The United States is seeking to build regional shields against ballistic missiles in both Asia and the Middle East akin to a controversial defense system in Europe, a senior Pentagon official disclosed on Monday.
The effort may complicate U.S. ties with Russia and China, both of which fear such defenses could harm their security even though the United States says they are designed only to protect against states like Iran and North Korea.
The U.S. push for new anti-missile bulwarks includes two sets of trilateral dialogues - one with Japan and Australia and the other with Japan and South Korea, said Madelyn Creedon, an assistant secretary of defense for global strategic affairs.
Such shields could help counter perceived threats to their neighbors from Iran and North Korea and help defend the United States from any future long-range missiles that the two countries might develop, she told a conference co-hosted by the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency.
The model would be the so-called "phased adaptive approach" for missile defense in Europe, Creedon said. This includes putting interceptor missiles in Poland and Romania, a radar in Turkey and the home-porting of missile defense-capable Aegis destroyers in Spain.
Moscow fears that such a shield, given planned upgrades, could grow strong enough by 2020 to undermine Moscow's own nuclear deterrent force. It has threatened to deploy missiles to overcome the shield and potentially target missile defense installations such as those planned in NATO members Poland and Romania.
China likely would be even more opposed to an antimissile shield in its backyard, said Riki Ellison, a prominent missile-defense advocate noted for his close ties to current and former U.S. senior military officials involved in the effort.
Beijing "would take much more offense to an Asian phased adaptive approach than Russia is doing with the European one," he said, calling regional shields a good idea in theory but problematic in reality.