- The Washington Times - Friday, December 29, 2000

Army truce

The Army Corps of Engineers and an Army political appointee have signed a peace treaty among themselves. We've obtained a copy of the Nov. 28 memorandum that ends a feud between Joseph W. Westphal, assistant Army secretary for civil works, and the Corps' military leaders. The memo was signed by Mr. Westphal and the Corps' new military leader, Lt. Gen. Robert B. Flowers.

First, some background. For months, the Army, led by Army Secretary Louis Caldera, has been trying to exercise more intrusive control over the Corps of Engineers.

Political appointees complain the Corps, with 35,000 employees and a $12 billion budget, is too free to make momentous environmental decisions without adequate civilian oversight from the Pentagon. Mr. Caldera proposed in March sweeping reforms that would allow the assistant secretary to intrude on Corps' decisions whether to recommend approval of navigation and flood-control projects funded by Congress.

The Corps said this amounted to meddling in what is supposed to be an objective process. A number of powerful senators agreed, including Appropriations Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, Alaska Republican. They refused to sign off on Mr. Caldera's reforms.

Hence, the new Westphal-Flowers agreement. The memo pledges open lines of communications between the Corps and Army headquarters. But it lacks some key elements sought by Mr. Caldera.

For example, the Army secretary wanted his assistant secretary to do performance evaluations of senior Corps employees a switch that would have made them beholden to political appointees. Under the Nov. 28 memo, Gen. Flowers, the chief of engineers, retains the rating powers.

The memo also states there will be no change in federal law or Army regulations concerning the Corps, as some anti-Corps politicians had demanded.

"In all instances where the chief of engineers exercises his independent technical judgment, there must be no impediments to the exercise of that judgment," the memo states. "Further, we agree that communications between the [assistant secretary] and the [chief of engineers] should occur through established channels."

Mr. Caldera says the issue is now over. "Although this has been the subject of a considerable amount of controversy, I believe the end result has produced a much improved civilian-military oversight relationship that will serve our nation well," he wrote in a letter to Congress.

China-bound destroyer

Russia's second Sovremenny-class guided-missile destroyer passed through the Suez Canal last weekend on its way to China. U.S. intelligence agencies have been following the destroyer's voyage from a St. Petersburg shipyard since mid-November.

It is now in the Arabian Sea and is expected to reach Chinese waters in the next few weeks, defense officials tell us.

The ship is outfitted with a joint Russian-Chinese crew and will join China's first destroyer, which arrived a year ago.

It is the ship's missiles SSN-22 Sunburns, in NATO parlance that worry the Navy. The supersonic cruise missiles were designed by Soviet weapons makers for one purpose: to destroy U.S. ships.

The Sovremennys were purchased by China after the confrontation with the U.S. Navy in March 1996 in the Taiwan Strait. Two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups were sent to the region in a major show of force after the Chinese military began firing short-range missiles at Taiwan.

China is considering purchases of more guided-missile destroyers from Russia. It also took delivery earlier this month of four Su-27 fighter-bombers. The jets are part of a package of 28 Su-27s to be sent to China.

Taiwan, for its part, is planning to buy U.S. Harpoon anti-ship missiles to counter the Russian destroyers, according to defense officials. The Harpoons would replace less-capable Taiwanese-built anti-ship missiles.

The new Bush administration will have the final say in April on Taiwan's arms-sales request. The latest request, made last month, includes advanced warships, submarines and other weapons systems needed to counter the growing Chinese military buildup.

China hands' lament

The appointment of Donald H. Rumsfeld as defense secretary-designate is already worrying the ranks of China analysts in the Pentagon and elsewhere.

The China branch of the Defense Intelligence Agency has been a key advocate of the "China-is-not-a-threat" theory under longtime China specialist Jack Nixon, who retired this year, and his successor, Lonnie Henley.

Mr. Rumsfeld is expected to bring a more hawkish view of China, we are told, in sharp contrast to the current administration.

"The China hands are scared," said one administration official.

Mr. Rumsfeld's more skeptical view of China is said to be reflected in portions of the classified version of the 1998 report by a commission he headed on missile threats to the United States.

After this newspaper recently disclosed China's test firing of a new long-range missile, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon appeared to dismiss the development.

But days later he was publicly contradicted by Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The four-star general warned in a speech Dec. 18 that China is emerging as the "Soviet bear" of the 21st century. Beijing is engaged in an "aggressive" buildup of both nuclear and conventional forces, he said.

The government's China intelligence estimates are under fire from conservatives, including Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby. The Alabama Republican complains of a pervasive benign view of China. Mr. Shelby has included language in the current intelligence-authorization bill, signed into law Wednesday by the president, that would call for more competitive analysis on China.

The fraternity of pro-China intelligence analysts took a major hit earlier this month with the resignation of the State Department's intelligence chief, J. Stapleton Roy and his deputy, Donald Keyser. Both were considered the influential voices for playing down China's growing threat.

Mr. Roy retired early, ostensibly due to disagreements over the handling of a security incident the loss of a laptop computer with intelligence secrets.

However, we are told Mr. Roy also clashed with Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright over China issues. Mrs. Albright angered Mr. Roy by her tough position on China that upset the soft-liners, led by Mr. Roy.

One example: Mrs. Albright criticized the Chinese for their destabilizing deployment of hundreds of short-range ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan.

Intercepts

• The George W. Bush transition team has contacted Maj. Gen. Daniel James III about joining the new administration. The president-elect's aides asked for biographical information, but no specific job was mentioned.

We reported last week that Gen. James, the Bush-appointed adjutant general of the Texas National Guard, was being considered for the post of secretary of the Air Force.

We gave an incomplete narrative of his Vietnam War experience. He initially flew observation aircraft in 1969, then on a second tour piloted F-4 fighters based in Thailand in 1974-75.

Gen. James is the son of the late Gen. Daniel "Chappie" James, the nation's first black four-star general. The father was one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, training other aviators in the United States during World War II. He later saw combat as a fighter pilot in Korea and Vietnam.

• Two overriding issues will frame the debate this winter on fiscal 2002 defense spending: base closings and how to increase the top line above this year's $309 billion level.

Congressional sources say Republicans are likely to agree to one round of base closings for fiscal 2003, but no more. Republicans balked at continuing the base-closing commission process after President Clinton, in lawmakers' view, politicized recommendations by helping keep bases in voter-rich Texas and California in operation.

On spending, figures vary from $20 billion to $100 billion on a defense "plus up." If the number is closer to $20 billion, the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) may be in jeopardy.

The bills for three major systems the JSF, F-22 Raptor and the F-18 Super Hornet will all demand billions in procurement dollars by 2005-06. If the Pentagon wants all three planes, Congress must either deliver a huge increase in spending, or delay or kill the JSF, congressional sources say.

• Bill Gertz and Rowan Scarborough are syndicated columnists. Gertz can be reached at 202/636-3274 or by e-mail at gertz@twtmail.com. Scarborough can be reached at 202/636-3208 or by e-mail at scarbo@twtmail.com.

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