Washington calls them "regional" missile defenses, but Russian and China see a strategic threat brewing.
To counter missile programs in Iran and North Korea, the United States is expanding missile defense capabilities in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe. So far, the United States has fielded short- and mid-range defensive systems against similarly limited threats. But in expectation of Iranian and North Korean missiles that can reach the United States, Washington is planning to deploy mobile, sea-based interceptors that can take out long-range missiles.
And this has Moscow and Beijing worried.
So worried, in fact, that Russia and China are questioning the viability of their strategic nuclear forces, leading Moscow to resist U.S. calls for bilateral arms reductions and motivating both countries to build new weapons to counter future defenses.
This creates a problem for the United States: by planning to counter long-range missile threats in Iran and North Korea that do not yet exist, Washington is making it more difficult to reduce threats from Russia and China that are all too real.
As part if its effort to shift defense resources to Asia, the United States is expanding missile defense cooperation with Japan, South Korea, and Australia. The Pentagon announced in August that it would field a second missile-tracking X-band radar in Japan, after deploying the first in 2006. Japan has purchased U.S. Aegis-equipped ships with Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors, as well as Patriot interceptors, early-warning radars, and command-and-control systems. The United States and Japan are co-developing the SM-3 IIA missile, which would also be deployed in Europe.
South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin and U.S. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta met in Washington on Oct. 24 and agreed to continue to cooperate on missile defense and to "enhance the interoperability" of their command-and-control systems. The U.S.-ROK partnership would reportedly include joint research on a "Korea Air and Missile Defense" system involving a new radar and Standard Missile interceptors for Aegis-equipped destroyers. Seoul is pursuing its missile defense relationship with Washington cautiously, so as not to needlessly antagonize China.
An August 23 Wall Street Journal story said that U.S. officials were evaluating sites in Southeast Asia for a third X-Band radar, possibly in the Philippines, "to create an arc that would allow the United States and its regional allies to more accurately track any ballistic missiles launched from North Korea, as well as from parts of China."