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Are U.S. Bases in Asia Open to Attack by China?

Zachary Keck

Key Point: Chinese missile caches can't be dismissed.

While U.S. defense strategists have been focused on China’s so-called “carrier-killer” ballistic missile, as well as Beijing’s aircraft carriers, a new report suggests China’s greatest threat to the United States may be something less eye-catching.

“The greatest military threat to U.S. vital interests in Asia may be one that has received somewhat less attention: the growing capability of China’s missile forces to threaten U.S. bases in the region,” write Thomas Shugart and Javier Gonzalez in a report released last month by the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).

Gonzalez and Shugart are both commanders in the Navy, and the latter currently serves as a military fellow at CNAS. In the report, they argue that China could use its missile forces to conduct a surprise preemptive strike against U.S. military bases in the region to prevent U.S. intervention in a conflict over Taiwan or the Senkaku Islands. “Driven partly by distinct first-mover advantages associated with the employment of modern long range precision weaponry, such a preemptive strike appears consistent with available information about China’s missile force doctrine and military strategy,” they write.

Chinese leaders began building up these capabilities after being shocked by America’s overwhelming victory over Saddam Hussein’s forces in the First Gulf War. This led Beijing to transform its Second Artillery Corps from a primarily nuclear force into one consisting of nuclear and precision conventional missiles (both ballistic and cruise). This strategy sought to capitalize on China’s asymmetric advantages such as geography and the low cost of producing missiles.

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