Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States
Appendix III: Unclassified Working Papers
Gerrit W. Gong 1 : "Assessing the Ballistic Missile Threat:
This paper introduces for Rumsfeld Commissioner discussion policy elements
relating to the Commission's mandate with respect to current issues and
developments regarding U.S. interests within the regional context of China,
Japan, Korea, Taiwan issues.
The term China-Japan-Korea-Taiwan issues itself suggests organic
connections, particularly in Beijing's perspective, for how past, present,
and future relations among Beijing-Tokyo-Seoul-Pyongyang-Taipei connect.
Indeed, a delicate interplay continues among U.S. forward-deployed Asian
regional presence and developments in Japan, on the Korean peninsula, and
across the Taiwan Strait. As underscored by the political-military
discussion of more clearly defined U.S.-Japan defense guidelines, the
current U.S.-Japan security structure primarily focuses on Korean peninsula
and cross-strait contingencies. At the same time, significant regional
changes, particularly structural changes on the Korean peninsula or in
cross-strait relations, will affect the perceived dependability and
sustainability of U.S. military presence in the region.
This is all especially true with respect to the continuing, most sensitive
issue in Sino-U.S. relations, one which may most directly touch on core
security commitments, definitions of sovereignty, principles of
self-determination, and other issues of importance to Washington and
Beijing: the issue of Taiwan in Northeast Asian regional context.
In this context, this paper suggests that Beijing may at present
deliberately choose a form of soft strategic deterrence with the U.S.
through a modest, minimally threatening intercontinental ballistic missile
posture, making no pretensions toward strategic parity now or in the future
if such facilitates China's gradually realizing its current objective of
regional superiority sufficient to prevail should local, high-intensify
conflict or protracted tensions arise.
Such a current calculus does not rule out Beijing's seeking a longer-term
capability to put more U.S. assets at greater risk, especially if and as
China develops capability to do so within an efficient cost-benefit
framework (as defined by Beijing). This continues the need for
thorough-going discussion of how and whether Beijing's historical
experience and self-definition provides a natural limit to China's future
ballistic missile aspirations.
Similarly, the need continues for careful analysis and monitoring of
whether and how China's standing on the cusp of a new emergence on the
world stage will alter Chinese ambitions with respect to ballistic missile
capabilities, as Beijing improves its relative position within East and
It also opens a new set of issues: the extent to which the modern
globalized international system may perhaps subtly alter Beijing's
perceptions of itself, perhaps leading on the one hand toward a less
zero-sum approach on China's part, or alternatively on the other hand
toward more globalized security concerns such as the need for ballistic
missile or other military balancing with the U.S., Russia, India, Japan,
the Koreas, or others.
Even if, for any foreseeable future, Beijing's most expansive ambitions
remain regional, it is still worth querying the compatibility of PRC and
U.S. Asian regional interests, as potentially influenced by ballistic
missile developments. The U.S. and its NATO allies were forced to take
seriously Soviet attempts to develop conventional and possible nuclear
superiority over Western Europe, including through the deployment of SS-20
missile systems. To what extent should the Commission consider
circumstances under which the PRC develops sufficiently compelling pressure
on its neighbors, including through ballistic missile developments, so as
to undermine vital U.S. interests in East and Southeast Asia?
1. In Beijing's perspective, there are two essential organic connections
among Japan, Korea, and Taiwan.
2. First is that Taiwan's separation is a bitter symbolic reminder of
Japan's military successes at China's expense in the modern period.
* This includes Taiwan's cession to Japan as a dictated condition of
defeat following Japan's unprecedented military defeat of China during
the 1894-95 Sino-Japanese war.
It includes Japan's occupation of much of Northeast and coastal China after
1931 and particularly between 1937-1945, when Tokyo's strategic was seen as
trying to break up and thereby weaken China.
It includes contemporary Japanese strategic writings about Taiwan's
strategic importance to Japan's energy, trade, and communication
life-lines; Japan's alleged encouragement of Taiwan separatists; the
education of leading Taiwanese and their ease in speaking Japanese (such as
Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui), and the subsequent concern that Kyoto
University might invite President Lee to an alumni reunion, re-posing the
challenges of his Cornell visit.
