THE Clinton Administration has egg on its face. Again. On June 12, the right-wing Washington Times ran a devastating story gathered from US intelligence sources about Pakistan deploying nuclear-capable Chinese M-11 missiles and the State Department trying "to block the intelligence judgement...to avoid imposing sanctions...(and) economic penalties on China and Pakistan". The Times named State Department official Allen W. Locke, chief of the missiles and space division, as the key man "working to water down reports declaring the M-11s operational and the missiles transfer a conspiracy under a 1990 anti-proliferation law".
This implies that China's delivery of the weapons to Pakistan violates the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) as well as a 1994 US-China agreement not to deploy M-11s in Pakistan. The MTCR, which limits sales of missiles with ranges greater than 300 km or with warheads weighing more than 500 kg, has no enforcement mechanism. But an amendment to the 1990 Defence Authorisation Act requires sanctions against foreign firms for MTCR violations. US officials say the M-11 is a nuclear-capable missile whose export is barred as its warhead capacity exceeds MTCR limits.
State Department spokesman Nick Burns was enraged when questioned on the issue. He focussed more on how and where the leak could have occurred to the Washington Times rather than the issue itself. Said Burns: "I would advise the Government of India, the Government of Pakistan and the Government of China not to pay any attention to these leaks. These leaks don't amount to anything." Typically, the CIA declined comment.
Senator Larry Pressler urged the Administration to impose sanctions against China and said that if intelligence reports had been tampered with, it was a very serious allegation. Congressman Benjamin Gilman, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, berated the Administration for "skewing intelligence information for political purposes".
A senior legislative aide on Capitol Hill said he was confounded by what he called the Administration's "shenanigans." He added: "I do not know what game they are playing. They lied to Congress. They moved heaven and earth to get the Brown Amendment passed last year, knowing about the secret ring magnet sale by China to Pakistan. And now, to avoid sanctions against Pakistan and China, they alter intelligence reports about Islamabad's nuclear missile capabilities. They give lip service to non-proliferation and cynically collude with foreign governments to break US laws".
Grilled on June 19 by the House International Relations Committee at a hearing on the Administration's non-proliferation policy, Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security Affairs Lynn Davis maintained there was no evidence that China had violated the MTCR or the US-China 1994 missile agreement. In response, Congressmen were scathing in their denunciation of the Administration's decision not to impose sanctions on China.
In an opinion piece in the Washington Post, Paul Leventhal, head of the Nuclear Control Institute, said that the Clinton Administration alone should not be blamed. "Under the Reagan and Bush administrations, China's leaders learned they could have their cake and eat it too. They could spread dangerous nuclear technology around the world, confident that their transgressions would always be outweighed by pressure from American business interests not to hinder US-China trade".
What is strange about this is that US intelligence agencies have all reportedly agreed that the missiles are operational, with the exception of the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR), which continues to argue that not enough is known about Pakistani training practices to reach a judgement about deployment. The bureau insists the missiles cannot be considered operational until they have been removed from their crates and used for training.
"This is a definitional issue," says Michael Krepon, who heads the Henry Stimson Centre, giving the analogy of a "washing machine (that) must come out of its box to be operational."
According to a former intelligence agent who was at one time based in South Asia, the INR's argument is "purely academic ...splitting hair. What they are saying is that it might take a few more days to deploy the missiles, not that they are undeployable... There is no doubt that this will give Pakistan something of a psychological edge over India...it could cause a major geo-strategic power imbalance in the region."
Islamabad has strongly denied the allegations that the M-11s had been deployed on the border. Its foreign office spokesman said: "These stories continue to appear in Indian and US neswpapers. Moreover, the US State Department and the White House spokesmen have not paid attention to these allegations. The matter was raised in the US Congress, but did not gain any sympathy. So for us it's a dead issue since even the Americans are least bothered by such reports."