Cohen Announces NMD Restructuring, Funding Boost

Craig Cerniello

ON JANUARY 20, Secretary of Defense William Cohen announced a major restructuring of the U.S. national missile defense (NMD) and "upper-tier" theater missile defense (TMD) programs, as well as the commitment for the first time of funds for actual NMD deployment. Cohen's announcement drew a barrage of criticism from Russia and China and skeptical reactions from some in Congress, where Senator Thad Cochran (R-MS) and Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) reintroduced bills calling for NMD deployment (see story).

Cohen's NMD announcement consisted of what he termed "four critical decisions." First, the fiscal years (FY) 2000–2005 Defense Department budget, submitted to Congress on February 1, includes $6.6 billion to support NMD deployment. (The addition of these deployment funds, coupled with funds added in the FY 1999 omnibus appropriations bill, brings NMD spending to $10.5 billion through FY 2005.) This announcement appears designed to counter congressional attacks on the credibility of the administration's NMD program, which to date has allocated funds only for research and development.

Second, citing the Rumsfeld Commission, which concluded in July 1998 that the United States may have "little or no warning" before facing a long-range missile threat from "rogue nations," and the August 1998 test of the North Korean Taepo Dong-1 ballistic missile, Cohen stated that the long-range ballistic missile threat to the United States is real and growing.

As recently as last September, the CIA had challenged some of the claims in the Rumsfeld report and concluded that a rogue nation ICBM threat to the United States was unlikely before 2010, with the possible exception of North Korea. (See ACT, October 1998.) The agency, however, later hardened its view of the North Korean threat. Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on February 2, Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet testified that the Taepo Dong-1 launch "demonstrated technology that, with the resolution of some important technical issues, would give North Korea the ability to deliver a very small payload to intercontinental ranges—including parts of the United States—although not very accurately."

More alarmingly, Tenet said the Taepo Dong-2, which has not yet been flight-tested, could deliver large payloads to the continental United States if it utilized a third stage similar to the one in the August 1998 test.

Third, Cohen announced that the Clinton administration is exploring the "nature and scope" of modifications to the ABM Treaty that may be necessary to support the deployment of a limited NMD system. For example, if all 50 states cannot be defended from a single ABM site, an amendment allowing for multiple sites would be necessary. Even if a single site were sufficient, he noted, an amendment may still be necessary if the United States chooses to shift that site from Grand Forks, North Dakota to Alaska. Should the United States and Russia fail to agree on treaty amendments, Cohen stated that "we have the option of our national interest indicating we would simply pull out of the treaty."

Finally, Cohen announced a two-year delay in the NMD program's "3+3" schedule. Although the United States will make its deployment decision in 2000, as originally planned, Cohen projected that the system would not realistically be deployable until 2005 should the decision be made to proceed. The delay is intended to avoid the "rush to failure" mentality described in the 1998 Welch panel report, whereby pressures to accelerate the deployment of missile defense systems interfere with adequate flight-testing. (See ACT, March 1998.)

According to Cohen, the deployment decision, scheduled for June 2000, will be based on two key criteria: "There must be a threat to warrant the deployment; and our NMD development must have proceeded sufficiently so that we are technologically able to proceed. What we are saying today is that we now expect the first criterion will soon be met, and technological readiness will be the primary remaining criterion."

Yet Robert Bell, special assistant to the president for national defense and arms control, backtracked somewhat from Cohen's statement in a January 21 White House briefing. Bell said a deployment decision would not be based solely on the maturity of NMD technology but would also take into account the nature of the missile threat, cost estimates and arms control considerations. National Security Adviser Samuel Berger reiterated this point in a February 3 letter to Senator Carl Levin (D-MI).

Restructured TMD Effort

On TMD, Cohen announced that the United States will continue to flight-test the Army's Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, which has failed in all five of its intercept attempts, and accelerate the Navy's Theater Wide system from the development to the acquisition phase to place both systems on roughly the same deployment schedule. In this way, the Pentagon hopes to inject competition into its upper-tier TMD effort. In a separate briefing on January 20, Lester Lyles, director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, explained that beginning in 2002, the bulk of upper-tier TMD funding will go to the more successful program so that the United States will be able to deploy THAAD or Navy Theater Wide by 2007. Previously, these systems were not scheduled to be deployed until 2008 and 2010, respectively.

As for "lower-tier" TMD programs, Cohen said the Pentagon will continue to fund the Army's Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) system and the Navy's Area Defense system to permit deployment as planned in 2001 and 2003. However, he noted that the Medium Extended Air Defense System (MEADS) program, which is being developed with Germany and Italy for NATO deployment, will not be completely funded. Instead, the United States will provide $150 million over the next three years to facilitate the development of technologies designed to carry out the mission originally intended for MEADS: the protection of maneuvering ground forces.

Russian and Chinese Reactions

Cohen's NMD announcement drew an overwhelmingly negative response from Russian officials. While Cohen (and Bell) argued that the administration's NMD program is not designed to threaten Russia's strategic nuclear deterrent forces, Moscow is concerned that even a limited U.S. NMD system could jeopardize the viability of those forces, especially as they shrink due to arms control agreements and growing financial difficulties.

Colonel General Leonid Ivashov, head of the Russian Defense Ministry's department for international military cooperation, told Interfax on January 21 that "Attempts to bypass the ABM Treaty will upset strategic stability" and threaten Russian ratification of START II, which may come up for Duma consideration in March. Dismissing U.S. fears of a rogue nation threat, Ivashov stated, "Any military expert understands that these states have not and, in the near future, will not have guaranteed means of delivering weapons on U.S. territory."

On January 22, Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov bluntly said that Russia would not agree to ABM Treaty amendments allowing for limited NMD deployment—a position endorsed the following day by First Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Maslyukov. Some members of the Russian Duma share this sentiment. General Nikolay Bezborodov, deputy chairman of the Duma's defense committee, said on February 17 that the committee unanimously believes "there is no reason whatsoever to re-examine" the treaty.

Following meetings with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright in Moscow, Ivanov stated on January 26 that Russia believes "further cuts in strategic offensive weapons can be done only if there is a clear vision for preserving and observing [the ABM Treaty] as the cornerstone of strategic stability." Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott will meet with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgi Mamedov in Moscow on February 22–24 for further discussions on "strategic stability" issues.

Chinese officials were equally negative. Like Moscow, Beijing fears that a U.S. NMD system could undermine the deterrent value of its strategic nuclear forces, which include only approximately 20 CSS-4 ICBMs capable of reaching U.S. territory. Ambassador Sha Zukang, director-general of the Department of Arms Control and Disarmament in China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, argued in a January 12 speech that NMD development would compel other states to build up their offensive missile forces. To avoid such an outcome, Sha reaffirmed China's strong support for the ABM Treaty and even called for its multilateralization (presumably beyond the former Soviet Union).

On January 24, China's official Liberation Army Daily claimed that the Clinton administration's missile defense plan "will have a far-reaching negative influence" on global and regional stability in the 21st century. China also intensified its criticism of the administration's related efforts to cooperate with East Asian allies on theater missile defenses. (See story.)