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Use of China's anti-ship missile against US could trigger nuclear war
China's three DF-21D missile launchers. (Internet photo)
If China were to launch its DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile against a US carrier battle group in the Western Pacific, the US could respond with a full nuclear retaliation, according to Robert Farley, an assistant professor at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce of University of Kentucky in a recent article written for Washington-based National Interest magazine.
PLA General Zhu Chenghu:
According to the Financial Times a "top Chinese general" has suggested that China should respond with nuclear strikes if American "position-guided munitions" are used on Chinese territory (or against Chinese ships and aircraft). People's Liberation Army General Zhu Chenghu, a professor at China's National Defense University, admitted that his view was not official policy. Even so, he was speaking before a group of foreign journalists.
"If the Americans are determined to intervene [in China's internal affairs] we will be determined to respond." According to the Financial Times he also said, "We will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all the cities east of the Xian...
Of course the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds of cities will be destroyed by the Chinese."
To understand why Gen. Zhu made this statement it might be helpful to imagine an American general making a similar statement: "If the Chinese invade Taiwan, the United States should respond with nuclear attacks. We will prepare ourselves for the destruction of all cities West of the Mississippi. Of course the Chinese will lose hundreds of cities."
"It is unimaginable that an American general would make a similar statement..."
In the first place, no American leader would use nuclear weapons to preserve Taiwan's independence. Second, Americans would never prepare for the destruction of their own cities. During a decades-long nuclear standoff with Russia, the United States never adopted a serious program of civil defense. No meaningful provisions have ever been made for the destruction of U.S. cities. Any such provision, in American thinking, would be pointless. The American economic and political system is entirely predicated on economic optimism - on peaceful conditions, uninterrupted commercial activity, material progress and development. An expectation of peace and progress is basic to American psychology.
Robert Farley Continues:
Because it takes at least 15 minutes for an anti-ship ballistic missile to reach its target, an aircraft carrier has enough time to avoid the attack in open sea. Farley said that the missile requires terminal guidance, as it must revise its flight path after reentering the atmosphere. It needs to be adjusted remotely or needs to have the capacity to identify the carrier on its own.
Facing this potential threat against its aircraft carrier, the United States Navy is working very hard to develop ship-borne anti-ballistic missile technology. "The development of the DF-21D may have contributed to the USN's decision to focus on air defense ships such as the Arleigh Burke Flight III capable of ballistic missile interception," said Farley. At the same time, the US Navy is also exploring ways of destroying DF-21D launch sites with cruise and hypersonic missiles in the event of a war.
Farley states that a DF-21D anti-ballistic missile is capable of sinking a US aircraft carrier and killing the 6,000 American personnel on board the ship. Like any other medium-range ballistic missile, the DF-21D is capable of carrying a nuclear warhead, however China must count on very cool heads in Washington for the fifteen minutes between launch and impact, he said, as such a move could lead to a degree of escalation that China has not prepared for at all, he said.
In extreme circumstances it could start a decision process that will bring full nuclear retaliation from the United States, according to Farley. Without proper second strike capability against the United States, it makes the situation even less stable for China. The author concluded that the DF-21D cannot prevent the US Navy from destroying Chinese ships, only change the method by which they do so.