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Evaluating the Criteria for NMD Deployment
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Before its annual luncheon and membership meeting on March 31, the Arms Control Association held a panel discussion to examine the proposed U.S. national missile defense system. In particular, the panel focused on the four criteria that President Clinton has said will inform his decision on whether to deploy the system: the cost, the readiness of the technology, the maturity of the threat, and arms control considerations.

The panelists were Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr., president and executive director of the Arms Control Association, who gave an overview of the criteria; Steve Fetter, professor of public policy at the University of Maryland, who discussed the system's technological readiness; Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who addressed the threat; and Jack Mendelsohn, vice president and executive director of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security, who spoke on the system's strategic implications.

The following is an edited version of the panelists' remarks and the question-and-answer session that followed.

Side bar:

Assessing the Threat/Assessing the Technology

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

Good morning. In the past at this meeting, we have reviewed the overall status of arms control and its prospects for the coming year. This year, we believe that the issue of national missile defense (NMD) is so central that it deserves our full attention.

Last year, the president was faced with congressional action to make it U.S. policy to deploy a national missile defense. Initially, he indicated that he would veto the legislation as it stood. The legislation was then modified so that in addition to including the statement that it was U.S. policy to deploy a national missile defense as soon as practical, it incorporated two additional points: one, that this would have to be done in conjunction with the overall military budget, and two, that it was also U.S. policy to negotiate continued reductions in Russian nuclear arms. These appeared to water down the force of the legislation.

Beyond this, in signing the legislation, President Clinton formally stated that a decision on actual deployment would hinge on the assessment of four criteria: one, the status of the program and the results of testing and other developments; two, the cost of the proposed system; three, the actual threat; and four, the impact on U.S. arms control objectives, including any amendments to the ABM Treaty. At the time, I think the combination of the mixed language in the legislation and four very demanding conditions made it look like the issue would be kicked down the road for a considerable period of time. However, a very strong clique of national missile defense advocates in the Republican Party and some key individuals in Clinton's administration pressed vigorously for deployment, and in all the discussion, the actual wording of the legislation and the status of the conditions were essentially ignored.

I think by now it's clear that none of the conditions support deployment this summer, or this year, or even for the foreseeable future. Others in the panel are going to discuss the substance of these conditions in considerable detail. Let me briefly give an overview and my own assessment of them.

With regard to the status of the program, development simply hasn't progressed to a point where a responsible decision can be made on deployment by any standard that has been previously established by the Defense Department. So far, the testing has used surrogate systems—none of the components that would actually be in the system—and the testing has been conducted, as one would expect in an early stage, under far-from-realistic circumstances. But even if everything works out on schedule—and so far the evidence is that the program is continually slipping—and even if the final system worked according to specifications, it would be easily overcome by anyone sufficiently serious to even contemplate attacking the United States.

The Welch Report, which was prepared by a panel under the former chief of staff of the Air Force and other knowledgeable individuals in the defense establishment, concluded that the program was far from being ready for any kind of decision on deployment, and asserted that it would be at least 2003 before you could make a normal deployment decision. This was followed by another inside report by Philip Coyle, the ombudsman in the Defense Department for test and evaluation, who agreed with the Welch Report and emphasized that the program is being driven by external schedules and not by actual achievements and who also saw an appropriate decision time several years in the future. This, after all, I would emphasize, is not World War II and is not the Manhattan Project, where one did proceed into unknown territory and parallel programs because the outcome of the war and the future of civilization conceivably depended on it. This is a very different situation.

As far as cost is concerned, the issue hasn't really been faced publicly, and its not even clear that it's been faced inside the administration. I think figures of $30-60 billion are probably reasonable, and I understand that the head of the program let slip the other day that $38 billion seemed to be an appropriate number. These are costs that we could certainly afford, if we have to, but the program is going to cut deeply into high-technology funds in the Defense Department at a time when military budgets are hopefully static or decreasing. And of course, if this is really the first step to the kind of program that Senator Jon Kyl and other advocates in the Republican Party want, we're talking about a program that can only be calculated in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

With regard to the threat, the world has reacted with puzzlement and disbelief to the U.S. concern with the possibility of a North Korean nuclear attack. Senior administration officials proclaim in alarm that North Korea will have a capability to attack the United States by 2005, or maybe even much sooner. It is this date, which has no basis in fact, that is driving the need for an early decision.

The Intelligence Community has been pushed to say that a capability to attack the United States could exist in the next 10 to 15 years. This is strictly a conceivable technical capability, and I think you will find intelligence analysts, taking real-world factors into consideration, believe it is extremely unlikely that North Korea or other "rogue" states will develop such a capability by 2005.

In any event, the notion that North Korea would attack the United States with a few weapons is really absurd. The idea that somehow these rogue states are not deterred by U.S. power is very far-fetched. The suggestion is now made that these countries might prevent U.S. actions by threatening nuclear blackmail. I think that for a country as weak as North Korea to attempt to blackmail the United States, inviting pre-emptive action, would be an act of madness and is not credible.

Finally, let me turn to the impact on arms control objectives. These are the real costs of an early decision to deploy a national missile defense. Russia has said "nyet" at every level, publicly and privately, to making any amendments that would facilitate the deployment of a national missile defense. They consider this a fundamental matter of principle. I think the key people—and I have talked with many of them—recognize that amendments permitting only a very minimal defense, by itself, is not a threat to Russia. But they also consider it a very slippery slope. And they do this with very good reason because the U.S. negotiators tell them that this is Phase I, and we will soon have to come back with Phase II and Phase III. By the time that you complete the full so-called minimal national missile defense, the Russians believe that you will begin to have what the ABM Treaty specifically tried to prevent: the base for a system that at least could be perceived as capable of dealing with their forces remaining after a U.S. pre-emptive strike. They point out that Phase III of the proposed system involves a lot more than shifting a site to Alaska—it's two or more sites and the construction of many advanced X-band radars and space sensors.

