Australia confirmed that it would not host the US intermediate-range missiles deployed in Asia, following Washington’s formal withdrawal from the Cold War-era nuclear deal signed with then-Soviet Union, called the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF).
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper expressed his plan to put missiles in the Asia Pacific “in coming months” during his visit to Australia last weekend. Both Canberra and Washington agreed to monitor China’s suspicious activities in the region.
Esper’s remarks sparked speculations that the US has requested Australia to provide Darwin, the capital of the Northern Territory, for those missiles, which was denied by Australia’s Prime Minister, Scott Morrison. The 51-year-old prime minister stressed that he would refuse if asked to do so.
“It’s not been asked to us, not being considered, not been put to us. I think I rule a line under that,” Morrison briefed reporters in Brisbane, the state capital of Queensland, as Reuters wrote.
Such a request from Washington will put Canberra in hot water, given the latter’s good trade relationship with the Xi Jinping administration and close ties with the US. Washington has been involved in a year-long trade dispute with Beijing, and both states have imposed a tariff on each other.
China and Russia vow to retaliate
China threatened to take action against the US if the latter insists on deploying its ground-based medium-range missiles in the Asia-Pacific region.
“China will not stand idly by and be forced to take countermeasures should the US deploy intermediate-range ground-based missiles this part of the world,” director of the foreign ministry’s Arms Control Department, Fu Cong, told reporters, as The Washington Post reported.
Fu did not elaborate specifically about what countermeasures to be taken, but would consider all available options if all US allies allow Washington to put missiles in the region.
Russia echoed China’s warning, saying that it would take retaliatory steps if the US places its missiles in the Asia-Pacific.
The Kremlin did not want to get provoked by Washington’s plan when asked about the possible missile deployment. However, Russia would do anything to defend itself if the US puts arms across Asia, following the collapse of the INF signed in 1987.
“If the deployment of new US systems begins specifically in Asia, then the corresponding steps to balance these actions will be taken by us in the direction of parrying these threats,” Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister, Sergey Ryabkov, told a news conference.
Washington pulled out from the INF, the Cold-War nuclear pact that banned the US and Russia (then the Soviet Union) to develop, possess, and test ground-based missiles within a range of between 310 and 3,400 miles.
The US repeatedly accused Russia of violating the deal by testing 9M729 missiles or the SSC-8, as the US called it. But Moscow snubbed the allegations, and slammed Washington for hyperbolizing claims to justify the development of new weapons.
The US works hard to convince its allies
Despite being one of the US’ allies, South Korea insisted that it has no intention to host Washington’s missiles.
“Our government did not have any official discussions with the US on the possible introduction of intermediate missiles (on South Korean soil). We have not internally reviewed the issue, and have no plan to do so,” South Korea defense ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.
Deploying missiles in South Korea could be a nightmare for Washington, as it will worsen a denuclearization talk with North Korea. Despite President Donald Trump’s boastful remarks that he has a very good relationship with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, the denuclearization negotiations have yet to produce any concrete outcomes.
Other possible options for the post-INF US missiles allegedly developed are Japan and the island of Guam. However, the presence of the US military in Japan (especially in Okinawa) will face bitter public opposition, while the deployment in Guam will also provoke North Korea to do something crazier than just test missiles.
The US has limited options for post-INF missiles, as it heavily relies on sea-and air-based missiles in Asia, as Ankit Panda wrote in the New Republic.
China is also reluctant in being included in the post-INF treaty initiated by the US, saying that Beijing is not at the same level as Russia and the US in terms of the military build-up.
The latest SIPRI data showed that China has around 290 nuclear warheads, while the US and Russia account for 90 percent of warheads globally (about 6,000 each). The US’ withdrawal from the INF and the Iran deal will make other countries think twice when inking an agreement with Washington.
China is also committed to pursuing a nuclear strategy for national defense, as the country’s white paper on defense stated. Beijing will keep its nuclear weapons at minimum level, and supports a total ban on nuclear arsenals.
“China is always committed to a nuclear policy of no first use of nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstances, and not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones unconditionally. China advocates the ultimate complete prohibition and thorough destruction of nuclear weapons. China does not engage in any nuclear arms race with any other country and keeps its nuclear capabilities at the minimum level required for national security,” said the paper, titled “China’s National Defense In The New Era.”