Saturday, May 19, 2007

Does Showing the US Its Anti-Satellite Technology Help China in Dealing with the Taiwan Issue?

Something that came up in a discussion I took part in the other day continues to bug me, so here it is:

It happens that the talk turned to the Chinese military, where it came out that there is a considerable amount of diversity in strategic thinking in the PLA, and their officials are increasingly more willing to talk openly about their own views. This means that we will hear things from time to time that can be alarming in of itself, but all in all, it's a welcome development. Nothing came out during the discussions, though, that suggested there has been any thought of softening their stance on Taiwan, and therein lies the rub.

China is not tipping its hand on why it blew up its satellite, but the general assumption, which did not go challenged in the discussions, is that China, in a much weaker military position than the US, both overall and, most critically, vis-à-vis Taiwan, and that this situation will not change in the forseeable future. This forces China in the case of open conflict with the US over Taiwan to rely heavily on (what people who know more than I do call) asymmetric warfare. From that point of view, knocking out the US satellite communications system would be a most cost-effective option. And you don't have to agree with China to understand where they are coming from, given that the Taiwanese leadership, for better or worse, has been doing far more to raise tension. The following excerpt from a WaPo article published soon after the incident is but one of many sources that cover this matter:

With the U.S. military heavily reliant on satellites for reconnaissance, navigation, weapons guidance systems and anti-missile defenses, China's ability to shoot down satellites could pose an added threat in the event of hostilities over Taiwan. In addition, China's newly demonstrated ability could threaten Taiwanese satellites monitoring Chinese short- and medium-range missile deployments along the Taiwan Strait.

My point is the following:

Destroying the US military intelligence and communications satellite system will close off a whole range of options that would be available with good intelligence and weapons guidance. But it will put the US in a bind, a fold-or-all-in choice between acquiescence and massive use of force. As was suggested at the discussions, it could become tempting at an earlier point in a conflict for the US to strike preemptively so that it would not have to be faced with such an unpalatable situation. In other words, China may have inadvertently chosen an extremely high-risk, high-return strategy for itself. By putting US on notice, it may have closed off its own options as well. Has the Chinese military given thought to this?

What do you think?


Biby Cletus said...

Cool blog, i just randomly surfed in, but it sure was worth my time, will be back

Deep Regards from the other side of the Moon

Biby Cletus

Jun Okumura said...

Thank you, Biby, for looking in. But "other side of the Moon"? Looks more like an alternative universe. And a well-populated universe at that. Good for you.