What would be the consequences if we simply withdraw from the treaty, as some have threatened? This would end prospects for START III, it would probably mean that Russia would withdraw from START II, and it would conceivably end START I as well if Russia decides that U.S. intentions are so threatening that they would be better off abandoning parity and focusing on building an optimum system meeting their own needs. Amending the treaty could have almost the same effect. It certainly would have, even if accepted by Russia, a chilling effect on any further force reductions at this time.

China is very upset by the prospects of such a deployment, which they consider to be directed at them. China discounts the North Korean threat as nonexistent, and looking at the nature of the proposed deployment, concludes by the NMD system's location and size, that the system is focused on China, which some Republicans publicly state is desirable. This would certainly increase the pace and size of China's modernization of its strategic force, which would in turn impact India's future plans in the nuclear field.

Regarding the rest of the world, I think that we are going to find out painfully a month from now at the five-year review conference on the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty [NPT] that the overwhelming majority of the non-nuclear-weapon states look on this as a circumvention or abandonment of U.S. obligations under Article VI to move toward a reduction of nuclear forces and ultimately nuclear disarmament, and is instead a new input into the nuclear arms race.

In this circumstance, the administration appears to be offering both sticks and carrots to the Russians and, rather than setting the stage for the president to make an objective assessment on deployment, is putting him increasingly in a spot where he will seem to be somehow deficient if he does not decide to deploy, despite the strong arguments against deployment. On the one hand, they apparently imply to, if not actually tell, the Russians that if they do not agree to the ABM Treaty amendments, the United States will withdraw from the treaty. This is a little bit like the man who puts a gun to his head and says, "If you don't do what I say, I'm going to kill myself." The second argument is that if Russia doesn't agree to the kind of package that the administration is offering, which in the very first phase is minimal, then a Republican administration would go for a much more extreme position, and that Russia can lock in a minimal change to the ABM Treaty by negotiating now.

My own view is that, even if the Russians were to do this, a Republican administration would not feel in any way bound by restriction to minimal deployment. I think there is no chance that the present Senate, or even the next Senate, would ratify such an agreement if it is in fact seen as limiting the more substantial development that the Republican leadership advocates. So, I do not think that a compelling case has been made on the politics of this issue.

In summary, I would just say that the arguments against a decision this summer or this year to deploy completely outweigh any security advantage that might be obtained by moving ahead with this extremely technically risky program. Is there any light at the end of the tunnel? The only light I can see is that, when really faced with this decision and all of the conditions that he himself has put on it, the president will decide to either say "no" on deployment or kick the problem down the road into the next administration. [Back to top]

Steve Fetter

In the next 10 minutes or so, I'm going to try to describe the system and assess its technical readiness for a deployment decision and, beyond that, assess its possible strategic value in protecting the United States against attacks by weapons of mass destruction [WMD].

The mission of the system is to defend all 50 U.S. states against a limited attack by intercontinental ballistic missiles. Limited means initially up to five missiles—five re-entry vehicles with no countermeasures—and eventually a somewhat larger number of incoming warheads with some countermeasures.

The system has three different kinds of components. First, a ground-based interceptor, which is based in a silo and consists of a three-stage, solid-fueled missile topped with an exoatmospheric kill vehicle that, if delivered to the correct point in space, is designed to acquire the targets with infrared sensors, determine which one is the warhead, home on the warhead, maneuver into the path of the warhead, and destroy the warhead by colliding with it. This is what is known as "hit-to-kill" intercept. The second type of components are various sensors to detect the launch of ballistic missiles, track the re-entry vehicle and any other objects that are released, discriminate between them, and guide the interceptor to the correct point in space for the intercept. And then finally, there are the battle management and command and control systems. Each of these components is very complicated, and the demands of system integration are quite significant.

The system is to be deployed in three phases. Originally, the first phase was to have its initial operating capability in 2003. That has now been moved back to 2005, with the full so-called capability-3 system available about five years later, in 2010 or 2011. In the first phase, the capability-1 phase, there are to be 20 to 100 ground-based interceptors and a new sophisticated X-band radar, which allows accurate tracking of objects, based in Alaska. The other sensors would initially be the Defense Support Program satellites to detect missile launches, and if the objects are not in view of the new X-band radar, upgraded early-warning radars around the periphery of the United States to track objects in their mid-range trajectory.

By the capability-3 system, there would be two sites. In addition to Alaska, interceptors would also be based in North Dakota. I should say that this system architecture is only preliminary, but this is the current plan. There would be nine X-band radars to replace the upgraded early-warning radars and provide more accurate tracking information, and eventually there would be a new satellite system—the so-called SBIRS-low [Space-Based Infrared System, low-earth orbit]—to provide mid-course tracking and better discrimination of warheads from other objects.

President Clinton is supposed to decide whether to commit to deploy this system sometime this summer on the basis of three tests. I'll talk a little bit about those three tests in a moment, but this schedule is widely seen as being driven by the political calendar—that is, the November election—not by reasonable technical requirements of a sound program to develop a reliable system. As Spurgeon mentioned, there have been two independent reviews of the NMD program chaired by Larry Welch, former Air Force chief of staff, and also a review by Philip Coyle, who is the director of operational testing and evaluation in the Department of Defense. Each of these reviews has described the testing program as very aggressive, as very high risk, and have described the planned deployment review as an artificial decision point that is being driven by a calendar schedule rather than by events describing the performance of the system.

