The conversation of this panel focused on strategic level issues of US engagement in the Asia-Pacific, the Asian perspective of missile defense, efforts from Congress to address this issue, and the geopolitics in the Asia-Pacific theater that affects US missile defense.
Kurt Campbell asserted the fact that the demand for American strategic engagement in the Asia-Pacific is increasing, even though there are some concerns about the declining US budget and unease about the latest developments of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). He called for the need for the Missile Defense Agency to better engage with its partners in other US government agencies. Campbell also disagrees with the belief that there is a way to end sequestration and said,” the US is stuck with this sequester capabilities for the foreseeable future, and we have to start thinking more creatively accordingly.” Campbell also believes that even though there is a period where ballistic missile defense (BMD) was an area of strategic focus, not just militarily but also political, this period has largely passed. There is now a larger focus on power projection, maritime domain awareness, and the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), among others.
The panel was clear in asserting that North Korea continuously poses a threat and underscored the relevance that the United States and BMD could play in the Asia-Pacific. The rhetoric from China that US BMD in Asia means to undermine China’s influence, even though US leadership and Congress had expressed that any major considerations in Northeast Asia center on North Korea’s provocations. The United States is currently working with many allies on BMD, especially on information sharing, even though it faces a lot of impediments, according to Chang. BMD in Asia lacks the multilateral collaboration that exists in Europe and the cultural dynamics and history that prevent us from having the same multilateral architecture in Europe. Furthermore, the Republic of Korea (ROK)-Japan relationship is not the most ideal, as tensions have been high all year due to the seventieth anniversary of World War II this year.
Amy Chang articulated that BMD has congressional support, and if a further expansion in Asia on BMD could be justified, Congress can be sympathetic. The American leadership needs to provide assurances to US partners in the region, especially to the ROK, and reassure China and Russia that the United States is not improving its capabilities and increasing its presence to undermine China’s influence. Chang suggested that the United States should hold more hearings on the issue and mentioned that, later this month, the Asia-Pacific Subcommittee will have a hearing on bilateral alliances in Asia. “Bolster the trusted relationship we already have. All of these suggestions could help alleviate the tension and promote greater US presence and BMD capability in Asia,” Chang concluded.
Michael Green provided three main points on the Asia-Pacific geopolitics on missile defense– underpinning deterrence, complicating enemy planning, and enhancing credibility of extended deterrence in Asia. “We are playing a complicated three-dimensional chess game with China. We’re trying to leverage interdependence, shape the theater diplomatically through TPP and trade, and build new relations with India and Indonesia through multilateralism. We also have to underpin all of that with a certainty that we can fight tonight, that we can deter and defeat aggression. Missile defense touches on all of these in a profound way,” Green said. He also explained that it is critical for missile defense to shape the way US alliances in Asia will progress. The Chinese assumes that, over time, American allies will be slowly weaned off the US due to trade with China, coercion (especially in the South China Seas), and the geographical factor. Green disagrees with that assumption and thinks that US allies in Asia also disagree with it, due to the fact that the development of BMD capabilities requires the United States to cooperative with its allies on technology. There are a lot of challenges and questions still present in this debate, but missile defense is an essential part of both US military strategy and the US grand strategy for the Asia-Pacific region.