Just 15 months after being forced to resign as president of the World Bank over a conflict of interest regarding his professional and personal relationships with his girlfriend, former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz may be involved in another, far more geo-strategic conflict of interest involving his dual roles as chairman of the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board (ISAB) and chairman of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council, among whose U.S. members are military contractors who have been dying to get the Bush administration’s approval to sell about 11 billion dollars worth of arms to the island to protect it against the threat of an attack by the mainland.
Condi Rice appointed Wolfowitz — apparently part of her campaign that featured the appointment of Eliot Cohen to become to her Counselor at the State Department to co-opt neo-cons — back in January this year. Like the Defense Policy Board, the ISAB became under Bush a stronghold for all manner of national-security hawks (among the members are former Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Robert Joseph; James Woolsey; former Defense Secretary James Schlesinger; and missile-defense devotees associated with the Center for Security Policy, the National Institute for Public Policy, and Southwest Missouri State University, including Keith Payne, Robert Pfaltzgraff, and William Van Cleave), as well as executives from the arms industry (Lockheed, Boeing, SAIC, to name a few). Wolfowitz’s appointment, coming after his disgrace at the Bank — not to mention his performance as Rumsfeld’s deputy and Douglas Feith’s superior from 2001 to 2005 — was seen as a kind of token public redemption that would presumably have little consequence in actual policy terms.
That assessment may have been premature, because, judging by an article appearing in Wednesday’s Washington Times by Bill Gertz, Wolfowitz’s ISAB may be trying to gin up tensions with China, acting as a new “Team B” in persuading policymakers and the public at large that Beijing’s military modernization, especially its missile program, is more threatening to the U.S. than, in Gertz’s words, “many current government and private-sector analyses” have depicted it. At least, that’s the message of the article, which is purportedly based on a draft of an ISAB report that Gertz says is due out in a few weeks.
According to Gertz’s account, the report, the product of a task force headed by Joseph, recommends that the U.S. “should undertake the development of new weapons, sensors, communications, and other programs and tactics to convince China that it will not be able to overcome the U.S. militarily” and specifically that it obtain, in Gertz’s words, “new offensive space and cyber warfare capabilities and missile defenses as well as ‘more robust sea- and space-based capabilities’ to deter any crisis over Taiwan.” As Gertz points out, Washington has until now repeatedly reassured Beijing that its missile defense efforts were directed solely against “rogue states” like North Korea and Iran.
The report also predicts that China will have more than 100 nuclear missiles, some with multiple warheads, capable of reaching the U.S. by 2015, compared to only 20 missiles at the present time. “To avoid an ’emerging creep’ by China toward strategic nuclear coercion, ‘the United States will need to pursue new missile defense capabilities, including taking full advantage of space,'” Gertz quotes the report as asserting.
The report, according to Gertz, also stresses — and this is where Wolfowitz’s stewardship of the U.S.-Taiwan Business Council raises questions — the pivotal importance of Taiwan in all this. Again quoting from the draft, Gertz writes:
“‘In China’s view, Taiwan is the key to breakout: If China is to become a global power, the first step must include control of this island.’ Taking over the island would allow China to control the seas near ts coasts and to project power eastward, the report said.
“China views Taiwan …as central to ‘the legitimacy of the regime and key to power projection,’ the report said. Taiwan is seen by China as a way to deny the United States a key ally in ‘a highly strategic location’ of the western Pacific, the report said.
“…The advisory panel report also recommended that the U.S. increase sales of advanced conventional forces to allies in Asia…”
Now, one has to be careful about anything that Gertz reports, particularly about China. A charter member of the “Blue Team” — the group of hawkish policy specialists, Congressional staff, and journalists (including Kristol and Kagan and their Project for the New American Century) who, from the end of the Cold War until 9/11, insisted that Beijing represented the single greatest threat to U.S. hegemony and global peace and security — Gertz has been obsessed with the ChiComs for years and has certainly been known to exaggerate and take things out of context in his zeal to alert the world to the looming peril that confronts it. It’s also important to stress that this remains a draft, which could be substantially toned down before it reaches final form. It may not yet have even been seen by Wolfowitz, whose chapter on China policy in Present Dangers, the book published by PNAC before the 2000 elections, was almost certainly considered insufficiently alarmist by Blue Team stalwarts like Gertz.
That said, it’s clear that someone associated with ISAB wanted to leak what — to China anyway — will be seen as a highly provocative document that will tend to confirm the worst fears of its military (which, according to the draft, already suffers from “clear paranoia”) about U.S. intentions, particularly with respect to missile defense and the military use of space. And it’s also clear that the leaker is also very concerned about the pivotal role Taiwan can play in thwarting what the task force sees as China’s military ambitions and hence the importance not only of enhancing U.S. capabilities, but, presumably, of selling advanced weapons to the island, as well.
Moreover, the leak comes at a critical moment in the administration’s deliberations about the long-pending arms package for Taiwan whose approval Wolfowitz and other advocates had hoped would have been forthcoming last week. Wolfowitz had virtually assured his friends in the Business Council Taipei in July that Bush would go ahead with the package some time after the Olympics, but, according to my daily guide on the subject, Chris Nelson of the Nelson Report, a recent study by a Naval War College expert that has gained considerable attention from administration policymakers argues that much in the pending package will do very little, if anything, to improve Taiwan’s ability to resist an attack by Beijing. The study proposed an alternative “porcupine” strategy for defending the island which, it noted, would likely be strongly opposed by “the arms manufacturers who stand to benefit form the sale of aircraft, ships, and supporting systems to Taiwan” that are included in the current package.
Needless to say, some of those same arms manufacturers were behind Wolfowitz’s selection as the (well-paid) chairman of the Business Council, and they would be sorely disappointed if his influence and connections with the administration did not yield the anticipated dividends. (See Tim Shorrock’s excellent article in the Asia Times on Wolfowitz’s help in promoting their interests when he became Number Two at the Pentagon.) In fact, Chris reports this evening that they have indeed won the day and that most, if not all of the package will be approved by the White House.
But the episode still raises important questions, particularly in light of the current election debate over the influence of lobbyists in Washington policy-making, about conflicts of interests. Once again, Wolfowitz’s actions suggest that his grasp of the concept is pretty shaky. On the other hand, the presence of senior executives from Lockheed (a huge beneficiary of the current package) and Boeing, among other arms contractors heavily invested in missile defense and space weapons, on the State Department’s board indicate that Wolfowitz is not exactly alone in that respect. (Gertz reports that Allison Fortier, a Lockheed vice president, served on the task force that produced the draft.) “It’s basically functioning like a lobbyist group,” Chris told me.