot about it that is misunderstood. Let me take you back to September 8, 1944, when residents of London sat down to dinner. The quiet of that autumn evening was suddenly shattered by a terrific explosion that shook their world. Sixteen seconds later, just 15 miles to the northeast, a second German V-2 exploded in the village of Epping. The era of ballistic missiles had begun, and the world was changed forever.

Over the next eight months, the Germans rained some 3,000 V-2 rockets on allied targets, mostly London and Antwerp, killing over 5,000 people and terrorizing hundreds of thousands more. According to Winston Churchill, "[They] imposed ... a burden perhaps even heavier than the air raids of 1940-1941. Suspense and strain were more prolonged. Dawn brought no relief, and cloud no comfort. ... The blind impersonal nature of the missile made the individual on the ground feel hopeless." Perhaps he put it best with his words: "The Angel of Death is abroad in the land, only you can't always hear the flutter of its wings." During World War II, the only effective defenses were to attack the V-2 factories and launching sites or to occupy the territory from which they could be launched. That fact hasn't changed in 50 years for the United States - today we still have no defense against ballistic missiles after they've been launched.

The current movie 'Thirteen Days,' a recount of the...Cuban missile crisis, is a reminder to a whole new generation of Americans how close this country came to nuclear war. Nuclear war, the unthinkable, almost happened. Former Secretary of Defense McNamara, a principal at the time and an advisor to this film project, certainly believes so. Thirty years later, the Russians told McNamara that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara had urged the Soviets to launch their missiles at the United States despite the fact that America's overwhelming power was just 90 miles away. Castro was not deterred and was willing to sacrifice his country and 'die beautifully' in the process. Anastas Mikoyan, the Soviet Vice-Premier at the time - and happily more in control of the missiles than either Fidel or Che - said, 'We see your willingness to die beautifully, but we don't believe it's worth dying beautifully for.' The Soviets were deterred. Castro was not. The missiles were removed from Cuba. While deterrence has worked in the standoff between the superpowers, this exchange emphasizes the fragility of deterrence in today's more complex world, and it raises questions today about relying solely on deterrence as a final measure of security.

Now let's fast forward to the Gulf War, just 10 years ago. Televised images of Israeli citizens donning gas masks in anticipation of Scud raids illustrate just how well Saddam Hussein learned the lessons of the V-2. Who can forget the 28 US service men and women killed when an Iraqi Scud hit their barracks outside Dhahran, well behind the front lines? What you may not remember is the very close call we had at El Jubayl, an important Saudi offloading and staging port within the range of Iraqi Scuds. A Scud missile landed just off the pier, narrowly missing an amphibious assault ship, the USS Tarawa, along with two tankers carrying aviation fuel, a cargo ship, a Polish hospital ship and a US Army barge. The pier itself was crammed with ammunition and fuel trucks. As in World War II, to counter these attacks, a major portion of coalition aviation assets was consumed attempting to locate and destroy the launchers and support facilities. The lessons here seem pretty clear from a warfighting perspective, even without weapons of mass destruction. Ballistic missiles inflict major disruption on military operations on the front lines and behind. And they create great anxiety among civilian populations who happen to be within range - ballistic missiles are indeed a terror weapon. Now let's consider the current debate about missile defense. ... Just what are the key facts?

Fact One: The missile threat our nation faces today is far different than the one we faced two or three decades ago. Yes, Russia still has the capability to launch a massive attack on the United States, but the likelihood of that happening has receded dramatically. Similarly, China has a limited but escalating ICBM inventory. What is particularly worrisome, however, is the worldwide proliferation of ballistic missiles of all ranges, and of programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. When the ABM Treaty was signed in 1972, there were only nine nations that had a ballistic missile capability. Today, almost three decades later, over 30 nations have such capability. Unfortunately, a number of these may pose a threat to the United States, to our allies, or to our troops overseas.

In spite of our counter-proliferation policies, our efforts have merely slowed, not stopped, this proliferation. Some nations have played a catalytic role in pushing these technologies, but the fact of the matter is that over the past 50 years the world's knowledge of missiles and weapons has blossomed. What used to be on the shelves of a few select scientific libraries is now on the Internet, available to just about all who want it. What remains, of course, are the actual engineering challenges, the business of manufacturing and production, yet slowly but surely these are being overcome.

In laying out this picture of the threat our nation faces, I'm reminded of the observation of the Marquis of Salisbury: 'If you believe the doctors, nothing is wholesome; if you believe the theologians, nothing is innocent; if you believe the soldiers, nothing is safe.' To extend this to the context of missile defense, let me go two further: If you believe our missile defense critics, nothing will work. If you believe passionate advocates, we can do it tomorrow. The truth is to be found somewhere between these two extremes.

