The Geopolitics of Missile Defense
Image Credit: Flickr (U.S. Navy)

The Geopolitics of Missile Defense


One of the interesting effects of ballistic missile defense is how it has affected relations between states. The decades of tension that have arisen between Moscow and Washington over strategic defense issue are well known. Now U.S. ballistic missile defenses (BMD) are driving China and Russia closer together.

But missile defenses can also strengthen relations between countries. For example, missile defense has become an important dimension of the revitalized Japan-U.S. security alliance. BMD has strengthened cooperation between both countries directly through their joint BMD programs, discouraged Japan from developing its own nuclear deterrent, and induced Tokyo to broaden its defense collaboration with other countries by relaxing its arms export rules. The same pattern may arise in the Middle East, where Iran’s neighbors are pondering whether missile defenses can obviate their need to acquire nuclear weapons if Iran does. In other cases, the BMD issue has had diverse effects. South Korea, for example, has sought to benefit from U.S. technologies without alarming China by joining the Pentagon’s wider regional efforts.

The United States finds itself at the heart of the international politics of missile defense. Its leading global role in developing and deploying BMD technologies and its worldwide network of alliances both empower and oblige the United States to defend much of the world from missile attack. These same alignments also provide the ties the Pentagon needs to construct a globally linked network of BMD sensors and facilities.

For this reason, Washington has lobbied its friends and allies to cooperate with U.S. regional BMD initiatives as a means to strengthen mutual defense capabilities and to supplement traditional U.S. nuclear and conventional deterrence guarantees with missile defenses. The Obama administration has also used its strong investments in missile defense to reassure countries concerned by the administration’s desire to downplay the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. foreign policy. U.S. officials have persuaded most allied governments that missile defenses complement deterrence by causing potential aggressors to doubt that any attack could succeed as well as providing a hedge should deterrence fail.

More than 30 countries already have, or are acquiring, short- and medium-range missiles able to deliver conventional payloads at great speed and distance. Some are trying to develop longer-range missiles that can carry warheads armed with various weapons of mass destruction (nuclear, chemical, and biological). The 2010 Ballistic Missile Defense Review (BMDR) predicts that the missile threats to the United States and its allies will grow in quantity and quality as antagonistic states increase the size and capabilities of their ballistic missiles. With respect to the latter, ballistic missile systems are becoming more flexible, mobile, reliable, survivable, accurate, and able to fly longer and farther.

April 12, 2013 at 23:09

[...] An interesting take on the diplomatic implications of ballistic missile defense. [...]

April 9, 2013 at 12:06

John Chan,


On your first point, that China's economy is a bubble waiting to burst, I would like to note that many observers and so-called experts have been predicting a bursting Chinese bubble for over a decade.  That it has not come to pass within the time frame many of these experts have predicted leads me to believe that the Chinese bubble is simply observers taking what happened to Japan and applying it to China.

As for point number two, you wrote, “Only USA can invent and only USA can succeed and China can only copy, steal and produce cheap crappy products."  As far as that goes, it might be worth pointing out that if you look at the number of research scientists in the US with "American" names and then compare it with the number of research scientists in the US with Chinese names, you will find that an awful lot of "American" research is carried about by ethnically Chinese individuals.

You also noted that technological superiority will always win out… a statement disproven by the conflicts in Vietnam, Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, and even World War II when the Soviets defeated Nazi Germany.  German technology was far more advanced than Russia's and America's, but it was also more expensive and less available. 

The old saying goes that quantity has a quality all its own.

As for point number 3, that the USA surrounded China with allies who appreciate USA’s protection and were willing to pay a prices for the USA’s leadership, even at the cost of being nuked. 

That's an assumption on your part, that others would willing get nuked for our hegemony.  But that is an assumption, not a given.

You went on to say "Weapon like pro sports, 1% better wins all the time. Despite USA has fewer LCSs but China’s type 22 FACs as well as other weapons are inferior, so they are just sitting ducks to the USA’s weapons as all anti-China bloggers insisted."

Once again, I would like to point out that Nazi Germany, despite having the better tanks, planes, and soldiers, simply could not hold off the Soviet Union.  1% doesn't always win and, in fact, technological superiority coupled with numerical inferiority typically leads to costly defeats.  Despite our technological superiority and superior training, we have managed to lose almost every post-World War II conflict we have engaged in.  Even against enemies possessed of nothing but small arms and improvised  expolsives, our ability to field multi-million dollar weapon systems has not purchased us victory – it simply means we spend more to lose after a longer fight.

I am neither pessimistic nor unpatriotic.  I am simply realistic: war is not only a matter of fighting spirit or technology.  War, as Sun Tzu and Von Claustewitz both said, is a conflict between nations on every level.  If you cannot spend as much, bleed as much, or stay on the field of battle as long as the other person can, you will lose.  Our gear and our men and women, as great as they are, simply cost too much to field and take too long to replace.    In an arms race, we will lose because we're the ones playing catch up.  While China sees to its own needs and spends millions, we try to figure out what they're doing and counter it by spending tens of billions.

papa john
April 9, 2013 at 04:27

This old Liang loves talking about how great China is in a future war with America and Japan. Liang, there is an internal war already going on in China now and China is a sole loser and doesn’t know how to stop the loss of 1.2 million Chinese every year. Yes, 1.2 million casualties from the war against pollution each year. The number will be increasing over year due to increasing pollution. Liang1a could be no longer step outside without a mask and his house has to be pumped oxygen inside. Remember, Liang, eventually oxygen will be running out in China.

