Return to

May 27, 2005
Notes from the Pentagon

Missile hunting
Bush administration officials think they are finally making progress in getting various factions in Nicaragua to destroy a stock of 1,000 or more SA-7 missiles and hunt for a suspected stash of rogue missiles.

The government of U.S.-ally President Enrique Bolanos had agreed to get rid of the SA-7s, which, if in the hands of terrorists, could bring down commercial airliners. But the emerging Marxist Sandinistas, and their legislative and military allies, blocked Mr. Bolanos last year from carrying out his pledge.

The missiles are left over from shipments the Soviets sent the Sandinistas when Daniel Ortega ran the country and fought a U.S.-backed insurgency. Mr. Ortega subsequently lost power in national elections.

The Bush team has been playing hardball with the Sandinistas ever since they blocked missile destruction. Washington ended some military aid. It failed to send a high-ranking general to the swearing-in of the country's new top general. And it recently denied visas to politicians of a Sandinista-allied party who wanted to visit the U.S.

Now, the State Department is getting word that the national assembly may be ready to repeal legislation that tied Mr. Bolanos' hands in destroying the SA-7s. And the military may agree to conduct an aggressive hunt for rogue SA-7s that the U.S. suspects are being held back for sale on the black market. A delegation led by Rose Likins, acting assistant secretary of state for political/military affairs, visited Nicaragua in February and delivered a tough message to Mr. Bolanos' political enemies.

China report battle
Pro-China advocates within the Bush administration are battling the Pentagon over its annual report on the Chinese military that was due to Congress March 1.

Pentagon officials say the focus of the battle is a special chapter of the report projecting scenarios on China, most of them negative.

Pentagon officials said the tough look at China's future was a response to Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld's frequent comment that China's future is not clear and that it could emerge with a "grinding of gears" Rums-speak for a threatening outcome.

Officials tell us they think that White House National Security Council staffer Dennis Wilder, a CIA China analyst who was close to the Clinton administration, has been orchestrating efforts to have that chapter of the report removed.

Pro-China critics of the Pentagon have blamed former Pentagon official Michael Pillsbury, who has specialized on China's strategy and future, for the several harsh scenarios contained in the current draft chapter.

Mr. Wilder, we are told, wants all the negative futures projections for China removed and replaced with rosy assessments of China's future that are the stock in trade of the CIA and Defense Intelligence Agency.

Among the scenarios in the draft chapter are that China in 2020 will emerge as a major threat to the United States and its Asian allies, and that its military buildup will leave Asia under the sway of a nuclear-armed communist dictatorship in Beijing.

The pro-China hands want to include propaganda statements from Beijing, arguing that China is not a threat and never will be, bolstered by quotes from Chinese military and political leaders.

The pro-China apologists, reflecting an overall trend in the wake of the Iraqi weapons of mass destruction debacle of never making a solid judgment, argue that there is no evidence to project that China will be a threat, only that it will be a peaceful power.

North Korean options
The Senate's Republican Policy Committee has issued a list of moves the U.S. should take to discourage North Korea from testing one of its few nuclear warheads.

For one, Washington should raise at the United Nations North Korea's violations of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty a debate the U.S. has avoided while it attempted six-party talks.

"Given that Pyongyang does not appear to be a willing partner in these talks and in finding a solution to the crisis, it is logical for the United States to propose that a full-scale discussion of the violations report be undertaken to demonstrate to the world the danger of allowing North Korea's NPT violations to proceed unpunished," the committee paper said.

Another option, the policy staff said, is to develop a list of ways to punish NPT violators. "Part of the dilemma that has faced the participants in the Six Party Talks is that there has been no discussion of consequences for North Korea's violation of the NPT prior to withdrawing from that treaty," said the paper.

Video combat
We've viewed video from a camera attached to the front of a Humvee vehicle during close-in fighting in Tal Afar near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

The camera showed Iraqi soldiers, aided by a Marine adviser, in a sustained firefight with three insurgents in a vehicle down the street.

After several misses, the pro-U.S. Iraqis put a missile right on the targets. Cheering can be heard after the explosion.

Navy complaint
Two Joint Chiefs members and the Navy secretary sent a letter this week to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter complaining of caps the committee placed on the cost of ships.

The letter was signed by Navy Secretary Gordon England; Adm. Vern Clark, the chief of naval operations; and Gen. Michael Hagee, the Marine Corps commandant.

"While we recognize the need to control costs on all programs, the imposition of cost caps will not be effective or efficient," says the letter, a copy of which Inside the Ring obtained on Wednesday. "The proposed cost caps for new ship classes are below current projected costs, and, in some cases, less than ships they are intended to replace. However, even if the cost caps were set at a realistic level, they would still interfere with the orderly management of naval programs."

They added, "We urgently ask you to address this grave issue."

The Navy has cut back shipbuilding plans, to the dismay of legislators in shipyard states and to those who contend there are too few ships to ensure open seas. One reason for the reduction is runaway shipbuilding inflation.

  • Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are Pentagon reporters. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at

  • Inside the Ring Archives
    1999 Columns
    2000 Columns
    2001 Columns

    2002 Columns
    2003 Columns
    2004 Columns
    2005 Columns
    Return to