The Welch Report also found that both the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization [BMDO] and the contractors had underestimated the difficulty of demonstrating reliable hit-to-kill intercept. There have been about 12 tests so far of exoatmospheric hit-to-kill intercept, none of which has been under realistic conditions, and only three have achieved a measure of success. There has been inadequate hardware to support the development and certification of ground facilities for testing, inadequate ground testing, inadequate quality control, and inadequate spares for tests—for example, when a component failed in the third test, there was no spare, and the only option was to remove the component from the kill vehicle to be used in the next test.

So, overall, the schedule is very rushed, perhaps by about a factor of two, compared with previous high-priority but successful defense development programs. The schedule is so rushed that there is an inadequate opportunity for learning between tests. This is not the way that successful programs have been managed in the past, and that is why the original Welch Report characterized the program as a "rush to failure." The judgment of the second Welch Report was that a decision on the readiness of this system for deployment would not be possible until 2003 at the earliest because that is the earliest date at which operational versions of the interceptor, the booster, and the kill vehicle would be available for testing.

And even then, there are problems that have been identified with the testing program—several of which are particularly serious. The first is that only two geometries will be tested, and those two are similar because all of the test missiles will be launched from Vandenburg Air Force Base in California and the interceptors will be launched from Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The relatively short range also means that the burnout velocity of the threat missile is at the low end of what would be expected for an ICBM. Also, at least in the initial tests, a surrogate for the operational booster is being used that has a lower burnout velocity than the actual booster. So, in the initial tests, the closing velocity is at the very low end of the range that would be expected in a real engagement.

Also, there will only be tests of one target at a time. That may change if another launcher is built at Kwajalein, but right now there is only one launcher, so you can only launch one interceptor at a time. Of course, in a real defensive engagement, you would have to be able to manage a defense involving several interceptors in the air at once.

The BMDO position has been that the system could be judged ready for deployment this year if there were two successful intercepts, one of which was a so-called integrated systems test. The first two intercept tests used surrogates for all the components except the exoatmospheric kill vehicle. So really, the first two tests were just tests of the prototype exoatmospheric kill vehicle. For example, the mid-range tracking information in the first two tests was provided by a beacon on the warhead and Global Positioning System data from a receiver on the warhead that was downloaded to the interceptor. That data is far more accurate than that which would be provided by the radar.

Even so, there have been problems with these first two tests. In the first test, which was in October 1999, in which the target missile released a re-entry vehicle [RV] and a large balloon, there were various guidance errors in the exoatmospheric kill vehicle that caused it to be pointed in the wrong direction, so that when the infrared sensors looked out, they didn't see any targets. As the search routine was executed, the exoatmospheric kill vehicle saw the large balloon and started to home on the balloon, and only later, as it homed on it, found the re-entry vehicle and discriminated between the balloon and the re-entry vehicle. It did eventually home on and destroy the RV, but it is by no means clear that if the balloon had not been present that the kill vehicle would have intercepted the RV.

In the second test, which was this January, there was a coolant leak, which has been characterized as a plumbing error. This goes to the question of quality control in the program because this is a failure that could have been detected on the ground. The infrared sensors have to be cooled in order to work. A leak in the coolant lines meant the sensors were not cooled and did not function. So even though the interceptor was delivered to the correct point in space, it could not home on the RV and there was no intercept.

The next test, which was originally scheduled for April, has now been delayed until late June. This is the first so-called integrated systems test, which would use prototypes or surrogates for all of the components, except the booster. The booster is still a surrogate that is a lower-acceleration, lower-burnout velocity interceptor. But even if that test is a success, even if it goes just as planned, there still would not by any means be sufficient basis to support an acquisition decision. As the Welch Report noted, the earliest that you could test the full system would be 2003.

I would like to turn briefly to the strategic value of the system. Basically, what I've done so far is to refute the notion that the system will work as intended soon enough to support a deployment decision. But even if the system works perfectly, even if it works exactly as it's intended, it is my judgment that it won't be able to protect the United States from attack by long-range missiles, let alone be able to protect the United States from attacks by all weapons of mass destruction.

Any adversary that is capable of deploying an intercontinental ballistic missile is also capable of deploying simple countermeasures that would defeat the national missile defense. For example, if an adversary wanted to arm a long-range missile with chemical or biological weapons, the preferred method in terms of military effectiveness for delivering those would be in the form of submunitions. Submunitions were the way the United States designed its chemical and biological warheads when it had such programs. If these submunitions are released soon after the end of the boost phase, then there is no possibility that the proposed national missile defense system could intercept any significant fraction of those submunitions because there could be many hundreds of them. Any country that is capable of building and fielding an ICBM would be more than capable of developing such submunitions.

Of course, submunitions are not an option for nuclear weapons. In the case of nuclear weapons, one could enclose the warhead inside of a mylar balloon, and then release many similar mylar balloons. The mylar balloons would all look identical to radar and infrared sensors. Even though the empty balloons might be stripped out on entering the atmosphere, by that time it would be too late for the NMD interceptors to intercept the warhead.

A group of physicists working under the auspices of the Union of Concerned Scientists have investigated these countermeasures in some detail and have produced a report. The NMD test program won't test against these countermeasures, and we believe that all of them are much easier than building an ICBM, a nuclear warhead, or a re-entry vehicle. [See document, 'Countermeasures'.]

Finally, an ICBM is not the only way to deliver weapons of mass destruction. As the Rumsfeld Commission noted, any country that could build an ICBM would be able to launch a short-range missile from a ship much earlier. And there are other options: delivery by cruise missile, by a commercial ship entering a harbor, by small airplane, or by smuggling devices into the United States. It's worth noting that only about 10 percent of all drug shipments into the United States are intercepted, so there's not much hope of doing any better with, say, canisters of biological agent.

