The demise of a Cold War-era missile treaty between the United States and Russia has had the sudden and severe consequence of bringing a new arms race to Asia's door, adding another dangerous dimension to the deepening US-China rivalry. Last Friday, the US exited the 1987 pact that barred both Washington and Moscow from the production, flight testing and possession of conventional and nuclear-capable missiles with a range of 500km to 5,000km. Days later, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper announced that the Pentagon would like to deploy, "within months" in Asia, new missiles already in development.
China lost little time in warning the US allies in the Asia-Pacific - including Japan, South Korea and Australia - against hosting the US missiles, saying it would be "forced to take counter-measures" in such an eventuality. In a similar vein, Russia has said that European allies hosting new US medium-range missiles would have their territories exposed to the threat of a possible retaliatory strike. While the US has not specified where it might place the weapons in Asia - its military base in Guam is thought to be the likely location - it has made it amply clear that the target is China.