Return to

June 5, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

Beginning today, Inside the Ring moves from Friday to Thursday and will appear each week in the National Security section of Plugged In.

Pacific America
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates placed new strategic markers outlining U.S. security strategy in Asia during a speech in Singapore on Saturday. His subtle message that the United States will remain a "resident power" in Asia was meant to signal China and bolster the semisecret U.S. policy of "hedging" against the emergence of a threatening Beijing, according to defense officials.

Mr. Gates told the annual International Institute of Strategic Studies meeting, which included numerous defense and military leaders from the region, that by using the term resident power, "I mean there is sovereign American territory in the western Pacific, from the Aleutian Islands all the way down to Guam."

It was the first time a defense chief emphasized U.S. territory in the Pacific as a basis for U.S. security strategy.

The U.S. military buildup on Guam, where Mr. Gates visited before Singapore, is designed to help U.S. forces "respond quickly to new contingencies," Mr. Gates said. New submarines and advanced bombers are being sent to the western Pacific island, along with 7,000 Marines redeployed from Okinawa, Japan.

Guam in the future also will be used for international military training and possibly the prepositioning of military assets, Mr. Gates said.

The defense secretary made no mention of the Pentagon's hedge strategy, which was developed under his predecessor, Donald H. Rumsfeld, whose 2005 speech in Singapore sounded a more alarming tone about China's military buildup. The Chinese military buildup, Mr. Rumsfeld said, was being carried out in secret and with little or no explanation from Beijing about its goal and the nature of the threat it was directed against.

Mr. Gates, in his speech, made only veiled references to concerns about Chinese hegemony in Asia, which U.S. defense officials say is aimed at pressuring the United States to withdraw from the region.

He said U.S. concerns for the region are to maintain "openness of trade, openness of ideas and openness of what I would call the common areas - whether in the maritime, space or cyber domains." A defense official said later that this remark was "clearly directed at China."

Mr. Gates stated that the United States will be both a "resident power" and a "straddle power," reaching across the Pacific, and that while a peaceful and prosperous century is the hope, "nothing is guaranteed."

The defense secretary warned about the "stirrings of a new regionalism" that should not be a "zero-sum game," an apparent reference to any security regime that diminishes the U.S. role and increases China's role.

The Singapore speech was approved by the State Department, which plays the leading role in Asian diplomacy but also dominates security policy, normally the province of the defense secretary.

The State Department supports the hedge strategy against China but insists there be no public references to it, according to defense officials. The closest Mr. Gates came to reaffirming the hedge strategy was his comment that "we are building partner-nation capacity so friends can better defend themselves."

The Gates speech also was intended to reassure U.S. allies in the region after both President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice skipped several recent Asia meetings, fueling concerns among some Asian allies that the U.S. might be withdrawing because of its focus on conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Mr. Gates considered passing on the Singapore meeting but was urged to go by Asia policy-makers. As a result, he was forced to abandon a favored commencement address to U.S. Military Academy graduates at West Point.

Military holds
The Pentagon is upset that about 140 military officers are being delayed from Senate confirmation because of political disputes among Senate Democrats and Republicans.

The Pentagon is "painfully aware" of the problem, said one official, who described the conflicting "holds" on nominees as "politics at its worst."

The first hold on two key military promotions was imposed by a Democrat last month. It blocked, among others, the promotion of Army Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal to be the director of the Joint Staff once the Senate confirms his fourth star. Gen. McChrystal will depart as commander of the Joint Special Operations Command, which is on the front line of the war on terrorism.

Also on hold is Navy Rear Adm. William H. McRaven, head of Special Operations Command Europe (SOCEUR), who is slated to replace Gen. McChrystal.

According to Senate aides, the military hold was done in secret by Democrats in response to Republicans holding up Federal Election Commission nominees in their effort to prevent a political realignment on the commission favoring Democrats.

A Democratic aide blamed the military hold on one Republican who is blocking all nominees over a disputed appointment to the Tennessee Valley Authority.

A Pentagon official said of Gen. McChrystal and Adm. McRaven: "These guys have done tremendous work in the war on terrorism, and we need them [confirmed]."

Said Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell: "We were pleased that all the nominees, including Gen. McChrystal and Adm. McRaven, were voted out of committee by unanimous consent and, though it has been two weeks since the committee voiced its overwhelming support, we remain optimistic they will soon be confirmed by the full Senate."

China restriction
The current Defense Authorization Bill contains language that would require the Pentagon to study and impose restrictions on classified defense work between the Defense Department and any foreign companies engaged in space business with China.

The measure is aimed at restricting the flow of U.S. technology to China, which last year conducted the first test of a strategic anti-satellite missile. The weapon poses a major threat to U.S. military and civilian communications, weapons targeting and navigation.

The provision is a reminder of the Clinton administration's cooperation with China on space launch technology, which led to illegal technology transfers that improved China's strategic missile capabilities. Two U.S. companies were fined heavily for the illegal cooperation.

The bill's language is designed to prevent U.S. secrets shared with foreign contractors from improving "China's satellite, rocket, or missile capabilities," according to the House report on the bill.

Prompt Global Strike
Air Force officials said the recent test of a Minuteman III long-range ballistic missile was not part of plans to convert long-range missiles into conventionally armed weapons, as reported in this space May 23.

A plan to convert 50 Minuteman IIIs with high-explosive warheads was abandoned in 2007, when Congress directed that the 500 Minuteman IIIs that are the backbone of the land-based nuclear missile force be reduced to 450 and maintained through 2030. The 50 leftover Minuteman IIIs will be used for testing.

Air Force Maj. Dayan Araujo said the service is pursuing what it calls conventional prompt global strike (CPGS) by converting both sea-based and land-based missiles to non-nuclear-tipped missiles. The converted missiles "will provide the war fighter with a capability to globally, precisely and rapidly strike high-payoff, time-sensitive targets using conventional munitions when U.S. and allied forces have no permanent military presence or only limited infrastructure in a region," she said.

The Pentagon is developing concepts and technologies that will support a series of conventional prompt global strike experiments and demonstrations beginning in 2009, Maj. Araujo said.

One technology being sought by the Air Force is a future continental U.S.-based conventional strike missile.

"The first conventional strike missile (CSM) technology demonstration flight is planned for 2010 from Vandenberg Air Force Base," she said. "Although the booster configuration for CSM is not yet finalized, the Air Force has no plans to use Minuteman III for conventional strike missile."

Maj. Araujo said the Air Force program on Prompt Global Strike considers congressional concerns about testing, fabrication and deployment of a conventional long-range missile attack system, but "we are not aware of any congressional ban on conventional ICBMs." Future tests also will be conducted to ensure they comply with all international treaties, she said.

One missile being considered for short-term conversion to conventionally armed is the submarine-launched D-5 Trident missile.

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

  • Inside the Ring Archives
    1999 Columns
    2000 Columns
    2001 Columns

    2002 Columns
    2003 Columns
    2004 Columns
    2005 Columns
    2006 Columns
    2007 Columns
    2008 Columns
    Return to