01 October 2005

China’s Ballistic Missile Defense Countermeasures: Breaching America’s Great Wall in Space?

Andrew Erickson, “China’s Ballistic Missile Defense Countermeasures: Breaching America’s Great Wall in Space?,” in Lyle Goldstein and Andrew Erickson, China’s Nuclear Force Modernization, Naval War College Newport Paper No. 22, 2005, pp. 65-91.

A significant component of contemporary naval transformation involves adapting the force to meet the emerging ballistic missile defense challenge. With the advent of seabased BMD, the U.S. Navy has entered a new era. Northeast Asia represents a highly complex military and diplomatic environment for the United States. What impact will the U.S. Navy’s BMD initiative have on the volatile region? What will be the larger geopolitical consequences of U.S. BMD as its architecture continues to evolve? BMD’s significance for North Korea is frequently discussed and is relatively straightforward; it is, rather, China’s reaction to American BMD, including its naval component, that will have the most profound impact on global politics in the twenty-first century.

This chapter addresses China’s likely countermeasures against U.S. BMD and their implications. The purpose is not to conduct a cost-benefit analysis on the merits of investing in BMD per se but rather to explore how current investments can be made to yield the greatest security dividends for the United States given present geopolitical realities. It begins by outlining the American BMD debate as it relates to China, reviewing the evolution of BMD and countermeasures, and considering the potential impact of ballistic missile defense on China’s nuclear strategy. There follows a detailed discussion of China’s potential BMD countermeasures and a comparison of American and Chinese missile-defense strategies. Finally, the chapter offers conclusions and policy recommendations–for the nation and the U.S. Navy.