Missteps and appeasement by the U.S. government helped China develop into a dangerous global power, according to "The China Threat: How the People's Republic Targets America" (Regnery), a new book by Bill Gertz, national security reporter for The Washington Times. In the third of three excerpts, he examines the growing danger of nuclear war between China and The United States over Taiwan.
The airman was stationed inside a dimly lit command bunker nearly a mile beneath Colorado's Cheyenne Mountain, along with 20 other airmen, soldiers and sailors from the U.S. and Canadian militaries. This is headquarters for the North American Aerospace Defense Command, known as NORAD.
At NORAD, they think about the unthinkable 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Closed to the outside world by huge steel doors designed to withstand a nuclear attack, the bunker is where military personnel scan the globe from computer terminals, looking for signs of missile launches. They depend on infrared sensors around the world, primarily the constellation of satellites with the nondescript name of Defense Support Program - or DSP, as the airman said.
The five ``hot pops'' he reported as picked up by satellite over China were the first sign of trouble. Less than a minute later came more bad news: ``Sir . . . we have multiple missile launches. Stand by for target report.'' A few seconds later, the intelligence officer on duty broadcast further details: ``Intel indicates probable launch of five ICBMs from China. Intel assesses this to be combat against North America.''
It was Sept. 3, 1999, and the Chinese missile attack was only an exercise. But it was a sobering reminder of how the strategic nuclear threat against the United States has not gone away with the demise of the Soviet Union.
A nuclear war with China over its dispute with Taiwan is a real danger.
And even though the Clinton administration went to great lengths to ignore it, that danger is growing.
Shortly after the beginning of the simulated Chinese nuclear combat, five red lines emanating from western China streaked across the computer map in the command center. Each line represented the flight path of a Chinese CSS-4 intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, headed directly for the United States.
China's 24 silo-based missiles are old by American standards. But they can hit targets more than 8,000 miles away and are the backbone of China's strategic nuclear force. The missiles are based on the design of America's first generation of missiles, which China obtained from a defecting U.S. missile engineer.
Each of the CSS-4s carries a huge, 5-megaton warhead with the equivalent of 5 million tons of TNT - enough to blow up an entire city. NORAD's computerized attack-warning network plotted the targets of the incoming ICBMs and they appeared as dots on the giant map: Seattle, Colorado Springs (site of the Cheyenne Mountain complex), Chicago, New York and Washington.
Air Force Col. Allen Baker, NORAD's director of operations, explained that confirmation of Chinese missile launches would be followed by a call to the White House.
``At this point, I'd be telling the president how many minutes until Washington, D.C., is gone,'' Col. Baker said.
Flight time from China to the capital: about 35 minutes. Asked whether the U.S. military had the means to shoot down the incoming missiles, Col. Baker said, ``Absolutely nothing.''
THE `DETARGETING' LIE
A national missile defense system to counter a limited attack such as this simulated Chinese strike - or an attack by a single North Korean missile - is being developed but may not be deployed for several years, Col. Baker said.
So why track the missiles?
``We're tracking them so we can tell our commanders exactly what is happening so they can figure out what their response is going to be,'' he said. ``If they take out Washington, D.C., do we want to take out Beijing? I don't know. That's their decision.''
NORAD's 1999 missile exercise also showed that the U.S. military could not afford to give up its strategic nuclear deterrent, despite efforts by the Clinton administration to pretend it no longer is needed.
Only months earlier, the president had announced that U.S. strategic nuclear missiles no longer would be targeted on China after the Communist regime promised to ``detarget'' its missiles and not aim them at American cities.
On June 27, 1998, Chinese President Jiang Zemin appeared at a news conference after meetings with Mr. Clinton in Beijing. He announced: ``President Clinton and I have decided that China and the United States will not target the strategic nuclear weapons under their respective control at each other. This demonstrates to the entire world that China and the United States are partners, not adversaries.''
As with so many other statements by the Chinese Communist leader, President Jiang lied. The proof arrived in a form common during the highly politicized Clinton administration. It was kept hidden from public view as part of a classified intelligence assessment. On Dec. 2, 1998, the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) reported that that the Chinese People's Liberation Army conducted exercises that included simulated nuclear missile attacks on Taiwan and U.S. military forces in the region.
The exercises, which ran from late November to early December, involved road-mobile CSS-5 medium-range missiles spotted by U.S. spy satellites as they moved up and down roads along China's coast. The DIA report, based on sensitive intelligence gathered by U.S. spying systems, also cited activities by silo-based CSS-2s.
``They were doing mock missile attacks on our troops,'' said one official who saw the report.
A DIRECT THREAT
Analysts determined that the mock nuclear attacks not only were targeted against Taiwan, but against about 37,000 U.S. Army troops based in South Korea and 47,000 Marines in Japan, including 25,000 on the island of Okinawa.
