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March 5, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

Democracy charter
A Chinese democracy activist who signed the recent human rights manifesto called Charter 08 said in a speech that the conditions for democratic political reform in the communist state are the best since the ill-fated Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

Yang Jianli, an academic and fellow at Harvard University's Committee on Human Rights Studies, praised the 303 academics, lawyers, businesspeople and some government officials who first signed Charter 08, the statement issued in December calling for democracy, rule of law and other basic freedoms in China. Mr. Yang signed the document within days of its release.

"Rather than engage in dialogue with these citizens, the Chinese government arrested Liu Xiaobo, a lead signatory, and harassed and intimidated the others," Mr. Yang told the Defense Forum Foundation. "Nonetheless, almost 9,000 other Chinese citizens have signed Charter 08."

"Not since 1989 have the forces for democracy so visibly formed inside China," Mr. Yang said.

Tens of thousands of pro-democracy activists massed in Beijing's Tiananmen Square in the summer of 1989 and eventually were attacked by Chinese troops, killing scores and wounding hundreds. China's government since then has said it will undertake political reforms, but a 2005 white paper stated that any reforms would keep the Marxist political system. China is ruled by a collective dictatorship of five to eight senior Communist officials, headed by Chairman Hu Jintao.

Mr. Yang, who was imprisoned in China for five years for pro-democracy activities, said Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's recent remarks "demoralized Chinese activists and protesters, many of whom had gathered at the U.S. Embassy for her visit to seek her support," Mr. Yang said.

Mrs. Clinton said the Obama administration would not let human rights dominate its discussions with China.

"The Chinese government can only read Secretary Clinton's remarks as giving it a free hand to exercise their arbitrary rule. The freedom fighters can only see this as a slap in the face. The world can only see this as the rise of the Chinese political system over the weak U.S. model," Mr. Yang said.

State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said Mrs. Clinton's position on Chinese human rights was outlined during the recent release of a report on the subject. "I feel she well explained that her approach to human rights promotion is based on exploring new methods, nontraditional methods, and working through all channels to achieve results," Mr. Duguid said.

Mr. Yang said Charter 08 is significant because the authors are widely known and respected Chinese who risked their jobs and freedom by signing it.

Additionally, the charter provides a clear and detailed road map for affecting a peaceful transition to democracy in China.

The document states that "the Chinese people, who have endured human rights disasters and uncountable struggles, now see clearly that freedom, equality and human rights are universal values of humankind and that democracy and constitutional government are the fundamental framework for protecting these values."

By ignoring these values, the Beijing government's modernization program had "disastrous" consequences, the charter states, because "it has stripped people of their rights, destroyed their dignity and corrupted normal human intercourse."

Perhaps most significant, the signers of Charter 08 are "the catalyst for formation of a viable opposition," the first condition for democracy to take hold in China, Mr. Yang said.

China's government has cracked down on the charter movement, arresting or interrogating all 303 initial signers.

The charter is modeled after Charter 77, the 1977 human rights manifesto by Soviet bloc dissidents. That charter, like Charter 08, is based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights passed by the United Nations 60 years ago.

Wang Baodong, spokesman for the Chinese Embassy in Washington, said in response to Mr. Yang's speech that "the Chinese political system and political institutions in place generally fit the nation's conditions and economic and social development, which have led to remarkable economic achievement and social progress."

Mr. Wang said the political agenda of a "handful of people in China" contrasts with "the mainstream public will" for national unity, social stability and economic development.

"After saying that, and to better safeguard the people's democratic rights and maintain social justice, China will continue to push forward political restructuring with Chinese features," he said.

North Korean launch
U.S. intelligence, military and diplomatic officials said U.S. spy satellites, ships and ground stations are focused intently on North Korea's missile-launch facility and think a long-range Taepodong-2 missile launch is not imminent.

The Pentagon is set to activate its limited missile-defense system once there are signs the missile is fully fueled, perhaps by holding an exercise that would shift the system from test mode to fully active mode, said officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information.

Meanwhile, diplomats are working behind the scenes to try to persuade North Korea's government not to carry out the launch, which would trigger additional United Nations sanctions.

"We hope they don't launch," said one official familiar with the issue.

Adm. Timothy J. Keating, commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, told reporters in Hong Kong on Feb. 18 that the North Koreans are "moving certain missile parts around, maybe positioning them near a launcher on their eastern coast in a manner similar to what they did in July of 2006."

A Taepodong-2 launch failed during a salvo of missile tests in July of that year, he said.

The four-star admiral did not rule out the possibility that the U.S. military will try to shoot down a Taepodong-2.

"So we will be prepared to execute any one of the range of options once the president of the United States so directs us," Adm. Keating said. "We have not been directed as yet to take any particular measures in response. But be assured, we are ready, and we are watching very carefully."

Proliferation update
As reported earlier in this space, the Obama administration is preparing to nominate its arms proliferation team for the State Department. It will be headed by Robert J. Einhorn, who is expected to be named undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

However, facing Senate opposition, the administration is no longer planning to name Vann H. Van Diepen as an assistant secretary of state. He is currently national intelligence officer for weapons of mass destruction and main author of the controversial 2007 National Intelligence Estimate that stated that Iran had halted its work on nuclear weapons in 2003.

The new choice for assistant secretary of state for international security and arms control is Daniel B. Poneman, who worked on nonproliferation issues on the Clinton administration's National Security Council staff from 1993 to 1996. "I'm not as bad as you've written," Mr. Poneman told Inside the Ring.

In 1999, Mr. Einhorn's nomination to be an assistant secretary of state was held up by the late Sen. Jesse Helms, North Carolina Republican, who demanded that the Clinton administration impose sanctions on China for selling M-11 missiles to Pakistan. Mr. Helms said in an interview at the time: "No sanctions, no Einhorn." Sanctions eventually were imposed, and Mr. Einhorn was confirmed.

A Republican Senate aide said Republicans think President Obama is entitled to his appointees but that Republican senators will look closely at nonproliferation appointees and may hold some up if their questions on the issue are not answered.

Army armor
The Army behind the scenes has tested a sample of 32,000 body armor plates pulled from battle and has found that all passed - they met requirements to blunt sniper and other small-arms fire, special correspondent Rowan Scarborough reports.

Last month, Army Secretary Pete Geren took the extraordinary step of ordering the set-aside after the Pentagon's inspector general said three lots totaling 32,000 plates - of more than 2 million issued to soldiers and Marines - had not been tested properly.

Inside the Ring learned that the Army also did something it did not announce: It started pulling samples - 48 ceramic body plates as of early this week - and put them under live fire and other tests. All plates "have met or exceeded the Army's ballistic requirements," the Army said.

Once the full results are announced, it should allay fears of U.S. service members who rely on the Interceptor body armor system to survive clashes with al Qaeda, Taliban and other terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Interceptor has critics in the blogosphere. They claim that the system of chest, back and side plates is defective and has cost lives. The Army, however, says the plate, called ESAPI, for Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert, is the best body armor ever issued. The Army has awarded contracts to produce the next-generation plate, XSAPI.

Mr. Geren and other top Army officials are in a behind-the-scenes battle to downplay the inspector general's findings in Congress, which funds Interceptor, and for troops who wear it. It has asked Deputy Defense Secretary William J. Lynn III to intervene. The IG said the three lots passed by the Army actually failed.

In a memo sent to Congress and obtained by Inside the Ring, the Army said the Pentagon director of operational tests and evaluation examined those three tests and concluded that "they did pass the test."

  • Bill Gertz covers national security affairs. He can be reached at 202/636-3274, or at

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