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Held back by Russian treaty, US ballistic missiles don’t hold up to China’s, PACOM Commander says

March 19, 2018

The United States currently does not have ground-based ballistic missiles that are comparable to China’s, according to the Washington Free Beacon, due to a decades-old arms control treaty with Russia.

The top U.S. military commander in the Pacific warned last week that the U.S. is not adequately prepared to engage in any potential future wars against Beijing.

“We are at a disadvantage with regard to China today in the sense that China has ground-based ballistic missiles that threaten our basing in the western Pacific and our ships,” Pacific Command (PACOM) Chief Adm. Harry Harris told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

“We have no ground-based capability that can threaten China because of, among other things, our rigid adherence, and rightfully so, to the treaty that we sign onto, the INF treaty,” he said, using the acronym for the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

Harris, who has been nominated to serve as the American ambassador to Australia, explained that the 1987 INF agreement between the U.S. and Russia bans certain land-based intermediate-range missiles. This puts the U.S. military “at a disadvantage in the western Pacific” because China is not included in any such provisions.

In a statement to the House Armed Services Committee, Harris admitted that more than 90 percent of Beijing’s current arsenal would violate the INF treaty.

Reports continue to come out of China and Russia where both nations have made noticeable investments in military technology. They continue to increase spending and have seemingly outpaced the development of the U.S. in areas such as maneuverable hypersonic ballistic missiles, which could be capable of penetrating enemy defenses. The Pentagon’s 2019 budget calls for greater investment in research and development specifically against Russian and Chinese hypersonic weapons.

On the topic of Russia’s recent successful test of nuclear-capable hypersonic missiles, Sen. Tom Cotton said Thursday: “Russia is not supposed to have those, but we now know that Russia does because they’ve been cheating on [the INF] treaty.” He then pressed Harris on U.S. adherence to the agreement.

“If this country were no longer part of the INF treaty and we could produce ground-launched, intermediate-range cruise missiles, could you explain what that would do to the military balance of power in the PACOM area of operations,” Cotton asked.

While Harris did not explicitly state his desire for the U.S. to pull out of the agreement, he did say that the Trump Administration needs to “consider ways to work within the INF regime to overcome these shortfalls” presented by China.

“We could do anything from one extreme — to pull out — to the other extreme — to do nothing — and I think we should look at ways to maximize our operational flexibility with regards to the advantage that China has over us in terms of ground-based ballistic missiles,” he said.