Since the Trump administration withdrew last year from the Cold War Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty barring U.S. land-based intermediate-range missiles, the U.S. is moving full speed on plans to place hundreds of American missiles with non-nuclear warheads in the Pacific. As I previously wrote, this bold plan will require ‘lots of missiles.’
It will also require diplomatic finesse to gain access to island bases from sometimes wary allies.
But as the LA Times notes, the plan — “the centerpiece of a planned buildup of U.S. military power in Asia…would quickly and cheaply shift the balance of power in the western Pacific back in the United States’ favor…” U.S. and allied bases throughout the region are increasingly threatened by the massive proliferation of Chinese ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as their equally massive new navy.
This is one way to counter that threat.
The U.S. missile plan is projected to cost tens of billions of dollars over the next decade. The Pentagon has already been testing several new medium and intermediate-range missiles — with ranges up to 3,400 miles. These include a ballistic missile that could be based in Guam, a U.S. territory, as well as mobile missiles carried on vehicles, like the Chinese DF -21 “carrier killer” missiles.
The LA Times notes that “U.S. officials say that many allies are privately supportive of the missile plan and may come around to permitting them on their territory but don’t want to provoke opposition from Beijing and their own public before decisions are on the table.”
The U.S. may also rotate missile batteries in and out of island locations around the region to keep China guessing. It may even “place them in strategic locations without publicly disclosing it,” says the LA Times, adding, that this would force China “to hunt for hundreds of launchers capable of targeting its planes, ships and bases.”
Eric Sayers, a former consultant to U.S. commanders in the Pacific, now with the Center for a New American Security said, according to the LA Times, “Ground-based missiles aren’t some kind of silver bullet. But they are a way in the near term … to create dilemmas for the [People’s Liberation Army] planners.”
In pursuit of this new strategy, last week U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper made the first-ever trip by a Pentagon chief to the tiny republic of Palau, which consists of hundreds of islands in the Philippine Sea. During that visit, reported the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), “the Republic of Palau asked the Pentagon to build ports, bases and airfields on the island nation.”
These dual-use bases and airfields will allow U.S. military forces the ability to reach targets well into China’s backyard, and mainland itself.
“The government of Palau is not only receptive but is enthusiastic about the United States military broadening and deepening its operations, exercises and training in and around Palau,” said Heino Klinck, deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, in an interview, quoted by the WSJ.
Last year the Palauan president visited the White House with counterparts from Micronesia and the Marshall Islands, adopting a joint statement on security in a show of unity with each other and the United States.