US ramps up missile tests in the Pacific

Earlier this year, when China blasted one of its satellites into thousands of little floating pieces, it was condemned by Washington as a provocative act. But some arms-control experts believe Beijing was baring its teeth to send the White House a different message. They say that China, which has consistently opposed the weaponisation of space, is hoping to negotiate an arms treaty that would rein in both nations’ growing arsenal of so-called “space weapons”.

Just days later, on Jan. 27, Beijing seemingly had its answer. On the western shore of Hawaii’s Kauai Island, the US’s ground-based Terminal High Altitude Area Defence, or THAAD, shot down a dummy ballistic missile over the southern Pacific as it skirted the edge of space roughly 110-km high. Analysts say the Bush administration is turning its back on any new space weapons treaty because it would ground many parts of the US’s emerging missile defence shield. One such treaty is PAROS, the Prevention of an Arms Race in Outer Space — a treaty China initiated at the UN in 1985 and pressed for ever since.

The existing international regime, known as the Outer Space Treaty, entered into force in 1967 and critics say it is hopelessly outdated. However, Washington has made it clear that the US has no intention of endorsing new restrictions. “Arms control is not a viable solution for space,” a US State Department official told Space News on Jan. 19. “For example, there is no agreement on how to define a space weapon. Without a definition you are left with loopholes and meaningless limitations that endanger national security.”

Meanwhile, the Pentagon continues to intensify its focus on the Pacific Rim, where it has dispatched a very strange-looking, very high-tech ship. The vessel is actually a revamped oil-drilling platform, and centred on its top, roughly 20 stories above the ocean, is its most striking feature — a white globe so immense it could engulf the middle of a soccer field. Hidden inside the inflated white ball is the clue to this ship’s ultimate mission: A radar dish so powerful it can decipher a real ballistic missile from a dummy missile, claims the US military. The vessel is actually a new and important piece in the growing arsenal that is the US’s missile defence programme, which is now run by the MDA, or Missile Defence Agency.

As missile defence tests are ramped up in the Pacific, one expert says such tests make many Chinese even more worried about the eagle’s shadow. “The Chinese don’t like America’s offensive posture in the Pacific; they don’t like it one bit,” says University of Hawaii professor Oliver M Lee, who was born in Shanghai, and studies Sino-American


He says most Chinese believe “the US Navy controls the Pacific Ocean.” They also feel that China’s military build-up is for defence only, he says. For the last several years, Lee, Kajihiro of DMZ Hawaii and many others have been fighting a plan by the Pentagon to bring 300 US Army Strykers to the Islands. The Stryker uproar reflects Hawaii’s internal debate over its militarisation, says Kajihiro. Why would the islands need hundreds of armoured vehicles that are loaded with exotic weapons and also easily transported by plane? “That’s the forty-thousand-dollar question,” says Kajihiro. “We’ve asked that over and over again, and no good explanation was ever

given.” — IPS