China’s security dilemma: Why is Missile Defence threatening China’s national security?

Essay 2008 16 Pages

Politics - International Politics - Topic: Peace and Conflict Studies, Security



1. Introduction

2. China’s Perceptions
2.1. NMD will break the strategic balance
2.2. Missile Defence is not purely defensive - China’s nuclear deterrence capability and national security is threatened
2.3. Missile Defence systems are actually targeting China

3. Conclusion

Primary Literature
Secondary Literature
Internet sources (all: 2008-08-04)


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1. Introduction

Strengthening a country’s defences should neither alarm its neighbours nor lead to an arms race. Despite this theoretical cognition of political sciences, the People’s Republic of China sees Ballistic Missile Defence as a threat to its national security.

The aim of this essay is to explain why the BMD systems of the USA are threatening China’s national security. I will show that it is mainly a psychological discourse. Although, or precisely therefore, it is very important for the understanding of China’s position and assumptions.

We will understand that China faces a security dilemma which is threatening the national security and ultimately lead to an arms race.

I will show that the technical aspects here are not as important as the psychological implications. Missile Defence “hints at the psychological side of international politics.”[1] The US’s BMD systems may not work well enough to be technically a real threat to any country, but the development and instalment causes China’s threat perceptions. BM is used “as a saber-rattling show of force, for intimidation in order to reach a political goal or simply as deterrence against a perceived outside threat or imminent attack.”[2]

For the People’s Republic of China there are two main issues: First, a period of strategic transition between the United States of America and the People’s Republic of China and second, the US transfer of advanced PAC-3 Systems to Taiwan.

“The negative impact of missile defense deployments on Sino-US relations could potentially be reduced by offsetting them with political and economic measures to reassure China.”[3]

Chinas concerns about missile defence focus mainly on political questions. Thoughts, fears and perceptions of Chinese officials and experts focus on Japanese militarization, the possibility that TMD would encourage Taiwan’s independence and the uncertainty about US intentions toward China.[4] I will focus on the uncertainty about US intentions but I can’t leave out the other two aspects totally.

We will have a better understanding of the Chinese mind if we are aware of China’s principle national priorities. On the one hand the Communist Party wants stay in power. For this reason they need social stability. On the other hand the economic development is very important for the country. It is the goal to have a continued economic growth. Additionally this plays in favour of social stability.

Following I will show China’s perceptions and view on BMD of the USA and its allies in East Asia.

2. China’s Perceptions

First I will give some theoretical aspects which will help to understand the picture better. Nuclear deterrence is one of the most important strategic aspects of the relation between the PRC and the USA.

According to Henry Kissinger the conception of nuclear deterrence is based on three elements[5]:

- The ability to inflict unacceptable damage (hardware)
- The will to do so (psychological aspect)
- And the visible link between ability and willingness

In theory deterrence declines in two extreme versions: maximum and minimum. The maximum version is sometimes also called an imperialist design of deterrence. The aim is to do the most possible damage. This requires a large stock of missiles and warheads, in which China in short supply. The minimum version’s goal is to inflict unacceptable losses to the enemy, thus it is not necessary to have a great fire power. And in fact this last version seems to be China’s strategy.[6] Furthermore a third version is the limited deterrence. It requires more money spending in military. The goal is to have a more flexible military capability. It is this flexibility that makes a possible attacker worry, i.e. from where the retaliation might come.

2.1. NMD will break the strategic balance

China had high hopes in post Cold War arms reduction. A balanced political environment, especially between the major powers USA and Russia, gave a save feeling to Chinese officials. Based on the arms reduction, China could focus on its economic development. The armed forces including the ICBM’s were not developed further. After 2002 the situation changed.


[1] Aßmann, Lars (2007): Theater Missile Defence (TMD) in East Asia. Implications for Beijing and Tokyo.): p. 59

[2] ibid: p. 67 f.

[3] Medeiros, Evan S. (2001): Ballistic Missile Defense and Northeast Asian Security: Views from Washington, Beijing, and Tokyo.: p. i

[4] Vgl. Medeiros, Evan S. (2001): Ballistic Missile Defense and Northeast Asian Security: Views from Washington, Beijing, and Tokyo.

[5] Kissinger, Henry Alfred (1957): Nuclear weapons and foreign policy. Harper, New York. pp. 132-202

[6] Vignoli, Jean-Claude (2003): Dissuasion nucléaire en Chine: doctrine convergente ou divergente avec les concepts occidentaux?


ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Institution / College
University of Münster – Institut für Politikwissenschaft
China Missile Defence Threat perseption security decurity dilemma missile defence national security



Title: China’s security dilemma: Why is Missile Defence threatening China’s national security?