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September 4, 2008
Notes from the Pentagon

China nuclear talks
China continues to resist disclosing details of its strategic nuclear weapons programs despite exchanges and discussions with the United States during the past two years, defense officials say.

"For more than two years, the Chinese have stalled [on nuclear talks]," said one defense official frustrated by what he called excessive secrecy and lack of dialogue. He asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the topic,

One indicator of the problems has been that Gen. Jing Zhiyan, commander of China's nuclear forces, has not visited the U.S. Strategic Command or the United States despite a promise in 2006 from Chinese President Hu Jintao to President Bush that the general would lead a delegation for talks.

Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said, however, that though the nuclear discussions are going slowly, they are making progress.

"At the suggestion of Defense Secretary [Robert M.] Gates during his trip to Beijing last fall, the U.S. and Chinese militaries have agreed to expand our exchanges and deepen our dialogues, including regarding nuclear policy and strategy," he said. "Those discussions are helping us better understand each other and reduce the risk of miscalculation. Of course, they are in their early stages, and this process is going to take considerable time, but so far at least it is going better than we had anticipated."

The talks to date are held under the auspices of Eric S. Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy, and not the Strategic Command (Stratcom), which is in charge of U.S. nuclear forces.

U.S. officials familiar with the talks said the Chinese have refused to visit Stratcom and that discussions so far have been tightly scripted. The officials said they think China fears that revealing even very basic data would provide intelligence that could be used to counter Chinese nuclear forces.

For example, the Chinese military will not disclose details of its formal nuclear weapons doctrine, apart from stating that China will not be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict.

Statements and military writings by Chinese military strategists during the past several years have called into question the no-first-use doctrine, increasing concerns among U.S. strategic planners.

Some U.S. officials think China does not have a prepared nuclear strategy for its relatively small but growing nuclear arsenal. Additionally, China's strategic policy on stockpiling missiles remains unknown.

"We don't know their refire policy," one official said of the term for extra missiles that are stored in addition to those ready to launch on mobile launchers or silos.

The Pentagon also does not know whether China has multiple warhead missiles or whether it is adding warheads to single-warhead missiles.

In the 1990s, China obtained U.S. space technology that the Air Force thinks can be used to develop multiple-warhead missiles, according to a 1998 Air Force report.

The Pentagon's latest annual report on China's military states that Beijing is increasing both the number and the quality of its nuclear forces. It estimates that the current force includes about 60 long- and medium-range nuclear missiles.

China's military, for its part, views the dialogue with the Pentagon as a way to try to limit the number of U.S. missile defense interceptors, both on land and at sea, so that China's missiles will not be countered by a future expanded U.S. missile defense system, U.S. officials said.

A Chinese embassy spokesman said the issue of U.S.-China nuclear talks is "very sensitive" and declined to comment.

Military voting problems
Thirty-five members of Congress have written to Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey asking the Justice Department to investigate voting problems among military service members and their families.

The Aug. 1 letter, signed by 13 Senate and 22 House members, expresses "our serious concerns regarding the potential disenfranchisement of American's military services members during the coming November elections."

"We ask for your help in protecting the very rights they fight to safeguard for their fellow Americans," the lawmakers said. "For too long in this country we have failed to adequately protect the right of our troops to participate in the democratic process."

The letter, drafted by Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, asked the department to take steps to "correct the unacceptable and well documented deficiencies in the military voting system."

Specifically, the letter from the Republican signers calls for the Justice Department to investigate whether the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) is fulfilling its legal obligation to provide troops and their families with needed information and help to register to vote, obtain absentee ballots and vote.

The letter states that FVAP efforts to help troops vote "have been wholly inadequate." It notes very low voter turnout by military and overseas voters in the November 2006 election, with just 16.5 percent of the 6 million eligible overseas voters requesting a ballot and just 5.5 percent actually voting.

Additionally, a Pentagon inspector general survey on 2006 voting found that just 40 percent received voting information.

A Justice Department spokesman confirmed that the letter had been received, but he declined to comment further.

Policy shop, DIA changes
Peter F. Verga, principal deputy defense secretary for homeland defense, has been tapped to replace Ryan Henry, the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, in the key policy-making role.

Mr. Verga, a former Army officer, was deputy undersecretary of defense for policy support, a position that involved managing some of the Pentagon's most secret "black" intelligence programs.

He is replacing Mr. Henry, who is leaving after five years and is the second-longest-serving political appointee in the Bush administration.

A Pentagon spokesman had no comment on Mr. Verga's promotion.

Meanwhile, Lonnie Henley, the deputy national intelligence officer for East Asia on the National Intelligence Council (NIC), is moving back to his old position at the Defense Intelligence Agency.

"My three years here in the NIC have been great fun and professionally very rewarding," Mr. Henley said in an e-mail to friends. "Thanks to everyone who's made it such a good place to work. I look forward to continuing to work with you all from my new perch in DIA." At DIA, he will be in charge of overseeing all analytical content on issues concerning China at the agency.

Richard Willing, director of public affairs for the office of the director of national intelligence, said the office does not generally comment on personnel assignments and rotations. However, assignments to the National Intelligence Council normally are limited and "intended to draw on a person's expertise and provide professional development over a period of a few years," he said.

"Deputy national intelligence officers are encouraged to go back to their home agencies or move on to another senior position in the intelligence community when their tour in the NIC ends, as a part of a normal career progression," Mr. Willing said.

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

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