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For much of the period of reform and opening since the late 1970s, Chinese foreign policy had been low key and reactive.
That changed in 2003 as Beijing took a leadership position in orchestrating and hosting an effort to curb North Korea's nuclear program called the six-party talks. Lt. Col. Paul Haenle (ret.) explains the close coordination between Beijing and Washington in that effort, based on his participation as the White House National Security Council representative to the talks. In addition, he discusses changes in dealing with the Chinese People's Liberation Army over his two-plus decades in the U.S. Army.
James Green: Welcome to the U.S.-China Dialogue Podcast from Georgetown University. This podcast series explores diplomacy and dialogue between China and the United States during the four decades since normalization of relations in 1979. We'll hear from former ambassadors, cabinet secretaries, and White House advisors -- who will share how they shaped the course of the most complex relationship in international diplomacy today. I'm your host, James Green.
Today on the podcast, we talk with Paul Haenle.
When he retired from the U.S. Army after two decades of service, Lt Col Paul Haenle had become one of the U.S. military's foremost experts on China. At the beginning of his career, he received his Second Lieutenant bars and was sent to Germany in the twilight of the Cold War in the late 1980s. The dissolution of the Soviet Union and the first Persian Gulf War in 1991 changed the global geostrategic landscape, including the urgent need for militaries to modernize weapons to fight wars of the future. Here's how General Norman Schwarzkopf introduced these "smart weapons" to the press early in that conflict with Iraq, describing dazzling video showing these precision strikes:
CENTCOM briefer: Now what you are seeing here -- that's the manifold area. The very small area that I'm talking about, and you're looking right through the nose of the guided munitions as its flown straight into the manifold area to destroy it. That's one; this is the manifold area that was destroyed before. This is the second one....
James Green: The Chinese People's Liberation Army viewed that conflict with alarm at its own backwardness and embarked on a concerted effort to move away from Mao's theory of a people's war to prepare to fight on the technology-centric battlefield of the 21st Century. And for Paul Haenle, those historic events were the backdrop to his shifting military career to focus on China. That career took him to Beijing, the Pentagon, and finally to the apex of U.S. foreign and defense policymaking at the White House National Security Council. Paul served first as a close aide to National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley, then as the Director for China during a time when the United States and China were working closely together to try to end North Korea's dangerous nuclear program. From his training as a military officer, his language abilities, his frequent interaction with foreign counterparts, and his first-hand knowledge of how the National Security Council makes policy, Paul brings unmatched insights into key periods of U.S.-China relations.
But we start our conversation with Paul's own groundbreaking podcast on China as the head of the Beijing office of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Paul Haenle, great to see you. Thanks for making time, before getting to your career in the Army and at the White House, I've just got to acknowledge your path-breaking work on this format. That is, your China and the World podcast is incredibly inspirational, so thank you for that.
Paul Haenle: Well, thank you.
James Green: We were just chatting. What number are you up to now?
Paul Haenle: So I think we have about 150 and we've passed the six year mark, so-
James Green: Amazing.
Paul Haenle: Enjoy doing it. And I'm delighted to be on yours. I've been, as you know, I've been a enthusiastic listener of your podcast and I've listened to almost all of the episodes and I've really enjoyed them, so ...
James Green: Well, thank you. And you've just done an incredible job with the Carnegie Center here. I mean, really bringing it up from scratch to be a, a centerpiece for discussion on China's position in the world. Really amazing.
Paul Haenle: Well, I appreciate it. You know that one of the first people that I met when I came here in 2010 was you, to get your advice, on how we should build this institution with our Tsinghua partners. And your advice, has always been something that, you know, I've listened to, and take seriously from when I was in the national security council and you were at the state department and the policy planning office, sharing, you know, your own perspectives and advice. And we did somesome interesting things together.
James Green: Yeah, let's get to it.
Paul Haenle: Yeah.
James Green: Before getting to your white house time, I wanted to ask about, joining the U.S. army and becoming a foreign affairs officer. How did that happen and, and what caught you on that path?
Paul Haenle: Well, you know, I did ROTC in college and I wanted to be a mechanical engineer and so I went to an engineering school, Clarkson University, and they had pretty good ROTC program and I participated in that. I had always planned to do sort of eight years reserve, you know, go on the weekends once a month and then spend time in the summer, but get a normal engineering job, a civilian job. But you know, during my experience in ROTC, I really enjoyed the leadership aspects of it. I enjoyed more than I thought I would enjoy, participating in the different kinds of training opportunities we had over the summer. Airborne School, our sort of basic cadet training. And so, after graduation and I also had decided that I probably wouldn't be an engineer.
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Paul Haenle: I realized that, you know, while I wasn't bad in math and engineering. I just, it wasn't my sort of calling and I thought, you know, maybe I should take an opportunity, serve my country for four years, go abroad, serve in the army abroad, see the world. Do my commitment to my country, and then move on to something different. Next thing I knew, I turned my four years active duty into 21 years active duty. And it's a, that's just the way things go.
James Green: So at some point in your career, either you took a test, an aptitude test for Chinese or you were told to do that and you seemed to do good enough. Can you talk about how you ended up in this track of a foreign affairs officer?
Paul Haenle: No, it's very interesting. You know, you have as an officer, you have your basic, officer basic school where you learn about your branch as a second Lieutenant, and then you go back as a captain. And I believe it was when I was a Lieutenant. They gave us as one of the many tests that they give when you, when you join a, what's called the defense language aptitude test, the DLAT. I had no idea what it was. I didn't take it very seriously, but while I was taking the test, I found myself enjoying it because you're actually, you're, they give you rules and you're building a language during the test and it gets increasingly more complicated.
