Jeffrey LewisIt's Official, Wolfie Is Back

In December, I noted a story by Michael Isikoff in Newsweek that Condoleeza Rice would name Paul Wolfowitz to chair the State Department’s International Security Advisory Board.

Well, it is official. (Bloomberg News has a nice exposition with a money quote from Joe Cirincione.)

Although much of the attention is understandably focused on the chair, I am most concerned at how one-sided the overall composition of the board has become, especially since Amy Sands departed in the wake of that awful report they issued on space.

A little housekeeping. The ISAB removed the link to the terms of reference for their forthcoming China study. I have posted the TOR here.


  1. Jeffrey Lewis (History)




    SUBJECT: Terms of Reference for ISAB Study of Chinese Strategic
    Modernization Plans

    The ISAB is requested to undertake a study to recommend strategies that, broadly defined, would move the U.S.-China security relationship towards greater transparency and mutual confidence, enhance cooperation, and reduce the likelihood of misunderstanding or miscalculation that can contribute to competition or conflict.

    A U.S.-China adversarial rivalry would not be in the interest of either party.

    Yet, over the past decade China has embarked on major strategic modernization programs (conventional, nuclear, cyberspace and space) that, when combined with the increased Chinese economic, diplomatic and political efforts aimed at the Asian-Pacific region, the Middle East, Africa and Latin America, could result in the emergence of China as a major competitor of the United States. It is essential that the U.S. seek to influence China’s policies and capabilities to best avoid such an outcome.

    It would be useful if the ISAB could examine and assess:

    * The current state of Chinese strategic modernization and Chinese plans for modernization of its conventional and nuclear force structures as well as its cyberspace and anti-space capabilities, including:

    * Ways in which China’s perceived military/strategic needs are translated into force structure;

    * China’s ability to create and sustain new strategic capabilities;

    * Views of Chinese leaders on the use of force, including its utility as a means of achieving national objectives and conditions under which they might resort to force;

    * How increasing Chinese strategic capabilities could impact U.S. interests in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond;

    * Possible Chinese motivations for its modernization programs and their relationship to the increased Chinese economic, diplomatic and political efforts in key areas of the world, including the Middle East, Africa and Latin America;

    * Possible confidence-building measures, particularly those that would improve strategic dialogue and openness, that could help the United States better shape and manage its strategic relationship with China; and

    * Other possible response strategies.

    I request that the completed study be submitted to the ISAB Executive Directorate no later than nine months from the date of these terms of reference.

    The Acting Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security will sponsor the study. The Director for Strategic Planning and Outreach will support the study. Michael Ennis, from the Office of Regional Affairs (ISN/RA), will serve as the Executive Secretary of the study.

    The study will operate in accordance with the provisions of P.L. 92-463, the “Federal Advisory Board Committee Act.”

    John C. Rood, Acting

  2. Lao Tao Ren (History)

    A basic flaw in the TOR is the presumption that “China‚Äôs perceived military/strategic needs are translated into force structure”.

    There is not one perception, but many such perceptions of threat and military/strategic needs in China, they are different across top leaders, Ministries, Services, and within each Military Region / Provincial entity and the respective Services and departments under them.

    The top leadership (Hu/Wen) are nominally and formally in control of this disparate group, but with the exception of certain policy areas (like control over nuclear warheads) and the purchase of big ticket items from abroad that are highly visible (and hence, subject to control), Beijing’s grip on this vast system range from limited to questionable.

    Each of the Military Regions have their own resources over and above the budget allocated from Beijing, including PLA/N owned enterprises, their own factories, stockpiles, mines, and other capabilities that Beijing do not directly control.

    The MRs are in turn, highly autonomous and able to implement programs on their own with Beijing having a say only when it becomes an ‘international issue’ or a major domestic issue. (e.g. denying permission for the Kitty Hawk to enter Hong Kong for a pre-arranged and pre-approved (by Beijing) port call.

    Chinese military tradition from Sun Tzu holds that once a Military Commander is appointed by the Emperor, specific judgments and commands cannot be questioned or reversed even by the Emperor. He can only be removed.

    In that sense of the term, the PLA/N is more “states within a state” than probably any other military in the world.

    Beyond this, there may be little or no sensible military / strategic needs behind their military programs beyond bureaucratic rationale like building an apparently impressive system (e.g. Type 094 SSBN) earns a few Admirals promotions. Never mind that such a system neither fits with Beijing’s ‘minimal means of reprisal’ strategy nor China’s available infrastructure to support such an operational capability. It is a fair bet that Hu/Wen have never been told the truth (nor do they understand) the limitations and weaknesses of the Type 094 platform and the negative consequences of deploying it vs. the positives.

    Perhaps the TOR need to be rethought to account for these issues and its ramifications as to how to engage China in a meaningful dialog on arms control.

  3. Anya L

    Man, and here I was hoping for the return of one Fred Dalton Thompson…

  4. Eli (History)

    This is the same board who a majority of members signed on to a paper supporting low-yield bunker busting nuclear weapons and other battlefield uses for nukes around 2001.
    So at least with the replacement of our man Fred with Wolfowitz, the board’s advice will remain consistently bad.

  5. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    I am just annoyed that no reporter has called Amy Sands to ask why she left.