In summary, we can't tell any time soon whether the system will perform as intended. The soonest that that would be possible is when operational versions of all the hardware will be available, which is 2003 at the earliest. Perhaps even more importantly, even if the system works exactly as intended, it won't be able to protect the United States from ICBMs, much less all weapons of mass destruction. [Back to top]

Joseph Cirincione

In the last 40 years, we have spent over $120 billion trying to find an effective defense against long-range ballistic missiles and have not been able to do so. However, recently, interest in this program has gotten much more serious—primarily because of a heightened threat perception. We now feel that there is a more urgent reason to deploy a national missile defense than ever before. As Secretary of Defense Cohen said just this month, "The threat is here today. If it is not here right now, it will be here tomorrow."

Well, let's talk about the threat. The most official assessment of the threat is, of course, the National Intelligence Estimate [NIE] that was released in September 1999. This estimate is the consensus report of the all of the various intelligence agencies of the United States, and it differs from all previous National Intelligence Estimates on the question of threat. It concludes that over the next 15 years the United States "most likely will face ICBM threats from Russia, China and North Korea, probably from Iran, and possibly from Iraq." It goes on to say—and this is usually lost in the newspaper reports—that "although the threats will consist of dramatically fewer weapons than today because of significant reductions we expect in Russian strategic forces."

All previous estimates have said that the United States will face an ICBM threat only from China, which has about 20, and from Russia, which has several thousand; that they didn't expect a third-nation ICBM threat to appear any time in the next 10 to 15 years; and that if one did, we would have ample warning. This estimate is different. It is this estimate that leads Secretary Cohen to make the kinds of statements that he is now making—that basically the threat is here today.

What is different about this National Intelligence Estimate isn't some dramatic new development in the world, although there have been some tests of medium-range ballistic missiles that have caused some concern. What is different is that the U.S. intelligence agencies have dropped the bar for what they consider a threat in three significant ways.

First, they changed the target and therefore the range. All previous National Intelligence Estimates had said that the continental United States was the standard by which we would judge whether a country had a true intercontinental-range ballistic missile capability. Now, we are judging the target to be the entire United States—that is, including Alaska and Hawaii—which changes the range by about 5,000 kilometers. That is the difference between Seattle, which is very far from North Korea, and the western-most tip of the Aleutian Island chain, which is very close. In effect, you are now categorizing a medium-range ballistic missile as the equivalent of an intercontinental ballistic missile.

The second dramatic change was to say that a country could deploy a system when it could first test a system. And that difference, previous estimates have said, would be about five years. The 1995 assessment, for example, said that five years after a country first tested a missile, the intelligence agencies thought they would be in a position to actually deploy it. The current threat assessment says, no, testing is it. That is a change of five years. Tack that on to the 5,000-kilometer change and already you can see why North Korea, Iran, and Iraq start slipping into this 10-year or even five-year window.

But the most dramatic change is the adoption of the "could" standard. Previously, National Intelligence Estimates tried their best to give policymakers some real guidance on what they thought would happen, their best guess—the kind of information that you would want from your stock broker or the weather person. You would expect that our intelligence agencies would tell us, "This is it. This is what will happen." No. Now, they are putting out a list of what could happen. Everything is brought into this intelligence estimate. Lots of things could happen, and they lay them all out. They have made the political decision that it is better to give Congress a list of the possible events that may not occur rather than fail to project an event that does occur.

There were two precipitating factors, I think, in the changes in the National Intelligence Estimate. First, of course, there were real world events. There was a Taepo Dong launch on August 31, 1998, that surprised us a bit because it had a third stage we hadn't expected. The test itself was not surprising. In fact, the 1999 NIE says that in the past, the Intelligence Community had "overestimated that North Korea would begin flight testing the Taepo Dong-1 and Taepo Dong-2 missiles years earlier than it turned out to be the case." In fact, the 1999 estimate said that they expected a Taepo Dong-2 launch, the longer-range North Korean missile, to occur last year. It did not. But again, they were hedging their bets.

What surprised us was not that North Korea had this capability, but that it had a third stage, which meant that it could stretch out the possible range. What we're talking about now is a Taepo Dong that has a possibility of launching a light payload into Alaska or Hawaii. Not a nuclear warhead, but maybe a biological or chemical agent. The projection is that the Taepo Dong-2 will have a farther range, that it will be a true intermediate-range ballistic missile, something that no other country besides China or Russia has yet fielded. North Korea would then have an intermediate-range ballistic missile that could possibly launch a biological or chemical agent to the continental United States. This is the threat that we now see.

But beyond these real-world events, the estimates were influenced more dramatically, I think, by congressional attacks on the estimates. Congress hated the estimates that it was getting from the Clinton administration. Congress alleged that the estimates were politically motivated—that the intelligence agencies were intentionally watering down their threat estimates so as not to justify the deployment of a national missile defense system. The 1995 estimate in particular was viciously attacked. The intelligence officials who made that estimate were harassed and insulted in their testimony before congressional committees. The intelligence officials involved in that estimate spent the next two years of their careers defending it before numerous hearings and two independently mandated congressional reviews. That lesson was not lost on the officials who presented the 1999 testimony.

The first review of the 1995 testimony was done by Robert Gates, former CIA director under President George Bush. That report was done in mid-1996. It was not released in mid-1996. It was an election year, and, like cicadas, every four years national missile defense bubbles up as a topic of intense discussion. It was an intense period of discussion then. That is why Congress had an independent review commissioned. Unfortunately, the review came back with the wrong answer. In December 1996, Robert Gates was finally allowed to present his testimony to the Senate concluding that the 1995 estimate was correct. In fact, the panel said that the evidence was stronger than was presented that the United States was not likely to face a threat from a third nation for the next 10-15 years.

