Active missile defense systems have scored important successes in recent years, largely due to dramatic advances in “targeting:” threat detection, identification and tracking. But long before a threat can be tracked, there is an earlier phase: Geostrategic target tracking. And here, the story is not nearly so positive.
We may have overlooked an important geostrategic target.
The world today is held enthralled by weekly, daily and sometimes hourly exchanges of threats and counterthreats between North Korea and the United States. The governor of Hawaii has initiated nuclear attack preparations, the governor of Alaska is “concerned” and Guam, ground zero for Kim Jong Un’s latest threats, has lost its tourists. But the price of a U.S. preemptive strike would be high: the population of Seoul and tens of thousands of U.S. servicemen are hostage to 15,000 heavily fortified North Korean cannon and rocket launcher sites, in easy range of Seoul’s skyscrapers. Kim Jong Un, as he considers his options, undoubtedly realizes his luxurious personal resort islands would be early casualties of any conflict. These factors are likely to at least delay actions that could become a shooting war, although not indefinitely. In the medium and long term, it will be difficult for either side to back down, and something is likely to happen. Among the available choices, many, as U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis pointed out, would be catastrophic.1
But in the complex webwork of tensions that make up today’s nuclear realpolitik, what are the other compelling threats?
Welcome to the high-stakes game of geostrategic analysis. To begin, let’s to review the rules – in this case, the alignment of a few of the key players.
SINO-INDIAN RELATIONS – IMPLICATIONS OF INCREASING INSTABILITY BETWEEN THE PLANET’S 2 MEGA-NATIONS
The United States consumes a whopping 20% of Chinese exports, and in the near term, at least, this could make China think twice before any direct conflict with the U.S. The situation with India, however, is quite different.
In 2016 China exported $52B of goods and services to India – a tiny sum, representing just 3% of trade with Bei Jing’s nine most important trading partners. India doesn’t even show up on the list.2 And Indian exports to China, interestingly, stood at just $8B, a figure representing coincidentally only about 3% of India’s exports.3 In short, neither country is an important market for the other. Not good for stability.
THE PAKISTAN GAMBIT – CHINESE “CAT’S PAW” OR GLOBAL INCENDIARY
Unfortunately, this is not the end of the China – India story. There is a long history of distrust between the two nuclear-armed mega-nations, especially over positioning in the South China sea, and continuing accusations of cross-border incursions that – at least three times in the last 60 Years – erupted into significant conflicts. A huge majority of Indians fear such disputes could lead to war, and view Beijing’s de facto alliance with Pakistan as dangerous, with Beijing using Islamabad as a Cat’s Paw to tame or divert New Delhi. India’s major opposition party asserts that China and Pakistan are preparing for war.4
China, in a near-perfect reflection of these concerns, sees Indian presence in the South China seas as interference,5 and views India’s virtual alliance with the U.S. as a strategic threat.
Where is all this mistrust going? India’s fears, in particular, seem justified: there is compelling evidence that things are going from bad to worse.
Following years of extensive technical support which has been vital for Pakistan’s fast growing nuclear arsenal,6 China recently inked a new “Framework Agreement” with Pakistan, for “technical cooperation in the exploration and development of uranium resources.”7 Intriguingly, the same reports that broke the news of the new uranium agreement with Pakistan revealed that China signed a similar agreement with Saudi Arabia, earlier this year. In fact, the connection was made almost explicit by the China National Nuclear Corporation (CNNC). Speaking of the agreement, CNNC referred to Pakistan as an “important bridge across the Middle East and South Asia.”8
Unfortunately, coincidences in international relations – especially when they relate to nuclear proliferation, are simply never credible. And if the China – Pakistan – Saudi Arabia triangle is not coincidental, it’s not hard to see the shape of an emerging three-way deal. China’s “bridge” could become, potentially inadvertently, a global incendiary.
Rumors have been flying for years that, in return for funding Pakistan’s bomb, the Gulf Kingdom likely insisted that if and when they asked, they would be given a few of the warheads they funded. Pakistan, however, home to the fastest growing arsenal in the world, sees their missiles as an insurance policy against the Indian giant. If some of the products of their nuclear production line are about to leave for other shores, they’ll need an assured supply of fuel to make more. It’s not hard to imagine a plan to start uranium flowing from new mines in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia into Islamabad’s weapons factories, in return for parting with some of the products of those factories.
In other words – as the India-China pot gets closer to boiling over, unsurprisingly, there will be regional consequences. And one of the most disturbing consequences could be an expansion of the Indo-Sino nuclear arms race into the Gulf, as Saudi Arabia prepares their own insurance policy against their own worst nightmare – a nuclear Iran.