And it includes Beijing's suspicions of continuing Japan-U.S. efforts to
playing a "Taiwan card" by maintaining and encouraging a separate if not
independent Taipei, including through revised defense guidelines and
potential theater missile defense.
* This historical connection is also worth underscoring because it goes
to the core of Chinese communist party mission, legitimacy, and
No doubt history and ideology entrench Taiwan policy within the Chinese
political and policy system more deeply than might have otherwise been the
case. To the extent strict adherence to Chinese communist party Taiwan
policy is an inviolable touchstone of systemic political loyalty, it may be
more difficult to change, even if and as cross-strait circumstances change.
Paradoxically, the more-reform oriented senior Chinese leadership may be,
the less room for maneuver they may be granted within their system on
Taiwan. This "Zhongnanhai effect" on Taiwan policy suggests the further one
might wish to stretch current economic orthodoxies, the more strictly one
must adhere to established political ones, such as those regarding Taiwan.
This does not preclude some tactical flexibility on Taiwan approaches (such
as Jiang Zemin may have authorized with Tang Shubei's tantalizing
unofficial hint that "one China" might refer to a future confederation
rather than the "one China" currently espoused by either Beijing or
Taipei). But it suggests that Beijing's long-term approach toward Taiwan
may be as consistent and determined as stated in the three communiqués.
* The emotion with which senior Chinese military officials and others
describe Chinese concerns regarding Japan is intended to underscore
Chinese memory, key points of domestic political unity, as well as to
employ a "containment by guilt" approach to Tokyo and Washington.
3. The second organic connection between Japan, Korea, and Taiwan is that
it was the outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula in June 1950 which
likely prevented Mao Zedong from ordering the military campaign aimed
at finally defeating a faltering Chiang Kai-shek.
Although perhaps intended primarily to focus military resources on the
Korean conflict, Eisenhower's interposing the 7th fleet in the Taiwan
strait effectively granted the Kuomintang an opportunity to establish
itself in Taiwan.
The Korean war also sped Japan's economic recovery and the continued
embargo on China's economic development during the Korean war and its
* To sum, particularly in the Chinese experience, U.S.-Japan relations,
Korean peninsula developments, and cross-strait issues involving
Taiwan are organically connected because they decisively shape the
strategic environment in Northeast Asia, and remain inseparable from
Beijing's positioning with respect to the U.S., Japan, the Koreas, and
4. Following President Lee Teng-hui's Cornell visit and Beijing's
military and missile exercises of 1995 and 1996, China appears to have
focused greater resources and attention--military, diplomatic,
economic--toward pressuring Taiwan.
5. Internationally, Beijing is aggressively trying to isolate
Taipei, including by portraying Taiwan as a "problem" for
Washington and the world community to "solve" according to
"established principles," the earlier the better, like Hong Kong.
Cross-straits, Beijing is employing "united front strategies" to
discern and increase political fault lines in Taiwan.
With the U.S., Japan, and others, Beijing appears to be shifting from
pursuing not only traditional, predominately de jure concerns over
international nomenclature, to include de facto focus on actual power
o This is evidenced in:
a. Jiang Zemin's targeting of the U.S. "centers of political
gravity"--Congress, Executive, intellectuals, overseas Chinese,
finance and business community, media, and general public during
b. Beijing's use of the Asian financial crisis to increase its
regional status and position;
c. Beijing's increasing and integrating its military acquisitions to
deter U.S. involvement in cross-strait confrontation and to
pressure Taiwan in psychological and asymmetrical warfare,
including press accounts of recent emphasis on combined arms
military training based on Taiwan scenarios and concentration of
PRC ballistic missile assets opposite Taiwan.
5. Overall, Beijing seems to be approaching security developments in
Japan, on the Korean peninsula, and across the Taiwan strait as
they relate to the central Sino-U.S. relationship within the
context of three major factors.
6. First, the next few years represent a potential watershed as
China negotiate its international role and place.