And I just found myself enjoying it very much during the test. And then came to find out, I scored very well. And that I think was prior to moving to Germany and when I was in Germany, I learned, the German language and I just realized that I had a strong interest in learning languages. And I had a high DLAT score.
So I knew that, you know, whether I stayed in the army or whether I left the military, at some point I would want to do something international. I would want to learn another language and I started to learn, you know, after learning that engineering was not my calling, I started to get a sense of for what I was interested in. My first tour, I should say, was in, in the army was in Germany and I arrived in the summer of 1989.
James Green: Wow.
Paul Haenle: And, six months later, I was on a military maneuvers in Grafenwöhr in the Eastern side of Germany and came into the cantina in the morning to have breakfast with my team. And we picked up the stars and stripes newspaper, and the headline of course was the Berlin wall was crumbling. And a month and a half later, I was standing on the Berlin wall at midnight in 1989 on New Year's Eve.
And, had a huge impact on me, as I saw the world changing around me. But it really inspired in me this incredible interest in international issues and geopolitical issues.
James Green: Wow. So then did you go to the Defense Language Institute in Monterey for your Mandarin training?
Paul Haenle: I did. I had an assignment after Germany in Korea, Republic of Korea, a two year assignment. And I, went to China during that time, on, really on vacation.
James Green: So this is in the early 90s?
Paul Haenle: So this would have been, my first trip to China was 1994, summer of 1994. And I came with my mom and sister and a friend, and we, we traveled to Xi'an.
James Green: Wow.
Paul Haenle: I saw the terracotta warriors of course. Learned a little bit about Chinese history. We went to Shanghai and I remember in 1994 in the summer, standing on the Bund-
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Paul Haenle: ... looking out across at Pudong.
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Paul Haenle: And it was really, you know, farmers' fields. But among the farmers' fields was the Pearl TV tower coming up and a couple other small at the time, small buildings. But you could tell, there was a real sort of vitality, a real energy about the place. And it was easy to get a sense that this was a place that was moving and going to be moving quickly. And then we went to Beijing. That was our last stop. And in Beijing, you know, we rode bicycles around the cities. But it was a city, still mostly bicycles, at the time. And we, you know, rode by Tiananmen Square and Zhongnanhai.
James Green: It's like when you could still just bike around there and walk around. There was no limitation.
Paul Haenle: Yeah, exactly the hutongs and you can ride and you've got a sense of the political nature of Beijing versus the capital financial center of Shanghai. But a strange thing happened. We, on Friday night, decided to go to the U.S. embassy to, just the friend that I was traveling with, she had worked in a consulate overseas as an intern. And she said, "You know, sometimes the Marines will have a barbecue on Friday night. We should go and see if we can meet other Americans living in Beijing." This was pre-9/11.
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Paul Haenle: So the, the embassy was is not like a fortress.
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.
Paul Haenle: We literally walked up, this was when the embassy was in xiushui jie-
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative). The old Embassy, sure.
Paul Haenle: And we literally walked up, showed the, the gate guard our blue passports, and he just waved us in. And within two or three minutes, we were drinking Budweiser beer and eating hot dogs with the Marines.
And one of the Marines asked me what I did. I told him I was a company commander in Korea and I was on leave, just traveling with my family and this friend. And he said, "You know, there's an army captain here, he's the first China Foreign Area Officer to be posted in Beijing and then the people's Republic of China." And I said, "I'd love to meet him."
Patrick O'Rourke, I met him and he told me all about the China Foreign Area Officer program and he took us around Beijing and I watched this American captain, fluent in Chinese navigate himself and us through Beijing, through the city streets, and took us to a bunch of, restaurants and different places. And I was very, I was really impressed. And I said, you know, if I stay in the army, I think this is what I would like to do. And that's, that's where it sort of started.
James Green: Great. Amazing. So it was in Korea and the (laughing) then serving career wasn't enough to get you to say, gee, I want to learn Korean, but-
Paul Haenle: No, I love Korea though. I mean, I enjoyed my tour in Korea. I just felt, I wanted the challenge and I felt that, you know, in looking at China, and, and given its size and its history, it was pretty clear to me that if you're interested in international issues and geopolitical issues in the future, China is going to be a big player. And the U.S. needs people that understand China, that speak the language, that understand the history, the economy, the military, and they're all range of aspects when it comes to China. And I committed myself to that. And ever since, that's what I've been pursuing.
James Green: Wow, who knew that drinking with Marines would have some far reaching consequences (laughs). You know, they, they-
Paul Haenle: And thank goodness 911 hadn't happened. We're, we would not have not gotten in the embassy, that's for sure.
James Green: And even now, I remember my, when I was leaving the Beijing embassy here in 2018, they started to really limit the amount of happy hours that Marines were having-
Paul Haenle: Yeah.
James Green: ... because they thought it was bad for morale to have kind of so much alcohol flowing around-
Paul Haenle: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
James Green: ... and it wasn't seen as something that was befitting of the service.
Paul Haenle: It seemed good for morale when I participate in. I mean that-
James Green: Well, but it was also a time when there wasn't that much else to do in Beijing.
Paul Haenle: Yeah.
James Green: So hanging out with, with other expatriates drinking was, was fun. So that was your first trip to Beijing. Fascinating. then when you came back, was it as a one year as part of the language program?
Paul Haenle: It was, I did another assignment, in Kuwait, for a year and a half.
James Green: This is after Desert Storm?