Congress didn't like that result. So they ordered another review—the Rumsfeld Commission. The Rumsfeld Commission set the mark for exaggerated threat estimates because it concluded that North Korea, Iran, and Iraq could develop ballistic missiles with biological or nuclear warheads that would "inflict major destruction on the U.S. within about five years of a decision to do so" and that during several of those years the United States might not be aware that such a decision had been made. Not only that, the commission went further and said that these and other nations could deploy operational intercontinental ballistic missiles with little or no warning. Little or no warning. Like virtual particles that would just pop into being. We would just wake up tomorrow and find that Libya had deployed an ICBM. You couldn't rule it out.

That is what really set the standard, and it was that standard that has now been adopted by the National Intelligence Estimate. This "could" standard. This changing of the warning time. And it is the most serious damage that we've done to our national intelligence assessments. The National Intelligence Estimate, in my opinion, has bent to political pressures—not from the executive branch, but from the legislative branch.

And it's not just what the estimate says, it's what it doesn't say. What is wrong with these estimates? Why are people so worried about these ballistic missile threats? It is because we have artificially focused—and the NIE demonstrates this in spades—on the threat from a few developing nations. Almost all of the discussion of the ballistic missile threat is focussed on North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. Are those the only countries in the world with ballistic missiles? No. Is that a net assessment of the ballistic missile threat that you would expect from the national intelligence agencies? What happens when you do a net assessment?

This is what I was driven to do when I was asked to testify before the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee earlier this year on assessing the assessment. I looked at this assessment, and I realized all the things it didn't say. It led me to conclude that overall, on net, the ballistic missile threat to the United States has dramatically declined over the past 15 years and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

How can I possibly say that? Let's take a look. The ICBM threat to the United States has actually declined by almost 52 percent over the past 15 years. You have to remember that we used to face a Soviet Union that was as determined as we were to dominate every step on the escalatory ladder. Fifteen years ago, the Soviet Union had 9,540 nuclear warheads on 2,318 long-range missiles aimed at the United States. Currently, Russia has fewer than 5,200 missile warheads deployed on approximately 1,100 missiles. That is a net decrease of 52 percent. What can we expect in the future? Russia's arsenal is going down, probably below the START numbers. By 2010, they will probably have fewer than 2,000 nuclear warheads, and perhaps as few as several hundred, deployed on long-range missiles. That would represent a total net decrease of 80 percent at the 2,000 level, or 94 percent at 500 warheads—a massive, dramatic decrease in the ICBM threat to the United States.

During this same period, China has maintained a force of approximately 20 long-range missiles, and National Intelligence Estimates agree that barring any other political developments, such as their reaction to the introduction of a U.S. national missile defense system, we can expect that China's force will be pretty much the same as it is now. Twenty or 30 perhaps. Modernized, different, but not greatly increased in number.

The number of intermediate-range ballistic missiles, which are missiles with ranges of 3,000-5,500 kilometers, has decreased even more dramatically because Presidents Reagan and Gorbachev eliminated all intermediate-range ballistic missiles in the U.S. and Soviet arsenals with the visionary Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces [INF] Treaty. The Soviet Union destroyed 1,846 missiles in this class, and the United States destroyed 846 ballistic and cruise missiles. China has about 20 Dong Feng-4 missiles with this range, and that stockpile is expected also to remain roughly the same. No other nation has developed an intermediate-range ballistic missile. There is a reason that only Russia, China, and the United States have missiles in this range: this is very difficult technology. If, in fact, North Korea does launch a two-stage Taepo Dong-2 missile, that would add a few missiles to the category, but as it stands now, there has been a net decrease in intermediate-range ballistic missiles of almost 99 percent. Everything has been eliminated except the Chinese missiles.

Now we come to medium-range ballistic missiles. Where do we stand globally with those? That number has actually increased. Apart from China and Russia, a few countries have conducted tests of medium-range ballistic missiles—missiles with a range of 1,000-3,000 kilometers—which are a step up from the Scud missile. India intends to begin production of the Agni-2. (That missile, by the way, has been under development since the 1980s. That's a very technologically capable, well-funded program, and it's taken them a long time.) India tested the Agni-2 last year and announced plans to begin production. We should look at the Agni-2 to gain some evidence for how long it will take North Korea to develop a Taepo Dong-2. The Agni-2, if it does enter into production, will have a range of about 2,000 kilometers. They are said to be working on a longer-range missile, but none have yet been tested.

The only other significant medium-range missiles are based on the North Korean Nodong missile, including Pakistan's Ghauri missile, which has about a 1,300-kilometer range; the Ghauri-2, which they're working on and which has a range of about 2,000 kilometers; and Iran's Shahab-3, which is a similar 1,300-kilometer-range missile. Except for Saudi Arabia, which bought some Chinese Dong Feng-3 missiles, which have a 2,600 kilometer range, that's it for the world of medium-range ballistic missiles.

The developing ballistic missile programs that are underway are actually fewer in number than 15 years ago, and they're being done by poorer, less technologically advanced nations. We forget—and one of the reasons we forget is that the intelligence estimates don't remind us—that 15 years ago we were concerned about India, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, South Africa, and perhaps Libya. Many of you may remember the Condor program, a joint project by many of those nations. They were all involved in efforts to develop long-range missiles. All but India have since terminated such efforts. North Korea, Iran, and Iraq have joined that group, and Israel retains the capability to develop long-range missiles but is not considered a threat. In sum, we now have fewer programs by poorer nations. We had eight in the mid-1980s, and we have seven today.

Finally, the damage that could be done to the United States from attack has vastly decreased. Fifteen years ago, we were worried about a global thermonuclear war—an attack that would result not just in the destruction of a city or of a nation, but possibly, in fact probably, in the destruction of the globe. Today, we're worried about a catastrophic event involving a nuclear missile or a nuclear warhead. That would be a disaster, but it pales in comparison to the kind of threat that we faced and thankfully avoided during the Cold War.

