By L. EDGAR PRINA,
Congress and the White House tangled repeatedly in 1999 over a variety
of national security issues, including Chinese military espionage, lax
export controls that allowed Beijing to purchase some of America's most
advanced technology, the Comprehensive (Nuclear) Test Ban Treaty, the
Pentagon budget, and, very late in the session, a potentially disastrous
decision by President Clinton drastically limiting the use of Vieques
Island, Puerto Rico, for live-fire combined-arms training.
Before the first session of the 106th Congress became history and members
returned to the hustings until early January 2000 the nation's lawmakers
and President Clinton agreed on a defense appropriations bill of $268
billion for the new fiscal year, which began on 1 October. The final
total was $4.5 billion more than the president had requested. The measure,
only reluctantly signed by Clinton, provides substantial funds for quality-of-life
improvements, including a 4.8 percent across-the-board pay raise for
the 1,386,000 men and women on active duty.
There also was money in the budget for a more generous retirement pay
plan, additional family housing units and barracks, and all sorts of
bonuses for skilled personnel and/or those agreeing to stay on active
duty for longer periods. All of these enticements indicate the difficulty
that the armed services--the Marines excepted--are experiencing with
recruitment and retention. Two examples: The Air Force currently is 1,200
pilots short and heading toward 1,500; and the Navy has a deficit on
any given day of more than 12,000 Sailors at sea.
The president had threatened to veto the defense spending bill, reportedly
at the urging of Rep. Richard Gephardt (D-Mo.), the House minority leader.
The theory was that a defense veto could force the Republican majority
to give ground on a number of other appropriations bills and provide
additional funds for programs favored by the administration. But a number
of Democrats balked at that approach, making it unlikely that a veto
could be sustained. The House had approved the measure by a whopping
372 to 55.
When he signed the legislation, the president said he did not think "it
was fair, frankly, to put Democrats in the position of being attacked
by the Republicans for being against the defense budget."
The Pentagon's fiscal year 2000 budget provides funding for only six
new battleforce ships, a rate that would not capitalize an active fleet
of even 300 ships, as Adm. Jay L. Johnson, chief of naval operations,
told the Senate Armed Services Committee in October. But the Navy is
getting one new ship it did not request. Through the persuasive powers
of Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the majority leader, Congress appropriated
$375 million for a start on construction of LHD-8, a huge amphibious
helicopter carrier that will be built at the Litton Ingalls shipyard
in Pascagoula, Miss. Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen had urged
Congress not to appropriate the additional funds.
Controversy and Compromise
One of the most controversial items in the budget involved the Air Force's
F-22 stealth fighter program. At a projected cost of at least $125 million
per plane (the most expensive fighter in history) the question was whether
the Pentagon and the nation could afford it, along with two other new
aircraft programs, the Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) in development for
the Navy, Marine Corps, and Air Force, and the here-and-now F/A-18 E/F
Super Hornet for the Navy.
In mid-1999, the House--following the recommendation of the House Defense
Appropriations Subcommittee and its chairman, Rep. Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.)--decided
not to fund initial procurement of the F-22. The possibility that a major
Pentagon program nearly ready for the production/procurement phase might
be cancelled shook up the Air Force, the F-22 contractors, and Cohen,
and led to one of the most intense lobbying efforts for a military program
in recent memory.
Cohen himself wrote an impassioned plea to Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska),
chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and an F-22 backer, asserting
that a failure to fund initial procurement would have "devastating" consequences,
and add as much as $6 billion to the cost of the program (339 aircraft
at a total cost of $70 billion). A compromise was finally reached by
Stevens and Lewis: No money can be spent for F-22 production in FY 2000,
but $1.2 billion is added for continued research and development and
$1.3 billion for other F-22 accounts.
The Air Force apparently feels so strongly about the F-22 (nicknamed "Raptor")
that it would be willing to drop out of the Joint Strike Fighter program.
This is what a senior Air Force official, who understandably did not
wish to be identified, told the New York Times. Neither the Navy nor
the Marine Corps would appreciate such an Air Force move--nor, presumably,
would Cohen, because it would quite possibly kill the JSF by making it
Bipartisan Accusations Against China
Earlier in the year, a major scandal involving Chinese military espionage
against the United States was investigated by a bipartisan House Select
Committee. The committee, chaired by Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Calif.),
found that security at one of America's most important nuclear laboratories
was extraordinarily lax and that the Chinese took advantage of the situation
to steal the designs of several U.S. warheads, including the most advanced
one--for the D-5 Trident submarine-launched ballistic missile.
Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), a member of the Select Committee, said that "China
stole classified thermonuclear weapons information, stole electromagnetic
weapons technology that it can use to attack U.S. satellites and missiles,
and stole classified research that can be used to detect and threaten
our previously invulnerable nuclear submarines."
China also was able to persuade the Clinton administration to relax
export restrictions on a number of advanced technologies; sometime earlier,
and without explanation, national security agencies had been removed
from the approval process. The result, Weldon commented, was that "China,
which until 1996 had no high-performance computers to help design nuclear
weapons, had more than 600 in 1998, all originating in the United States."
Test Ban Treaty Rejected
On another major issue, the Republican-controlled Senate and the president
engaged in a titanic struggle over ratification of the Test Ban Treaty.
In the end, the Senate declined to ratify by a resounding 51 to 48 vote,
handing the president what even administration officials conceded was
a humiliating foreign policy defeat for Clinton. It takes a two-thirds
vote (67 senators) to approve a treaty. It was the first time the Senate
had rejected a major treaty since 1920, when it declined to ratify the
Versailles Treaty that ended World War I and created the League of Nations.
