I just grabbed this graph from the Economist, which shows the size and range of China’s new missile arsenal. As the article points out, missiles can be a cheaper and more effective deterrent than a 2 million strong standing army. Infantry have been a mainstay of armed forces ever since a pikeman thrust his pike deep in to an enemy knight’s beloved dobbin, but now more than ever, nuclear proliferation and high tech targeting missiles means that a huge band of brothers all standing in the same field is not quite as threatening as it once was.
The increasing effectiveness of its missile capability may mean that future US-South Korean wargames may be less welcome in what China chooses to define as its backyard. Whilst its stockpile of ICBM’s is still miniscule compared to America’s and Russia’s arsenals, China is not far away from being defined as a serious regional power and the much wished for (in some circles) multi-polar world is very nearly here.
The developmental Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM), DongFeng-21D also points to the coming realignment of naval warfare, and could completely redefine the meaning of the term blue-water navy, in a similar way to how the arrival of the first Ironclad in the mid 19th century rendered obsolete contemporary wooden hulled fleet. A battery of ship targeting missiles is much cheaper than a fleet, and may render current fleets little more than sitting ducks. When the missile moves in to production, currently estimated at being in two years time, it will be the only ASBM capable of being launched from land based mobile launchers (Trident is an example of a submarine based launcher). Rumour has it (Chinese language source) that America is planning to counter the development of this new missile by assigning more AEGIS cruisers to babysit its newly vulnerable aircraft carriers.
The rising potency of China’s missile arsenal proceeds along with its development of the “string of pearls”, a network of military bases strung along the Indian Ocean rim, designed to help project its naval power, and also safeguard, and simply exert influence over, the supply route of oil from the Middle East to East Asia; and has been matched by America announcing the the upgrading and development of their naval base in Guam, which as the graph above shows, is out of firing range of the DongFeng21-D, a potentially safer location than the older, and now deeply unpopular amongst locals, base at Okinawa.
Whilst none of these developments prove that China is now an aggressive Great Power, it points to a subtle realignment in relative strengths between the various nations in our new, almost multi-polar world. Echoes from a hundred years ago may help clarify this realignment. British military decline was not first confirmed in WWI, but fourteen years earlier at the Battle of Paardeberg during the Second Boer War. The Boers cut through lines of British and Canadian infantry using newly acquired German guns, with German observers beside them excitedly telegrahing Berlin to relay news of the success of their new weapons. I wonder when China will get the opportunity to test their new toy in a non-critical warzone?
And, given the parlous state of Britain’s finances, it may turn out that the UK’s new defense policy of not only having an aircraft carrier with no aircraft, but also combining our navies with the French, may turn out to be one of the canniest military funding decisions in modern times; that way we can blame them if it all goes terribly wrong!
Incidently, dong feng means Wind of the East, giving echoes of the English meaning of Kamikaze: Divine Wind.