Most of the nations that have ballistic missiles have, in fact, short-range Scuds. This leads to the often-quoted assessment that there are 25 countries with ballistic missile capability. That's true, but almost all of them have Scuds. In fact, a more accurate count is that there are 33 nations with ballistic missiles, but 27 have only short-range missiles with ranges under 1,000 kilometers. It is important to make this differentiation, as many policymakers do not do. The most accurate way to summarize the existing global ballistic missile capabilities is that there is a widespread capability to launch short-range missiles, mostly Scuds; there is a slowly growing but still limited capability to launch medium-range missiles; and there is a decreasing number of long-range missiles that can threaten the United States.

In fact, the NIE in some ways does us a service by being so specific on what the threat is: Russia, China, North Korea, probably Iran, possibly Iraq. It is a very narrow threat. A very narrow number of countries. The NIE could do a better service if, like previous assessments, it included political factors in this list of "coulds." It only does a technological "could" assessment. Any graduate student who is learning risk assessment knows that that might be where you start, but that is not where you finish when you are doing a threat assessment or a risk assessment.

If North Korea was taken out of this equation, for whatever reason, there would be very little left of this threat assessment. I would argue that the NIE that was presented in September was, in fact, obsolete a few weeks after it was presented. There were some dramatic diplomatic developments with North Korea that led it to suspend its Taepo Dong-2 test program. That is why the NIE expected there to be a test and there was not: because political developments intervened.

I would contend that as equally likely as some of the "could" technological developments are the "could" political developments that could happen by 2008, which is when the national missile defense system is expected to have its initial operating capability of 100 interceptors. By 2008, North Korea could have collapsed, or it could have merged with South Korea. Democratizing trends in Iran could have altered the direction of that nation's program. A post-Saddam Iraq could have restored friendly relations with the West. The international political, legal, and diplomatic environment is highly relevant to the prospects of global developments of ballistic missiles. These factors must be included in any "could" assessment.

What difference would it make? Admiral Dennis Blair, the commander-in-chief of the Pacific Command, told the Carnegie International Non-Proliferation Conference that if there were a verifiable agreement ending the North Korean missile program, it would have "a very big effect" on the timetables for deploying both theater and national missile defenses. He continued to say, "On a national missile defense, the North Korean development and the Taepo Dong launch is clearly one of the key, if not the key factor in determining the parameters and deployment schedule and the capabilities of that system." If there was a negotiated end to that threat, he said, "It would make a big difference."

So there are many more variables to consider in judging the threat than you might consider by the short quips that you sometimes get from policymakers. I hope that I have provided a few more for your consideration. [Back to top]

Jack Mendelsohn

I'd like to add three or four twists to the discussion on national missile defense and its impact. The first twist is that for Russia the problem is not so much ground-based interceptors as it is future sensors. The second twist is that the near-term impact of and response to NMD is likely to be greater for China than for Russia. The third twist is that our NATO allies are focused more on decoupling and extended deterrence, if you will, and the collapse of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty regime than on the ABM Treaty and its interaction with national missile defense. It's a bit of a stretch to find the third twist, I admit, because the allies wouldn't be concerned about deterrence and proliferation if the ABM Treaty weren't in jeopardy. But the allies talk more about these other issues than about the ABM Treaty per se.

I believe the Russians are prepared, under ideal or better conditions, to revert to the original limits of the ABM Treaty, provided the other constraints of the original treaty, including those on sensors, remain in place. Those original limits were two sites and 200 interceptors. They admit that a kinetic kill ABM interceptor force of 200 is not going to have a significant impact on retaliatory capabilities of forces that include 1,500 warheads or more.

As you know, the ABM Treaty permitted two sites. Moreover, in their discussions on theater missile defense, the United States and Russia have adopted the force-on-force principle, rather than a geographic or numerical definition, to evaluate the interaction of strategic offenses and theater missile defenses [TMD] and redefine "territorial defense." Just to remind you, the language of the September 1997 demarcation agreements reads "systems to counter ballistic missiles other than strategic ballistic missiles may be deployed by each party which will not pose a realistic threat to the strategic nuclear force of the other party." So there is a principle out there that they can use.

Of more concern to the Russians are the upgraded early-warning and new engagement radars, which would put in place a sensor system for an easily, readily, quickly expandable ABM interceptor force. Even more troubling than the upgraded early-warning radars and the X-band radars, I think, would be the SBIRS-low system, composed of space-based ABM engagement radars that could be netted to ground-, sea-, and space-based NMD and TMD forces and that would substantially upgrade all intercept capabilities. Now, you may have noticed that I added another twist in this last sentence: that there might be sea- and space-based NMD. The Russians also sense, as I think we do, that agreeing to a limited ground-based national missile defense is not, as Graham Greene would say, "the end of the affair."

Certainly, the hard right in the United States doesn't think it is. I was at a meeting yesterday that could charitably be described as conservative. None of the people who asked questions while I was there had any interest in the ground-based interceptor system. The real proponents of national missile defense are interested in layered defenses—boost-phase, mid-course, and terminal—in all basing modes, with ground-based being the least interesting. This same point came out in one of the Carnegie Conference panels dealing with the technological challenges to ground-based interceptors. The conservative proponent refused to address the topic, because he said, "That's not the system we're interested in, and that's not the one we should be deploying. We should be deploying space-based and sea-based." That's a little sub-twist, if you will. I think the Russians are certainly aware that there is a slippery NMD slope out there.