Paul Haenle: After my tour in Korea. It was, after my tour in Korea, which '92 to '94. Did a tour in the Middle East. And then started my language training. It was interesting. When I was in my captain's course, I got a phone call, I had applied for the foreign area officer program in the army. But you know, these things are not guaranteed. That's, the army is about what the army needs. It's not about what individual members of the armed forces need.
And so, you know, I had, one of my mentors was trying to help me get accepted into this program. And I got a call one day and said, you've been accepted into the foreign area officer program. And I said, wow, this is fantastic. And they said, "In the, January 1997, you'll begin your Arabic language program." And I said, "Arabic, okay, sure." You know, what- whatever the army needs. And the woman said, "Well, you sound disappointed." And I said, "Well ... I had applied for Chinese."
James Green: So you could actually check off what language you want to see or go in.
Paul Haenle: Yeah. You, and that could put in your preferences.
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative).
Paul Haenle: And, she said, "Well, well hold on a second." She put the phone down-
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Paul Haenle: ... and a couple of minutes later she came back and said, "Okay, in January, 1997, you'll start the Chinese language program."
James Green: Wow. So all you have to do is ask (laughing).
Paul Haenle: My, life in about 30 seconds took a very different direction because, Arabic and Chinese language were at the same level of difficulty. And so with the high DLAT score, they wanted to put me into a harder language.
And so because I was asking for Chinese and they had needs for Chinese speakers, they were willing to do that. So I went to Monterey and did a year and a half of the Chinese language, intense Chinese language program and then, came back to China in the summer of 1998. So four years after I met Patrick O'Rourke in the U.S. embassy in Beijing, I was back as a-
James Green: You were on your path.
Paul Haenle: ... foreign area officer, to study Chinese language and, and learn about China for a year. It's an orientation program and you spend one year in country to learn about, the country.
James Green: And so in that job, you are not working at the embassy as an official. You're there officially to learn for that full year. I know when I talk to executives, when I worked at the AmCham in Shanghai, they were astounded that the U.S. government would take people out of service for a year or two to learn language. A number of executives said to me, "Oh, that would be great. I'd love to be able to learn Chinese and take a year or two off and do that. But my company, you know, will give me two weeks if I'm lucky."
Paul Haenle: You know, we army officers, of all the branches of service, the army has the best, most comprehensive sort of foreign area officer training program compared to the other services. And we would get this reaction from other branches of the military, from foreign service officers, the...
James Green: State department officials.
Paul Haenle: State department officials at the embassies. They would be, you know, because it was a year and a half of language and Monterey was a year in China, orientation, really traveling for about half the time. And then, in school studying the language the other half of the time. And then it was, you can go to a civilian school and do a master's degree. And I had the opportunity to go to Harvard to do the regional studies East Asia program.
So they put a lot of, you know, a lot of, commitment, you know, they put a lot of training and give you a lot of, but the one thing I will say is the army also has a very good way of extracting all of that, through the difficult jobs that you end up taking. And so I, once I completed the foreign area officer training program, including graduate school, I had about 10 years of really intense assignments and hard work. And, but you know, to be honest, you know, you're willing to do it given you know, how much you've learned and, and how much you've benefited from the program.
James Green: So can you remember one thing that year that you were here when you were supposed to be learning and traveling that struck you, you were like, "Wow, this is a fascinating place and I feel like this really contributed to my, further work with the army or with the U.S. government.
Paul Haenle: Well, I don't, I don't think I can think of one thing. I can think of a lot of things. I mean it, had the opportunity during that time to travel to every province in China and, um-
James Green: And was that hard seat at the time or?
Paul Haenle: It was everything. The defense attache at the time, general Karl Eikenberry, and, and the army attache Roy Kamphausen, he was assistant at the time and, but he, they encouraged us to use all forms of transportation, to try to meet people from all different sectors and all different backgrounds, to get a real feel for the country. And so I remember one trip traveling with my mom on Chinese boats from Shanghai all the way to Chongqing on Chinese boats-
James Green: Wow.
Paul Haenle: ... and we traveled in, you know, third and fourth class. And, we met Chinese people, we got invited into their homes. And it really, it was a tremendous experience because, you know, often the Chinese will say, and I'm sure you've heard this quite a bit from the Chinese, you can't get a sense of China by coming to Beijing and looking around Beijing.
James Green: Or Beijing and Shanghai. Yeah.
Paul Haenle: Or Shanghai. and, you know, I'm able to say through my, you know, army experience, you know, I have a much stronger more comprehensive feel for the country. And when they say that there's poverty out there, I understand what they mean. I've traveled to some remote places in China and I've seen the poverty, and I've traveled by train and I've traveled by plane and I've, you know, traveled by boat and I've seen the country and I've engaged with the people. And so you come away obviously, with a much, you know, deeper understanding of China, although still a hard country to understand even after all of that.
James Green: With all that training and language and trying to understand what's going on. But also the pace of change is so fast that, we'll get to your returning here but you know, even you meet people in 10 years later, they're, you know, doing amazing things and their entire province has changed. The school that I taught English in Wuhan in 1992 when I went back there a couple of years ago, it's literally a parking lot now and all the teachers had moved to some other place. And so that, that the pace of change is hard to keep up with it and just get your head around.
Paul Haenle: I mean, someday I want to, to your point, I want to travel to those places that I traveled to in 1998 and 1999 to get a sense -- I mean I've, I've been to some of them but, but not nearly enough. And recently I went to Zhengzhou with my son. We traveled on the overnight, train and we went to wopo.
Paul Haenle: You know, the soft sleeper. And I went to Charlene temple and those were places I had been to in 1998. And so it was really, I was quite struck by the changes and going back to a place that I had been more than 20 years before.
James Green: So then you got your masters and then you had to start working for the army.
Paul Haenle: Then I had to start looking. Absolutely.
James Green: And so then you came back here and you were one of the army officers here. How many were there and then what other branches were there? What, what, what does the DATT office, the defense attache office look like?
Paul Haenle: Well, the Defense Attache Office is headed up by a one star general and it rotates between the different branches. The current defense attache is, is Brian Davis, who I spent my year in 1998 with, and traveled with. He was my travel partner-
Paul Haenle: ... and very, very close, close friend of mine and very pleased to see him become so successful and come back as the defense attache 20 years later. But the, defense attache heads the office and then each of the branches of service have their own attache. So you have an army attache air force, Navy and Marines. and then each of those sections has two or three, assistant attaches. And that's what I was, I was an assistant army attache, and served, in Beijing in that capacity. And basically, you know, you're representing the US government, the US army in particular in my case to the Chinese people's liberation army, and to the foreign attache case that are resident in Beijing. You, you know, your role is to clarify and explain military policy, army policy in particular, in my case to those people.
Paul Haenle: And then I think and, and finally, you know, you're, you are, in a position where you can advise the rest of the US government, US inner agency, particular defense department, but not just the defense department. You know, other other branches within the US government and try to explain Chinese military, strategy and objectives. And so I did that and I enjoyed the job. It was, it was a great ... it was my first job after foreign area officer training program and I learned a lot.
James Green: So what was the years that you were there that you were the assistant army attache? I'm just trying to think of where the mil-mil relationship was because it's gone up and down a fair amount.
Paul Haenle: No, it's a great question. I came, as an attache in 2002 and then I went to the Pentagon in 2003. and in terms of the timing, you have to remember, of course the, this comes after a number of incidents which created crises in the US-China relationship. So you can go back to 1996 with the Taiwan missile crisis where we sent aircraft carrier in the Taiwan Strait very tense time and relations between the US and China but in particular between our militaries. 1999, the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. And then in 2001, the EP-3 crisis where our aircraft collided with the Chinese aircraft and crash landed in Hainan Island and spent 12 days on the Island before our crew was released.
Paul Haenle: I was in Beijing in 1999, during the embassy at the Belgrade embassy bombing, and I remember the tension that that created. I was traveling, in fact with, the current defense attache Brian Davis. We were out in Xinjiang crossing into Kazakhstan and I called back to the embassy just to report our location. at the time, my colleague Mick Riva, who was a Marine, answered the phone and I said, "Hey, just wanted you to know Brian and are crossing into Kazakhstan." And he said, "Okay, but I, I need to let you know that we've bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade."
James Green: Wow.
Paul Haenle: And I said, "Well, why did we do that?" And he said, "I'm not sure, but it's getting pretty tense around here." And, we, we ended up staying out of China for another week or so until things quieted down, and then came back. And so, you know, these are, some pretty difficult issues to work through in the US China relationship.
Paul Haenle: What it made it more difficult, to be honest, was the conclusion of the Belgrade embassy bombing, you know, the US side of course, claims pretty vigorously it was a mistake. And the Chinese side, I think the official conclusion was it was a rogue element within the department of defense. And so the defense relationship takes the hit: in the EP3 crisis, the defense relationship takes the hit. There's a ... at that time there was a real effort, I think by both US leaders and Chinese leaders to kind of contain the damage. And so as a result, you know, they didn't want it to affect a broader political relationship at the highest levels. And so to put it squarely in the defense relationship that makes our life, in the military a lot more difficult to try to bring relationships, relations back. So in 2002, you know, we're just really beginning to work through some of that. And when I was in the joint staff on in 2003, It, it was the same.
James Green: I want to talk about your time on the joint staff. It was at a time when Secretary Rumsfeld was particularly strident about this interaction with China and about the need for the DOD employees, both civilian and, and uniform to be working on the global war on terror and not doing other things. And I know from my time working at the White House at that time, that created some friction with the rest of the US government. When you were on the joint staff -- what was your role and, and how did, you kind of, enact it in this post 9/11 world under secretary Rumsfeld?
Paul Haenle: You know, it's a good question 'cause I arrived there in March, I think it was of 2003. So it was right around the initiation of our operation in Iraq, which lasted for quite some time. You know, people say, well, the US took its strategic attention away from China and I think, to a large extent that's true. Senior leaders were quite occupied and prosecuting a war in Afghanistan, in a war in Iraq. And it's only natural. People have ... our leaders only have so much bandwidth. But we didn't take our eyes off of China altogether. He still had experts and people at the working level who were focused on China.
Paul Haenle: When I was on the joint staff, you'll recall, you know, because of China's growing economic strength -- they were devoting, you know, increases of 15% annually to the military modernization. And we were watching that very closely. The national defense authorization act of 2000 of course called for the China military power report to be done every year, which looks specifically at China's military modernization and growing capabilities. Which seemed to be increasingly devoted to denying the US access to the Asia Pacific region in key areas, this anti-access/ area denial concept. And so we were watching specific capabilities that Chinese were developing that really were aimed at, under- undermining a specific US advantage.
Paul Haenle: And those reports were done on an annual basis and they would go, as I learned when I went to the national security council, they would go to the very top. And so people were aware of China's growing military capabilities. And that was one of the areas we looked at closely on the joint staff. But yes, we were fighting a couple of wars in the middle East and it took a lot of our attention. So, there's no doubt that that had an impact on our ability to deal with those issues.
James Green: And on the joint staff, was part of your job hosting Chinese military of delegations when they came over? And can you describe what that's like, what they were looking to do and what the army or the joint staff was looking to do? What was the benefit of that from the US point of view? And did it work? What's, what, do you think the goals were met?
Paul Haenle: We did, we did it both ways. We would host the Chinese. I remember traveling with under secretary of defense, Doug Feith to China for I think they were called the defense policy talks, or the defense consultation DC policy talks to DC, PC ... I'm not, I'm not sure. I've l- I've, I've sort of forgotten the specific nomenclature of those. But there were policy talks with our counterparts in the military chief of the general stuff.
James Green: And policy meaning kind of global foreign and defense policy.
Paul Haenle: Military strategy, you know, a lot of those discussions, I mean, you could get frustrated with th- those discussions because, clearly both sides had worked on their talking points, before those meetings. and there wasn't a lot of moving outside of those talking points at times. s- and, and again, remembering the time coming out of those incidents, the Belgrade embassy bombing, EP-3 crisis, this big Taiwan arm sales package in early 2001 and trying to sort of get the relationship back on track. You know, that was going to take time to build greater trust and work through some of the suspicion. I remember, you know, our talking points on Taiwan, their talking points on Taiwan, never do the, do the two meet. The Iraq war, was, was being prosecuted in the global war on terror. we didn't have a lot of alignment in terms of our views in the Middle East and what was happening, although the Chinese did not, you know, vehemently opposed what we were doing. They clearly had concerns about our military intervention.
Paul Haenle: And then on the area of North Korea, we were trying to build some greater cooperation, but they had concerns about North Korea. But I remember when I was on the joint staff in 2003, a PLA officer pulling me aside saying, you know, you've just unilaterally invaded Iraq. You know, we consider you to be as provocative and actor as we consider North Korea, which, you know, doesn't sit well, with, with US government officials. And so it was a difficult time. But those discussions would continue. I also was the one of the, action, pol- political, military planners for chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, general Dick Myers when he came to China and engaged in talks with his counterparts. I would say, you know, not overly friendly, not hostile. But difficult but, but clearly, difficult at the time.
James Green: I know one of the criticisms that Secretary Rumsfeld had and some who criticized this sort of military diplomacy was when the Chinese delegations come to the US we would show them all of these bells and whistles, all these toys as a way of deterrence.
Paul Haenle: Yes.
James Green: That is if you guys want to build up your military, this is what you're gonna be fighting-
Paul Haenle: Yeah.
James Green: ... aircraft carrier or something else. Others who were critical about approach that all the Chinese have learned what deterrence they should then deter and you know, what systems they should put forward. Do you have a view on whether or not that was successful or that was an impetus to China's own military development?
Paul Haenle: Yeah. You know, the, they watched the Gulf War in 1991 very closely, and I think were quite taken aback by the capabilities that we brought to the Middle East. And I remember in the '90s having discussions with the Chinese and, this term revolution in military affairs was one that they picked up on and they wanted to figure out how to adopt some of the capabilities that they saw during the Iraq war. In a sense, I think it scared them.
Paul Haenle: And as a result, I think, it motivated them to begin to think about how to develop their own capabilities to try to catch up with the United States and, and, and other leading militaries. Now, we would bring the PLA, as you say, to the United States and show them our capabilities for deterrence reasons. And I think there's, there's clearly there's rationale in that, you know, you try not obviously, to show them super sensitive and, and, systems that, you know, you worry that they'll bring back and steal. But clearly they also probably learned from that experience. But I, my, I, I come down on the side of the deterrence, I think effort was worthwhile and I think it probably also had that effect. And I think, I think that, I think that's the, that was the right thing to do.
James Green: You bring up an interesting point of where the PLA was in the late 80s.In some ways it was basically unchanged from Mao's days.
Paul Haenle: Right.
James Green: It was a kind of 1950s people's war doctrine, equipment was quite old since the Korean war and since we fought Chinese in the Korean war.
Paul Haenle: Yeah.
James Green: And so, as you say, I think the Persian Gulf War really opened their eyes about what, what should change and there's so much open source material about revolution, military affairs, about digital modernization and that in some ways what, tank or, or item -- specific item -- we show one Colonel from the PLA is not going to have the same sort of effect as how much is just available in the press about what's happening and, war fighting.
Paul Haenle: No, I think that's right. I think that's right. And I think the biggest motivator was watching the Gulf War. And that, it wasn't coming over and seeing a US capability on, on display.
Paul Haenle: There were other factors that led the Chinese to make those strategic decisions. But on the joint staff, you also mentioned that, secretary Rumsfeld, his policy. He also, pushed a policy of, we, where we had to approve each and every interaction between a department of defense official and a PLA. and that, you know, that had the effect on the interaction of kind of slowing it down and being very cautious about it. And so there wasn't really a huge amount of, of interaction during that time between our two militaries to be honest. I mean, we had to approve the PLA band going to China, you know. That was the level and we had to go in and brief assistant secretary Rodman and every single event-
Paul Haenle: ... every single meeting. So the other aspect of my account when I was on the joint staff was working with Taiwan to help them enhance their defense in the context of our Taiwan Relations Act. And so I traveled often to Taiwan and would meet, with the Taiwan military, and we would make recommendations for ways that they could enhance their defense, systems they could buy to try to integrate into their military. I held, I participated in their annual military exercise, Han Guang, exercise. And uh-
James Green: And you participated as an observer?
Paul Haenle: As an observer on the US delegation? and so-
James Green: And how, how were the capabilities? How did you observe? What, what do you recall about that?
