Trump’s Missile Treaty Pullout Could Escalate Tension With China

WASHINGTON — A US withdrawal from a Cold War-era nuclear arms treaty with Russia could give the Pentagon new options to counter Chinese missile advances but ex­perts warn the ensuing arms race could greatly escalate tensions in the Asia-Pacific.

US officials have been warn­ing for years that the United States was being put at a disadvantage by China’s development of increas­ingly sophisticated land-based missile forces, which the Pentagon could not match thanks to the US treaty with Russia.

President Donald Trump has signaled he may soon give the Pentagon a freer hand to confront those advances, if he makes good on threats to pull out of the Inter­mediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which required elimination of short- and intermediate-range nuclear and conventional missiles.

Dan Blumenthal, a former Pentagon official now at the American Enterprise Institute, said a treaty pullout could pave the way for the United States to field easier-to-hide, road-mobile conventional missiles in places like Guam and Japan.

That would make it harder for China to consider a conventional first strike against US ships and bases in the region. It could also force Beijing into a costly arms race, forcing China to spend more on missile defenses.”It will change the picture fundamentally,” Blu­menthal said.

Even as Trump has blamed Russian violations of the treaty for his decision, he has also point­ed a finger at China. Beijing was not party to the INF treaty and has been fielding new and more deadly missile forces.

These include China’s DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic mis­sile (IRBM), which has a maxi­mum range of 4,000 km (2,500 miles) and which the Pentagon says can threaten US land and sea-based forces as far away as the Pacific island of Guam. It was first fielded in 2016.

“If Russia is doing it (devel­oping these missiles) and China is doing it and we’re adhering to the agreement, that’s unaccept­able,” Trump said on Sunday.John Bolton, White House national secu­rity advisor, noted that recent Chi­nese statements suggest it wanted Washington to stay in the treaty.

“And that’s perfectly under­standable. If I were Chinese, I would say the same thing,” he told the Echo Moskvy radio sta­tion. “Why not have the Ameri­cans bound, and the Chinese not bound?”Growing threatUS offi­cials have so far relied on other capabilities as a counter-balance to China, like missiles fired from US ships or aircraft. But advo­cates for a US land-based missile response say that is the best way to deter Chinese use of its muscu­lar land-based missile forces.

   

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