A White House official, confirming the intelligence report, said both weapons systems had ``never been pointed our way before.'' But the official sought to downplay the threat by noting the age of the weapons (the CSS-2 first was deployed in 1971, the CSS-5 in the 1980s).
The important point missed by the White House - intentionally - was that the missile exercises directly threatened our troops. They also provided evidence that Mr. Jiang's promise about detargeting was hollow.
Or was it? The Chinese president had referred to ``strategic'' nuclear weapons. Apologists for Beijing argued that the CSS-2s and CSS-5s technically may not be in the same category as longer-range ICBMs.
The Air Force's National Air Intelligence Center dispels that notion. In its annual report on ``Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threats,'' the center stated that medium-range missiles ``are strategic systems'' armed with nonconventional warheads.
One element of the exercises that surprised DIA analysts was the PLA's use of ``obscurants'' -smoke and particle-filled clouds dispersed around the mobile missiles to shield them from U.S. precision-strike weapons.
The Chinese missiles were seen ready for launch on mobile truck launchers, although none was fired. Pentagon officials concluded that the simulated attacks were a sign that China is prepared to go to war with the United States over Taiwan.
In August, the Air Force moved several dozen air-launched cruise missiles to the island of Guam, perhaps in anticipation of a conflict over Taiwan.
The PLA's 40 liquid-fueled CSS-2s, with ranges of about 1,922 miles, are being replaced in most regions of China with the more advanced, solid- propellant CSS-5s, with a maximum range of 1,333 miles.
Richard Fisher, a specialist on the Chinese military, believes the Chinese may interpret the June 1998 detargeting pledge to exclude shorter-range nuclear missiles and include only long-range ICBMs.
``Chinese doctrine puts special emphasis on missile forces, concealing mobile forces for obtaining surprise and using a wide variety of current and future nuclear and non-nuclear warheads,'' Mr. Fisher said.
Taiwan is a mountainous island about the size of West Virginia. Located off the southern coast of China, it has a population of about 22 million. Unlike its archenemy, Taiwan is a thriving, multiparty democracy. It also is a major international trading power.
Taiwan's military includes about 430,000 soldiers equipped with weapons obtained primarily from the United States. But U.S. arms sales to Taiwan were cut back sharply by the Clinton administration.
Meanwhile, China has dramatically increased its military forces over the past decade. In October 1998, a DIA report labeled ``Secret'' outlined a major buildup of short-range ballistic missiles opposite Taiwan.
Until 1998, missile deployment had been modest and limited to a garrison of CSS-6 missiles at Leping. What the DIA uncovered was a Chinese plan to accumulate 650 missiles by 2005.
According to the DIA, China had 150 missiles near Taiwan in 1998 and intended to add about 50 new missiles a year. The report said the new missiles include two versions of the short-range, ballistic CSS-7 - Mod 1, with a range of 350 kilometers, and Mod 2, with a range of 530 kilometers.
Last Dec. 5, the DIA issued another secret report updating the missile buildup. The conclusion was not good news.
``The DIA believes there are at least 40 CSS-7 missiles in Chinese military bases near Taiwan,'' said one intelligence official familiar with the report.
``This gives China the ability to target Taiwan with little or no warning.'' The report stated that China's goal was to have 500 short-range missiles within range of Taiwan by 2005, allowing the PLA to target all of the island's major military bases.
``They will be able to take Taiwan with little or no warning,'' the official said. The report identified a third missile base under construction along China's coast near the town of Xianyou. Photographs by U.S. spy satellites showed the layout of buildings and storage sheds was similar to that of the missile brigade headquarters at Leping, base for CSS-6 missiles.
The report also identified a second CSS-7 base at Yongang, including storage areas in tunnels. This was a sign that the Chinese were protecting the systems against U.S. bombers equipped with precision-guided bombs and missiles.
Pentagon analysts viewed the buildup as ominous, since it showed that Beijing's intention was not to conduct aircraft or seaborne assaults but to launch barrages of missiles. A Pentagon report to Congress made public in June stated that Beijing views ballistic missiles - as well as ground- or sea- hugging cruise missiles - as ``potent military and political'' weapons against Taiwan.
And another, internal Pentagon report obtained by this reporter warned that the danger from the short-range missiles was growing.
``A large arsenal of highly accurate and lethal theater missiles serves as a `trump card,' a revolutionary departure from the PLA of the past,'' the internal report said. ``The PLA's theater missiles and a supporting space- based surveillance network are emerging not only as a tool of psychological warfare but as a potentially devastating weapon of military utility.''
Even after this reporter wrote an article for The Washington Times about the intelligence on the missile buildup, President Clinton did not demand that China stop the destabilizing deployments. Mr. Clinton, asked about them at a news conference Dec. 8, said he had ``grave concerns'' about the growing threat.
``China is modernizing its military in a lot of ways, but our policy on China is crystal clear. We believe there is one China,'' Mr. Clinton said.
