The Cable

Obama embraces missile defense in nuclear review

For an Obama team that has been skeptical of the past U.S. administrations' efforts to rapidly deploy ballistic missile-defense systems around the world, missile defense sure does get star billing in the United States' newly released report on overall nuclear strategy.

The document claims that missile defense is critical to allowing the United States to shift away from nuclear weapons, especially now that the U.S. will no longer threaten to use nukes to retaliate against non-nuclear attacks, such as from chemical or biological weapons.

The review even features a photo of a missile being shot from an Aegis destroyer in 2007, in what many outside experts saw at the time as a clear demonstration of the fact that U.S. missile defense capabilities can also have offensive uses as well, such as shooting down a satellite.

"Major improvements in missile defenses and counter-weapons of mass destruction (WMD) capabilities have strengthened deterrence and defense against CBW attack," reads the document, known as the Nuclear Posture Review, which will stand as the Obama administration's guiding document on all things nuclear.

"With the advent of U.S. conventional military preeminence and continued improvements in U.S. missile defenses and capabilities to counter and mitigate the effects of [chemical and biological weapons], the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in deterring non-nuclear attacks -- conventional, biological, or chemical -- has declined significantly," the document claims.

Later on in the document, the administration points to Russia and China's nuclear modernization and notes that both countries view U.S. missile-defense expansion as destabilizing. Secretary Clinton addressed that issue in Tuesday's press conference.

The NPR itself was careful to mention missile defense as only one of several capabilities needed to counter non-nuclear attacks.

But Secretary Clinton was less careful.

"It's no secret that countries around the world remained concerned about our missile-defense program," Clinton said, explaining that the NPR weighs in on "the role [missile defense] can and should play in deterring proliferation and nuclear terrorism."

Ok, so now missile defense can deter chemical attacks, biological attacks, proliferation of nuclear technology, and suitcase bombs?

Regardless, the document makes clear that with fewer nukes to be deployed once the new START agreement goes into effect, and with the role of nuclear weapons now limited to responding to nuclear threats, the administration is now looking to missile defense, among other technologies, to fill in the gap.

"As the role of nuclear weapons is reduced in U.S. national security strategy, these non-nuclear elements will take on a greater share of the deterrence burden," the review reads.

Outside experts doubted that the NPR's suggested shift toward a reliance on missile defense would provide any deterrence for most types of chemical and biological attacks or the use of a nuclear device by a terrorist.

"If they deliver them by missile, fine, but that's not likely to be the case," said Peter Huessy, president of Geostrategic Analysis, a defense consulting firm. "If our biggest threat is terrorists using nukes, then of course deterrence doesn't apply and missile defense doesn't apply either."

Huessy also commented on Obama's embrace of missile defense in the NPR, which seems out of line with the criticism he leveled when running for president in 2008.

"I certainly see a pivot in the sense of what people expected," he said. "Missile defense is now front and center in America's security policy. That's' certainly a shift from Obama's campaign rhetoric."

The Cable

U.S. officials see chaos in Japanese decision making

When Japanese Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on the sidelines of the G-8 meeting in Canada, he told her that Japan probably couldn't stick to a 2006 agreement to move a controversial Marine Corps base on the island of Okinawa.

"I said [to Clinton] we fully recognized the U.S. position that the existing plan was the best," Okada told reporters after meeting her. "But given the current situation, I explained ... there are too many difficulties."

But while some observers see the dispute over the relocation of the Futenma air station as a crisis in the U.S.-Japan alliance, for Japan hands inside the Obama administration, the dispute is a manageable one and doesn't threaten the overall cooperation between the two allies. Administration officials do admit, however, that the Japanese seem to be flailing, struggling to outline a clear position and sending mixed messages from Tokyo to Washington.

"No one is foolish enough to think about crashing this relationship about a military base," one administration official close to the issue told The Cable. "We're going to try to see if the Japanese can move this forward over the next couple of months."

Two administration officials confirmed that Japan has now submitted a package of alternate ideas for relocating the base, which has riled local residents for decades. None of those ideas match what the U.S. and Japan agreed to in 2006, to move the air station across the island to reclaimed land near Okinawa's Camp Schwab. But that's OK, the officials said, privately acknowledging that some compromise away from the original deal will be necessary.

What is not OK is that the Japanese provided the U.S. only broad outlines of plans without specifics. Those specifics are what the U.S. side needs to come back with any counterproposals.

"They have not given us proposals; they've given us ideas or concepts, so that means it's preliminary," one official said. "The ball continues to be in their court. They've got to provide us real proposals that take into account political and operational criteria in Okinawa."

The ideas the Japanese put forth mostly include some mix of the Marines at Futenma relocating within Okinawa and some to a different place. Of course, the current plan includes Marines moving to Guam, but the question is how many. The U.S. has some flexibility on this question, but at the same time the Pentagon has clear operational requirements, and those need to be satisfied no matter what happens.

Both administration officials lamented that the ruling Democratic Party of Japan can't seem to speak with one voice on the issue. Okada, the foreign minister, is supposed to speak for the DPJ on the dispute, but other officials keep going off message.

For example, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said on the floor of his own legislature, "I have my own plan in mind, and the ministers who need to know are aware of it," adding, "I will stake my life on addressing this issue, and I will come up with successful results."

"To me, that's like saying the check is in the mail," said Michael Auslin, a Japan expert at the American Enterprise Institute. "I haven't met anyone who believes he has a plan and I haven't met anyone who knows what his plan is."

Auslin states openly what administration officials say privately: that the confusion within the top ranks of the Japanese ruling party is troubling and poses a larger problem that goes beyond Futenma. They also complain the DPJ unleashed such a tsunami of political activity about the issue in Japan that they now can't contain.

"Hatoyama has completely lost control of the process and the party," said Auslin. "He's not able to deliver anything on Okinawa anymore so that's why we are getting mixed messages."

The Japanese had set a May deadline for themselves to come up with a solution, but that seems unlikely to be met. Here again, Obama's Japan team is willing to be flexible, to a point.

"We're not going to let an artificial deadline crash us," one official said.

But if and when a compromise is reached, that's only the beginning. The relevant environmental studies and operational evaluations would have to be completed, all over again. Then the DPJ has to sell it to their localities, no easy task. Then both sides have to come up with new funding details. Then there's implementation.

The looming deadline on the Washington side is the congressional appropriations cycle. Congressmen may not want to fully fund the massive expansion of the Marine Corps presence in Guam because that is dependent on the Futenma deal going through.

And what happens if it doesn't go through? What then?

As one official put it, "There are several imponderables on the political side."

AFP/Getty Images