[...] it all here.  What do you [...]

April 8, 2013 at 15:54

DaveG wrote:

April 5, 2013 at 6:52 pm

where do you get your nonesense 'facts' from?? Propaganda levels through the roof!


John Chan:

Even in the USA, pretty soon majority of scientists and engineers will be Chinese. The relentless bad mouthing China on IP violation can only soothe American’s wounded ego but can do nothing to arrest the trend of American losing the lead in innovation. American’s attempt to contain and intimidate China with lethal weapons is simply not practical and futile.


I think we're now seeing the end of Chinese scientists and engineers coming to the US.  The reason is that Chinese wages are rising and there are more opportunities for good Chinese scientists and engineers to do original R&d.  Also the US is still very racists and many Chinese are disillusioned by all the odious discriminations.  Statistically, Chinese students are returning to China after they graduate in unprecedented percentage.  And as Chinese universities increase in quality, there will also be fewer Chinese coming to the US.  In time, a US degree will confer no status.  Then Chinese students will stop coming to the US entirely.

A nation is always at its most arrogant just before it declines and falls.  As to China's innovativeness, I will give an example.  America's F-22 must open its bombay door before it can fire its missile.  When the door is opened it gives a very big radar cross section.  The open door is also buffeted by strong wind and is often damaged by the buffeting.  Chinese J-20 has an innovative way of dealing with these problems.  It opens its bomb bay door, extends a missile out of the bomb bay and then immediately closes the door.  The missile hangs outside the fuselage until it is fired.  The door closing immediately saves it from being buffeted by the wind and reduce drag.  The door being closed immediately reduces the chance of being detected by enemy radar.  So this is an ingenious solution that the Americans had never thought of.

Obwayo Ngere
April 7, 2013 at 19:41

Why does Edgar needs to chill out?  He speaks the truth. Obama has blood on his hand and his agenda is to destablize the world for his strategic Empire purpose and the military-industrial complex business goals. He is a war criminal with innocent blood on his hands with the drones assasinations and the ramping up of tensions on the Korean peninsular. Your labelling Edgar's cmments as a "rant"  is in the same mould as the US's government's misinformational "conspiracy theorists" to dumb down a questioning citizenry. So please spare us your misrepresentations.

John Smith
April 7, 2013 at 01:23

Trouble is, the world is nearer to doomsday with Obama. J edgar has a point. Tell me, why is America under this man creating so tensions and conflicts. He is a fool if he thinks it will not bring death on our homesoil.

April 6, 2013 at 16:55

I liked this article a lot.  Having grown up during the "Cold war" where the trend was to grow nuclear warhead stockpiles, I think that the U.S. defensive systems are the way of the future for many countries.  And on the claim about China having better techology than the U.S., thank you for the laugh.

April 6, 2013 at 08:00

Nakahiro wrote:

April 5, 2013 at 3:35 pm


You wrote: It is time for America to stop pretending that it still has a future fighting China. It is wiser for it to pull back its troops from out of west of Hawaii; save its money to take care of its own poor people. Fighting China has no future for America, only danger and destruction.

Riiiightt!! This is coming froma country that is infected with "chicken virus" and heavy pollution which has history of killing millions of its own people and possibly millions we don't know about in the present day. America is not a 3rd world country,America needs is waiting for true leader that will make cuts and put money back into the country at least with this system there is some slight chance and hope for change, its called democracy. China can't change because CCP cares above all, security and loyalty to one party above all else.


There are far more diseases in America than in China.  AIDS and mad cow diseases are just two of the most infamous diseases in America.  Then there are the Legionnaires Disease, Colorado tick fever, flesh eating bacteria disease, and too many others to enumerate.  America killed hundreds of thousands of its people during the civil war.  America has literally wiped out the entire native American population which numbered anywhere from more than 1 million to tens of millions. 

Whether America can correct its mistakes is still to be seen.  Nothing can be taken for granted.  Looking at the comical Tea Party it is unlikely that America can do much to make itself great.  And the Republicans are still dominated by gun-toting bigots and racists.  These are all divisive and contentious forces that are more likely to keep America divided than united.  China on the other hand has demonstrated a steady move toward greater freedom and democracy based on the historical pressure and the demand of the Chinese people.  As more great universities are built to produce more doctorate level scientists and engineers, China's science and technologies will surge ahead of the world.  And as Chinese people are better educated and become richer they will demand more honest government and wiser policies in all aspect of the Chinese nation.  And China will continue to grow and strengthen as the Chinese people become more patriotic and united.