The China twist: whether the United States deploys NMD or not, Russian forces are likely to decrease and Chinese forces are likely to increase. We understand that. But the qualitative nature and quantitative pace of these force changes in Russia and China will clearly be influenced by a U.S. decision on missile defense. Existing force asymmetries do not give China the same confidence in their existing deterrent capabilities or as much time to react to NMD as the Russians have. There is no number of ABM interceptors that will not have a force-on-force impact for China. So the Chinese really have to start thinking about this issue and doing something about it much more quickly than the Russians.

China considers U.S. efforts to develop and deploy national and theater missile defenses a direct and deliberate effort to marginalize its deterrent forces. China currently has about 20 strategic warheads pointed at the United States. The Chinese still believe in offensive deterrence, even if the United States is now acting as if it wants to substitute defenses and counterproliferation for offenses, deterrence, and non-proliferation. If China wishes to retain its deterrent capability in the wake of a U.S. decision to deploy, it will have to decide very soon to devote more resources to its strategic forces, to accelerate and augment its modernization program, and to pay more attention to countermeasures. The irony is that by provoking this Chinese reaction, NMD will wind up increasing the number of potentially hostile RVs facing the United States and decreasing U.S. security. That is an inescapable conclusion, and it's one that NMD proponents refuse to address or respond to directly.

A twist on the twist: an increasing Chinese strategic force will not be reassuring to the Russians, who, in the absence of INF forces, have to devote part of their strategic forces to both European and Asian regional deterrence. Would NATO security or U.S. security be improved if Russia agreed to START II, which may occur before the NPT review conference, but later withdrew from the INF Treaty, as some Russians have threatened might happen?

The NATO twist: our NATO allies are, of course, sensitive to the impact NMD might have on the overall trilateral U.S.-Russian-Chinese strategic relationship. But they also have distinctly European concerns. The Germans are concerned that national missile defense might decouple the United States from the alliance. As Foreign Minister Fisher said last year, missile defenses could lead to "split security standards within the alliance." I believe he was referring to a situation wherein one ally is more secure than the rest. This differentiated security, the argument goes, could have two outcomes. The United States could disengage internationally or it could be more inclined to intervene unilaterally and pre-emptively. In either or both cases, the Europeans believe they would be at greater risk.

Now, I want to add a side comment on this. Decoupling is a perennial issue every time there's a new U.S. strategic weapons program or a new U.S. WMD policy of some kind. The Europeans are always concerned about decoupling. But the concern has again been re-energized, if you will, by the idea that the United States might feel more secure under NMD. It would be the height of folly, of course, if the United States felt more secure from attack after the deployment of NMD. But you can't rule out analytically that that might happen. In other words, can the secretary of defense tell the president that the United States will be protected from limited missile attack after NMD is deployed?

The French have focused, for their part, on the macro impact of NMD. Prime Minister Lionel Jospin noted last year his concern that NMD could threaten "the global strategic equilibrium" and undermine efforts to constrain nuclear and ballistic missile proliferation. Earlier this week, one senior French official I talked with said that he believed that NMD would begin to call into question the entire NPT regime. Ambassador Gerard Errera, also at the Carnegie Conference, elaborated on this calling into question of the regime when he asked how "by pursuing NMD do you, the United States, avoid giving the impression that you have given up on the fight against proliferation, especially at a time when there are domestically other expressions of a certain skepticism toward multilateral agreements in this field?" A guarded reference, of course, to the defeat of the CTBT.

The United Kingdom, for its part, is "sympathetic" to U.S. concerns and wants to be "helpful," but would like answers to certain questions. What is the impact of NMD on NATO cohesion? Would it erode the common response to a common threat, a flashback to the German concern? What is the impact of NMD on the NATO concept of deterrence? What is the impact of NMD on wider arms control, hearkening back to the French concern, particularly after the rejection of the CTBT? And last but not least: if agreement is reached on modifying the ABM Treaty, what will the effect be on the British nuclear deterrent?

Well, I'm sorry to have to report that the United Kingdom may have already received satisfactory answers to those questions because in yesterday's press a senior British official stated that the United Kingdom would not oppose U.S. plans to upgrade its early-warning radar at Fylingdales. The Danes have been considerably less cooperative on Thule, I might point out. After all, as one British cabinet minister said, how can we turn down a request from an ally to change computer software? [Back to top]

Questions and Answers

Question: Jack Mendelsohn mentioned that the most hardened proponents of national missile defense are not interested in the ground-based system but are very keen on the sea-based system. But it seems that their interest is misplaced for a number of reasons. They believe that it can be done more quickly and more cheaply, but everything that the Defense Department is saying suggests that it would take a lot more time and that it's also very costly. Could you comment on that option?

Cirincione: This is one of the great untold stories of this debate. It is often not reported that both the proponents and opponents of missile defense agree that the Clinton plan won't work. Anyone who is at all serious about missile defense knows that mid-course, ground-based interceptors are inherently incapable of defeating the threat, primarily because of countermeasures. The job is just too big for the kinds of technologies that are currently available and that will be available for the foreseeable future.

This is why the Star Wars program emphasized spaced-based components that would intercept the missile in its boost phase instead of ground-based interceptors. Instead of trying to hit a target that is fast, cold, small, and accompanied by decoys, you go after a target that is relatively slow, fat, and hot. It is a much easier mission. That is what drives current proponents to the Aegis option. Aegis gives you two potential capabilities, and the one that they like to concentrate on is the boost-phase intercept. That is, you take your interceptors and you move them right up to the belly of the beast. You move them right up to the shore of North Korea or China, and you can intercept the threat missiles on their ascent. Failing that, you have a shot at getting them mid-course, which would be similar to the ground-based systems.

The Heritage Foundation has promoted this option relentlessly. They have led people to believe that it would cost approximately $2 billion. In fact, the BMDO estimate is that it would cost $17-19 billion to deploy such a system. Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, the director of BMDO, went out of his way to criticize the Heritage proposal for this "quick, cheap" option, by saying that "in ballistic missile defense there is nothing quick, cheap, or easy."