This period and process especially important for setting comprehensive
relationship in Asia-Pacific, including U.S. relations with mainland
China, Taiwan, and Hong Kong.
o Continuing developments in the interplay of strategy, technology,
and conduct of "smart conflict" broaden continuum for cooperation
and conflict: security is increasingly intermeshed with
perception management in economics, politics, finance, and
o The intersection of regional jockeying for position and changing
nature of competition outlined above underscores competition and
cooperation across Taiwan Strait becoming more intense, subtle,
and complex. This increases the need for skillfully integrated
political-military-economic policy to manage issues, perceptions,
o Beijing may also see (within the substantial risks of modernizing
its state-owned-enterprises, banking system and financial
structure, and the social stability and equity concerns that
increased regional competitiveness may heighten) opportunities in
the Asian financial crisis to improve its overall competitive
This may encompass increasing availability of ballistic missile
technologies, components, or manufacturing capabilities at continued
bargain prices, with potentially greater commercial-off-the-shelf
(COTS) availability and cost, including the ability competitively to
leverage availability among countries determined to maintain market in
a competitive period.
o Beijing may also seek benefit in:
a. regional anti-U.S. and anti-western sentiments arising from U.S.
insistence on strict IMF conditionalities and from Beijing's own
significant and skillfully timed financial offers to assist
Thailand, Korea, and others;
b. relative position due to a potential decrease in Asian regional
resources available for conventional arms modernization to other
countries in the region;
7. Second, Beijing currently sees its long-term interests best
served by a "constructive strategic partnership" with the U.S.,
rather than an openly hostile or primarily competitive
This does not mean Beijing will not seek leverage, both direct and
collateral with Washington, but that it will seek to keep such effort
below the threshold that would cause the U.S. to treat China as a
8. Third, specifically in terms of Taiwan (a factor which can but
not necessarily must shape the Sino-U.S. relationship), Beijing
is seeking at minimum to maintain a dynamic status, at maximum to
set a framework and timetable which will channel the cross-strait
situation over time to an acceptable conclusion, and in-between
to see that domestic developments in Taiwan do not through
miscalculation or mistrust increase tensions to the point they
potentially spiral out of control so as to result in any
situation in which China might not prevail.
o At a time when "smart conflict" means both "smart" weapons
technologies and "smart" use of political-military perception
management assets, Beijing will thus employ ballistic missile
assets across the strait to pressure Taipei militarily and
economically, trying to demonstrate that Taiwan's ongoing air,
land, and sea up-grade acquisitions do not confer local
superiority. Specifically, especially given Taipei's concerns
about the political and economic costs of Patriot or other
anti-missile systems, Beijing may be seeking through ballistic
missile improvements and deployments means to put selected
targets in Taiwan at risk while also increasing its ability to
tip the political-military calculus in a way so as to deter U.S.
forces from entering the region.
o To date, the U.S. has straddled between the three Communiqués
(1972, 1979, and 1982) and the Taiwan Relations Act by
maintaining that the primary U.S. security commitment was to a
peaceful process the scope, pace, and timing of which was to
determined by the two sides themselves.
In the current environment in which both Beijing and Taipei have
sought to push Washington into encouraging cross-strait dialogue on
its own terms, Washington has made clear its interest in such dialogue
as a natural linkage in the U.S. recognition that the improvement of
Sino-U.S. relations is at least indirectly tied to the concomitant
improvement of cross-straits communication between Beijing and Taipei.
o For this reason, on the eve of President Jiang Zemin's U.S.
visit, the U.S. reiterated the six assurances originally stated
in July 14, 1982 just prior to the promulgation of the August 17,
1982 communiqué on Taiwan arms sales and cross-strait peace and
stability. These assurances included:
o no date for ending arms sales to the Republic of China (ROC)
o no prior consultations with PRC on arms sales to ROC
o will not play any mediation role between Taipei and Beijing
o has not agreed to revise Taiwan Relations Act
o has not altered position regarding sovereignty over Taiwan
o will not exert pressure on ROC to enter negotiations with PRC
o On the eve of President Clinton's reciprocal visit to China, a
number of former senior U.S. officials have recently visited
Beijing and Taipei with an interest in jump-starting direct
cross-strait dialogue. At a time when the fulcrums and
equilibrium points in the Beijing-Taipei-Washington political
equation are being determined, it is likely that the military
side of the equation, including ongoing advances in Chinese
ballistic missile capabilities will not likely be highlighted.
