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Washington supporters of arms sales to Taiwan are worried that Senate
Majority Leader Trent Lott is about to cut a deal that will scuttle the
House-passed Taiwan Security Enhancement Act.

According to congressional and administration officials, Mr. Lott is
proposing to quietly kill a bill that would strengthen U.S. ties to
Taiwan’s military, in exchange for a Clinton administration promise to
sell four Aegis destroyers to Taiwan.

The legislation passed the House by a wide margin last month. A
Senate version sponsored by Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., and Sen. Robert G.
Torricelli, D-N.J., is awaiting debate. Both the White House and the
Chinese government vehemently oppose it.

Under the Lott compromise plan, two of the $1 billion Aegis warships
would be built in Mr. Lott’s home state of Mississippi and two others
will be built in Maine, home state of Defense Secretary William S.
Cohen.

The internal debate over this year’s annual arms sales request is set
to begin soon. The Aegis ship sales are being opposed by pro-Beijing
officials in the White House and State Department.

To allay Chinese fears, some in the Pentagon want to offer the
Taiwanese a “dumbed-down” version of the state-of-the-art battle
management systems on the ships. The less-capable Aegis ships would
exclude missile defense-capable software and hardware, and Tomahawk
land-attack cruise missiles.

Counsel on hold

Speaking of Taiwan arms sales, the Senate nomination of Douglas
Dworkin to be the Pentagon’s new general counsel is on hold. Sen. Robert
C. Smith notified the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee
that he will delay a vote on the Defense Department’s top lawyer.

Mr. Smith said in a letter to Sen. John W. Warner, R-Va., the hold
will stay on until the Clinton administration actually works with
Congress, as required by law, on Taiwan’s annual arms sales request.
“There has been no consultation,” Mr. Smith said.

He noted that in March a closed session of the Senate Foreign
Relations Committee was called to hear officials tell about the Taiwan
arms sales plan, but Pentagon and State Department witnesses refused to
show up.

Mr. Smith, R-N.H., also said he is blocking the Dworkin nomination
because of the Pentagon’s investigation into disclosures of confidential
information from Pentagon security files on Linda R. Tripp that he said
has been “inexplicably stalled.” An official told the Senate yesterday
the Justice Department sat on a Pentagon inspector general report for 20
months.

Not Golan-bound

For once, it doesn’t seem that U.S. troops will be needed if a major
peace treaty is signed. A well-placed administration official tells us
the Pentagon and White House are concluding that if an Israeli-Syrian
peace deal is inked, American soldiers won’t be needed to patrol
strategically important Golan Heights.

Instead, the official said, planners are increasingly looking at the
option of stationing an international contingent of civilians as Golan
monitors.

The reasons:

For one, the Golan Heights has been one of Israel’s quietest borders
the past 25 years. If Syria desires any covert actions against its
enemy, it typically does the dirty work via guerrillas in south Lebanon.

Secondly, it is civilians, not military peacekeepers, who do the real
work in enforcing the Israeli-Egyptian accord. The civilians regularly
visit each side’s military bases to verify the treaty’s restrictions.

Finally, the U.S. military is already stretched thin, pulled by
peace-enforcement missions in the Balkans, the Persian Gulf, South Korea
and other hot spots.

“Both sides would have vested interests in maintaining the peace and
protecting the monitors,” the administration official said. “There is
no reason to think that terrorists from either side would target the
group.”

U.S. troops broke a peacetime record in the 1990s, going on 48
overseas deployments, or contingencies, at a cost of $30 billion.

President Clinton had promised a U.S. troop deployment if Israel and
Syria achieved peace. But it appears unlikely a deal will come during
Mr. Clinton’s last year in office, after the snubbing he took in Geneva
from Syrian President Hafez Assad.

Butt out

We have come across one of the military’s stiffest no-smoking
policies. It’s not enforced in politically correct America, but in a
critically important Air Force compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

The place is Eskan Village, which replaced the terrorist-destroyed
Kobar barracks. At the village, planners write the daily tasking order
for Operation Southern Watch. The operation enforces a no-fly zone over
southern Iraq.

The anti-tobacco policy states:

“Smoking and the use of smokeless tobacco is prohibited: Inside all
structures including villas, warehouses, tents and all indoor or outdoor
work centers. While walking, running, bicycling or driving while in
uniform. When seated in vehicles or attending outdoor sporting events.
While eating in or standing in the immediate area of the Mirage dining
facility. Units will establish a designated smoking area for smokers and
users of smokeless tobacco products. Smokers must use butt cans to
dispose of waste products.”

One officer here in the states grumbles that the rules go too far.

“Big Brother has arrived and taken over,” he said.

China’s nukes

Coinciding with fresh charges that U.S. satellite companies boosted
China’s nuclear missile force, a report was released yesterday on
China’s growing nuclear program. A key finding on what is known about
China’s nukes: We don’t know very much.

“Rigorous analysis of China’s strategic capabilities is hindered by
the tight lid of military secrecy Beijing maintains over virtually all
information regarding its nuclear program,” the report says. “The
problem is not only a lack of transparency, however; concealment and
deception appear to be integral to China’s approach to the entire range
of issues associated with its nuclear posture.”

Almost all the 26 analysts who produced the report are noted
soft-liners on China, including the National Defense University’s
resident China expert Ronald Montaperto. Another author is David
Shambaugh. Readers of this column will remember him as the would-be
Pentagon consultant who was praised recently by China’s official
military newspaper for providing “background” intelligence on American
specialists on China.

The liberal bias of the paper is evident. It opposes deploying U.S.
missile defenses, both regional and national. The authors say fielding
missile defenses will cause China to increase vastly its nuclear forces.

Despite the paucity of intelligence on China’s nuclear arsenal, the
report highlights China’s vigorous strategic nuclear modernization
program. Beijing is upgrading its stockpile of 400 nuclear warheads and
about 20 long-range strategic missiles. The effort includes:

  • Greater range, payload and accuracy through the use of solid
    fuel, better rocket motors and better targeting techniques.

  • Greater survivability of its nuclear force through road-mobile
    missiles,
    silo hardening, camouflage and concealment.

  • Development of alternative nuclear delivery systems, such as
    cruise
    missiles and new ballistic missile submarines.

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