So far the controversy around the US’s missile defence system has been played out with Russia. Bush’s version of the system involved a radar base in the Czech Republic and interceptor missiles in Poland. He claimed that this would defend the US from potential missile strikes from Iran. Of course no one believed that, particularly not the Russians, who saw quite clearly that this system finally enabled the US to achieve nuclear primacy – the capacity to launch a first strike against them and mop up any retaliatory strike with the system’s interceptor missiles. No more balance of terror. Obama abandoned that iteration – not least because of massive popular protest in the Czech Republic which brought down their conservative government. But he has subsequently annoyed Russia by moving a version of it further east to Romania and perhaps Bulgaria. This is now proving to be an obstacle to the long-awaited replacement for the START Treaty on bilateral nuclear weapons reductions, still in negotiation between the US and Russia.
Now missile defence is being turned on China. For some years the US has been pursuing an Aegis sea-based interceptor missile system with Japan, Australia and South Korea. This is now centre stage following the completion – after weeks of protest by China – of a $6.5 billion weapons transfer to Taiwan, including 200 advanced Patriot anti-ballistic missiles. It is also providing Taiwan with 8 frigates which can be equipped with the Aegis system to carry missile interceptors. Adding Taiwan to the Aegis system is a considerable provocation to China. Not surprisingly, China Daily observed that the weapons deal with Taiwan ‘is the key part of a US strategic encirclement of China’. Where Russia has clearly been encircled by US and NATO bases for decades, China is now getting the same treatment. But while some Chinese analysts see this as a result of the US setback in Europe last summer, in actual fact it is clear that the US is vigorously applying the same strategy to both Russia and China, and that has been its intention all along. As China pushes further ahead economically, the US is playing a dangerous game – unless it is literally prepared to fight, promoting US nuclear primacy to prevent Chinese economic primacy.