NEWS AND ANALYSIS:
The Obama administration is funding a joint nuclear security center in Beijing designed to stem nuclear weapons proliferation — despite recent state-run media reports showing Beijing’s plans to hit U.S. cities with nuclear missiles that would kill millions of Americans during a conflict.
A White House official said the Beijing center would not be used to help protect Chinese nuclear weapons.
However, critics say the center will indirectly support China’s growing nuclear arsenal because the U.S. equipment, training and other security know-how provided to the Chinese will be used at facilities involved in nuclear-weapons production.
Also, the Defense Department is part of the center, indicating a military component to the assistance.
And since China has the world’s second-largest economy, questions are being raised about why U.S. taxpayers should be funding a security facility in China.
The security cooperation also is unusual because China failed to cooperate with the U.S. government in resolving past large-scale nuclear espionage against the United States. The CIA concluded in the late 1990s that Chinese spies obtained secrets on every deployed warhead in the U.S. arsenal. The FBI botched its investigation of the nuclear spying and has said it is still investigating the matter.
The state-run China Daily newspaper last month announced that work has begun on a U.S.-funded “Center of Excellence on Nuclear Security” that will be completed by 2015.
The facility is being built at the Changyang science and technology park located on the southwestern suburbs of Beijing. It will be outfitted with environmental labs, response-force exercise facilities, test sites for physical protection, and buildings for experiments, scientific research and technology displays and training, the newspaper stated.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz traveled to China for the groundbreaking ceremony on Oct. 29.
The Chinese announcement of the nuclear center appeared in several state media outlets that day.
By coincidence news about the center was followed a day later by an alarming report in another newspaper, the xenophobic Communist Party-affiliated Global Times, revealing for the first time the Chinese military’s detailed plans for using submarine-launched and road-mobile nuclear missiles to attack American cities.
The Global Times article included photos of missile systems and maps showing nuclear attacks on downtown Los Angeles, Seattle, New York, and other U.S. locations.
“In general, after a nuclear missile strikes a city, the radioactive dust produced by 20 warheads will be spread by the wind, forming a contaminated area for thousands of kilometers,” the report said.
“Based on the actual level of China’s one million tons TNT equivalent small nuclear warhead technology, the 12 JL-2 [submarine-launched] nuclear missiles carried by one Type 094 nuclear submarine could cause the destruction of five million to 12 million people, forming a very clear deterrent effect.”
Pentagon and State Department officials had no comment on the nuclear attack reports that were given official weight by their appearance in several major party-controlled news outlets.
On Saturday, Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, chief of naval operations, sought to play down the threat as not credible. Asked about the reported Chinese submarine missile threat against U.S. cities, he said that for China’s underwater strategic missile threat to be effective “it has to be accurate, you have to be stealthy, and survivable, and I’ll leave it at that.”
A U.S. official said Washington will spend $10 million on a building in Beijing, but Energy Department spokeswoman had no immediate comment on the cost of the nuclear center. Questions were referred to the National Nuclear Security Administration’s 2011 news release, which contained no details.
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden declined to comment on the published reports in China of plans for nuclear strikes on U.S. cities.
But she said the nuclear security center in Beijing would not be involved in securing Chinese weapons.
She referred questions to a State Department fact sheet that said such facilities “advance the U.S. nuclear security agenda by highlighting the importance of strengthening nuclear security worldwide and working to address the need for capacity building, technology development, and coordination of assistance on nuclear security.”
The centers provide training in the protection of nuclear facilities and material from theft or sabotage, and also to develop methods used to detect nuclear material and detonations.
Additionally, the center is aimed at preventing “illicit trade of nuclear technologies” — a practice that U.S. officials say China carried out during the 1990s by providing Pakistan with nuclear warhead technology.
John Tkacik, a former State Department intelligence official, said there is little need for such as center unless it could provide insight into China’s fissile materials, infrastructure and capacities, and nuclear weapons command and control.
“But I’m not sure it’s worth our trouble and expense if the purpose is to modernize China’s nuclear materials research and management,” Mr. Tkacik said. “The Chinese know what their limitations are, and they can afford to cover the entire cost of overcoming them if they want.”
Another concern is that the Chinese, by publicizing the U.S. nuclear cooperation, are sending an unsettling diplomatic message to Japan following the late October propaganda campaign disclosing planned Chinese nuclear missile strikes on the U.S. homeland, Mr. Tkacik said.
DEMPSEY ON AFGHANISTAN
Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, this week outlined his thinking on plans for U.S. troops in Afghanistan after President Obama‘s deadline of 2014 to pull them out.
Gen. Dempsey said troops would remain in Afghanistan to help with stability and to assure that foreign aid continues to flow into the impoverished southwest Asian state.
“After 2014, Afghanistan can live without a ubiquitous presence of U.S. military forces in their country,” Gen. Dempsey said Tuesday during a forum hosted by The Wall Street Journal. “They can’t live without any.”
The comments contradict Mr. Obama’s promise to remove all U.S. troops from Afghanistan next year.
“We will have them all out of there by 2014,” the president said during a campaign speech in Boulder, Colo., on Sept. 2, 2012.
The question of the size of U.S. forces to be left behind in Afghanistan after the 2014 deadline is the wrong question, Gen. Dempsey said.
The correct question is “what size force does the United States and the contributing nations need to leave there to guarantee that the money we’ve all committed to Afghanistan will continue to flow,” he said.
The four-star general said he is concerned that Taliban insurgents could further destabilize the country and prompt donor nations to cut off the $6 billion annually in aid that has been pledged for development.
“If that money dries up or if the money dries up that we’re providing, along with donors, then they can’t survive,” he said. “This really comes down to what will it take to guarantee that the commitments we’ve made monetarily will continue to be realized.”
A draft U.S.-Afghan agreement on troops in Afghanistan reveals that U.S forces will be present in the country for years to come. The draft accord, disclosed Tuesday by NBC News, outlines plans for training Afghan security and military forces and for jointly fighting al Qaeda.
Both sides are divided on the numbers of troops to remain in the country. The United States want to keep 7,000 to 8,000 U.S. troops and additional NATO forces. The Kabul government wants up to 15,000 U.S. troops to stay behind.
Currently, 60,000 U.S. troops are in Afghanistan, along with 26,834 troops from other states under the International Security Assistance Force.
David’s Sling hits test missile
The Pentagon and the Israeli Missile Defense Organization conducted a successful intercept test of a new anti-missile system called David’s Sling.
The new missile defense, also known as Magic Wand, is a key element that will defend against short-range ballistic missiles — such as those being sought by the Lebanese-based terrorist group Hezbollah.
It was the second successful intercept of a target missile by the Stunner interceptor used in David’s Sling, the Pentagon said.
“The successful test is a major milestone in the development of the David’s Sling Weapon System and provides confidence in future Israeli capabilities to defeat the developing ballistic missile threat,” the Pentagon said.
The test was conducted at a target range in southern Israel where a target missile was launched, tracked by radar and the data fed to a battle-management system that guided the Stunner to a high-speed impact that destroyed the target missile.
• Bill Gertz can be contacted at @BillGertz.