TOPICS > Politics

Damage Assessment

May 25, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: For three perspectives on the report, we turn to Douglas Paal, who served on the National Security Council staff during the Reagan and Bush administrations and is now the President of the Asia Pacific Policy Center, which promotes U.S.-Asia relations; Jonathan Pollack, a senior advisor specializing in East Asian political and security affairs at RAND, a research organization based in Santa Monica, California; and Henry Sokolski, who dealt with nuclear nonproliferation issues at the Defense Department during the Bush administration and is now executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center. Jonathan Pollack, you’ve been researching Chinese nuclear policy for 25 years. What’s your response to the key conclusion of this report, which is that China stole significant information, which allowed it to accelerate its nuclear development enabling it to possess thermonuclear weapon design information on a par with the United States?

JONATHAN POLLACK: Well, the Select Committee has clearly taken a very, very ominous assessment of the data that are available to them on this issue. I must say that the assessment of the Select Committee is very, very different from that undertaken by the intelligence community itself also endorsed by Admiral Jeremiah and his group as Secretary Richardson just noted. That’s much more cautionary and much more equivocal about what in fact did transpire and what in fact the Chinese did secure. Having said that, the Chinese are obviously engaged in all kinds of espionage activities. That shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. More than this, they are very assiduous at overintelligence gathering at public data from scientific meetings and the like. So in this respect we clearly have a lot more damage assessment to do. We clearly need to fix the security problems at the labs. The security problems there are horrific. There is a lot of damage assessment to be done on the scale and scope of these problems.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Mr. Sokolski, what is your response to the main conclusion?

HENRY SOKOLSKI: I think it’s persuasive. I’ve gotten the classified briefing myself, and it’s persuasive at least this much. I don’t think we can constantly do a reassessment. We’re going to have to hedge our bets and reassure our Asian allies so that they, who have no nuclear weapons or ballistic missile feel safe.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And the conclusions you think warrant that now. Is there a gap as Douglas Paal said. Did they perhaps jump to some conclusions based on the worst assessment of the data?

HENRY SOKOLSKI: No, I don’t think so. You need only see the consensus of all the members about the deployment of a new ballistic missile that’s mobile, that has a very fast small warhead that’s going to be flight tested this year to recognize we’re moving into a new era with China.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Douglas Paal. Sorry, I meant what Jonathan Pollack said. What is your assessment?

DOUGLAS PAAL: The assessment is a lot of damage has been done or may have been done, it will take some time as the agencies have analyzed this, in addition to the committee, have pointed out to recognize whether this has turned into an advantage over our capabilities for China. My view is that we have to sort of turn to the future. What is the agenda ahead?

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yes. What do you think the future does hold? In fact, more specifically, what are the longer term strategic implications of this?

DOUGLAS PAAL: Well, that’s precisely the point. The first matter that’s needs to be done and is being addressed is the question of securing our facilities. I’ll put that to one side. The next more important issue is how do you persuade China, a country which has both a competitive and a cooperative aspect in its relationships with the United States, to emphasize the cooperative and to deemphasize the competitive aspect of those kind of relations? What kind of incentives and disincentives can we build in with our relationship with China that will keep us from going down the path of a Cold War, that will keep China from going down the path of building up the kinds of weapons systems that Russia did during the Cold War itself?

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Jonathan Pollack, do you agree those are the key questions we need to deal with in the future, or do you think it’s, again, jumping to conclusions too soon?

JONATHAN POLLACK: I don’t think it’s jumping to conclusions. I mean, we clearly have moved into a very, very different era with China. What to me is striking looking back in time first is that for 20 years, we did conclude that it was in the national security interests of the United States to advance China’s military development, to provide China intelligence data, to collect intelligence data with China, and also to engage in space launch collaboration with China. What has changed, of course, is that the Soviet Union exists no more. The Cold War is over. China is developing very rapidly. But we are very unsure of its long-term strategic intentions, the scope of its military ambitions, and the character of its political system. So those very uncertainties make us very, very uneasy about the kind of China that we may be dealing with, this at a time when our economic and technical relations with China are vastly more developed than they ever were in the 1970’s or 80’s.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Mr. Sokolski, what do you think the longer term strategic implications of this are? For example what does it say or what does it mean for China’s clout in Asia?

HENRY SOKOLSKI: Look, they are now in a position as this report makes very clear, and it’s an incredibly lengthy and detailed report — I recommend someone try to at least lift it; it’s four pounds heavy. They are in a position now to cast an ever deeper and darker shadow diplomatically over the region to solve the things they want to get done: Taiwan, Spratlys, whatever.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why? Just specifically, briefly. Why are they in the position do that? What did this give them?

