Saturday, September 22, 2007

1-11 Shock: Reagan Diplomacy Needed against China’s Ambition in the Space

China’ success in anti-satellite weapon test on January 11 this year poses no less serious threat to the United States and its allies in East Asia than 9-11. Ashley J. Tellis, Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, argues that the United States should develop both offensive and defensive space weapons in order to curb Chinese ambition to undermine American predominance in the space. I would like to talk about his recent policy brief, entitled “Punching the US Military’s ‘Soft Ribs’: China’s Anti-satellite Weapon Test in Strategic Perspective”, released in June this year.

On 1-11, China launched a medium range missile from Xichang space facility in Sichuan Province, which was fired at an aging Chinese weather satellite. The missile test chilled to the spine of American policymakers, because the success of this test implied that China was able to cut off space based communication systems of US forces. Ashley Tellis refutes dovish idea that the United States make a deal on arms control in the space with China immediately.

First, Tellis explains strategic logic of Chinese counterspace program. Since remarkable success of US armed forces in Operation Desert Storm in the Gulf War, Chinese strategists had begun to explore how to defeat far superior US conventional forces by attacking American space based facilities. American satellites play the key role in C3 (command, control, and communication) systems, and they are vital for military intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. Tellis says “China understands that its best chance of successfully countering US military power lies in being able to attack America’s relatively vulnerable eyes, ears, and voice.” He insists that China as a rising power will not recognize an arms control regime in the space, which could strengthen its competitors. In other words, it is quite unlikely that China be willing to negotiate space arms control at this stage.

Also, Ashley Tellis categorizes China’s counterspace programs against US forces. These programs include from space object surveillance and identification systems to attack weapons. In accordance with the altitude of orbits, China thinks of using specific ASAT (anti-satellite) weapons. Ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and laser beams are designed for lower orbit satellites. Electronic wave attacks would be applied for medium and higher orbit satellites. China even considers attacking US facilities on the Earth which transmit information from space based satellites to American strategists.

In conclusion, Ashley Tellis mentions three implications of China’s space programs, and makes policy recommendations. To begin with, Tellis points out that China invests in counterspace projects because of strategic necessity. It is not willing to conclude arms control agreement with the United States unless one of the following conditions is satisfied.

(1) China can defeat the United States despite America’s privilege for access to the space.
(2) China’s investments in counter space programs yields less return because of technological superiority of the Unites States nullify Chinese efforts.
(3) Chinese space projects provoke offensive counterspace programs of the United States, and the return of R&D exceeds the threat posed by America.

Second, Tellis warns that US supremacy in the space is endangered due to ASAT weapon test success of China. He recommends that the United States improve its ability to identify and assess all orbiting objects, and to anticipate the sources and the capacity for counterspace attacks.

Finally, Tellis warns of s “Space Pear Harbor” in case of crisis over the Taiwan Strait. The United States may have to consider preemptive attacks or horizontal escalation on the Chinese mainland, if it happens before American space facilities become survivable from surprise attacks by China. Ashley Tellis advocates the United States build up offense and defense military power in the space, instead of negotiating for arms control arrangements that are doomed to failure.

Tellis’ arguments sound rational for me. In the past, President Ronald Reagan launched SDI project in order to make the Soviet Union give up expanding its nuclear arsenals, and talk on arms reduction with the United States. American Siegfried must stop dangerous ambition of the Chinese Dragon like this way.