The Bush administration has declared it will not turn a blind eye to China's military buildup in return for Beijing accepting American missile defenses. The president's missile defense plans and Pentagon budget are being coolly received by some in Congress.
Ever since last Sunday the administration has been busy disavowing a New York Times report of a possible strategic tradeoff. The newspaper said the United States might not object to China's developing nuclear weapons if the Chinese drop their opposition to the U.S. anti-missile shield.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the most senior official to comment on the matter, told a Senate hearing Wednesday the report is not correct. "The suggestion that the United States has or is poised to approve of China's military and nuclear buildup for some reason in exchange for something is simply not the case," he said.
Mr. Rumsfeld also urged Congress not to cut funds for missile defense, saying that would weaken his position in negotiations with Russia. The White House wants to boost spending for the program as part of an $18 billion military budget increase for the next (2002) fiscal year. "And Mr. Chairman, we need every nickel of it. The budget request does not solve the problems of the department; it begins to repair the damage that has been done by a long period of underfunding and overuse," he said.
But with the economy slowing and the government's budget surplus vanishing, lawmakers say the money will be hard to find. And many Democrats are skeptical about whether the missile defense campaign is good for the country. Senator Dianne Feinstein voiced concern about the implications of breaking the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty. "The bottom line of the program seems to me: is the world going to be safer because the United States has an over-arching missile defense system or is the world going to be a more dangerous place?" she said.
The scope of missile defense and the broader Pentagon budget are among the many disputes the White House and Congress must settle in the coming weeks. These battles will help determine the success or failure of President Bush's first year in office.