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Bad Manners

The seven-decade-old slight that still poisons U.S.-China relations.

Last Monday, U.S. and Chinese naval ships met in a joint exercise at that most historically freighted of marine destinations, Pearl Harbor. In the first such visit to U.S. waters since 2006, three Chinese ships took part in a simulated search-and-rescue mission alongside American warships. The stated aim of the exercise was to foster better understanding between the two militaries, a welcome gesture when military and diplomatic relations between Washington and Beijing sometimes seems to move from antagonism to warmth and back again with alarming speed. It was only on Aug. 29 that Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel announced that he was concerned about Chinese military actions in the South China Sea, which "increase the risk of confrontation, undermine regional stability and dim the prospects for diplomacy."

The uneven relationship between the U.S. and Chinese militaries is no surprise in an era when China's influence is rising. However, there is an increasing disparity in the way that the two sides view each other's actions. American interests are more and more tied to an unstated "containment" of China's presence in the Asia-Pacific region. Yet the Pearl Harbor exercise has a historical aptness for a different reason: In China, there is a growing sense that American actions are tied to an unjust regional settlement that dates from the end of World War II.

After a significant Chinese contribution to the Allied victory in Asia, many in China argue, the United States has failed to recognize an unpaid debt. And just as America sought to contain China taking its rightful place in the world in the 1940s, so it seeks to do so again. At the start of the joint exercise, Rear Adm. Rick Williams, commander of Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific, declared to his Chinese visitors, "We are linked with you together in history, and we will be linked together in the future." For China, which is rediscovering its historical relationship with the United States, Williams's statement rings true, but in ways that may not be comfortable for America ears.

For years, it has been well-known that Chinese and American military priorities clashed in wartime China. The conflict was crystallized in the confrontation between China's leader Chiang Kai-shek and the American chief of staff sent to China after Pearl Harbor, Gen. Joseph Stilwell, whose brusque manner led to his nickname "Vinegar Joe." Stilwell's diaries showed his contempt for Chiang, whom he nicknamed "the Peanut." Disgusted by the corruption endemic in the wartime capital of Chongqing and the poor state of the Chinese armies, Stilwell launched himself on a collision course with Chiang. Eventually, in 1944, the Chinese leader demanded that Roosevelt recall Stilwell. This moment signaled a fundamental breakdown between the Americans and the Chinese. The view of Chiang as a corrupt and incompetent fool became widespread in a postwar America: Chiang's nickname had become "Cash-my-Check."

Yet in recent years, this version of events has been subject to serious historical revisionism in China and the West. There has been a wider recognition that China went to war with Japan in hugely difficult circumstances and with little foreign support. The early 20th century saw a growing confrontation between rising nationalism in China and an ever-more aggressive Japanese imperialism, with the occupation of Manchuria in 1931 the clear signal that Tokyo had aggressive designs on China. On July 7, 1937, fighting broke out between Japanese and Chinese troops at the Marco Polo Bridge near Beijing, and within weeks, China and Japan were locked in full-scale conflict. Over the next eight years, some 14 million Chinese would be killed, some 80 to 100 million would become refugees, and the flawed but real modernization of roads, railways, and industry that had been under way in the 1920s and 1930s would be utterly destroyed.

Today, many Westerners know little or nothing about China's role in the war. Yet China was fighting Japan two years before Britain and France went to war with Germany, and four years before Pearl Harbor. By holding down more than half a million Japanese troops, China made a significant contribution to the overall Allied strategy. By early 1941, the Nationalists and their uneasy Communist allies were the only major forces opposing the Japanese in East Asia. If they had surrendered then -- or even earlier, in 1938 -- China would have become a Japanese colony, and Tokyo could have moved much earlier against Southeast Asia or even British India, making Allied victory in the Pacific far more difficult.

