Washington Times

Admiral calls for Pacific missile defense system

By Bill Gertz

Honolulu, November 12, 1999

The United States should deploy regional missile defenses to protect U.S. troops and allies from a growing threat of North Korean and Chinese missiles, the commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific says.

  "We've already had American men and women killed by Scuds, the almost 40 members of the Pennsylvania National Guard who were killed by a Scud in Saudi Arabia," said Adm. Dennis Blair, commander in chief of the U.S. Pacific Command. "So I think we need a theater missile defense to protect the troops that we have deployed within range of North Korean Scuds and No Dongs right now."

 The remarks by the admiral were the first time a senior military official has outlined U.S. regional missile-defense objectives, and doing so is likely to anger China, which has vehemently opposed U.S. missile defenses in Asia and in the United States.

The four-star admiral took over as commander of the 100,000 U.S. troops in the Pacific in February and has taken a harder line toward China than his predecessor, Adm. Joseph Prueher, who is retired and seeking to become the next ambassador to China.

 Farther south in Asia, China is in the process of deploying some 600 short-range missiles facing Taiwan. Adm. Blair said the United States should help Taiwan build missile defenses.

 Adm. Blair dismissed Chinese objections to U.S. missile-defense assistance to Taiwan. He said such cooperation is needed to counter China's missile buildup and allowed under the Taiwan Relations Act.

 "We should follow the Taiwan Relations Act, which says that we should be providing the wherewithal to Taiwan to mount a defense," he said.

 "As we told the Chinese, the fact that we are talking about these systems with the Taiwanese is related to the fact that they have an extensive missile-building program going on their side of the Taiwan Strait. And if they want to change that, then that should affect the systems.

 "We're talking about a balance here. And a count of 500 or 600 [missiles] to very few defenses doesn't seem like a very good balance," he said.

 The anti-missile shield designed to knock out incoming missile warheads "needs to be a mixture of sea-based and land-based systems" as well as missile interceptors that can attack warheads both in space and closer to the surface -- what Adm. Blair called "upper-tier and lower-tier" weapons.

Japan and South Korea also are vulnerable to North Korean missile attack and should take part in U.S. missile defenses, he said.

Adm. Blair spoke candidly about U.S. problems with China during an interview at his headquarters here at Camp Smith, overlooking Pearl Harbor. He said the United States is ready to resume a "more focused" military-to-military dialogue, although relations will remain strained over Taiwan.

 In the interview with The Washington Times, Adm. Blair also said:

  • The United States has informed China directly and by past action that it will defend Taiwan against aggression by China.
  • Tensions between China and Taiwan and aircraft patrols over the Taiwan Strait have decreased as both nations look to "longer-term" issues.
  • North Korea has slowed its military modernization but is continuing to develop Scud, No Dong and Taepo Dong missiles as "terror weapons."
  • China is buying military technology and is stealing weapons know-how as part of its military modernization program.
  • Territorial disputes over the resource-rich islands in the South China Sea should not become a dispute between China and the United States and should be settled peacefully by the nations involved.

Asked how he would respond to a Chinese military strike on Taiwan, Adm. Blair, following Clinton administration policy, declined to be specific. But he said the United States is committed to defending the island.

"I really can't go into detail," he said. But then noted: "We have one data point which is . . . back in 1996 when China did take actions and the U.S. responded."

In March 1996, Chinese military forces conducted large-scale military exercises near Taiwan and fired test missiles north and south of the island in what U.S. officials said was an attempt to intimidate Taiwan prior to its elections.

The United States responded with a show of force by sending two aircraft carrier battle groups to the region. China viewed the carrier deployment as a threat.

China knows the United States will not sit by if a conflict breaks out in the Taiwan Strait, he said. "This Taiwan issue sits between us, and China has said that they are not going to renounce force to solve it," Adm. Blair said.

"And we've said, 'You use force and you have to deal with the United States' -- that's there sitting between us. So our relationship is never going to be of the character that it is with other countries," he said.

 China cut off military exchanges with the United States after NATO's accidental bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Adm. Blair said Chinese officials recently gave a "head nod" to a U.S. offer to resume military-to-military talks, but he would not say when meetings will be held. He said he hopes to be able to have a basic dialogue among the top brass from the two militaries.

 A second objective in renewed talks is to "strip away" differences over Taiwan. "There are some real differences on theater missile defense, national missile defense," he said. "The Chinese have a lot of questions for us on those and I think we've got pretty good answers. But right now we're communicating through the press and other places rather than really sitting down and talking about them."

 Adm. Blair said he wants to question senior Chinese military leaders about a recent book by two People's Liberation Army colonels who stated that China should use "unrestricted warfare" in any conflict with the United States, including biological and nuclear weapons. "I'd like to find out from responsible Chinese officials just what's going on here," he said.

 On China's military modernization program, which includes development and deployment of new missiles, foreign high-technology weapons purchases, and military technology theft, Adm. Blair said the buildup is not an immediate worry. Over the long term, however, China could be a threat.

China could develop "very formidable armed forces," Adm. Blair said. "If you have an authoritarian China with a huge GDP, with a bad intentions on its mind, it would be a very scary thing and I think that's what worries most people in the long term."

Regarding North Korea, Adm. Blair said Pyongyang is continuing to build three types of missiles. "They continue to develop these weapons that can cause damage but can't win wars: Scuds, No Dongs, Taepo Dongs," he said.

The North Korean missile threat includes 500 to 600 short-range Scud missiles with ranges of up to 186 miles and "a few more very inaccurate weapons that could go long distances -- weapons that don't really affect the military piece of it, but of course are terror weapons of the type Saddam Hussein used against Israel and Saudi Arabia," he said.