Today's Opinions, Tomorrow's Reality 

Spying an Unconscionable Reality

By David G. Young 

WASHINGTON, DC, June 1, 1999 --  

Revelations of security breaches to Chinese spies have whipped Washington policymakers into an irrational frenzy of finger pointing and China-bashing. Last week's report, issued by Rep. Christopher Cox (R-CA), is full of mundane details of little interest to anybody not part of either the nuclear weapons establishment or the anti-China lobbies. Why should Americans be concerned about these reports of spying at U.S. nuclear labs? It's hard to see.

Even accepting the "worst case" scenario, as congressional Democrats described the Cox report, the practical outcome of the spying is nil. China currently possesses about two dozen nuclear missiles capable of reaching U.S. soil.1 The end result of the spying is that the Chinese government could produce, in a few years, dozens more modern warheads based on U.S. designs. Alarmists describe these in frightening detail as China's new breed of multiple-warhead submarine-launched nuclear missiles. Scary, maybe, but is it really any more so than China's existing nuclear arsenal?

If launched against America, China's nuclear capability today is potent enough to take out every major city, kill tens of millions, and obliterate the American economy. That's just today's reality. If upgraded based upon stolen U.S. Government technology, the Chinese arsenal would do, well, pretty much the same thing. They may kill more people, they may hit targets more accurately, but the practical results are unconscionable in either case.

The perceived importance of this security breach comes from three groups. The first is the nuclear establishment in the U.S., which maintains its outrageous Cold War-era mentality of seeking to win a nuclear war. That these dinosaurs actually get paid taxpayer funds to pursue such hideous theories is a scandal that far overshadows anything to be found in the Cox report.

The second is a group of politically motivated Republicans, smelling Al Gore's blood in the waters of association with the Clinton presidency. They seek to build on the administration's foreign policy troubles to cripple the Gore presidential campaign before it even gets started.

The third group is a broad coalition of anti-China activists, ranging from protectionist Pat Buchanan on the right to Tibetan independence groups on the left. They seek to exploit any event that puts China in a bad light. Yes, China engages in restrictive trade practices and represses the rights of Tibetans. But this has nothing to do with allegations of espionage.

The arguments of each of these groups deserve to be dismissed. The first, because of the irrelevance of Cold War thinking to today's world and the second two because their thinking is incoherent and disingenuous.

In the end, we are faced with a far less interesting reality—the bad-boy Chinese government succeeded in snooping out some nuclear weapons designs. This is horribly embarrassing for the U.S. government—especially after its reported intelligence failure that led to the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Embarrassment, however, will pass. Let's not allow Americans' desire to save face to escalate into a destructive further souring of relations with China.


  1. The New York Times, Will Beijing's Nuclear Arsenal Stay Small or Will It Mushroom? March 15, 1999