However, it was the event that Chiang needed to ensure China's survival -- the entry of the United States into the war after Pearl Harbor -- that also helped to undermine his regime. There was a fundamental clash between the overall Allied aims, which necessarily prioritized the wars in Europe and the Pacific, and Chiang's aims, which were to preserve China's integrity in the face of Japanese invasion. It was hardly unknown that the Allies had rather different intentions: after all, Winston Churchill sought the preservation of the British Empire when Franklin Delano Roosevelt intended to use the war to dissolve it. But American pressure both in Washington and on the ground meant that China's own war aims were repeatedly and summarily dismissed. The situation was worsened by the repeated attempts by Stilwell to implement strategies at odds with those of Chiang, who was cautious having been forced to fight essentially alone for over four years.

For instance, Stilwell pressured Chiang into taking part in an ill-advised dash to recapture Burma from the Japanese in February 1942. Horrified at the cavalier treatment of his troops under Stilwell's command, Chiang wrote in May 1942 that "the alliance is just empty words." At the Cairo Conference in 1943, Roosevelt made Chiang vague promises of assistance, which were promptly reversed under pressure from Joseph Stalin. In 1944, Chinese troops were pressured into assisting Western troops in the recapture of Burma, even though central China was coming under massive pressure from Japan's Operation Ichigô, to which the Japanese had committed some half a million troops.

In the war years, Chiang's decisions were changeable and often ill-thought-out (as were many other Allied decisions at times). However, he was also the victim of a difficult reality. The Western Allies needed China to remain in the war. But because China was last in the queue for Allied assistance, it was repeatedly asked to bear burdens that would have been hard even for a much better-resourced country, rather than allowances being made for being an impoverished, isolated country that had already resisted Japan on its own for over four years before Pearl Harbor. The price the Nationalists made their people pay to maintain the war effort was the increasing corruption and repressiveness of the regime. Yet the profound effects of the war on China itself, and the increasingly poisonous alliance with the United States and Britain, have not been fully appreciated as a product of the terrible pressures placed on the wartime Chinese regime both by its enemies and by its allies. On Feb. 28, 1943, in a moment of supreme frustration, Chiang wrote of the three other Allies: "It's as if China has met a hooligan, a bully and a kidnapper." Even Clarence Gauss, the U.S. ambassador to wartime China, and no friend of Chiang's, noted in a message to Washington in June 1944 that critics might upbraid the United States because "we have not supplied the Chinese with arms" and "that the excursion into northern Burma was a mistake."

For decades, historical accounts of World War II in the West routinely downplayed the contribution of Chiang and the Nationalists. In the Chinese mainland too, after Mao's victory in 1949, the only politically acceptable historical viewpoint was that the Communist Party had taken the leading role in winning the war against Japan. In recent years, however, the situation has changed radically. Chinese scholars have been given leeway to examine the war with more nuance (in part because politicians thought that being more favorable toward Chiang Kai-shek's memory might aid reunification with Taiwan), and it is now quite common to see praise for Chiang's contribution to the war effort in the mainland.

Yet this more sympathetic attitude within China toward the old Nationalist enemy has had an unexpected effect: the creation of a new sense of resentment about America's record as China's wartime partner. Chinese analysts have begun to link the treatment of Nationalist China with contemporary American attitudes in international society. One Chinese historian described the promotion of China to the U.N. Security Council at the end of the war as a way of creating a U.S. "vassal" state (as it happened, a position shared by Churchill). Agreeing with him, another declared that America had defined its foreign policy simply to "maintain its own national interests."

The narrative being created in China now is based on a particular reading of history in which America has consistently sought to damp down Chinese aspirations. A new version of history in the West, in which China is acknowledged as America's "forgotten ally" during World War II, could be one element in changing the political temperature. By acknowledging that time past -- but not long past -- when China and the United States really were allies in the battle against fascism, a historical injustice might be remedied: the conclusion of the unfinished business of 1945 in which China's contribution to the defeat of Japan is finally given its due. And if such a historical revision helped to create atmosphere of greater goodwill, there might be more space for a measured discussion of how Chinese influence can be used to best effect in a region which the US has no intention of leaving. Pearl Harbor might not be a bad place for that dialogue to begin.

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Exclusive: Does Israel Have Chemical Weapons Too?

One secret CIA file may have the answer.