Clinton denounced the Senate's action, accused the Republicans of a "new
isolationism," and suggested that their ultimate goal was to kill
all arms-control treaties. The Republicans denied all of these charges
and accused the president of "playing politics" with national
defense. Lott said the treaty was rejected because it was "flawed." Just
one week before, he noted, the CIA had said that the United States could
not verify whether Russia and China might even today be engaged in low-level
nuclear weapons testing.
"Just a couple of days ago," Lott said, "there was an
article in the paper indicating that Russia and China had refused to
allow us to have sites for monitoring so that we could detect if, in
fact, there might be testing.
"The message to our negotiators, to this administration, and to
the rest of the world ... [is that] the Senate is a co-equal party to
treaties. We should be involved in advice and consent. Our advice was
not asked and we did not give our consent. We did our job. We did the
right thing for our country, and I am very proud of it."
The fact that six former secretaries of Defense urged the Senate leadership
to reject ratification was undoubtedly a factor in the final outcome.
James R. Schlesinger, Richard B. Cheney, Frank C. Carlucci, Caspar W.
Weinberger, Donald H. Rumsfeld, and Melvin R. Laird argued, in a letter
to Lott and Sen. Thomas Daschle (D-S.D.), the minority leader, that if
all nuclear tests, even of the lowest yields, were permanently prohibited,
the reliability of America's own nuclear arsenal would inevitably decline--as
would, of course, the overall U.S. deterrent credibility.
In the view of some observers, there is another important reason for
rejecting the treaty as now written, and the former defense chiefs zeroed
in on it.
"Finally, it is impossible to verify a ban that extends to very
low yields," they said. "The likelihood of cheating is high.
'Trust but verify' should remain our guide. Tests with yields below one
kiloton can both go undetected and be militarily useful to the testing
"Furthermore, a significantly larger explosion can go undetected
or be mistaken for a conventional explosion used for mining or an earthquake--if
the test is 'decoupled.' Decoupling involves conducting the test in a
large underground cavity and has been shown to dampen an explosion's
seismic signature by a factor of up to 70. The United States demonstrated
this capability in 1966 in two tests conducted in salt domes at Chilton,
Neither Russia nor China has ratified the treaty. Nor has Israel or
Iran. India, Pakistan, and North Korea have not even signed the pact.
The Vieques Conflict
Another major defense issue fraught with political implications was
of immediate practical importance to the Navy and Marine Corps--and possibly
to President Clinton as well. Ever since World War II, the U.S. Navy
and Marine Corps have carried out their live-fire training at a small
Puerto Rican island named Vieques. The governor of Puerto Rico and other
members of his party said last year that they want the Navy to pack up
and leave because of danger to the inhabitants and the alleged ecological
damage caused by the bombing. The Navy controls two-thirds of the 50-square-mile
The so-called "Vieques problem" is not new. Previous attempts
to stop the live-fire training have failed, largely because the politically
loaded charges fired off against the Navy have been totally, and demonstrably,
false. A few examples of the spurious (and usually very well-publicized)
charges that have been made: the Navy "is violating human rights" on
Vieques; the Navy "stole the land"; the Navy "has been
using napalm in its training operations," has "contaminated
the land" and "polluted the water," and "is bombing
daily and without notice." This time around, though, there was one
provable "incident"--the 19 April 1999 accidental death of
a Navy civilian security guard killed when two bombs released by a Marine
pilot went astray. He was the first civilian to die on the Vieques range
in the 58 years that the Navy and Marine Corps have been using the range.
His tragic death, though, was all the pretext that was needed for a new
round of protests.
As the protests from Puerto Rico increased in both volume and stridency,
the Senate Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the matter. Secretary
of the Navy Richard Danzig and CNO Johnson testified on the critical
need for retaining the range. In a review of the naval activities on
Vieques ordered by Danzig, high-level Navy and Marine Corps commanders
said: "This unique facility is the only location in the Atlantic
where realistic multidimensional combat training can be conducted in
a combined and coordinated manner. It is the only range which offers
a live-fire land target complex with day-and-night capability, an immediately
adjacent large area of low-traffic airspace, and deep-water seaspace.
"Co-located are underwater and electronic warfare ranges, amphibious
landing beaches and maneuver areas, a full-service naval base and air
station, and interconnected range-support facilities. It is the premier
U.S. naval training facility, reflecting more than 50 years of investment
and development, and the only place available to East Coast-based forces
for training in several warfare competencies which are essential for
combat readiness--most importantly live-ordnance combined-arms training."
The Senate Armed Forces Committee, chaired by John Warner (R-Va.), a
former secretary of the Navy, is sympathetic to the Navy's case, but
President Clinton has directed the Navy to seek a "compromise" of
some sort that would both satisfy the desires of Puerto Rico's political
leaders and meet the need of the sea services for live-fire training.
Seeking to forestall any compromise that would cause permanent damage
to the combat readiness of the two sea services, Warner and several of
his Senate colleagues introduced a "sense of the Senate" resolution
that, it was hoped, would persuade the president not to order any actions
that would limit the "rigorous" and "realistic" training
that Clinton himself has acknowledged "is essential for success
in combat and for protecting our national security."
It may be several months--or years--before the issue is finally resolved.
In early December the president approved a theoretically interim plan
that would put an immediate halt to live-fire training, cut in half the
number of training days annually available for training and, after five
years, terminate all training on Vieques (unless the island's inhabitants
say otherwise, which now seems unlikely).
It is possible that Congress will be able to reverse the president's
decision, but it would be difficult. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking
and the end result could be another major setback for the Navy and Marine
Corps--and, therefore, for U.S. combat readiness in general.