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May 28, 2015
Notes from the Pentagon

Ashton Carter: Stop China island build-up
Defense Secretary Ashton Carter on Wednesday forcefully called on China to halt all island construction in the South China Sea and said U.S. forces will not be pressured into halting military operations there.

Mr. Carter challenged Chinese pressure for U.S. warships and surveillance aircraft to halt all operations near disputed islands in the strategic waters that China is claiming as its sovereign maritime domain.

“There should be no mistake about this: The United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as we do all around the world,” Mr. Carter said during a change-of-command ceremony at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

China’s military this week issued a strategy paper that stated that the United States was “meddling” in the South China Sea.

And the Communist Party-controlled Global Times newspaper warned that unless the U.S. backs off on announced plans to send ships and aircraft near disputed islands, a conflict is inevitable.

“We want a peaceful resolution of all disputes, and an immediate and lasting halt to land reclamation by any claimant,” Mr. Carter said. “We also oppose any further militarization of disputed features.”

Mr. Carter said that Chinese actions in the South China Sea, where some 2,000 acres of land has been reclaimed and military bases are being built, are “out of step” with international norms and regional security consensus that prohibit using coercion.

“China’s actions are bringing countries in the region together in new ways,” he said. “And they are increasing demand for American engagement in the Asia-Pacific. And we’re going to meet it. We will remain the principal security power in the Asia-Pacific for decades to come.”

The Pentagon announced earlier this month that it will conduct warship visits and surveillance flights near the disputed South China Sea islands, drawing a harsh response from Chinese government spokesmen.

Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson Yang Yujun on Tuesday said U.S. warships and aircraft were using “old tricks” aimed at stirring up tensions and tarnishing the reputation of China’s military. Mr. Yang told reporters China’s navy has been dealing with warships and aircraft near its territory for a long time.

“Our responses are always necessary, legal and professional,” he said. “We cannot rule out the possibility that a certain country is looking for an excuse to support future operations. This is not something new. It is an old trick.”

A U.S. Navy P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft conducting a South China Sea flight last week was challenged by a Chinese navy air controller and ordered to leave the area. The aircraft continued on its flight.

Earlier, U.S. defense officials said surveillance flights by Air Force Global Hawk long-range drones were jammed by Chinese military systems in a bid to thwart the


Russia-China cyber nonaggression
China and Russia on May 8 signed a non-aggression pact for cyberspace that analysts say appears to be part of a joint effort to curb U.S. influence over the Internet, according to a State Department security report.

The cyber deal was among 32 agreements concluded by the Chinese and Russians and appears to be “an attempt to create a unified front and reduce the United States’ role in global Internet governance,” the internal report by the Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) states.

“The deal includes an active exchange of technology information, and a ‘non-aggression’ agreement between the nations to refrain from conducting cyber-attacks against one another,” the report said, adding that the agreement appears to be largely a political move that is not expected to impact private-sector organizations working in both countries.

The report, “Implications of the Russia-China Cyber Agreement,” said the nonaggression accord prohibits the two countries from conducting cyberattacks against each other. It also calls for joint efforts to neutralize technology that China and Russia regards as destabilizing to internal political conditions.

Law enforcement agencies in both countries will exchange information on cyberthreats, and the pact calls for setting up a mechanism for exchanging technologies related to information infrastructure security.

According to the report, the nonaggression pact was negotiated beginning last fall and highlights Moscow’s shift toward China following U.S. and European sanctions over the Russian military annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.

The agreement was announced during the visit to Moscow by Chinese President Xi Jinping, who was one of the few world leaders to take part in a 70th anniversary celebrations in Red Square.

Analysts say the “pact allows the two nations to confront the West as a unified front, given tensions between the West and Russia over sanctions on the conflict in Ukraine, and tensions between the West and China over territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas,” the report said.

China cut off similar cybersecurity cooperation with the United States after the May 2014 indictment of five PLA officers on charge of conducting cyberattacks on U.S. corporations and private entities.

The provisions of the cybersecurity pact that calls for both nations to counter technologies that are politically and socially destabilizing “creates another avenue for both nations to suppress dissent on the Internet, as Russia and China continue to move away from principals of Internet freedom,” the OSAC report said.

“Russian participation with China can be interpreted as a measure by both nations to remove perceived Western influences from Internet governance,” the report says, adding that Russian President Vladimir Putin has called the Internet a “CIA project.”

Russia is said to be seeking to tighten Internet controls under Mr. Putin. But Moscow is unlikely impose the same tight controls as China’s government.

“If Russia continues to strengthen its rules for censorship and role in Internet governance, it could potentially affect the platforms used by the U.S. private sector to communicate and/or promote their organization in-country,” the report said.

The report concludes that enforcement of the cyber agreement is not clear and thus it will be difficult to determine how long either state will abide by its terms.

“While the cyber security deal adds another point of collaboration to Russia and China’s overall political posturing, it is not likely to bring an immediate change to the operating environment of U.S. private sector entities in either Russia or China,” the report said.

Iran nuclear threat to grow
Former State Department arms control undersecretary Robert Joseph warned recently that the Obama administration’s nuclear agreement with Iran is not likely to lessen the threat posed by Tehran’s drive for nuclear arms.

During a speech on missile defense May 20, Mr. Joseph said the threat of Iranian missiles and a future nuclear-tipped missile threat remain the center of U.S. missile defense efforts in Europe and elsewhere. Yet the Obama administration has cut back on the so-called “phased” missile defense program in Europe, first in 2009 when its third phase was canceled, and then when next phase was killed as well in 2013.

Mr. Joseph said the George W. Bush administration believed that Iran would have a rudimentary ICBM capability as early as 2015 with significant foreign assistance, Mr. Joseph said, noting that the assessment has not changed.

“The downsizing, interestingly enough, of the phased adaptive approach, was not accompanied by any reduction in the assessed ballistic missile threat from Iran,” he said. “And this notion of Iran as a ballistic missile and nuclear threat does not lessen under a nuclear agreement along the lines that has been described by the administration, In fact, there is a clear, though it is unstated, recognition that the threat will actually grow.”

Iran is continuing to expand its ballistic missile forces and the nuclear negotiations have not constrained the program.

Iran is a nuclear threshold state and the nuclear accord being developed is an indicator of that status, he added.

“When one moves away from denying Iran a nuclear weapons capability to the goal of simply expanding the amount of time for breakout from two months to 12 months, there is a recognition of Iran as a threshold state,” Mr. Joseph said.

“We can deny it. We can try to convince ourselves that that’s not the case. But I think our friends in the [Persian] Gulf have made very clear that they don’t quite see it the way that it has been described.”

The emergence of Iran as a nuclear missile states make missile defense of Europe and the United States “even more important in the future against the Iranian threat,” he said.

The Iran agreement contains a number of fallacies, Mr. Joseph said, including the concept of extending the breakout time for Iran to get nuclear arms; verification provisions; and so-called “snap-back” provisions to re-apply sanctions if Iran cheats on the agreement.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter at @BillGertz.

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