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Published on June 28th, 2012

On June 28, 2012 the International Assessment and Strategy Center was privileged to host Congressman Michael Turner, Chairman of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, for an address on China's strategic challenge.  In this important address Chairman Turner offered frank and insightful observations about both the growing challenge posed by China and the difficulties in convincing the Washington policy community to meet this challenge.  Chairman Turner begins by posing an overarching question about China:

“What exactly does China want? What are they aiming for?  We can’t say. What we can say is that China’s unprecedented military build-up requires that we, as prudent national security thinkers, must plan for the worst, hope for the best, and determine how to make clear to China where our interests lie.  China need not be a threat, but, if our history proves one thing, it is that American timidity encourages aggression.”

Chairman Turner notes that such timidity and worse was on display in the Arms Control Advocacy community’s reaction to Dr. Phillip A. Karber’s analysis of China’s vast network of tunnels for its nuclear forces.  Dr. Karber also spoke at the IASC Congressional luncheon briefing event:

“Many of these people spend much of their time clamoring for more classified information about U.S. nuclear forces to be made public.  But, when unclassified information about another country’s nuclear forces, especially a country like China with uncertain motives regarding the United States and its allies, was compiled and disseminated publicly, the attacks were quick and blistering.  It was almost as if the arms control groups were concerned that Dr. Karber, by shining light on Chinese nuclear force developments, was somehow challenging their agenda of disarming the United States.”

On China’s recent transfer of transporter erector launchers to support North Korea’s new nuclear missile, Chairman Turner notes how this exposes the failure of U.S. policy toward China and North Korea:

“It’s one thing for China to be providing state support to North Korea to keep its economy afloat. Don’t get me wrong, I’m against that.  But, it’s an entirely different matter for China and its state sponsored firms to be providing transporter erector launcher equipment to North Korea for its new road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile.”

“This is a staggering indictment of our entire China and North Korea policies. We have – throughout this administration, at least – had a lowest common denominator approach to North Korea: we’ve only been as tough as China would let us be.  If, as it appears, China has been holding us back on sanctions that would actually deal with North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs, and, at the same time, supporting those programs through its state sponsored companies, clearly our entire policy is flawed and those flaws are endangering our national security.  Rick  [Fisher of  IASC], I thank you and IASC for your diligence in making sure the American people, and, frankly, many members of Congress, are aware of these threats to our security and the failures of our current policies.”

Chairman Turner also outlined the reasons for disagreeing with the Administration’s intentions to further reduce the number of American nuclear weapons following the recent New START Agreement with Russia.  Instead the Chairman has advanced legislation that would freeze U.S. nuclear reductions and require further examination of Chinese threats, as he states:

“This is why the House-passed national defense authorization bill freezes our current nuclear guidance and strategy.  Simply put, the Administration has not made the case for further reductions, and I simply don’t believe the Congress can afford to let the Administration take risks like these with America’s security.  We also require the Administration to undertake a comprehensive assessment of China’s nuclear strategy, modeled off of the Team B concept of earlier years. I have long been concerned about what we know and don’t know when it comes to China’s nuclear forces. It’s time to get those answers.  Additionally, the House NDAA this year requires STRATCOM to undertake a study of the Underground Great Wall to understand what it means for our ability to target key capabilities in China using our conventional and nuclear forces. We must not let China undermine our deterrent.”

In one of his concluding comments, Chairman Turner states: “I am deeply concerned that this Administration has no real plan to counter the uncertainty of China’s military development.  That is why groups such as IASC, and the work of Rick Fisher and Dr. Karber, and so many of you, are so important to the nation’s security.”

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