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
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
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
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,
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
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.