- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2008

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

On July 14, 2006, the proximity fuse of a Chinese-origin cruise missile went off over the fan tail of the Israeli warship, “Hanit,” then operating in international waters off Beirut. The ship survived but four Israeli families mourn the loss of their sons and certain Chinese arms dealers found a sweet addition to their offshore bank balances. The missile, one of two fired at the Israelis, is known as a C-802, extended range. Experts in Washington agree that the missile or the technology to make it was sold to Iran, who then transferred it to Hezbollah gunners in Lebanon.

From Beijing’s standpoint, the election of Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, as president of the United States would very likely put a severe restriction on their illicit arms sales to terrorist countries and now, terrorist groups. This is a very lucrative business - profits are well above 100 percent of costs and each missile represents millions of dollars. It is all private money in foreign exchange to many of the highest ranking members of Beijing’s political and military elite. Since Chinese private citizens do not have access to military weapons of this complexity, arms smuggling by China is a perk exclusively for Chinese officials and their families.

Some history: Beginning in the late 1980s and extending into the 1990s, the United States Congress began to become very concerned about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their delivery systems to terrorist countries. By the mid-1990s, it had put in place a system of sanctions against foreign companies and even countries, in some cases (for example the Helms Amendment, named for the late Sen. Jesse Helms), covering the illicit trade in chemical, biological and nuclear weapons, as well as ballistic missile sales. A bipartisan effort, Democratic Sens. Claiborne Pell of Rhode Island, Joe Biden of Delaware, and John Glenn of Ohio, and Republicans Bob Dole of Kansas and Sen. Helms of North Carolina took strong leadership positions.

Congress took care of Weapons of Mass Destruction first but it was always known that cruise missiles are also a severe threat, particularly to the United States Navy operating in the narrow waters of the Gulf. It was also known that while several nations can and do produce cruise missiles, this was essentially a Chinese problem. For several years Congress had been complaining about Chinese sales of cruise missiles but without a lot of response from the first Bush administration.

In the summer of 1992, then-Sen. Al Gore and Mr. McCain decided to step in and assume the leadership role on the Chinese cruise missile problem. The result was the “Gore-McCain Act,” also known as the “1992 Iran-Iraq Non-Proliferation Act,” put sanctions on foreign companies who sell “advanced conventional weapons,” i.e. cruise missiles, to Iraq or Iran. The bill passed just before the 1992 election with these words from Mr. Gore, “It is abundantly clear that we need to raise the stakes high, and we need to act without compunction if we catch violators.”

With Bill Clinton and Mr. Gore having made non-proliferation one of their 1992 campaign themes, it was widely expected that, as president, Mr. Clinton would enforce the sanctions laws against smugglers. It didn’t happen. On the cruise missile side alone, the Chinese trade with Iran became so notorious that photographs began to appear in defense magazines of fully-loaded Chinese missile boats being transported by sea to Iran. At one point the U.S. Navy noted that it was faced with a “360-degree threat” in the Gulf because the Iranian Revolutionary Guard had installed Chinese cruise missiles on shore batteries, missile boats and aircraft. During the Clinton administration, the U.S. Navy complained to the Hill, the Hill (including John McCain) wrote letters, senior congressional staff called former colleagues, who now worked in the administration, but still nothing happened. To Al Gore’s everlasting shame, the legislation with his name on it was never enforced.

At one point the Clinton-Gore administration leaked the details of a supposed secret deal with the Chinese: Mr. Clinton would not enforce American law in return for a Chinese pledge to end cruise missile sales to Iran. Shortly after that, it was noted that the alleged agreement didn’t include technology transfer or sales of parts and sub-assemblies and China’s close ally, North Korea, suddenly began producing this type of missile when they had not done so before.

The Chinese Communist Party and its military arm, the People’s Liberation Army, would have a whole host of reasons not to welcome the election of a new American president with the national security experience of Mr. McCain. But if we add the personal pocketbook angle. …

William C. Triplett, II is a former chief Republican counsel to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide