QDR Supports Nuclear Status Quo, Adds Billions More to NMD Program


Craig Cerniello

ON MAY 19, Secretary of Defense William Cohen submitted to Congress the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a six-month study that examined all aspects of U.S. defense strategy and requirements through 2015. The review, which was conducted in consultation with Congress and approved by President Bill Clinton, will "serve as the overall strategic planning document" of the Defense Department. While the QDR made no substantial changes to U.S. strategic nuclear forces and posture, it added $2.3 billion to the Clinton administration's national missile defense (NMD) efforts in order to preserve the current schedule, and delayed deployment of the Army's Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system by two years.

In a reaffirmation of current policy, the QDR noted that "We are committed to reducing our nuclear forces to START II levels once the treaty is ratified by the Russian Duma and then immediately negotiating further reductions consistent with the START III framework." In addition, the QDR concluded that the United States would maintain its strategic nuclear forces at START I levels until Russia has ratified START II, a measure that is consistent with the START II resolution of ratification approved by the Senate in January 1996. (See ACT, February 1996.) Challenging this conclusion, the independent National Defense Panel—which was created by Congress to review the findings of the QDR—argued that "the move to START II force levels should proceed even if the Duma fails to act on START II this year."

Under START I, the United States is expected to deploy a total of 6,000 "treaty-accountable" warheads on the following systems: 50 MX ICBMs, 500 Minuteman III ICBMs, 18 Trident ballistic missile submarines, 71 B-52H bombers and 21 B-2 bombers. (Due to START I counting rules, this force will comprise approximately 8,000 actual deployed warheads). Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 20, Cohen estimated that it will cost the United States approximately $64 million to maintain START I force levels in fiscal year (FY) 1998 and $1 billion per year thereafter. The majority of the increase reflects the costs associated with refueling the four additional Trident submarines that will be maintained under START I.

General John Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee that, in light of this significant potential cost, he would support adjustments to the current congressional prohibition on U.S. strategic nuclear force reductions below START I levels. Shalikashvili said the Joint Chiefs believe "it would be good if we could have the freedom to discuss with [Congress] alternatives that would, on the one hand, meet our security needs, [and] on the other hand not undermine the process of putting the requisite pressure on the Duma to ratify START II. We believe there is a middle way that we can find that will accomplish that."


Missile Defense Issues

As part of its comprehensive analysis, the QDR also evaluated U.S. ballistic missile defense policy and programs. In particular, the review reaffirmed the Clinton administration's "three-plus-three" program, which calls for the development of the initial elements of an NMD system by 2000, at which time the United States will assess the long-range ballistic missile threat to its territory and be in a position to deploy such a system by 2003 if necessary. If no decision is taken to deploy, the United States will continue development efforts while maintaining a three-year deployment capability.

Nevertheless, the QDR determined that the program as currently funded would not enable the United States to meet the 2000 deadline for making a possible NMD deployment decision. Therefore, the review added $2.3 billion to the program over the next five years, but cautioned that even with this additional funding it will "remain a program with very high schedule and technical risk."

With respect to the administration's theater missile defense (TMD) program, the QDR pushed back the deployment date for THAAD from 2004 (which had just been announced in December 1996) again to 2006. This delay was necessary because THAAD has failed in all four of its intercept attempts over the past year and a half. In addition, the QDR provided funding through 1999 for the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS), which is being developed by the United States, Germany and Italy for NATO deployment (previously MEADS was funded through FY 1998).

The QDR also reaffirmed the administration's commitment to other TMD programs: the Army's Patriot Advanced Capability3 (PAC3) system, an improvement over the system deployed during the Gulf War; the Navy's Area Defense ("lower-tier") system; the Navy's Theater-Wide Defense ("upper-tier") system; and the Air Force's Airborne Laser program, which is in the early stages of development.