Paul Haenle: I recall thinking, you know, they, they've got a tough situation. This was at a time where there was a lot of debate on the number of missiles that the PLA had deployed in Fujian and in other areas directly across from Taiwan. And to be honest with you, it was a function of how many days they could hold out before, to a lot of time for the US military to come in. And so there was, there was no scenario where, you know, Taiwan could prevail in defending. So it really struck me that, you know, we, we have work to do with Taiwan. We need a strong relationship with Taiwan and we need to help Taiwan and we have a law that Taiwan relations act where we need to do that. Made a lot of friends, developed, good relationships with, my counterparts in the Taiwan military and it was, to me, it was one of the, the real positive aspects of my time on the joint staff.
James Green: Right, where you're not just reporting up and getting denied working with another country.
Paul Haenle: Right.
James Green: You're actually working on something with the, with the military counterpart. I want to talk about your time moving from the joint staff to the national security council. First, how did that happen? And second, what did you notice different from working in the joint staff to working in the White House?
Paul Haenle: Well, I remember it happened fast. I was coming back from China, wh- when the trip with the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff. And I, I don't remember whether it was general Myers or, Brigadier general Gary North who was one of my bosses who said, you know, Steve Hadley is looking for an executive assistant, from a military officer or some, civilian from the department of defense. Would you like to put your name in the hat for that? And I couldn't think of a better job. I said, absolutely. I'd only been on the joint staff for a month. And so I put my resume forward to the white house, had an interview with Steve Hadley, and then didn't hear anything for some time. And I thought, well, they must've given the job to somebody else.
Paul Haenle: Then I was in Taiwan on a trip with the joint staff having hot pot with some Taiwan friends and I got a call from the white house situation room and said, "This is the white house situation room. We know you're in Taiwan. We know you come back on Tuesday and you have a meeting scheduled with Dr. Condileezza Rice for Wednesday at noon. Can you be back by then?" And I said, "Do you want me to get on an airplane now?" And they said, "No, you don't need to do that." and two days after meeting with Dr. Rice, I was working at the national security council. So it happened, it happened very quickly.
Paul Haenle: Condi Rice and Steve Hadley, Condi was national security advisor at the time and Steve was her deputy. They like to have somebody in the front office from the state department and they wanted somebody from the department of defense. And that largely had to do with managing the relationship, between secretary of state and the secretary of defense and making sure that they felt, you know, they had people there that were mindful of the two departments equities. And so they made a point of having their executive assistants represent the department of defense and department of state. And I thought it was a very good policy.
James Green: And for people who haven't been in the situation room or the West wing, what's the job of that kind of position and how do you describe it and before you took the job, I'm sure you didn't know what you were getting into-
Paul Haenle: Right.
James Green: ... but after you started, what, what was the job? What were you're doing?
Paul Haenle: Well, you know, sort of, I, I was the executive assistant to the deputy national security advisor, Steve Hadley. Mike Ma, who was a state department officer, was Condi Rice's executive assistant. Steve Hadley during my interview, described the job to me, in ways that I think were meant to scare me. He just said that the pace of this job, the word he used to describe it was relentless. he described a normal day, which was showing up at the office at 5:30 am in the morning and going home at 10 o'clock, six, six days a week. You know, with a constant, constant, you know, intensity that, that sort of never dies down. And after he described it, I remember during the interview he looked at me and he said, "Have I convinced you not to pursue the position?" And I said, no, I was kind of a glutton for punishment at the time. I was not married. I was single. And I said, bring it on, you know, I'm ready for it. And he was right. It was a nice job.
James Green: And this was also pre kind of Twitter world and pre kind of connectivity on every device. Like there were not many people who when they went home were still working. Mostly there was work and there was home.
Paul Haenle: Yeah, you could separate it more. And I think we were moving into, and I remember a year or two into my job in the white house, I got my first Blackberry.
Paul Haenle: And life changed after that. It never shut down. But you know what I learned in that job, because I would, and o- one of the roles that I played was the interface between the white house situation room, for example, and the deputy national security advisor and national security advisor. And then each of the agencies, I would have a counterpart in those that were working for the different cabinet secretaries. And, you know, you have a sense of the national security advisor and deputy national security advisor. The world is a very busy place with a lot happening. And I heard one description, I think it was Brent Scowcroft who said, it's like a, a cook who's got 20 different pots and half of them are ready to boil over at any time. And where do you turn your attention to?
Paul Haenle: And that on a daily basis, you know, that's how you felt. Things were coming in. What information do I share with the deputy national security advisor? Do I pull them out of this meeting? what decisions does he have to make, in any particular hour? At the end of the day, what is the what's the, the paperwork he's got to get through in terms of memos, action memos, info memos and others that are going to the president or going to Capitol Hill. It's just trying your best to help the deputy national security advisor and national security advisor manage all of that information and all of that activity. And it was exhilarating and challenging and exciting all at the same time.
James Green: I want to get your time working on China. Taiwan issues in the East Asia directorate. Did you find the workload a little bit easier and though you were responsible for the whole world you could really just focus on one or two political entities and not, not the whole world?
Paul Haenle: Well, I thought that would be the case. you know, I had known for some time that I was going to move to the Asia director and become the China director. I think I knew for six or seven months while I stayed in, in the capacity of executive assistant, so I had some time to think about the job. But a couple of weeks before I moved over to the Asia directorate, Steve Hadley pulled me in and said, we've decided also, it's not typical -- normally the Korea, Japan director, has the Six Party Talks account. And in the case when I was in the front office, it was Victor Cha of course. but-
James Green: Meaning North Korea, dealing with North Korea.