Syria's reported use of chemical weapons is threatening to turn the civil war there into a wider conflict. But the Bashar al-Assad government may not be the only one in the region with a nerve gas stockpile. A newly discovered CIA document indicates that Israel likely built up a chemical arsenal of its own.

It is almost universally believed in intelligence circles here in Washington that Israel possesses a stockpile of several hundred fission nuclear weapons, and perhaps even some high-yield thermonuclear weapons. Analysts believe the Israeli government built the nuclear stockpile in the 1960s and 1970s as a hedge against the remote possibility that the armies of its Arab neighbors could someday overwhelm the Israeli military. But nuclear weapons are not the only weapon of mass destruction that Israel has constructed.

Reports have circulated in arms control circles for almost 20 years that Israel secretly manufactured a stockpile of chemical and biological weapons to complement its nuclear arsenal. Much of the attention has been focused on the research and development work being conducted at the Israeli government's secretive Israel Institute for Biological Research at Ness Ziona, located 20 kilometers south of Tel Aviv.

But little, if any, hard evidence has ever been published to indicate that Israel possesses a stockpile of chemical or biological weapons. This secret 1983 CIA intelligence estimate may be the strongest indication yet.

According to the document, American spy satellites uncovered in 1982 "a probable CW [chemical weapon] nerve agent production facility and a storage facility... at the Dimona Sensitive Storage Area in the Negev Desert. Other CW production is believed to exist within a well-developed Israeli chemical industry."

"While we cannot confirm whether the Israelis possess lethal chemical agents," the document adds, "several indicators lead us to believe that they have available to them at least persistent and nonpersistent nerve agents, a mustard agent, and several riot-control agents, marched with suitable delivery systems."

Whether Israel still maintains this alleged stockpile is unknown. In 1992, the Israeli government signed but never ratified the Chemical Weapons Convention, which bans such arms. (The Israeli embassy in Washington did not respond to requests to comment on this article.) The CIA estimate, a copy of which was sent to the White House, also shows that the U.S. intelligence community had suspicions about this stockpile for decades, and that the U.S. government kept mum about Israel's suspected possession of chemical weapons just as long.

These facts were recently discovered by a researcher -- a friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous -- at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in California. He had found, stapled to an innocuous unclassified report, a single page that someone in the White House had apparently removed from his or her copy of a secret September 15, 1983 CIA Special National Intelligence Estimate entitled Implications of Soviet Use of Chemical and Toxin Weapons for US Security Interests.

Ordinarily this 30-year-old intelligence estimate would have attracted only passing interest from researchers because much of the report, which dealt primarily with unproven allegations of Soviet use of chemical and biological weapons in Afghanistan and Southeast Asia, had been largely declassified in 2009 and can now be found in the CREST database of declassified CIA documents at the College Park, Maryland research facility of the National Archives. But while the CIA was willing to declassify those portions of the report that deal with the U.S.S.R. and some of its client states -- including Syria -- it was far less willing to release any information about the chemical weapons activities of countries outside the Soviet Bloc. The censors at the CIA deleted from the version of the document that was released to the National Archives almost all information related to the Middle East, including long-declassified material about Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons program in Iraq.

But what makes the single page found at the Reagan Library so explosive is that it contains the complete and unredacted portion of the intelligence estimate that details what the CIA thought it knew back in 1983 about Israel's work on chemical weapons, which the CIA's censors had carefully excised from the version released to the National Archives in 2009.

The estimate shows that in 1983 the CIA had hard evidence that Israel possessed a chemical weapons stockpile of indeterminate size, including, according to the report, "persistent and non-persistent nerve agents." The persistent nerve agent referred to in the document is not known, but the non-persistent nerve agent in question was almost certainly sarin. That is believed to be the Assad regime's chemical weapon of choice -- and the agent used on the morning of August 21, 2013 to strike rebel-controlled or contested neighborhoods in the eastern suburbs of Damascus. The Obama administration says that attack killed over 1,400 innocent civilians, mostly women and children. On Sunday, the Israeli defense minister, Moshe Ya'alon, blasted Assad for "crudely us[ing] chemical weapons against his own citizens."

