- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2000

Taiwan report held

The Pentagon recently conducted an assessment of Taiwan's air defenses and graded as poor the island's ability to defend itself against Chinese aircraft and missiles.

A defense source said the report shows "Taiwan cannot defend itself from aerial threats."

The assessment made in February by military and civilian specialists is becoming a political football in the latest clash over Taiwan arms sales.

According to several U.S. officials, the report was initially unclassified but quickly stamped "secret" and kept from Congress. We are told that pro-Beijing officials in the Clinton administration have "perverted" its findings to bolster the Clinton administration's freeze on advanced arms sales to Taiwan, despite the buildup of Chinese offensive and defensive missiles opposite the island.

These officials say Taiwan's air-defense shortcomings mean it can't "absorb" newer or more modern air-defense weapons beyond its current arsenal of Patriot, HAWK and other anti-aircraft missiles.

Pentagon officials say the report shows the urgent need to provide more defense assistance both hardware and training to the Taiwanese.

Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, California Republican, organized a group of seven congressmen who asked to review the Taiwan air-defense report. But the Pentagon thus far has said no. Mr. Rohrabacher Thursday asked the House Committee on Government Reform in a letter to subpoena the study.

Interagency discussions on Taiwan's requests for Aegis-equipped warships, anti-radar HARM missiles, long-range air-launched missiles and other weapons will begin in about a week, we are told. The talks are expected to be contentious.

Uplifting commandos

President Clinton took so many Air Force cargo jets and tankers on his recent South Asia trip that the commando community is starting to worry. Members wonder whether there will be too few planes left to take them to a crisis spot during a presidential trip.

The just-concluded India-Bangladesh-Pakistan-Oman-Switzerland jaunt required one-third of the Air Force's total cargo lift capacity. This comes at a time when the service is conducting a study expected to confirm it already has a shortage of strategic lift capability in relation to operational requirements.

"This is fundamentally causing the military to do more with less," an administration source tells us.

The 10-day trip required 177 strategic lift missions and a total of 460 mission launches. This number included the cargo jet missions (defined as going from point A to B and back to A) as well as flights by aerial refuelers and spare aircraft.

The service's Air Mobility Command at Scott Air Force Base in Illinois operates all the planes. But a spokesman said he is not allowed to comment on presidential travel. He referred questions about cost to the White House.

"I don't think we've got any kind of a final cost figure on the trips," said White House spokesman P.J. Crowley.

Outside experts expect the trip Mr. Clinton's most costly to hit taxpayers for $40 million to $50 million.

"Obviously there was a substantial investment of resources in support of the president's trip," Mr. Crowley said.

He said it required a larger number of long-range cargo jets because of the great distances traveled. Extra helicopters were also required because the infrastructure in the host countries was not conducive to road travel.

"This was a very complex trip of a scale that probably presidents don't do that often, and clearly it involved a substantial commitment of resources by the Air Force. They did a great job of supporting the president.

"That investment will yield handsome returns when you think of new trade possibilities, environmental improvements and progress on proliferation and security issues."

Illegal talks

President Clinton is violating another law in addition to Privacy Act violations identified by a federal judge this week. The president stated in a report to Congress last week that his administration "is not implementing" a 1997 side agreement to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The certification allows the Clinton administration to spend money on ABM Treaty talks that began in Geneva last week.

The ABM side agreement, called a memorandum of understanding, will add Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan to Russia as the legal replacements for the defunct Soviet Union.

The agreement is viewed by critics as a deliberate White House trick to make formal ABM Treaty changes like those permitting a national missile defense more difficult. It would give Russia three additional votes in sessions of the Standing Consultative Commission (SCC) in Geneva, where ABM Treaty issues are discussed. The U.S. side has only one vote.

The White House, fearing it would be voted down, is refusing to submit the ABM memorandum of understanding on the successor states to the Senate for approval despite promising senators it would do so. Congress then passed a law last year prohibiting the administration from spending any money on the SCC talks until the president certifies the successor-states agreement is not being implemented.

Well, the secret instructions to U.S. negotiators at the Geneva talks, which began March 22, told American diplomats they may "negotiate, and may reach agreement with other SCC delegations on the text" of a missile-defense accord on testing interceptor missiles.

The instructions also tell U.S. delegates that by negotiating but not signing an agreement, they can avoid violating the law. The Russian, Ukrainian, Belorussian and Kazakhstani sides will be told at the meetings that "it is the U.S. position that our efforts to ensure that the SCC agreements receive favorable advice and consent in the U.S. Senate could be undermined by giving our Congress the impression that their approval has been circumvented," according to the secret instructions.

State Department lawyers told White House arms-control specialist Steven Andreasen during a meeting March 20 that the latest Geneva talks would in fact be implementing the agreement, thus violating the law. Mr. Andreasen then accused them of "disloyalty to the president" and forced them to back down and approve the questionable certification to Congress.

A White House spokesman said "all agencies concurred" in the report to Congress.

"If the administration is negotiating with Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine over what will become binding agreements … it is implementing the MOU," said one official close to the dispute. "The administration's contention that withholding signatures from negotiated documents is sufficient to meet the law is likewise arbitrary and absurd."

Readiness uptick

A bit of good news on the combat readiness front.

Yes, the Army, Navy and Air Force are still struggling to find enough recruits. And yes, a spare-parts crisis persists, increasing the number of unusable aircraft cannibalized for gadgets

But the shortages of able-bodied men and women in front-line combat units is slowly being remedied.

The Army, for instance, reports a gap of 5,151 soldiers in its 10 active divisions totaling 161,204 personnel. That's down from 6,500 a few months ago.

Army officers said the improvement can be traced to a drive by Gen. Eric Shinseki, the Army chief of staff, to man the 10 divisions at full strength.

"Shinseki wants them manned," said an officer. "I think the Army is doing better at moving people around. Just in talking with commanders in the field, he recognized that was a problem. He's going to make the war-fighting units the best they can be."

Among the hard-to-get specialties: fire-support artillerymen, wheeled-vehicles mechanics, fuel handlers, voice-intercept analysts and intelligence analysts.

Another officer said the goal is to have 10 divisions and two regiments fully stocked by Sept. 30. The rest of the operational Army would meet that goal by 2002 and the institutional Army a year later.

"We're having great difficulty meeting the chief's directives to fully man the force structure," this soldier said.

The Air Force is doing a better job of retaining critically needed pilots.

Air Force Secretary F. Whitten Peters said the service projected a 2,000-pilot gap by now, but it actually has a shortage of 1,200.

"Our enlisted retention rates for the last few months have been better than the same month last year," he said. "And indeed, in February, we retained almost 60 percent of our first-term airmen against a goal of 55 percent, and we retained almost three-quarters of our second-term airmen against a goal of 75 percent.

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