While the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty eliminated United States and Soviet missiles with a range of 500 kilometers to 5,500km from Europe at the end of the Cold War, this Treaty’s demise on August 2, 2019 is good news for Taiwan on three levels.
First, the Treaty’s demise means that the United States is free to redress a destabilizing imbalance of power with China and North Korea. When President Donald Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the INF Treaty on February 1, 2019, the White House also explained that China had “more than 1,000 INF Treaty-range missiles.” [https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefings-statements/president-donald-j-trump-withdraw-united-states-intermediate-range-nuclear-forces-inf-treaty/]
When considering the number of People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force (PLARF) bases with medium range (1,000km to 3,000km) ballistic missiles (MRBMs) such as the DF-21A/C/D and DF-16A/B, and intermediate range (3,000km to 5,500km) ballistic missiles (IRBMs) such as the DF-26, and the number of air-launched CJ-10/20 land attack cruise missiles (LACMs) carried by the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) H-6K bombers, the number is about 920. However, when you add the reloads for these missiles, the total comes to almost 1,800, about the same number of missiles the Soviets originally eliminated to comply with the INF Treaty.
To this total must be added the PLARF’s arsenal of about 1,200 DF-11A and DF-15A/B/C short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), almost all of which target Taiwan. Also, the PLARF is close to deploying its new DF-17 hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV) equipped missile. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) also may deploy a version of this missile. PLA medium, intermediate range, and especially HGV-equipped missiles, can overcome Taiwan’s expensive investment in anti-ballistic missile (ABM) interceptors.
According to a 2017 US Department of Defense report to the US Congress, North Korea has “fewer than 50” of its 3,200km range Hwasong-10 or Musudan ballistic missiles that can reach Taiwan from any location in North Korea. On July 23 North Korean state media revealed the advanced construction of a new conventional powered ballistic missile submarine that could carry two or three 2,000km range Pukkuksong-2 missiles. Should North Korea’s pursuit of nuclear missiles cause a military crisis involving South Korea, Japan, and the US, the chances of a Chinese decision to attack Taiwan could increase.
To increase missile defenses the Trump Administration is stressing development of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Aegis Ashore to counter MRBMs and IRBMs, and is now developing a successor the Patriot PAC 3 which counters SRBMs. To increase deterrence the US now plans to invest US$10 billion in at least seven ground, naval, and air-launched hypersonic missile and weapons programs. By 2024 the US Army wants to field a 600km range successor to its MGM-140 ATACMS SRBM, and a new larger artillery rocket with a 140km range.
America’s decision to redress the theater missile imbalance offers a second potential benefit for Taipei: the opportunity to move US policy to accept, and even support, Taiwan’s requirement for long-range missile deterrent capabilities. Since the 1996 Taiwan Strait crisis Taipei has developed and deployed some long-range cruise missile and ballistic missile systems, but for the most part without US support, and with occasional opposition.
There should be a common message from Taipei, Tokyo, and Seoul: now that Washington has departed from the INF Treaty, in part to build a new arsenal of theater-range missiles to defend American military forces and interests, Washington should also recognize the deterrent missile requirements of its allies and partners. The US should consider offering some of its new ballistic and hypersonic weapons for sale to South Korea, Japan, and Taiwan. It should also encourage co-development of appropriate missile systems.
Also crucial for strengthening deterrence is the Trump Administration’s determination to field new tactical nuclear weapons, starting with a new nuclear warhead-armed version of the submarine-launched BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile, and a new very small nuclear warhead delivered by submarine-launched ballistic missile. In 2012 retired Russian General Victor Esin estimated that the PLA had over 900 tactical nuclear weapons, while since 1993 the US has withdrawn its tactical nuclear weapons from bases in Asia and from US Navy warships. The US may require hundreds of new tactical nuclear weapons to deter Russia and China.
But the Trump Administration has combined its decision to rebuild its theater missile and tactical nuclear deterrent capabilities with active outreach to Beijing and Moscow to begin negotiations for a new treaty that would aim to eventually control intercontinental and theater nuclear weapons. This leads to a third benefit for Taiwan: it can work with the democratic partners to help fashion a new system of deterrence and then help shape a new system of negotiated nuclear stability.
At least in the near-term, China will continue its long-standing abject refusal to consider any limits on its missiles and nuclear weapons. Indeed, last February Chinese Communist Party Foreign Affairs Office Director Yang Jiechi (楊潔篪) rejected German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s suggestion that China join a future INF Treaty. China’s near-term strategic objectives, such as conquering Taiwan and displacing US leadership in Asia, may require superiority in theater nuclear weapons.
Getting China and Russia to join future global strategic and theater nuclear weapons control agreements requires two steps. First the democracies must achieve a level of deterrence that convinces China and Russia that their nuclear and missile forces undermine their own foreign policy objectives. Second, the democracies must devise a common long-term arms control strategy. They must enter negotiations from a position of strength and refuse concessions damaging to their security in exchange for China’s putative cooperation.
As a frontline democracy whose security directly affects the rest of Asia, Taiwan also deserves to contribute to the formation of a new system of strategic security.
Richard D. Fisher, Jr. is a senior fellow with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
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