The US’ strategic position in Asia is being challenged more today than at any point since the end of the Cold War, says Rick Fisher, a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
“And China is really only getting started,” says Fisher in a paper published this week by The George Washington University Sigur Center for Asian Studies.
An expert on Asian military affairs, Fisher says that after a steady 20-year buildup in the Taiwan Strait, China now feels it has sufficient strength to “impose its territorial claims on Japan and the contiguous states of the South China Sea.”
He said China, Japan and the US are now engaged in the “preparatory moves” for what could become an air battle over the Diaoyoutai Islands (釣魚台), “a battle that could quickly expand to sea and space conflict.”
Fisher’s paper was due to be presented last week at a Taiwan Roundtable forum at the Sigur Center, but was postponed when the building was closed because of a fire alarm.
“Is [Chinese Communist Party Secretary-General and Vice President] Xi Jinping (習近平) looking for a short glorious war that would secure his internal position and expand China’s strategic leverage at the expense of the US?” Fisher asks.
If unconstrained by internal political or economic crises, by the mid-2020s China could be projecting military power on a global scale, while moving to build a military presence on the moon, Fisher says.
He asks whether the Asia rebalancing policies of US President Barack Obama’s administration will “peter out or at least lose credibility” as a result of defense spending cuts or premature reductions in US nuclear forces.
In this mix, says Fisher, Taiwan’s strategic position would not improve.
Fisher says it is inevitable that the pressures from China’s increasing strategic might and the potential for relative US weakening, will force questions about the viability of rebalancing and the cost of implied or ambiguous commitments such as the Taiwan Relations Act.
One solution might center on missiles, especially if they were armed with thousands of smart munitions such as the Sensor Fused Munition.
“This hockey-puck sized projectile can find a target with its sensors and then fire an explosibly formed molten metal disc that can slice through most armor,” Fisher says.
One short-range ballistic missile armed with Sensor Fused Munitions could potentially take out 30 tanks or 30 invasion ships.
“The US could lead the creation of a regional long-range radar network that could create for all of its members, a shared intimate picture of all Chinese military air and naval activities,” he says.
“If Taiwan was receiving inputs from US radar in Japan and the Philippines it would not matter if China attacked Taiwan’s radar. In fact, China might be more deterred from contemplating such an attack,” he says.
Fisher says that when cued by US or allied regional radar, a new US and allied regional missile force may go far to create a fresh basis for deterrence in East Asia.
“If the Chinese leadership could be assured that if they used their new navy, they might lose it very quickly, they might see the wisdom of seeking their goals via diplomacy over military intimidation or war,” Fisher says.