North Korean and Chinese missile forces cast a long shadow over U.S. allies in Northeast Asia. The United States has sought to develop common missile defense policies among its allies-Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan-to defend the region against missile attacks from North Korean and Chinese launch sites. Yet the varied responses of its allies have led to a record of mixed success in dealing comprehensively with this ominous threat.
North Korea's launching of a No Dong missile over the Japanese archipelago in 1998 generated a strong sense of national vulnerability and public support in Japan for intensifying construction of a missile defense system. South Korea's tepid response to North Korean military provocations was the result of Seoul's fear of undermining its diplomatic and economic outreach to Pyongyang. In Taiwan, the government finally managed to pass a budget to augment its missile defense system only to face a U.S. roadblock.
North Korea has deployed approximately 600 short-range Scud tactical ballistic missiles and 200 medium-range No Dong missiles. The Scud missiles have an estimated range of 320 km-500 km, which limits them to South Korean targets. The No Dong has a range of 1,300 km, allowing it to target most of Japan. Pyongyang is also developing two longer-range variants, the Taepo Dong 1 (TD-1) and Taepo Dong 2 (TD-2), but they have not yet been deployed because of failed test launches. The ranges of the TD-1 and TD-2 are uncertain but are estimated at 2,220 km and 6,000 km, respectively.
On August 31, 1998, North Korea launched a TD-1 missile that flew over Japan. Although its third stage failed, it demonstrated a long-range capability that could put Alaska, Hawaii, and the western United States at risk. On July 4, 2006, Pyongyang successfully launched six Scud and No Dong missiles, but a TD-2 missile failed after 42 seconds of flight and crashed into the Sea of Japan. If the launch had been successful, the TD-2 would have flown over Japan.
The most visible aspect of the Chinese missile threat is shortrange ballistic and cruise missiles. By late 2007, China had deployed 990-1,070 conventionally armed (but nuclear capable) Dongfeng-11 and Dongfeng-15 short-range missiles opposite Taiwan. It is augmenting this force with approximately 100 new missiles per year, including variants with improved ranges, accuracies, and payloads. China also has 300-400 operational long-range missiles that could reach U.S. and Japanese forces on Okinawa and the other Ryukyu Islands.
In July 1995 and again in March 1996, China launched a series of missiles to intimidate Taiwanese voters into electing a pro-China candidate in Taiwan's first popular presidential elections. Its intervention closed the Taiwan Strait to merchant shipping for several days and forced thousands of ships to reroute around Taiwan's east coast. The missile tests underscored China's willingness to use short-range ballistic missiles as instruments of coercion.
Driven by concerns over North Korea's highly visible and growing missile and nuclear capabilities, as well as the quiet but inexorable expansion of China's ballistic missile forces on the Taiwan Strait, Japan is pursuing Aegis sea-based missile defense systems and Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) systems around Okinawa and Tokyo. Despite repeated U.S. urging, however, it is reluctant to adopt a broader regional security role.
Japan's postwar pacifist constitution precludes engagement in "collective self-defense," or defending another country against attack. Under the current interpretation, it is uncertain whether Japanese missile defense systems would be allowed to intercept missiles attacking the United States or to protect a U.S. naval vessel that was next to a Japanese Aegis destroyer. On June 24, 2008, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda rejected the recommendations of a panel convened by his predecessor that would have allowed a more expansive interpretation of Japanese defense roles, including defending the United States.
Progressive South Korean Presidents Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun downplayed the extent of the North Korean threat to garner domestic support for their attempts to foster reconciliation with Pyongyang. Seoul was fearful that deploying a missile defense system or even criticizing North Korea over its military provocations and human rights abuses would anger Pyongyang and lead to a collapse of the inter-Korean engagement policy.
President Roh resisted joining an integrated missile defense system with the U.S. and limited the South Korean response to building a lowtier missile shield. General Burwell Baxter Bell, then commander of U.S. Forces Korea, underscored that South Korea does not currently have a missile defense system that complements deployed U.S. capabilities. He recommended that Seoul "look more directly at the anti-theater ballistic missile capacity, partner better with us and fully integrate with our capacity, so that they can provide a more protective envelope for their nation."
To do so, South Korea must deploy a more sophisticated missile defense system, including PAC-3 and SM-3 missiles. Seoul is currently building a low-tier missile shield by purchasing eight batteries of older German Patriot-2 missiles and fielding Aegis destroyers without theater ballistic missile capability.
Since Lee Myung-bak was elected president, South Korean defense officials have been more receptive to joining the U.S. global ballistic missile defense (BMD) initiative. However, General Lee Sung-chool, deputy commander of Combined Forces Command, stated that before joining a U.S. BMD system, Seoul would have to "conduct a comprehensive review of lots of factors first, such as a security environment around the peninsula, conditions of combat areas, North Korea's military threat, budgetary issues, and public sentiment."
In December 2007, Taiwan's legislature announced a long-delayed decision to increase defense spending, including funding for upgrading PAC-2 systems and purchasing three PAC-3 missile defense batteries. The PAC-2 upgrades would enhance ground support equipment for three existing fire units to enable them to fire either Patriot Guidance Enhanced Missiles (GEM) or PAC-3 missiles. The PAC-3 would be the more likely option because the PAC-2 GEM is no longer in U.S. production.
However, the Bush Administration has delayed the $11 billion arms package for Taiwan, which includes the missile defense requests. Although there has been no official change in U.S. policy, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has reportedly put a hold on the arms sale to avoid irritating China, lest it upset ongoing North Korea negotiations and the President's visit to the Beijing Olympics. Reports also suggest that the Ma administration in Taipei requested the hold as part of its push to resuscitate cross-strait negotiations.