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新的亞洲反導彈俱樂部

THE NEW ASIAN MISSILE DEFENSE CLUB

By Tom Plate

April 6, 2004

U.S. foreign policy is increasingly binary: You are either for us or against us.

What's wrong with this picture? Brutal terrorist bombs are going off in people's faces and explosive contraptions are being slipped onto trains and tracks everywhere in the civilized world, not to mention in uncivilized Iraq. And so U.S. foreign policy is pushing for a regional ballistic missile defense technology on the Asian continent.

Like old wine in a new bottle, the new Asian missile defense shield network bubbles up again. Though it seems so ?0s, so Reaganesque and so misconceived, the project is careering forward like an errant missile.

Tokyo, feeling a large measure of join-us-or-else heat from Washington (and remembering all too well the 1998 North Korean missile test that flew over its head), is climbing aboard the missile-defense train -- in part out of fear of being left behind at the station.

It decided last week (2 April) on an initial appropriation of $1 billion to the U.S. missile network. That means Japan has officially joined the United States, Taiwan and ever-reliable Australia in the new elite Asian Missile Defense Club.

But is this the right priority for Asia and America? Is there really a new Axis of Missile Evil that requires such a costly and provocative remedy? Are we wise to build a system that could be seen as implicitly lumping together (or even bringing together) China and Russia with North Korea?

It is not known whether this military technology will have the effect of discouraging a potential enemy from increasing its missile arsenal. It may even stimulate new missile R&D. It is also unknown whether the U.S.-led missile shield would actually work under rocket-combat conditions.

What is known, however, is that the Bush administration, upon taking office in 2001, pointedly placed a priority on missile defense for Asia.(Some of us even worried about Washington's sincerity in negotiating a denuclearized North Korea, when the latter was the most prominent poster boy for allocating untold billions on contemporary missile systems.)

Critics now are taking note of how preoccupied that administration was with missile defense back then. This was at the time when Al Qaeda and other terrorists were concocting the sort of evil terrorism against which the pricey technology of ballistic missile defense would have been irrelevant even had it been in place on Sept. 11, 2001.

But there's a certain comforting familiarity to building vast missile defense systems, isn't there? It's nostalgic for those who dreamily recall, if not worship, the Reagan Era, with its emphasis on "the evil empire" and messianic sense of us-against-them.

The difference today, of course, is that the world is not divided as it was then -- one cluster of states against another cluster of states. The them is now more or less stateless networks of terrorists threatening us not from behind missile shields but from behind hostage shields -- or in markets, passenger airplanes and bomb-rigged suicide cars.

But China, for starters, views the missile shield as a proxy effort of the West to interfere in its tortured relationship with Taiwan; South Korea sees it as a complicating factor in the effort to induce North Korea to begin to walk down disarmament road. Indonesia (which has the world's largest Muslim population) is unhappy with Australia's all-too-ready goose-step toward a brave new missile-defense world. And India is uncomfortable about being pressed to join the new club even as it seeks to maintain good relations with China, which, again, hates the whole idea. Thus, erecting a missile defense system in Asia may actually create a clashing concoction of political states in a rough reincarnation of the good old evil-empire days.

Another problem with Washington's full-court-missile press is that it associates the United States with the nascent rearmament of Japan. Unfairly or not, Asia, to generalize, more fears a resurgence of Japanese than Chinese militarism. Forced to choose between aligning with Washington or Beijing, South Korea, with its memories of Japanese occupation and its increasingly friendly relations with China, may someday make a strategic choice that could tilt the entire Korean peninsula in an anti-Washington direction.

That scenario would, of course, play into China's hand. For Beijing would love to displace the United States as leader of Asia. Those who think this would not be such a great idea need to seriously ponder the longer range diplomatic fallout from a missile-shield system that forces Asian nations to take sides between the United States and China.

Shortly after the Bush administration took office, this column characterized its emerging foreign policy as unilateralist in nature. That certainly proved the case when we stormed off into Iraq with so few others in tow.

But now the U.S. global profile seems to be entering a worrisome new stage: from unilateralism to bipolarism. Certainly, the plan for a huge missile defense system in Asia has every potential to divide the region into two camps. Such a development would be a bipolar disorder of the most serious kind.

 
 

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