Paul Haenle: Dealing with North Korea in the context of the Six Party Talks nuclear negotiations. And so Steve said, "We've decided that we're going to give you that portfolio as well." And I jokingly said, "I'm not interested," I said You know, I've got a plan for the China director job. I haven't thinking about the North Korea job. I was, you know -- he knew I was joking. I'm obviously going to do what's, what's asked of me. But that presented, you know, a real, learning curve for me. you know, I had lived in Korea, but, by, by no stretch of the imagination was I a Korea expert like Victor Cha. but Victor was very helpful. and you know, I think he convinced me that, I would quickly get up, you know, up to speed on the issues, which, which I was able to do. And then it was really a function of, you know, having that good relationship with Steve Hadley where I could ... had a good direct communication channel where I could bring him up to speed on what was going on and the negotiations.
James Green: And by this time, sorry, he's national security advisor. Is that right?
Paul Haenle: And by that time you're exactly right, when president Bush won the election. So I'd worked for Steve for nine months when he was deputy in the front office and then he became national security advisor and I was his executive assistant for another two plus years with him when he was national security advisor. And so, when I became the China director, I also took on the Six Party Talks account and that involved a lot of travel to Asia to meet with our allies in Seoul and in Tokyo. And we had a good deal of cooperation at the time with the Chinese.
Paul Haenle: I actually in the end thought it made a lot of sense to have the China director working on the Six Party Talks account because it was the first time, I think in the 30 plus years of US China relations where we were working with China on an issue of strategic importance to the region. And so to have somebody who also has the China account, given how important the cooperation with China was and the fact that China was the chair of the Six Party Talks in the end, it made a great deal of sense.
James Green: So why do you think, recognizing that it made sense in retrospect, but from Steve Hadley's point of view, why do you think he gave you that opportunity to excel and, kind of, added to what would have been a plenty full job of just being the China director and said, "Yeah, Paul, I really want you to handle the Six Party Talks as well."
Paul Haenle: Well, I'm not entirely sure. I think part of it, it was a recommendation from Dennis Wilder and Victor Cha and I think they felt that, you know, because I had had such a close working relationship with Steve, and the head of the delegation, the negotiating team was Chris Hill, assistant secretary for East Asia and I think the white house, you know, wanted to have somebody as part of the team, you know, who had good channels of communication with the national security advisor and the leadership in the white house. And so I think given, I had worked for three years on the first floor of the West wing-
Paul Haenle: ... and, you know, knew the folks had worked there and obviously had a close working relationship with Steve I think people felt that made good sense. And it was, it was an important issue and we were actually moving the ball forward. When I came on board in, summer of 2007, one of the first things that happened when I became the white house rep to the Six Party Talks is, North Koreans shut down their nuclear reactor at Yongbyon and they allowed international, inspectors and a US team in to stay at Yongbyon.
Paul Haenle: And in October, about six months later, we negotiated, within the Six Party Talks -- we also negotiated bilaterally with the North Koreans to, disable the key three, three key facilities at Yongbyon. we were working very closely obviously with our allies, which is critically important. But we were also, we also had some good working relations with the Chinese. And one of the things I noticed that's different to today, from today is when we were working on this issue, it really was focused on denuclearization. How can we convince Kim Jong-il at the time, the father of Kim Jong-un to abandon his efforts to develop this, nuclear capability, nuclear deterrence.
Paul Haenle: Geopolitics was always there kind of in the background, but really the, the main sort of driver was this effort at denuclearization. As I think about things today, given the tense US-China relationship and the frictions that we have. And I think, you know, the uncertainty that president Trump brings, the fact that he announced he would meet with King Jong-un without even mentioning it first to our allies Japan -- Korea, of course, knew because they were part of the conversation. But that surprised the Chinese of course. And, and so I think what you see today is it's mostly about geopolitics and it seems less about denuclearization.
Paul Haenle: And I think that's one of the things that's preventing the diplomacy. Each side seems to be looking for a way strategically to get an advantage over the other. China may not be willing to help as much, want to keep North Korea close to use it almost, you know, as leverage in its relations with the United States. And so I think this is to a certain extent, you know, the Trump administration worked very closely in the first term with the Chinese in the first year, with this maximum pressure campaign. Once the North Koreans came to the table for diplomacy, I don't think there's been enough effort to work with the Chinese to get them on board.
James Green: Speaking of that, so can you just walk us through, say one of the Six Party Talks meetings in Beijing, and I know there were countless ones here, but how did they go and how did the Chinese do at hosting those? And were they honest brokers if a document, kind of circulated around, did they give everyone time to talk or did they slip it under your door at 3:00 AM and no one had, had the time to react? How, how did you see that leadership take place and how was that interaction?
Paul Haenle: Well, these were very complicated and messy sort of negotiations. And they would take place at Daioyutai, the state guesthouse and you know, all of the, you know, the Russians and the Chinese and the Koreans and Japanese and the Americans would all show up and have their negotiating teams. And there was a lot of shuttling back and forth between the teams.
James Green: And did you guys stay out there or did you stay at another hotel?
Paul Haenle: We usually stayed at the St. Regis.
James Green: Which was near the embassy at the time.
Paul Haenle: If my, if my memory serves me correctly.. I think that's what we ... I think we did. We stayed at St. Regis. in terms of the, the role that the Chinese played, look, I think it's a very difficult role for them to play. Number one, it's not, not, not easy. I think one frustration we would have with the Chinese is I think we felt we had much more of a sense of urgency in solving the problem. And we often had the sense that the Chinese side was trying to manage the problem. And you know, and a manifestation of that would be if the North Koreans would come in with their opening gambit, which was off the reservation completely. It shouldn't even be given any, you know, recognition. The Chinese would then hear the position of the Americans and, and the others, which were normally much more reasonable. And the Chinese tendency at times was to sort of split it in half.
