If President Donald Trump is serious about arms control talks with the People's Republic of China, U.S. officials could consider building a new generation of ground-launched, intermediate-range missiles to trade for reductions in the thousands of Chinese dual-capable, intermediate-range missiles.
Analysts (PDF) have urged Trump to deploy U.S. missiles in Asia, suggesting it would offset Chinese systems on the battlefield. Others advise American policymakers to co-develop missiles with Asian allies. However, arms negotiations may offer the only way to reduce the grave threat posed to the United States and allied security by China's missiles, and U.S. owned and operated missiles could provide the best bargaining chips.
After withdrawing from the U.S.-Russian Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in August 2019, Trump expressed interest in negotiations about intermediate-range missiles with China, but President Xi Jinping remains cold to arms control. Xi presides over a massive stockpile of nuclear and conventional intermediate-range missiles, which can destroy targets throughout the first and second island chains in the Pacific Ocean.
China's missiles present a serious threat to American bases and ships, undermining the U.S. ability to project power throughout the region. There is no historical precedent for productive Sino-U.S. arms talks, and the Trump administration currently has little to trade for Chinese missiles. It has yet to develop intermediate-range missiles and lacks concrete plans to base such weapons in the Pacific region.
If the Trump administration aims to reduce the Chinese missile threat, it will likely need bargaining chips. Arms talks are more manageable when negotiators can trade weapons of the same class, rather than devising arcane formulas to ensure an equitable exchange of American aircraft, for instance, for Chinese missiles. Sino-American arms talks could take years to produce an agreement. In the interim, U.S. officials could persuade allies, such as Japan, South Korea, or the Philippines, to promise to host American missiles, which could enhance bargaining leverage and strengthen deterrence in Asia. If allies are cold to the idea, the United States could also station missiles on Guam. (end of excerpt)
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