The CIA report is vague as to why Israel decided to secretly build its own stockpile of chemical weapons given that Israel was widely suspected at the time of having a small but potentially lethal stockpile of nuclear weapons. Israeli historian Avner Cohen, in his 1988 book Israel and the Bomb, wrote that Israeli Prime Minister David Ben Gurion secretly ordered that a stockpile of chemical weapons be built at about the time of the 1956 war between Israel and Egypt. The CIA, on the other hand, believed that Israel did not begin work on chemical weapons until either the late 1960s or the early 1970s.

According to the 1983 intelligence estimate, "Israel, finding itself surrounded by frontline Arab states with budding CW [chemical weapons] capabilities, became increasingly conscious of its vulnerability to chemical attack. Its sensitivities were galvanized by the capture of large quantities of Soviet CW-related equipment during both the 1967 Arab-Israeli and the 1973 Yom Kippur wars. As a result, Israel undertook a program of chemical warfare preparations in both offensive and protective areas."

Israeli concerns about Egypt and other Arab states possessing chemical weapons were legitimate. Documents discovered at the National Archives confirm that the Egyptian military had possessed a large stockpile of mustard gas since the early 1960s and had demonstrated that it was not afraid to use these weapons. A declassified May 23, 1967 intelligence assessment found at the National Archives reveals that Egyptian forces first began using mustard gas bombs against Saudi-backed royalist rebel forces in what was then known as North Yemen as early as 1963. According to a January 15, 1968 CIA report, U.S. intelligence learned in early 1967 that Egyptian Soviet-made Tu-16 bombers had dropped bombs filled with nerve agents on rebel positions in Yemen, marking the first time that nerve agents had ever been used in combat. And according to a May 20, 1967 top secret White House memorandum found at the National Archives, the Israelis sent Washington an intelligence report stating that Israeli intelligence had observed "canisters of [poison] gas" with Egyptian troops stationed along the Israeli border in the Sinai Peninsula.

The 1983 CIA estimate reveals that U.S. intelligence first became aware of Israeli chemical weapons-testing activities in the early 1970s, when intelligence sources reported the existence of chemical weapons test grids, which are specially instrumented testing grounds used to measure the range and effectiveness of different chemical agents, particularly nerve agents, in simulated situations and in varying climatic conditions. It is almost certain that these testing grids were located in the arid and sparsely populated Negev Desert, in southern Israel.

But the CIA assessment suggests that the Israelis accelerated their research and development work on chemical weapons following the end of the 1973 Yom Kippur War. According to the report, U.S. intelligence detected "possible tests" of Israeli chemical weapons in January 1976, which, again, almost certainly took place somewhere in the Negev Desert. A former U.S. Air Force intelligence officer whom I interviewed recalled that at about this time, the National Security Agency captured communications showing that Israeli air force fighter-bombers operating from Hatzerim Air Base outside the city of Beersheba in southern Israel had been detected conducting simulated low-level chemical weapons delivery missions at a bombing range in the Negev Desert.

The U.S. intelligence community was paying an extraordinary amount of attention to Israel in the 1970s, according to a retired CIA analyst I spoke with who studied the region at the time. The possible January 1976 Israeli chemical weapons test occurred a little more than two years after the end of the 1973 war, an event that had shocked the Israeli political and military establishment because it demonstrated for the first time that the Arab armies were now capable of going toe-to-toe on the battlefield with the Israeli military.

To complicate things further, in January 1976 the long-simmering civil war in Lebanon was beginning to heat up. And the CIA was increasingly concerned about the growing volume of evidence, much of it coming from human intelligence sources inside Israel, indicating that the Israeli nuclear weapons stockpile was growing both in size and raw megatonnage. At the same time that all this was happening, the Israeli "chemical weapons" test mentioned in CIA document occurred. It increased the already-heightened level of concern within the U.S. intelligence community about what the Israelis were up to.