Paul Haenle: And we would go back to the Chinese and say, "No, that is not your role. When the North Koreans come in with a position that's completely out of line, you have to put pressure on the North Koreans and tell them this is unacceptable." And tell them that was unacceptable.
James Green: And you would back channel that. You wouldn't say it in front of all of the members of the Six Party Talks. You would have a Chinese aside and say, "Hey, guys."
Paul Haenle: Exactly. We would have bilateral meetings. So there were, there were times where you'd have all of the parties together.
James Green: Mm-hmm (affirmative), kind of a plenary meeting with everyone.
Paul Haenle: Plenary session, and that, those were, those discussions were normally, fairly stilted, you know, in, in the discussions. It was the meeting bilaterally and doing the shuttle diplomacy around the Diaoyutai state guesthouse, where you would have these much more sort of candid conversations and you would try to push your agenda or push your issues in certain, in certain directions.
Paul Haenle: And I think that was our frustration with the Chinese. We, we didn't want them to be necessarily, you know, complete honest brokers where they're representing everyone's positioned. If positions aren't reasonable, the Chinese need to call them out. But for the most part, we had, some good cooperation. I think the last Six Party meeting I attended was in December of 2008. So President Bush left office in January, 2009. and it was clear by that point, the North Koreans had sort of given up on the process. And that was because Kim Jong-il had a stroke in August and they very quickly moved into this leadership succession process. His father, Kim il-sung had thought long and hard about who was gonna take over for him. And it was pretty clear when he died that Kim Jong-il, his son was going to, but Kim Jong-il had three sons and hadn't figured out who was going take over for him.
Paul Haenle: So it became a very messy domestic political process. And we realized that when we went in the fall back to Pyongyang to try to work out a verification agreement and it was clear that the North Koreans weren't really willing to play ball anymore. And that became 100% evident at the plenary session in December 2008. The Obama administration tried to get something back on track, but the North Koreans moved into a period of provocation with missiles and ultimately a nuclear test and, and the rest is history.
James Green: Right. So is it your sense that if that hadn't happened, if Kim Jong-il hadn't had a stroke, there might've been some chance at actually addressing the North Korean nuclear program?
Paul Haenle: People would ask us when we came back from the negotiations, we'd come back to DC. Is Kim Jong-il really going to give up his nuclear weapons? And the answer we would give is we don't really know, but we think he's at least taken out an option to do so if the conditions presented to him are appealing.
Paul Haenle: And so we were working on an iterative process, where, you know, the North Koreans take steps to disable the three key facilities at Yongbyon that, the next phase of that was dismantlement where you actually begin to take down the plutonium production facility. But of course, we knew there was a uranium enrichment program out there and we hadn't really gotten at that. They had given us-
James Green: These are two different programs to get fissile material for nuclear weapons.
Paul Haenle: Two different processes and, and the plutonium production process was at the Yongbyon nuclear, production factory. It turns out that, at least a part of their Uranium enrichment program is also at Yongbyon, that was seen, in the Obama administration by I think Sig Hecker when he went for a visit. So we knew that was out there. The North Koreans had given us a declaration in the summer of 2008 that we knew was not complete 'cause it didn't have the highly enriched uranium program on it. That's why the verification program was so important. We had to get a strong verification program and agreement with the North Koreans that we could verify and inspect to determine what they gave us, whether it was true or not. We knew through our own intelligence that it was not complete. And so that made the verification plan much more important. But by that time things had fallen apart.
James Green: And where were the Chinese on the need for a verification plan?
Paul Haenle: I think they supported it as well. I think the differences probably were we would want a much more aggressive one. And which called, you know, for sort of onsite inspections at, at anytime.
James Green: Snap inspections..
Paul Haenle: Snap inspections and the Chinese might be, you know, given, you know, China's own history and proclivity to not reveal their own capabilities and intentions, might be more sympathetic to North Koreans about those kinds of issues. But we didn't, we weren't able to get into those levels of details because it was clear the North Koreans had walked away basically.
James Green: So maybe wrapping up, thinking about what you learned in the Six Party Talks process and through your career in the army, picking it up a level, what do you think works in dealing with China and what, what successes can we build on going forward?
Paul Haenle: Well, it's a great question and it's very applicable today, when there's a reexamination of how to deal with China. I think, you know, as we look for an example now, we might end up having a phase one trade deal here this week, leaving phases two and three for the future. I don't anticipate it will be the world's greatest deal. I think ... but nevertheless, some good news is, I think, welcomed at this point. I think one of the things that the Trump administration, I think, has tried to do, which I think is fine, is to be very clear with the Chinese, where we have disagreements, where we see China's policies and behaviors as undermining our own interests. And I think we need to be much more clear with China and we need to push back where they are undermining our interests.
Paul Haenle: Now, clearly the Trump administration has shown they're willing to, to do that. But I also would hold out the notion that collaboration is important too. we will need to work with China, in areas where it's in our interest to do so. I don't think we need to cooperate with China just to try to be nice to the Chinese. We need to cooperate with the Chinese on certain issues because it's in our interest to do so. And so I think, you know, we're going to have to figure out, it seems to me at the end of the day, as Steve Hadley likes to say how to be strategic competitors, but also how to be strategic cooperators. And that's really the challenge going forward.
James Green: Paul Haenle, it's so great to see. Thanks again for your leadership on your podcast and wonderful to spent time with you here today.
Paul Haenle: Thanks so much for having me on James, I really appreciate it.
James Green: Paul Haenle -- speaking with me from Beijing. You’ve been listening to the U.S.-China Dialogue Podcast from Georgetown University. I’m your host, James Green.