In a provocative new policy brief, Ashley Tellis challenges the conventional wisdom that China’s antisatellite test (ASAT) was a protest against U.S. space policy, arguing instead that it was part of a loftier strategy to combat U.S. military superiority and one that China will not trade away in any arms-control regime.

Far from a response to assertive U.S. space policies, Tellis contends in Punching the U.S. Military’s “Soft Ribs”: China’s Antisatellite Weapon Test in Strategic Perspective that the ASAT test was part of a more ambitious goal—namely defeating superior U.S. conventional forces, both in a potential war over Taiwan, as well as other long-term, geopolitical scenarios.  The author states that Chinese analyses of U.S. military operations since Desert Storm concluded that U.S. military might depends inordinately on space-based systems for its operational effectiveness and hence must be targeted if China is to be able to stand up to the enormity of U.S. conventional military power. 

Key Conclusions:

• China’s strategists have concluded that efforts to defeat U.S. military power should not aim its capacity to deliver overwhelming conventional firepower from long distances, but instead target its weakest links, namely its space-based capabilities and their related ground installations.

• China is highly unlikely to abandon its counterspace program, as doing so would condemn its armed forces to inevitable defeat against U.S. power.  Consequently, it will not enter into any arms-control regime that would further accentuate its competitors’ military advantages. 

• The U.S. domination of space—which underwrites both its civilian and military advantages—is at risk, and therefore necessitates a series of remedial investments.

• The growing Chinese capability for space warfare implies that a major conflict in the Taiwan Strait would entail serious deterrence and crisis instabilities. 

About the Author
Ashley J. Tellis is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment, specializing in international security, defense, and Asian strategic issues.