9. In terms of the Rumsfeld Commission's immediate mandate, some of
the following issues arise from the above regional context and
o Beijing's analysis of the Soviet experience with " missile gap"
competition, Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) rationale and
outcomes, and INF issue in Europe may have lead to three
10. First, having determined that a " constructive strategic
partnership" is more in its long-term interest than a hostile or
primarily competitive relationship with the U.S., Beijing will
take a deliberately low-profile posture on strategic missile
doctrine, deployment, command and control, and modernization.
o Such is consistent with Beijing's current perception of a
dramatically decreased Russian threat, a minimal direct U.S.
threat, and only gradually developing Indian, Japanese, or other
ballistic missile threats.
o By avoiding a direct arms competition on the strategic level with
the U.S., Beijing employs the lesson of the Soviet " missile gap"
and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) competitions with the
U.S.--their destructive channeling of needed resources to
wasteful, counterproductive, and ultimately de-legitimizing
o At the same time, Beijing must (in its view) and will maintain a
modern missile force which preserves and continues to fulfill
three related requirements: a) survivability; b) retaliatory
credibility; and c) strategic and regional deterrence and
And China will do so for the same reasons it acquired and maintains a
limited nuclear weapons capability, reasons revolving about that third
element: strategic and regional deterrence and influence.
In terms of the U.S., this in turn means two things:
a. China's ability to minimize, reduce, and perhaps eliminate the
U.S. ability to pressure China because of U.S. nuclear missile
b. China's ability to influence, directly or indirectly, perhaps
eventually to deter or eliminate U.S. willingness to be
militarily involved in East and Southeast regional disputes, or
at least to limit the U.S. perception of interest and willingness
to commit involvement should tensions escalate over Taiwan, the
South China sea, etc.
o This implies a gradual, calibrated modernization of Beijing's
ballistic missile capability which seeks to provide a military
capability to continue the improvement of Beijing's overall
position vis-a-vis the U.S.
o One intent of such an approach is to decrease gradually U.S.
involvement in regional or littoral issues while granting Beijing
increasing flexibility and leverage to pursue regional
superiority in local competition whether of a high intensity or
11. Second, noting the lesson of NATO's response to Soviet INF
deployments in Europe, Beijing will seek to ensure that no Asian
regional security mechanism or structure develops that could
facilitate an institutional response to potentially growing
Chinese regional power.
At the same time, Beijing will continue its own ballistic missile
developments and deployments when such can pressure its neighbors in
ways which reduces their willingness to confront China with or without
U.S. cooperation, and which also reduces potential U.S. interest to
engage in a local theater where the risk of directly confronting China
may outweigh the benefits of adamant pursuit of U.S. interests.
o In this regard, the Commission may wish to consider whether its
current more narrowly defined mandate to consider ballistic
missile threats to the United States might also need to consider
ballistic missile threats to U.S. regional interests, including
in East and Southeast Asia, analogous to the position Washington
took with respect to its long-term ability to maintain a useful
European equilibrium in the face of possible Soviet local theater
nuclear or missile superiority.
12. Third, Beijing understands that long-term political bargaining
leverage with the U.S. requires an ability to resist U.S.
military pressure, a capability to put the U.S. or U.S. regional
assets at significant risk, and an approach which allows the
channeling and calibration of competition and cooperation to
serve the fundamental objective of providing maximum overall
domestic stability and growth, reinforced by maximum
international competitive position.
o This naturally underpins Beijing's approach of developing the
broadest possible " collateral leverage" vis-a-vis other
countries, including the U.S.
In terms of ballistic missile issues (as with other concerns), Beijing
deploys " collateral leverage" by exchanging missile technologies and
components, including the infrastructure of design, development,
testing, manufacturing, and deployment with a range of payloads in a
way which sufficiently impinges on U.S. interests so as give Beijing a
way to bargain with the U.S. through others.
o Such most notably includes Russia, North Korea, Iran, but others
This " collateral leverage" approach offers the additional advantage
in that Beijing can potentially multiply its bargaining leverage by
exploiting any gaps between the U.S. and the other country (e.g.,
Iran) by playing the two against each other with ballistic missile or
related technologies or deliverables as one of the elements of
1. Dr. Gerrit Gong is the Freeman Chair in China Studies (1995 to
present) and Director, Asian Studies Program (1989 to present) at the
Center for Strategic and International Studies. Special Assistant to
Ambassador James Lilley and Ambassador Winston Lord, U.S. Embassy to
the People's Republic of China (June 1987 - July 1989). Has written
extensively about China and the Korean peninsula.