Fact Two: Intercepting a ballistic missile in space is a tough technical and management challenge - tough science and tough engineering - and has been ever since ballistic missiles were invented. But it is not impossible. We are now on the threshold of acquiring and deploying missile defenses, not just conducting research. We are, in fact, crossing over from rhetoric to reality, from scientific theory to engineering fact to deployed systems. The first systems we will deploy provide close-in defense to intercept a short-range missile in its terminal phase. These include the Army's PAC-3 (Patriot Advanced Capability 3), expected to be operational later this year. It is a greatly improved version of the Patriot missile that gained such notoriety in the Gulf. A few years later, we expect to deploy the Navy Area system that builds on existing fleet air defense capability. Both these systems are limited to defending a relatively small area.

These systems will be followed by the Army's THAAD (Theater High Altitude Area Defense System) and Navy Theater Wide systems later in the decade. These will both reach out farther back along the ballistic missile's incoming trajectory and so defend a wider region. There's one inflexible rule about missile defense - the later you detect and intercept an enemy missile, the closer it will be when you destroy it, and the smaller the area you can defend. Conversely, the earlier you can detect, decide, and act, the farther away it will be when you destroy it, and the greater the area you can defend. In this business, farther is better; it gives you enough time to gain a chance for a second or third shot if you miss.

The National Missile Defense system we've been working on destroys missile warheads in midcourse, the longest time of flight for a trajectory. Because it can reach so far out, it has the potential of defending a much larger area - in this case, the United States. To do this we employ space-based and ground-based sensors, (the eyes, if you will, to see the launch and track the flight). We have a battle management system that interprets the information from the sensors, verifies if the missile is hostile, and determines the best point for intercept. Then, under human direction, it launches the interceptor, which we call a kinetic energy kill vehicle.

Currently we have a small, 120 pound kill vehicle with its own guidance and sensing system. Once lifted into space and pointed in the right direction, on its final leg, it can steer itself into the target and obliterate the warhead by violent impact. That collision occurs at speeds of about 15,000 miles an hour or more, so there's not much left of the target re-entry vehicle at those speeds. This is called hit-to-kill - hitting a bullet with a bullet. Traditional explosives don't work well in space, and the nuclear tipped interceptors on which we relied 25 years ago - and on which the Russians still rely - have major political and operational drawbacks. We've achieved success with hit-to-kill not once, but seven times out of the last 10 attempts in the past two years, with three different systems. Nevertheless, the development road for missile defense has been bumpy. Despite the successes, we still haven't achieved the degree of reliability we need. Each of the major programs is behind schedule. Our NMD program, for example, has had one hit followed by two well-publicized failures in our three intercept flight tests so far. I relearned a basic truth in missile defense: that success occurs in private and failure in full view. That they were well publicized is an understatement. Despite our high profile failures, we have made significant progress in developing this system.

So, to restate the second fact: This is rocket science, and it is difficult, but not impossible. Seven hundred years ago, the current wisdom held that sailors who ventured too far from land would fall off the edge of the Earth. Columbus proved them wrong. Seventy years ago, naysayers were saying that rockets wouldn't work in space because there was no air to push against. Robert Goddard proved them wrong. Seven years ago, critics were still saying we couldn't hit a missile in space. We've done it. Now they say, 'OK, you can hit it. But it will be fooled by decoys and countermeasures, so you shouldn't build it.'

That leads to Fact Three: You need patience to bring about revolutionary technology. Testing, by its nature, lends itself both to failures and to the successes that rise from their ashes. Wernher von Braun, who served as the project leader for the German V-2 program and later pioneered America's space and missile program, experienced many failures. He named these setbacks 'successful failures' because he and his teams learned so much from them - a feature about high tech development our critics tend to forget. Do they remember that the Atlas ICBM program experienced 12 failures in its 2.5-year flight-testing history; that the Minuteman-I ICBM program suffered 10 failures in a 3.5-year testing program; and that the Corona program, for our country's first operational reconnaissance satellite, survived 13 failures and mishaps before Discoverer 14 was orbited and its film recovered? Yet through it all, patience by our leadership was essential - then and now - despite frustrations resulting from these technical difficulties. I'm talking about national leadership here...

As you listen to the debate unfold, remember these facts. The threat is different today than 10 or 20 years ago. ... Missile defense is rocket science. We are on the threshold of solving the tough issues of defending against those ballistic missiles. We still have some stiff challenges ahead of us, but we are making remarkable progress."

Source: Byliner - US missile defence director cites progress, challenges, US State Department (Washington File), March 12.

© 2001 The Acronym Institute.