HENRY SOKOLSKI: I don’t think Japan, the major nation in the region, wants to get into an arms rivalry with China. And China has the ability now, if you will, to break out and make large numbers of these things, rockets, nuclear weapons over the next ten years. They intend to use that leverage. The one thing we need to do is to make very clear to China that trying do that will be self-defeating; that we will only grow tighter and more closely with our allies and that it will do them no good and only earn them the bad opinion of their neighbors if they do this.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Douglas Paal, step back from this a minute and briefly look back and help us understand why this happened. What is it in the way China functions, the way it runs its espionage and the way the United States bureaucracy functions that made this happen?

DOUGLAS PAAL: Well, the Energy Department and the labs are especially vulnerable because back in the 1970’s, when the Energy Department was created after the oil crisis, there was an effort to make the American people think that creating a department would mean we would create a real energy policy. And the labs and the Energy Department were never successfully integrated. And I think, as a direct result, the security forces inside — the counterintelligence forces inside the Energy Department were never properly asserted over the labs. That might be the wrong thing to do. It might be better to let the labs take care of themselves and not be interfered with by the Energy Department. History will tell us the answer to that. On the Chinese side of the ledger, the Chinese use a much more atomistic approach to collecting intelligence. Rather than relying on a small cadre of intelligence operatives who go out and steal things themselves, they expand, they multiply their effect by having lots of people who are otherwise seemingly normal — educators or business people in China — also pursue collection where targets are easy, where they can develop a relationship with somebody who has sensitive information and slowly try to persuade them to share that information.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Jonathan Pollack, do you have anything to add to that on why?

JONATHAN POLLACK: I think I agree very much with Douglas Paal. I mean, that’s really an enormous part of the challenge here, that given the multiplicity of sources, the complex interactions that do exist, it’s not a case of simply identifying one single source or one single stream. It’s a much more decentralized system as well, as the committee report notes. And it’s in that kind of a context that we have a very, very tough problem on our hands.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And Mr. Sokolski, on that question, why, how?

HENRY SOKOLSKI: Well, I think the key thing that happened is the Cold War, which argued for us trying to hedge against the Soviet Union by helping build up a China military capability evaporated but we forgot that it evaporated and started to argue that, well, if we trade and give the Chinese what they want, they will be our friends and they will never become a problem for us. What the Cox report, more than anything else, does is shatter that perception and put us now at a point where we’re going to have to think about something other than closing the barn door on some barns which, frankly, have burned down.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think, Mr. Sokolski, this portends an arms race between the two countries?

HENRY SOKOLSKI: Not if we do the modest prudent things we can as a nation with our allies. And that’s the key point. We have got to solve this problem in Asia, not at the labs and not by monitoring our exports. We need to do that — fair enough — but that won’t get us home. After all, if there is to be a crisis, it’s because the security of our friends are at stake, not because the labs have let some secrets out.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Jonathan Pollack, arms race?

JONATHAN POLLACK: Well, Ms. Farnsworth, I think if our biggest concern right now is to avoid a situation where the Chinese accelerate their deployment of newer missile systems, much more advanced missile systems, there are two things frankly that we, I think, can either do or think about doing or not doing, as the case may be. First, I think we need to move vigorously and early to the early ratification and entry into force of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The very fact that the Chinese have access to some of our nuclear weapons designs does not mean they have tested these weapons. If we can inhibit that process, that’s going to put a monkey wrench in those plans. Number two, we need to think long and hard about how we look at the question of missile defense, but maybe in some ways that we haven’t considered. If we do move, for example, toward a national missile defense program, this could very well accelerate in very significant ways, the rate of Chinese modernization as they seek to ensure the reliability of their deterrent. So, I think we are not, you know, inevitably in an arms competition, but there are some very big policy issues that we’re going to have to confront as we move down the road with our allies, as well as with China.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: And, Douglas Paal, very quickly, how do you see the arms race question?

DOUGLAS PAAL: I don’t see a necessity for an arms race if we take a robust posture. Henry Sokolski is right; we need to reinforce our relationships in the region so China knows and they know that we’re going to meet China if it chooses to be our competitor. But we also have to offer the hand of peace and say to the Chinese, don’t go the path of the arms race. Stay the course of a cooperative relationship and we can work these problems out. Meanwhile, we have to shut the doors back here that should be shut.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you all very much.