CIA Holds to Assessment of Ballistic Missile Threat to U.S.

IN A SEPTEMBER 17 speech, Robert D. Walpole, national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs, unveiled key aspects of the CIA's classified 1998 Annual Report to Congress on Foreign Missile Developments. Walpole said that the ICBM threat to the United States from so-called "rogue states" is unlikely to materialize before 2010, with the possible exception of North Korea. The CIA's analysis, which is consistent with the 1995 National Intelligence Estimate on the missile threat (NIE 95-19) and its subsequent review chaired by Robert Gates, marks the U.S. government's most substantive response thus far to the findings of the independent "Rumsfeld Commission." The commission concluded in July that the United States may have "little or no warning" before facing an ICBM threat from rogue states such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq. (See ACT, June/July, 1998.)

Some congressional Democrats are likely to cite the CIA report in support of their position that deployment of a national missile defense (NMD) is not necessary at this time. A number of congressional Republicans have pointed to the Rumsfeld report as justification for immediate NMD deployment.

In his speech, delivered at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Walpole said the CIA report concluded that North Korea could deploy its 4,000- to 6,000-kilometer-range Taepo Dong-2 in "a few years," thereby putting parts of Alaska and Hawaii within striking distance. Beyond this threat (as well as the existing Russian and Chinese threat), the report stated that it is "unlikely" that any country "will develop, produce, and deploy an ICBM capable of reaching any part of the United States over the next decade," even if given foreign assistance.

Although Walpole admitted that there are alternative scenarios under which a rogue state could acquire an ICBM capability sooner, such as through the purchase of complete systems, he stated that the CIA viewed these acquisition paths as "unlikely." (Walpole noted that unlike the Rumsfeld Commission, the CIA specified the likelihood of particular scenarios in its report. Hence, while some of the scenarios in the Rumsfeld report may be conceivable, the CIA has judged them to be unlikely.)

Walpole said the CIA and Rumsfeld reports agree on North Korea's ballistic missile capabilities, the importance of foreign assistance in the spread of missile technology, and the fact that under some scenarios warning time may be dramatically reduced. The reports differ, however, in their assessments of the Iraqi and Iranian missile threats. While the Rumsfeld Commission argued that Iran and North Korea are further along than Iraq, the CIA believes Baghdad is ahead in some respects because it has not lost its technological expertise since the Gulf War. Moreover, while the commission claimed that the North Korean and Iranian missile programs are at the same level of maturity, the CIA noted that Iran's Shahab-3 is based on North Korean technology tested several years ago.


The Russian and Chinese Threat

Walpole also said Russia's strategic nuclear arsenal is being modernized and will remain "formidable," even as deployed warhead levels are reduced in the years ahead under the START process. He stated that China currently possesses about 20 CSS-4 ICBMs, a higher figure than some non-governmental experts had previously reported, and that this number is likely to increase as Beijing modernizes its strategic forces. The CIA report noted, however, that an unauthorized or accidental nuclear launch from Russia or China is "highly unlikely" under present circumstances. According to Walpole, "Russia employs an extensive array of technical and procedural safeguards and China keeps its missiles unfueled and without warheads mated."