The real dangers of missile-mongering

A.M. Rosenthal

April 13, 1992|By A.M. Rosenthal

FIRST, fellow students of journalism, I want to thank the truth squad of military specialists, outside and inside the Pentagon, .. who helped me achieve victory over the mighty column-writing team of Evans and Novak.

You will, I trust, remember my investigative reporting on a column by Rowland Evans and Robert Novak. Their story was that the Israelis were trying to sell to China an Israeli air-to-surface missile called STAR.

But, said Evans-Novak, STAR is an Israeli steal from a hush-hush American missile called HAVE NAP. They reported that HAVE NAP was equipped with technology to make it "stealthy" and was so important that on the very first day of the Persian Gulf war it was dropped on Iraq from B-52's in a secret mission.

The story outraged military experts not merely because it was one more example of anti-Israeli "leaks" from the administration to receptive journalists, but because it was so full of errors and so lacking in facts that it offended their professional dignity.

So, after checking, I reported that HAVE NAP was not stealthy, that it was not dropped on Iraq and that the missile was created, of all places, in Israel -- where it is cabalistically known as Popeye. It is now produced in the United States and, coup de grace, jointly by Israel and America.

Evans-Novak sputtered their way through two more columns of trying to salvage their reputation as military scoopists. With each sput they entwined themselves in further error, fury and slur. So let us leave them, gurgling, but with one remark about their story ringing bell-like over American journalism. It was made by Brig. Gen. Buster Glosson, top air war planner during the war, as reported in Defense Week: "Unadulterated bull----."

But a real problem remains. Stories like STAR-Popeye or the lie about the Israeli sale of Patriots obscure the real missile danger from China.

A clear look is taken in a report by the International Missile Proliferation Project of the Monterey Institute of International Studies. Written by Timothy V. McCarthy, it comes to these conclusions:

1. China is carrying out the world's most comprehensive program of providing "developing" nations with missile know-how.

2. The great danger: Beijing is turning these dictatorships in the Middle East and Asia into missile-producing and LTC missile-transferring states themselves -- North Korea for instance.

3. Chinese missile exports are directed primarily to Mideast or Asian states that have or could threaten the United States or its allies.

4. All U.S. diplomatic efforts to restrain Chinese missile exports have failed. American diplomats talk to Chinese diplomats. But the decisions are taken by the web of family-run corporations tied into the Chinese Central Military Commission. Also, as long as the West makes multibillion-dollar arms sales to the Mideast, the Chinese figure they can too.

(And, I believe, Beijing will continue to instruct the United States to go to hell as long as President Bush keeps vetoing congressional legislation to withdraw economic benefits as the price of Chinese missile proliferation and trampling of human rights.)

The report lists scores of cases where Communist China sold missile power to Middle Eastern and Asian dictatorships. Syria emerges as a particular danger -- nearing capability of producing its own Scuds.

The list also details reports of foreign sales to China in the missile field. These include Israeli-Chinese deals other than the phony HAVE NAP and Patriot stories.

By helping China at all, the Israelis are helping the very countries that are aiming all their missiles at Israel.

Israeli officials, Labor and Likud, say Israel needs foreign markets to support its own essential arms industry. True. But national interest and international democratic values dictate sacrificing the Chinese slice of the market because it feeds critical weapons to Mideast dictatorships. Any country, including the United States or Israel, that aids or abets the deliberate Communist Chinese program of missile proliferation helps make more wars more likely.

Yes -- and that goes too for journalists who spread cockamamie stories that divert attention from the real dangers of Chinese missile-mongering.

A.M. Rosenthal is a columnist for the New York Times.

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