Therefore, China will be ultimately 7 times richer and stronger than America.  America will be asking for destruction if it continued to fight China.  Up to now, America is ahead of China not because it is inherently superior but because during the Qing Dynasty China had declined.  Now China is on the rise again and it cannot be stopped.

April 6, 2013 at 07:30

Nakahiro wrote:

April 5, 2013 at 3:35 pm


You wrote: As China's economy and technologies continue to grow, it is inevitable for America to shrink relative to China.

Technologies and so called "innovations" coming from China for the whole world to consume and accept takes a long time to build that consumer trust in said product/technology. C. You guys don't get to be on the top spot, on the world stage like Samsung, Apple, Sony etc overnight. China has an image of cheap and lacking quality on some to most things (to be fair) particularly the rip offs of smartphones coming out of that country so don't make it sound its a great achievement nChina has a lot of work turn this image around. Huawai is a great example when they tried to become a broadband tender in Australia and they got denied due to national security risks and supposed links to CCP. Get rid of CCP and prove to nations it has no ties to the CCP and then perhaps that image will change until then technology will driving force will be Japan (mainly robotics) Korea US and the west.


Nakahiro, you're contradicting yourself.  First you said it takes a long time to create a brand name.  Then you said Huawei was denied in Australia not because of its quality but because of its politics.  Obviously, the West is undercutting China's competition with unfair means.  That is, the West is using demonization to make Chinese products unacceptable.  This means the acceptance of Chinese products is not based on quality but on politics.  Going back to what you said about it taking a long time to establish a brand name.  China has already demonstrated its superior quality.  But it can never establish a brand name due to demonizations.  In other words, China should not waste its time to sell products in the West.  As I've repeatedly said China should export to developing countries in Africa and Latin America and SCO countries in exchange for raw materials.  It does not benefit China to squander its energy and resources just to earn a lot of useless dollars and yen.  Up to now, many Chinese have been brainwashed into thinking dollars are gold.  But they are wrong.  Dollars are not gold.  It is just useless junk.  And China doesn't need it.  Therefore, it is much more beneficial for China to establish its brand names in Russia and Africa than in Japan or America or Australia.

China can grow much faster by becoming self-sufficient.  China should rely on itself for 95% of its economic growth; and the remaining 5% can come from trade with SCO, BRICS, and other friendly countries.  China does not need the West and Japan and their toadies to grow.  In fact, they are a serious hinderance to China's growth.

April 6, 2013 at 07:17

James wrote:

April 5, 2013 at 12:20 pm

@ Lang1a,

Don't you know that your China is internally crumbling? Soon, you will see its day of reckoning. So, just prepare for the worst & pray for the best, my old Lang1a!


China is not crumbling.  In what way is it crumbling?  Some of you might say China is being polluted.  But China is actually much cleaner than the West during the same period of development.  Anyone who has read anything about 1850 London would know that it was choked with pollution.  Japan's river and beaches were polluted with raw sewerage in the 1960's and may still be today.  Even today China's pollution is not as bad as demonized by the West.  China's per capita output of pollutants are far less than in the West and Japan.  And over the last 10 years, China's output of pollutant has actually decreased by large amounts while its economy has more than doubled.  In short, China is growing rapidly.  It is the West and Japan that are crumbling.

April 6, 2013 at 04:20


Your summation of hte politics of BMD is spot on – it is a means of reassuring allies without antagonizing potential foes as much as the deployment of offensive weaponry would.  My objection to the article is that it supposes that BMD will get the other guy to give up ballistic missiles altogether, which it won't. 

April 6, 2013 at 03:01

think about it, if war begins,the USA and its allies will be firing all its offensive weapons knowing that there opponents have nothing or very limited counter measures.ABM in this regard doesn't have to be 100% accurate but they will allow ample time for the offensive components to destroy defensive or offensive capabilities of its opponents.Yes.maybe some of those ballistic missile the ABM will miss and hits the USA,can China intercept or destroys US NUKES at sea,air and land?The ABM's or BMD's will allow the USA to complete its mission and protections of there home land at the same time.It is really comforting to the US allied forces that have BMD's that they can execute their mission at will than the opponents that doesn't have any to stop those missile and will always have doubt if they ever be successful in their missions….

John Chan
April 5, 2013 at 23:29


Unless you believe the fallacy of “Only the West can invent and only the West can succeed,” otherwise Liang1a’s prediction that China will outdo the USA in “develop more advanced weapons” is simply a logical conclusion, because China has larger population and more scientists and engineers with lower cost.

Although breakthrough needs genius which is a rare occurrence, but converting breakthrough to super products needs large amount of hard working and above average scientists and engineers to materialize. Therefore breakthrough does not have intrinsic value, only end products have intrinsic value. Even if westerners have all the genius, the West will lose to China in the race converting the breakthrough into tangible products. For example Graphene was discovered in UK, but China is the leader in commercialize Graphene.

Even in the USA, pretty soon majority of scientists and engineers will be Chinese. The relentless bad mouthing China on IP violation can only soothe American’s wounded ego but can do nothing to arrest the trend of American losing the lead in innovation. American’s attempt to contain and intimidate China with lethal weapons is simply not practical and futile.

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