Helped Arm China. Now What?
The Wall Street Journal, Tuesday, May 25, 1999
June, when a special House committee chaired by Rep. Christopher
Cox (R., Calif.) first examined news of U.S. transfers of
militarily sensitive technology to China, it posed three
questions: What was transferred? Who was to blame? What
should be done?
months and some 700 pages later, most of the answers are
in. The Cox report, being released today in a declassified
version, details increased sales of advanced U.S. computers
to Chinese research and design bureaus, expanded Chinese
access to U.S. nuclear laboratories, ever more advanced
transfers of U.S. satellite launch know-how, lax or nonexistent
U.S. monitoring of militarily useful exports, and outright
Chinese military espionage. All of this has helped the People’s
Liberation Army acquire in less than 10 years the military
technology the U.S. needed nearly a half century to develop.
is heady stuff. So much so that even Energy Secretary Bill
Richardson concedes that the Cox Report’s findings are
"scary" and that we must assume the worst concerning what
China secured. Indeed, the worry in Washington is so great,
there may even be potential for what’s become all too
rare- a genuine, bipartisan moment. I say potential because
so far most congressional critics responding to the report
have limited themselves to either assessing fault in order
to fire someone (such as Attorney General Janet Reno or
National Security Adviser Samuel Berger) or establishing
new security procedures to prevent any further Chinese military
technology thefts. However warranted these responses may
be, both are sure to raise partisan hackles.
more important, neither response even begins to address
the threat the U.S. and its Asian allies will face if only
half the Cox report’s findings are true: a China that
in 10 years could wield sufficient strategic clout to marginalize
U.S. forces in Asia, intimidate our allies there, and propel
Japan, Taiwan and South Korea into an arms rivalry with
Beijing that would be sure to go nuclear and ballistic.
is this likely? Right now China has no more than 20 nuclear
warheads that can reach the U.S. and no more than 400 that
can threaten Beijing’s neighbors. Those that target the
U.S. are on highly inaccurate intercontinental-range missiles,
missiles that are so large and slow they make ideal ground
targets and easy pickings for planned U.S. national missile
defenses. A large portion of the remaining warheads can
only be delivered by bombers, all of which are sitting targets
on the ground and in the air. Because these forces have
not grown much in the past decade, some have insisted that
China has no interest in amassing an offensive force, only
a retaliatory one against Russia, the U.S. and, lately,
the Cox report makes clear is that it would be a mistake
to bank on this in the next century. China has acquired
from Russia the means to make much more nuclear-weapons
material with new gas centrifuge enrichment technology.
Combined with its new, smaller, more efficient U.S.-inspired
warhead designs, China will now need far less material for
each material for each warhead it makes. More important,
the smaller nuclear warheads it is working on are light
enough to mount on hard-to-target mobile launchers, which
Beijing is now testing, and accurate and fast enough, given
U.S.-transferred missile know-how, to stress severely both
U.S.-planned regional and national missile defense systems.
The bottom line: By 2009 the Chinese threat against the
U.S. may no longer consist of a few slow-flying, and hard-to-intercept
warheads and China’s neighbors may face thousands.
is not a threat that firing an attorney general or national
security adviser will avert. Nor will tightening security
at the national laboratories or monitoring U.S. exports
of sensitive technology to China have any significant effect.
As the Cox report has made clear, most of the technology
China needs to deploy the forces noted above it has already
current situation, although far less dire than in the late
1940s and early 1950s, is not dissimilar to the Russian
nuclear crisis symbolized by the arrest of Julius and Ethel
Rosenberg. If we had only prosecuted some scapegoats (albeit
guilty ones) and tightened our technology controls, but
had failed to address the consequences of a nuclear-armed
Soviet Union, America would have lost the Cold War. The
U.S. faces a similar danger today. What’s needed for
more than political bloodletting or security efforts to
close barn doors (after most of the barns have burned down)
is a recommitment to securing Asia.
is more difficult than securing laboratories or exports,
but it is doable, and it is the only thing that will save
us from the worst of what China might otherwise do. After
all, China is not likely to build its military up if
the only result is a tightening of U.S. –Asian alliances
and a hardening of allied opinion against Beijing.
of course, have already focused on this point by promoting
regional and national missile defenses as the answer. Certainly,
this makes sense. The only problem is the U.S. will not
have much to offer for at least another five to 10 years,
too late by itself to keep our Asian alliances stable. There
are, however, several modest measures Washington can and
should be considering now. First, stop helping specific
Chinese entities known to be developing weapons targeted
against the U.S. or its Asian allies. This, to be sure,
would mean cutting off some U.S. exports of licensed militarily
sensitive goods. Such a measure is now being considered
by the Senate leadership.
the U.S. must live up to its defense obligations under the
Taiwan Relations Act. Taiwan currently has defense needs
that aren’t being met. The best example comes from the
last time China bussed Taiwan with missile firing in 1996.
The U.S. sent its aircraft carriers to get China to back
down. But the Taiwan military had no direct or secure way
to communicate with our fleet. Why? Because for 20 years
the U.S. has avoided any meaningful military-to-military
contact with Taiwan. If we are serious about deterring Chinese
adventurism, this must end. Sens. Jesse Helms (R., N.C.)
and Robert Torricelli(D., N.J.) have introduced a bill to
address these and related issues. China, of course, wants
the bill defeated because it sees Taiwan as a renegade state.
Japan, now debating how much it needs to arm itself, is
watching to see if the U.S. caves in to Chinese pressure.
the U.S. is in desperate need of a sounder approach to the
most provocative catalyst for war in Asia, North Korea,
China’s client state. Former Secretary of Defense William
Perry is visiting Pyongyang this week with yet another package
of goodies in exchange for yet more promises of North Korean
restraint. This comes after North Korea fired a Chinese-designed
satellite over Japan and after news leaked out that North
Korea is violating its prior pledges not to develop nuclear-weapon
facilities. The U.S. needs to insist that North Korea live
up to its current agreements before dropping current trade
and diplomatic restrictions or letting Pyongyang build any
U.S.-designed reactors. Rep. Benjamin Gilman (R., N.Y.)
has introduced legislation that addresses this point.
of course, needs to be done, but if these measures get their
day in Congress, the rest will follow. Short of this, however,
the real problem, Asia’s security, will continue to go
Sokolski is director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education
Center in Washingotn.