Return to

July 22, 2010
Notes from the Pentagon

Chinese carrier pressure
The Obama administration has given in to pressure from China and will not send the aircraft carrier strike group led by the USS George Washington to the Yellow Sea for upcoming naval exercises. The move followed protests from Beijing that a warship group in that area would pose a threat to China.

The carrier, however, will take part in exercises beginning this weekend on the eastern side of the Korean Peninsula in the Sea of Japan, a location that was not opposed by China.

Officially, Pentagon spokesmen insist the decision on the Yellow Sea has not yet been made. But defense officials close to the issue told Inside the Ring the decision not to send the carrier to the next phase of the maneuvers, which are intended as a saber-rattling message to North Korea, is already set.

As a result, the officials said the failure to send the carrier will be viewed by China as a sign of U.S. weakness and will undermine U.S. efforts to maintain freedom of navigation in the western Pacific near China.

Chinese government and military spokesmen in recent days announced that any dispatch of a carrier to waters near its territory would be a threat to China.

Chinese Maj. Gen. Zhu Chenghutold state-run media July 19 that the Yellow Sea is a "sensitive area." He said sending the aircraft carrier strike group there would be a threat because its combat attack radius would cover all of China and its reconnaissance reach would penetrate deep inside the country.

"If the United States truly wants to take into account the overall interests of the Sino-U.S. relationship, then it must on no account send its USS Washington to the Yellow Sea," Gen. Zhu said.

Plans for the large-scale U.S.-South Korean naval and aircraft exercises irked Beijing, which sided with Pyongyang in the dispute over the sinking of the South Korean ship Cheonan, which killed 46 sailors. Chinese military officials have said publicly that they doubt the findings of the probe linking the torpedo attack to North Korea.

Adm.Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters traveling with him in Asia on Tuesday that he understands China's concerns.

"The Yellow Sea, specifically, is an international body of water. And the United States always reserves the right to operate in those, in international waters. And certainly, I hear what the Chinese are saying with respect to that," he said. "But in fact we have exercised in the Yellow Sea for a long time, and I fully expect that we'll do so in the future."

However, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gatesand Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrellsidestepped questions about whether the George Washington would take part in the upcoming Yellow Sea war games.

Mr. Morrell said only the first part of the joint U.S.-South Korea exercises were announced. "Follow-on exercises are still under development, and the dates, locations and assets to be deployed have not been determined yet," he told Inside the Ring. "But I can assure you, we will be training in both the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea, as we have done many times before."

Mr. Morrell said he would not discuss "any particular ship," but stated: "We reserve the right to operate in any and all international waters. We cede nothing in terms of freedom of navigation."

Michael Pillsbury, a former Pentagon official and specialist on Chinese military affairs, said a decision not to send the carrier to the Yellow Sea exercises would reflect a two-decade-old, misguided U.S. policy that incorrectly "sought to reassure Chinese paranoid views about U.S. intentions."

"The many dissenters who claim this approach will not work have always been overruled," Mr. Pillsbury said. "The dilemma has been to find a metric that will reveal whether this long-term strategy has been effective, or whether we are causing the Chinese to assess us to be a declining power that does not dare challenge China anymore."

"The decision about whether and when to deploy a carrier to the west of the Korean Peninsula should be driven primarily by the requirement to assure our ally and deter North Korea against further provocations," said Stephen Yates, an Asian-affairs specialist and former White House national security official in the Bush administration. "Alleged Chinese sensitivities should not be a factor."

Mr. Yates said no rational Chinese leader can assert that the carrier strike group is "a platform from which to intimidate, much less attack, China."

"And the signal of retreat most surely deepens the danger of future provocations from the North," he said.

A White House National Security Council spokesman referred questions about the carrier to the Pentagon.

However, a senior administration official told the Nelson Report newsletter: "Where comes this obsession with sending a show of force/carrier message to the Chinese in a case that doesn't involve them?"

The official said the Chinese "picked up false rumors from the media we were going to have a particular kind of exercise."

"They stupidly reacted publicly. So now we have to compound the felony by taking a foolish step that was falsely rumored lest we be seen as weak? No thanks. Deploying a carrier is a serious business. This is not."