The phrase ``one China'' meant that whatever happens, the administration would stand with Beijing.
The dispute between the mainland and Taiwan should be resolved through dialogue and ``we oppose and would view with grave concern any kind of violent action,'' the president said.
But Taiwan never has threatened the United States. Communist China has, and its threats went almost unchallenged by the Clinton administration.
`NOT A WISE MOVE'
One of the most alarming statements appeared Feb. 28 in Liberation Army Daily, the official organ of the PLA that reflects the views of Central Military Commission Chairman Jiang Zemin and other senior leaders.
American intervention in a conflict between Taiwan and China would lead to ``serious damage'' to U.S. national security, the newspaper said. It warned in only slightly veiled language that China would resort to long-range missile attacks against the United States.
``China is . . . a country that has certain abilities of launching strategic counterattack and the capacity of launching a long-distance strike,'' the newspaper said. ``It is not a wise move to be at war with a country such as China, a point which the U.S. policy-makers know fairly well also.''
The threatening article was written by PLA Col. Zhu Chenghu, an influential hard-liner who is deputy director of the Institute of National Security Studies at the National Defense University in Beijing.
A war with China would force the United States to ``make a complete withdrawal'' from East Asia similar to the loss in Vietnam, his article said.
The Pentagon was surprised by the harsh, anti-American tone of what amounted to an official threat. But instead of criticizing China, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon told reporters in a briefing that ``Chinese doctrine'' does not include ``first-strike'' nuclear attacks.
``And there is nothing new in that article that changes that,'' he said.
The answer was misleading. The PLA commentary made no reference to a ``first-strike'' attack, but to the use of nuclear weapons as a deterrent or retaliation for intervention by U.S. conventional forces in a war between Taiwan and China.
The Chinese missile threat to the United States reflected official policy, as revealed in an internal military document obtained by dissidents in China.
This reporter received a copy of the report, known as ``Document 65.'' Dated Aug. 1, 1999, it is signed ``General Political Department of the People's Liberation Army.''
The DIA and CIA both have copies of Document 65, though the latter is not certain whether it is a genuine leak or a deliberate disclosure. Defense officials say the format is similar to that of secret materials delivered by defecting Chinese officials. Document 65 declares that ``a most important task'' of the Communist Party of China is reunification with Taiwan. All military units must ``be well-prepared for the war based on the rapidly changing relationships with Taiwan,'' it states.
That was the year Taipei declared it no longer was the government of all of China and thus no longer sought to take back forcibly what was lost during the civil war of the 1940s.
Document 65 discloses for the first time that the issue of Taiwan would not be allowed to ``drag on indefinitely.'' The document says the Chinese military was given ``solid grounds for achieving reunification using military power'' because of Taiwan President Lee Teng-hui's remarks of July 9, 1999.
On that day, Mr. Lee declared that Taiwan ``has been a sovereign state since it was founded in 1912'' and called for relations with China on a ``special state-to-state'' basis. This was a challenge of Beijing's ``One China'' policy.
The document also states that the timing of reunification - peaceful or forceful - had been hampered by the United States. It adds that Europe would not join the United States in fighting a war with China.
`BETTER TO FIGHT NOW'
Document 65 reveals what Pentagon specialist Michael Pillsbury has called ``dangerous misperceptions'' by China about the United States. It is just these kinds of misperceptions that could lead to a war.
For instance, Document 65 contains the following alarming passage: ``Taking into account [the] possible intervention by the U.S., and based on the development strategy of our country, it is better to fight now than in the future - the earlier, the better. The reason being that, if worst [sic] comes to worst, we will gain control of Taiwan before full deployment of the U.S. troops.
''In this case, the only thing the U.S. can do is fight a war with the purpose of retaliation, which will be similar to the Gulf war against Iraq or the recent bombing of Yugoslavia as far as its operational objective is considered, namely, to first attack from the sky and the sea our coastal military targets, and then attack our vital civil facilities so as to force us to accept its terms like Iraq and Yugoslavia.
``This is of course wishful thinking,'' the document goes on. ``However, before completely destroying the attacking enemy forces from the sea and their auxiliary bases which together constitute a threat to us, even if we successfully carry out interception and control the sky, our military and civil facilities will still incur some damages.''
Document 65 asserts that the U.S. military has not been tested in a major conflict with a large nation such as China and will become ``exhausted'' by long-distance warfare.
``It can be safely expected that once the U.S. launches an attack, the front line of the U.S. forces and their supporting bases will be exposed within the range of our effective strikes. After the first strategic strike, the U.S. forces will be faced with weaponry and logistic problems, providing us with opportunities for major offensives and [to] win large battles.''
As for nuclear war, Document 65 states, the Chinese military ``does
foresee'' a strategic nuclear exchange because the United States has shown
willingness to fight a massive conflict and suffer ``major losses'' over