In March 1976, two months after the Israeli test in question, a number of newspapers in the U.S. published stories which quoted CIA officials to the effect that Israel possessed a number of nuclear weapons. The leak was based on an authorized off-the-record briefing of newspaper reporters by a senior CIA official in Washington, who intimated to the reporters that Israel was also involved in other activities involving weapons of mass destruction, but refused to say anything further on the subject. The CIA official was likely referring to the agency's belief that the Israelis may have conducted a chemical weapons test in January 1976. According to a declassified State Department cable, Israeli foreign minister Yigal Allon called in the U.S. ambassador to Israel and registered a strong protest about the story, reiterating the official Israeli government position that Israel did not possess nuclear weapons. After the protest, all further public mention of Israeli WMD activities ceased and the whole subject was quickly and quietly forgotten. 

But in the years that followed the CIA and the rest of the U.S. intelligence community kept their eyes and ears focused on what the Israelis were secretly up to in the Negev Desert.

It was not until 1982, according to the CIA estimate, that U.S. intelligence got its first big break. On June 6, 1982, 20,000 Israeli troops invaded Lebanon in an effort to destroy the guerrilla forces loyal to Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leader Yasser Arafat. The Israeli troops swept northwards against weak resistance from PLO and Syrian forces, capturing a large portion of the Lebanese capital of Beirut and cutting off what was left of Arafat's forces inside the besieged city by mid-June. As of the end of the year, there were still an estimated 15,000 Israeli troops occupying all of southern Lebanon.

At some point in late 1982, as the Reagan administration strove with minimal success to get the Israeli government to withdraw its forces from Lebanon, American spy satellites discovered what the 1983 CIA intelligence described as "a probable CW nerve agent production facility and a storage facility ... at the Dimona Sensitive Storage Area in the Negev Desert."

The CIA report, however, provides no further elucidation about the size or production capacity of the newly discovered Israeli nerve agent production facility near Dimona, or even where the so-called "Dimona Sensitive Storage Area" was located.

At my request, a friend of mine who retired years ago from the U.S. intelligence community began systematically scanning the available cache of commercial satellite imagery found on the Google Maps website, looking for the mysterious and elusive Israeli nerve agent production facility and weapons storage bunker complex near the city of Dimona where Israel stores its stockpile of chemical weapons.

It took a little while, but the imagery search found what I believe is the location of the Israeli nerve agent production facility and its associated chemical weapons storage area in a desolate and virtually uninhabited area of the Negev Desert just east of the village of al-Kilab, which is only 10 miles west of the outskirts of the city of Dimona. The satellite imagery shows that the heavily protected weapons storage area at al-Kilab currently consists of almost 50 buried bunkers surrounded by a double barbed-wire-topped fence and facilities for a large permanent security force. I believe this extensive bunker complex is the location of what the 1983 CIA intelligence estimate referred to as the Dimona Sensitive Storage Area.

If you drive two miles to the northeast past the weapons storage area, the satellite imagery shows that you run into another heavily guarded complex of about 40 or 50 acres. Surrounded again by a double chain-link fence topped with barbed wire, the complex appears to consist of an administrative and support area on the western side of facility. The eastern side of the base, which is surrounded by its own security fence, appears to consist of three large storage bunkers and a buried production and/or maintenance facility. Although not confirmed, the author believes that this may, in fact, be the location of the Israeli nerve agent production facility mentioned in the 1983 CIA report.

This all may be a tempest in a teacup. It is possible that at some point over the past 30 years the Israelis may have disposed of their stockpile of mustard gas and nerve agents. These weapons need constant maintenance, they require massive amounts of security, and the cost for the upkeep of this stockpile must be extraordinarily high. Still, the Israeli government has a well-known penchant for preserving any asset thought to be needed for the defense of the state of Israel, regardless of the cost or possible diplomatic ramifications.

1NIE on Israeli Chemical Weapons by JDStuster

2Sanitized NIE by JDStuster

3Warning on Egypt by JDStuster

4Report on Egypt Using Chemical Weapons by JDStuster

5CIA Assessment of Israeli and Egyptian Capabilities by JDStuster

6CIA Report That Israel is Known to Produce Chemical Weapons by JDStuster

Uriel Sinai/Getty Images