Tensions on the Korean peninsula bring Russia and China closer

For Moscow and Beijing the consequences of North Korea's posturing in recent months could turn into a major security issue.

Moscow and Beijing need to flesh out security concerns. Drawing by Niyaz karim

Drawing by Niyaz Karim. Click to enlarge the image.

North Korean propagandists recently posted a YouTube video under the title, "A firestorm will come crashing down on the headquarters of war."

In the video, which consists mainly of clips from military parades in Pyongyang and rocket launches, the U.S. Capitol and the White House come under attack. The hypothetical strike is voiced over with the message: "The White House is in the crosshairs of our long-range missiles, and the capital of war is in range of our atomic bomb." Experts at CNN report that, in fact, North Korea has no such weapons and would need many years to develop them.

North Korea releases video of 'defeating' US troops. Source: TelegraphTV / Youtue

Washington is in no mood for mincing words: "The United States will not accept North Korea as a nuclear state, nor will we stand by while it seeks to develop a nuclear-armed missile that can target the United States," said White House spokesperson Jay Carney. He also remarked:  "We obviously, as you know, made an announcement recently about developments in our missile defense program that reflects what we consider the increased threat from North Korea."

These words contain an interesting nuance. The White House admits that North Korea has no weaponized nuclear missiles — and that it never will, since the U.S. will not allow it. Yet the U.S. missile-defense program in the Far East continues unabated.

This is not about North Korea, but China. Still, North Korea's missile launches, nuclear tests, and saber-rattling provide good cover to bolster the anti-Chinese deterrent.

According to the Institute for U.S. and Canadian Studies (a Russian think-tank) China possesses 180-200 nuclear warheads, of which 40-50 can be delivered to U.S. territory (Alaska, Hawaii, the Pacific Coast states). In addition, the PRC has hundreds of medium-range missiles.

Perhaps not coincidentally, the main detachment of U.S. submarines is situated not in the Atlantic Ocean (as in the Cold War), but in the Pacific.

Eight U.S. ballistic-missile submarines are stationed at Bangor, of which six are considered deployed, in addition to 192 SLBMs (156 deployed). The base at King's Bay, meanwhile, has only six submarines (only four deployed) and 144 SLBMs (96 deployed). It seems that the U.S. is capable of inflicting a disarming strike on China, with more than 500 nuclear warheads deployed on approximately 130 SLBMs with a flight time of 10-15 minutes.

Under these circumstances, the 30 ground-based strategic interceptors located in Alaska, and another six in California, would be perfectly sufficient to take out the few surviving Chinese warheads.

As for short- and medium-range rockets, they could be targeted by the Patriot PAC-3 missiles (which the U.S. sold to Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan), as well as the sea-based SM-2 and SM-3 missiles under the Block 1 program. Note that, in 2010, eighteen of the 21 U.S. ships equipped with the Aegis system were located in the Pacific region.

On top of this, as stated by U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on March 16, the United States intends to place another 14 interceptors in Alaska, install a second radar system in Japan, and explore the option of creating a third, home-based, missile defense silo.

All this for North Korean long-range missiles that do not actually exist?

It goes without saying that Beijing is well aware of the subtext.

China is North Korea's most important political and economic sponsor. However, its influence does not extend far enough to dissuade Pyongyang from conducting missile tests. Moreover, the Chinese special envoy tasked with bringing the North Korean leadership to reason was not even received.

As well as being the height of humiliation (by Eastern standards), this rejection demonstrated just how important it was for Pyongyang to conduct the tests, seemingly in order to strengthen the position of its young leader Kim Jong-un. However, for Beijing, this aborted exchange resulted in a loss of face. In response, China swiftly approved a set of UN sanctions against North Korea. This, apparently, is the only way to bring the isolated country to its senses.

The situation seems to be bringing Moscow and Beijing closer on the issue of countering U.S. missile defense, though. In May of last year, during the most recent summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Beijing, Russia and China, together with other members of the organization, condemned U.S. plans to deploy missile-defense shields in Europe and Asia. The Kremlin had already declared the missile shield in Europe to be a matter of national security.

China, it seems, also harbors doubts that U.S. deployment of land and sea missile-defense components in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and the Philippines is related exclusively to North Korea's nuclear program.

As outlined in the Declaration of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (adopted in Beijing), "The unilateral and unlimited deployment of missile defense systems by a single nation, or group of nations, risks harming international security and strategic stability."

Perhaps Moscow and Beijing now need to flesh out this statement.

Andrei Ilyashenko is a columnist on the Middle East issues for several Russian media and military magazines.

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