SECURITY OF PAKISTAN’S NUKES – GROWING CONCERNS COMING FROM … PAKISTAN?
Of course, just to make all of this even more interesting, there are indications that – even within Pakistan – concerns are growing that Islamabad’s ability to ensure control over their nuclear arsenal is fraying. The New York Times recently reported9 that Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission sent “an urgent letter to the director general of the Strategic Plans Division, which is responsible for securing Pakistan’s nuclear assets. Pakistan’s AEC requested that the military devote more resources to ensuring that personnel with knowledge of the nuclear program are monitored.”
The same story reported a recently revealed document from Pakistan’s Ministry of the Interior, pointing out a wide range of concerns over the security of their own nuclear arsenal. According to the New York Times, the document raised concerns over “the growing influence of terrorist groups inside the Pakistan Army and intelligence agencies, and in the families of senior and midlevel military officers,” and pointed out that many terrorist organizations are operational “in the areas in Punjab near some of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities.”10
And in a final twist, the internal document apparently refers to a “security measure” presumably meant to reduce the risk of local commanders starting a nuclear shooting war, with warheads “de-mated” from missiles. Unfortunately, “de-mating” is precisely what many analysts have feared, as a measure that could make international traffic in such warheads far simpler. If terrorist organizations acquire such warheads – especially organizations on the growing list of those with access to missiles – the consequences for global security would be disastrous.
IRAN, STILL UNTAMED
Of course, while this news may represent serious concerns for proliferation into the Gulf region, they need to take their place on a growing list. Iran’s weapons programs, for example, are unlikely to be tamped down any time soon by new U.S. sanctions. Tehran’s parliament reacted to news of new sanctions by voting overwhelmingly to increase funding for missile development.11
MISSILE DEFENSE – A GROWTH INDUSTRY IN AN UNCERTAIN WORLD
As one might expect, growing concerns over nuclear proliferation has been mirrored by growing interest in missile defense. And with the steady drumbeat of threats coming from North Korea, this has been especially the case in the governments of Japan and the United States.
In a recent meeting, Japan’s Defence Secretary Itsunori Onodera reportedly asked U.S. Defense Secretary Mattis for support for Tokyo’s plans to install the “Aegis Ashore” system, a land-based version of the Aegis interceptor system that Tokyo feels would enhance their ability to stop North Korean missiles.12 And in the United States, President Donald Trump said announcement will be made soon on in increase of “billions of dollars” in funding for missile defense.13
Meanwhile, in Israel, news of a successful operational intercept by the new Arrow 3 system came as good news to the missile defense community – especially news that the threat that was intercepted was apparently a challenging target for the system – a SAM that did not self-destruct and on a trajectory toward Israel, but a significant departure from the standard characteristics for which the system, presumably was optimized.14
Given this success, talk in Israel is already turning to “next steps,” and the shape of a next phase “Arrow 4” system, perhaps designed to deal with far larger heavy missile salvos, armed with more advanced countermeasures.15
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SUMMARY – THE ART OF NUCLEAR MISDIRECTION
From all indications, this is a good time to be in the missile defense business. Unfortunately, the reason is anything but good news.
While North Korea is a serious and growing threat, Pakistan, one of the world’s poorest and, arguably, most corrupt and terror-ridden nations, has the world’s fastest growing arsenal. It already has more nuclear missiles than the United Kingdom. As evidence accumulates that Islamabad is being used as a nuclear cat’s-paw against India, there are indications that the resulting, rising temperature in Indo-Chinese relations may soon throw off nuclear sparks.
Saudi Arabia, the rumored patron of Pakistan’s arsenal, fears a nuclear Iran. If China’s adventurism brings warheads from Islamabad’s growing arsenal to Riyadh, the Pakistan – India – China arms race will have expanded nuclear proliferation to the Middle East. And if some of the “sparks” from that conflict reach transnational terrorist groups, the consequences for global security would be devastating.
- äçáøä äñéðéú äîîìëúéú ìä÷îú ëåøéí âøòéðééí (CNNC) "ééöàä òã äéåí àøáòä ëåøéí áäñô÷
ùì 300 MWe ìîãéðä (ìô÷éñèï) åî÷éîä ëòú ùúé éçéãåú áäñô÷ ùì 1000 MWe." ëîå ëï, "äéà îòåøáú áàåøç ôòéì áùéúåó ôòåìä òí ô÷éñèï áëì äðåâò ìîùàáé àåøðéåí, ìééùåîéí ùì èëðåìåâéä âøòéðéú, ìäëùøú òåáãéí