Asked about Chinese opposition to the war games on Tuesday, Adm. Robert Willard, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command, told reporters in Seoul that he was not worried China might protest the naval exercises by extending its suspension of military-to-military exchanges with the Pentagon.

"No, I'm not concerned," he said. "If I have a concern vis-a-vis China, it's that China exert itself to influence Pyongyang to see that incidents like Cheonan don't occur in the future. They clearly have a very strong relationship with North Korea, and we would like very much to see them exert the influence to see that a Cheonan never happens again."

China recently held a series of naval exercises in the Yellow Sea that involved the use of new high-speed, wave-piercing catamarans equipped with anti-ship missiles.

U.S. military officials said the fast patrol boats could be used in swarming attacks against U.S. aircraft carriers and other warships.

Asked about Chinese opposition to the war games, Mr. Gates said earlier on Tuesday during a visit to a U.S. military base in South Korea that "these exercises are off the coast of Korea, not off the coast of China."

"We have conducted them in both the West and East Seas, and so there's nothing provocative about them at all," he said.

China suspended its military ties to the Pentagon to protest U.S. arms sales to Taiwan. In May, Beijing blocked Mr. Gates from visiting China.

Nuke funding debate
Senate Republicans are continuing to demand that the Obama administration fully fund a much-needed nuclear-weapons modernization program beginning with fiscal 2011 by making sure that all $624 million requested by the administration will be appropriated.

Concern among Republicans increased following the House Appropriations energy and water subcommittee cut $99 million from an additional $624 million for modernization in the overall $7 billion nuclear-weapons budget.

A fully funded nuclear-weapons modernization program is a prerequisite for Republicans to support ratification of the new START agreement now being debated in the Senate.

Administration officials are asserting that the $99 million cut by the House panel is insignificant because the agency was able to find in places not yet specified an additional $80 million for the Energy Department's National Nuclear Security Administration, making the additional funds total around $606 million.

But Republicans say the found funds are a sleight-of-hand since the 2010 nuclear-arms budget was at least $40 million short of needed funds.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Tuesday pressed James Miller, the principal undersecretary of defense for policy, about the House cut during a committee hearing.

Mr. Miller said the administration "continues to support its request" for the full $624 million. He declined to say whether President Obama would veto the appropriations bill if the cut is not restored.

The Senate version of the bill has the full $624 million funding request.

The House subcommittee in the past has taken anti-nuclear weapons positions, notably killing all funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead in 2008.

Last week, the three directors of the nation's nuclear-weapons laboratories questioned in a Senate hearing on START whether the Obama administration, which favors the complete elimination of all nuclear weapons, is committed to the expensive modernization, noting that most of the major funding increases are scheduled for after Mr. Obama's first term ends.

Pelosi versus CIA
House Speaker Nancy Pelosiis feuding with the CIA again.

Remember last year when she accused the agency of lying when the CIA said it had briefed her in 2002 about enhanced interrogation techniques of terrorism suspects?

Now she is blocking passage of the first intelligence authorization bill in five years. The bill provides congressional oversight of 16 intelligence agencies. It has been OK'd by House and Senate intelligence committee leaders and President Obama, reports special correspondent Rowan Scarborough.

But Mrs. Pelosi, California Democrat, wants a change to require the CIA to disclose covert operations to both houses' full intelligence committees not just the leadership. Worried about leaks, the intelligence community is balking.

The squabble means there may not be an intelligence oversight bill for another year.

"This one is being held up by Speaker Pelosi," said Shana Marchio, spokeswoman for Sen. Christopher S. Bond of Missouri, the top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee. "There's a compromise version that the Senate and House intel committee leaders and the White House all agree on, but Pelosi won't allow a vote."

Said Pelosi spokesman Brendan Daly: "The speaker is working with the White House and her congressional colleagues to ensure that Congress has strong, effective oversight of the intelligence community."

Mr. Bond and Committee Chairman Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced Monday that the committee approved a bill on a unanimous vote.

"The committee has worked diligently with the House intelligence committee, the intelligence community, and the White House to reach agreement on this legislation," they said. "The House of Representatives has not taken action to seek a conference or otherwise complete this legislation."

Return to