- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 19, 2000

The Pentagon said for the first time yesterday that it is unable to gauge the outcome of a military conflict between China and Taiwan because of intelligence "gaps."

In a report to Congress that is likely to rankle Beijing, the Pentagon also outlined new policy toward U.S. arms sales to the island, stating that they serve U.S. national security interests and promote peace and stability across the volatile Taiwan Strait.

"We cannot expect to predict confidently the outcome of a military conflict" across the Taiwan Strait, the report says.

The report appears to be another sign the Clinton administration is hardening its national security view of China. Last week, Gen. Henry H. Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned in a speech that China may become a 21st-century version of the Soviet Union and is aggressively modernizing its military forces.

The new report's assessment reverses two earlier Pentagon analyses on China's ability to invade Taiwan. The Pentagon stated in the congressional reports that China lacked the capability to successfully invade Taiwan.

"The United States takes its obligation to assist Taiwan in maintaining a self-defense capability very seriously," the report states. "This is not only because it is mandated by U.S. law in the [Taiwan Relations Act] but also because it is in our own national interest. As long as Taiwan has a capable defense, the environment will be more conducive to peaceful dialogue, and thus the whole region will be more stable."

The report uses vague language to describe how U.S. forces would respond to a war in the region, saying China's use of force to determine Taiwan's future would be a "grave concern."

China vehemently opposes all U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, which have declined sharply during the Clinton administration.

The report states that President Clinton initiated a "non-hardware" review of U.S. support for Taiwan in 1994. The program is aimed at improving Taiwan's defense planning, command and control, air defense, maritime capability, anti-submarine warfare efforts, logistics, joint force integration and training.

The newly stated policy on arms sales to Taiwan is similar to the views expressed during the election campaign by President-elect George W. Bush, who has said the United States should do more to defend Taiwan.

The United States broke its defense treaty with Taiwan in 1979 after establishing diplomatic ties with China. Congress then passed the Taiwan Relations Act to express support for the former ally.

Over the past decade, Congress has sought to gain a greater say in U.S. policy toward Taiwan after successive administrations refused to cooperate with the Congress in such matters as arms sales, as required by the act.

The act states indirectly that the United States will defend the island if China uses force against it.

The report was based on assessments provided by the U.S. Pacific Command, which would be in charge of the U.S. military's defense of Taiwan in any attack by China, and the office of the secretary of defense.

Defense officials said Adm. Dennis Blair, the Pacific Command, balked at providing details of command's shortcomings regarding a defense of Taiwan.

The report was required under a provision of the Defense Appropriations Act for fiscal 2000 under an amendment put forth by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott.

The unclassified version of the report does not state clearly that the United States would come to Taiwan's aid in a war with China. However, it points to the dispatch of two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups to the region in March 1996 as a symbol of U.S. military backing for the island.

According to the report, China's government has said it will use force to try to reunite Taiwan with the mainland. Its three likely forms of attack are an invasion, a military blockade or large-scale missile attacks, the report says.

The report is indirectly critical of the U.S. intelligence community for failing to identify Chinese and Taiwanese military capabilities and decision making, despite monitoring tensions in the area for the past two decades.

It is the first time the Pentagon has publicly identified intelligence shortcomings, which intelligence agencies have said is due to problems in penetrating China's communist government.

The report identifies three intelligence "gaps" that make it difficult to assess whether the United States could successfully defend Taiwan during an invasion, blockade or missile attack.

"In some cases, we are unlikely ever to obtain exactly the information we would want," the report said. "If some knowledge gaps cannot be corrected, it is at least advantageous to be aware that they exist."

The gaps were identified as:

cThe inability to know how leaders in Beijing and Taipei view their military and political situation "in order to identify the most important conflict scenarios."

• The failure to know "training, logistics, doctrine, command and control, special operations, mine warfare" instead of more easily identified issues such as hardware, like numbers of aircraft and ships.

• The inability to "confidently assess" future war-fighting capabilities, with the exception of China's missile buildup and use of computer-based information warfare.

Defense officials said the recent publication of two Pentagon books translating Chinese military and Communist Party writings have improved military planners' understanding of China. One official said the books, by China analyst Michael Pillsbury, "are better than what the CIA provided us."

The report made only a brief mention of China's large-scale missile buildup opposite Taiwan, which Adm. Blair has said warrants the sale of U.S. missile defense systems to Taiwan.

China has deployed several hundred short-range ballistic missiles along the coast opposite Taiwan and is building up to a force of 650 missiles in the next several years, according to the Defense Intelligence Agency.

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