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April 30, 2009
Notes from the Pentagon

Strategy review
The Pentagon on Wednesday identified the potential threat from China as one of the key terms of reference used to guide the Obama administration's major military strategy assessment, known as the Quadrennial Defense Review, or QDR.

A fact sheet released by the Defense Department - the actual terms are classified "secret" - identified one of the "key security challenges" as "rising powers with sophisticated weapons," a phrase defense officials said is a euphemism for China.

Other challenges to be examined during the review, which was launched recently, include violent extremist movements - the current term for Islamist terrorism - the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and failed or failing states.

One other national security threat to be examined in the QDR is identified as a blending of threats "across the global commons" of air, sea, space, cyberspace, something also dubbed "hybrid warfare," and that also will involve a major focus on China.

The inclusion of China in the QDR is considered a victory for Pentagon policymakers and intelligence analysts who view China's growing military capabilities as a major long-term worry, the defense officials said.

In the past, China's military rise was played down under the so-called "self-fulfilling prophecy" policies first outlined in the 1990s by Harvard academic Joseph Nye,a former assistant defense secretary who is expected to be nominated as U.S. ambassador to Japan. Mr. Nye said that if China was designated by the Pentagon as an enemy, it would become one.

One defense official familiar with strategic affairs said the fact sheet makes a total of six oblique references to China, including China's cyberwarfare activities, the need to prepare for a future conflict with China, and the need to maintain a high-technology edge in weapons because of China.

The QDR also is expected to continue the shift of U.S. forces to the Pacific region as a hedge against China.

Richard Fisher, a China military analyst at the private International Assessment and Strategy Center, said China qualifies for detailed treatment in the QDR.

"The Chinese Communist Party is a violent extremist movement, especially on the Taiwan Strait, and it has 'spread weapons of mass destruction' wholly or in part to North Korea, Pakistan and Iran," Mr. Fisher said.

Mr. Fisher said, however, that he will be looking at whether the final QDR, due to Congress early next year, "engages in verbal disarmament by indirectly referring to China with euphemisms instead of clearly stating the growing challenge from the Chinese Communist Party and the People's Liberation Army."

A senior Chinese official, speaking to several reporters in Washington on Wednesday, said China's arms buildup was purely for defensive purposes. China's policy is "not to seek hegemony" over anyone and to be "a force for peace in the world," the official said, speaking on condition that he not be named.

Pentagon PR
President Obama is close to nominating the next assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, special correspondent Rowan Scarborough reports.

It will not be Geoff Morrell, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates' press secretary, who has taken on the high-profile job of regular Pentagon briefer.

Insiders say one stumbling block in filling the vacancy has been that Mr. Gates wants Mr. Morrell to continue in that job, but Mr. Morrell is not interested in the assistant-secretary post. Some candidates have expressed an interest in standing at the podium to face the Pentagon press corps.

There has not been a Senate-confirmed assistant defense secretary for public affairs since Dorrance Smith, an aide to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, left in 2007.

Insiders say the vacancy has hurt the Pentagon's ability to speak with a clear message, day in day out, through the various public-affairs organs under the control of the assistant secretary.

Some Pentagon officials want Mr. Gates to resume the practice of briefing retired military analysts - the influential "talking heads" who appear on news networks to explain and comment on the war on terror.

Mr. Gates suspended the program after the New York Times published articles accusing the Pentagon and the analysts of misdeeds. House Armed Services Committee Chairman Ike Skelton, Missouri Democrat, wrote a letter to Mr. Gates demanding an investigation.

Mr. Gates handed that job to the Pentagon inspector general, who in January issued a report that rebutted the Times' central claims and found no wrongdoing by defense officials.

A Pentagon spokesman said the next assistant defense secretary will decide the program's fate.

One person interviewed for the job was P.J. Crowley, a retired Air Force colonel who handled press relations for the National Security Council under President Clinton. However, Mr. Crowley, who is well-respected by reporters, landed the job of assistant secretary of state for public affairs. His Senate confirmation hearing is pending.

Mr. Morrell said in an interview that he was not and is not interested in the position of assistant secretary. "Press secretary is what I came to do, it's what I've been doing, and it's what I look forward to doing," he said. The larger job of managing a large Pentagon public-affairs bureaucracy does not interest him, Mr. Morrell said.

Mr. Morrell confirmed that a pick for the position is close to being approved.

Afghan special ops
U.S. special-operations forces in Afghanistan are conducting aggressive direct-action operations, mainly in secret, that are designed to kill or capture "high-value" Taliban and al Qaeda insurgents in the country. The teams have scored some impressive successes, but the operations did not come cost-free.

A military officer familiar with the raids said several recent attacks resulted in collateral deaths of some civilians. The problem is that the civilian deaths are being used effectively by the Taliban in propaganda campaigns against U.S. and allied forces, said the officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity because most special-operations activities are classified.

A spokesman for the U.S. Special Operations Command had no immediate comment.

China SLBM
China recently unveiled the first photos of its newest submarine-launched ballistic missile, known as the JL-2. It is one of three long-range nuclear missiles in China's growing arsenal of strategic weapons. The state-run television network CCTV-7 ran three photos of the missile.

China military affairs specialist Richard Fisher said the JL-2 photo, showing a cold-launch cannister popping out of a submerged submarine, coincided with a show of force marking China's anniversary celebration of the founding of the People's Liberation Army Navy, as its navy is called.

"This is the JL-2 being cold-launched from an underwater tube, most likely from the new Type 094" ballistic missile submarine, Mr. Fisher said.

"What is interesting about this missile shape is the very blunt nose structure," he said, noting it is "consistent with the carriage of multiple warheads."

The JL-2 could have three or four warheads and a range of 4,340 miles to 4,960 miles.

Taiwan relations
Former Pentagon official Michael Pillsbury said in a recent speech in Taiwan marking the 20th anniversary of the 1979 Taiwan Relations Act that former Pentagon official Kurt Campbell was a key advocate of bolstering Taiwanese-U.S. military ties to prevent a major shift in force across the 100-mile Taiwan Strait in Beijing's favor.

Mr. Pillsbury, a former assistant undersecretary of defense in the Reagan administration, stated that for years, China specialists warned that improving military discussions with Taiwan would provoke China.

"They lost the debate," he said. From the Clinton administration through the Bush administration, remarkable progress was made in developing closer military ties to the Taiwanese, first through the so-called Monterey Talks, which brought Taiwanese military officers to California to discuss defense-policy issues.

The key roles in the talks were played by Mr. Campbell, who recently was nominated to be assistant secretary of state for East Asia. Others who took part were Pentagon officials Randy Shriver and Mark Stokes.

The Monterey Talks led to the first working U.S. defense visits to Taiwan, in 1998, which helped Taiwan's military understand key U.S. concepts such as making military plans and the process for writing a national military strategy.

"Eventually we saw the dispatch of more than a dozen highly sophisticated DoD military survey and assessment teams to assess Taiwan's weaknesses and military needs in all relevant sectors," Mr. Pillsbury said.

The initiative formed the basis for assessing military hardware requests that previously had been turned down routinely.

For example, Taiwan's request for Apache attack helicopters was rejected in the past as offensive arms, but after one survey, the choppers were approved as defensive and thus permissible.

Mr. Campbell, as the top Asia policymaker at the State Department, is expected to have wide influence over U.S. Asia policy.

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

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