Fetter: There are two sea-based missile defense systems under development: the point defense and the Navy Theater Wide defense, which is the one that Joe [Cirincione] is referring to and that proponents have suggested could be expanded to national missile defense. It couldn't, though, perform the boost-phase function with the current interceptor. It would have to use a much higher-performance, higher-acceleration interceptor. That is possible, of course, but that isn't what is being developed right now.

I should say, though, that if you are really interested in intercepting North Korean missiles, it's hard to think of a better way to do it than to use a sea-based system, since North Korea is a peninsula and it is a small country, and it is easy to get up close to the launch sites. On the other hand, such a system might not be effective against missiles launched from sites far inland, as Iran could do, for example.

Keeny: In general, in undertaking our current NMD architecture, we have made the problem as difficult as possible and made it certain that we will have to violate or change the ABM Treaty as soon as possible by insisting that the system cover every square foot of the 50 states and not just the contiguous 48 states. You put a tremendous burden on what a ground-based system has to do to reach out to the Aleutian Islands and the western Hawaiian islands, as well as the East Coast. We have done a lot of very unusual things in designing the architecture of this that are ultimately totally political—to be able to satisfy Hawaii and Alaska that they have not been ignored. The same consideration has not been shown to our NATO allies.

Question: Since most people agree that NMD is driven by politics, I wonder if anyone would care to comment on how NMD will be an issue or a non-issue in the upcoming presidential and congressional campaigns.

Keeny: I don't think it's a major issue. It's a very specialized issue within the Beltway, within the Congress. You have to think long and hard to see just what group of voters is going to be swayed by this particular issue. In fact, there have been some interesting preliminary polls that show how little voters are concerned about national missile defense in general, and national missile defense is a very secondary issue even within national defense. I don't rule out that the Republicans will try to make a major issue of it, but recall that Bob Dole attempted that in the last presidential election and got so little response that he abandoned the issue.

Mendelsohn: I would just make a fairly obvious observation: the parties, particularly the Democrats, want to make sure that it doesn't become an issue. That's the whole point of saying that they're going to take a decision before November. The point is to flameproof the candidate on this particular issue.

Question: Could you comment on the likely implications for inclusion, at some point, of Taiwan and Japan under the system and the likely impact that that would have for the U.S.-Chinese relationship?

Cirincione: Both the Taiwanese and the Japanese militaries investigated the missile defense option and concluded that this was a technically dubious and a budgetary sinkhole. They were overruled by their political leadership, who decided that they wanted to cooperate with the United States on missile defenses for political reasons: Taiwan, because it believed that this would draw the United States closer to a security commitment to Taiwan, and the Japanese because they felt that this was an area that they could prove their worth as part of the U.S.-Japanese defense cooperation agreements. It is politics more than military factors that are motivating both countries.

Quickly on Japan: Few issues get the Chinese more agitated than the idea that Japan and the United States are going to deploy a missile defense shield. They have a saying: "First the shield, then the sword." They see this, at least rhetorically, as an aggressive move on Japan's part. As a sign, along with rising conservative sentiment in Japan, that Japan is moving to reassert itself militarily in Asia. And that gets them, at least rhetorically, quite concerned.

Question: What is the level of cooperation that will be required from our allies to move beyond the first phase of NMD deployment?

Fetter: The plan is to build entirely new radars in Thule, Greenland, and Fylingdales, United Kingdom, so that would require the active cooperation of NATO allies. I was also made aware on a recent trip to Vancouver that the Canadians are determined not to be taken for granted. Since Canada is a member of NORAD and since this system would be operated by NORAD, it would require active Canadian participation. And they are not at all sure at this point if they want to participate in a national missile defense. So if the Canadians backed out, I suppose then we would have to change the organizational structure.

Keeny: The Canadians are very exercised on this subject. There seems to be a feeling in the U.S. government that yes, these people object, but that they, and even the Russians, will just roll over and accept it in the final analysis. But we are building a gigantic structure on the assumption that everybody who opposes it will in the end, albeit reluctantly, go along with what we decide to do.

Question: I'd like for you to expand a little bit more on the workings of the Rumsfeld Commission. Contrary to Team B, it was not composed of all hard-line conservative proponents of missile defense, and yet the final report of the Rumsfeld Commission had a very deleterious effect.

Cirincione: This is a very difficult topic because three colleagues of ours who we all have great respect for were involved in that. They all have long careers in this field. It is tragic that some of the biggest impact they may have is because of their signing off on the Rumsfeld Commission and what that commission has done to accelerate a rush to deploy a national missile defense system.

The Rumsfeld Commission had a very skilled staff director, Steve Cambone. They had dozens and dozens of high-level briefings. They were exposed to a tremendous amount of information. It is my belief that the commissioners were brought along step-by-step to the final conclusion by getting them to agree to each piece of it along the way. If you look at the statements piece-by-piece they are quite reasonable, especially when you have this "could" standard. Could this happen? You have to answer, "Yes, this could happen." It is only when the thing is taken in totality that you realize the damage that is done and the distortion that is done by this threat assessment.

Several of the commissioners have gone to great lengths to point out that this was not a recommendation for national missile defense, that it was only looking at the threat. To which, one might ask what did they think this was all about? If there were any doubts, it should have been made crystal clear by the way the report was released: a highly partisan press conference with the Speaker of the House and other leading Republican members of the House who then used the report to champion the call for the deployment of national missile defenses.

Question: What is the response that we make to proponents of missile defense? Do we respond that it won't work, which brings us back to deterrence, or do we have an equally compelling vision?

Keeny: Deterrence is still a reality. It is a reality of a nuclear world, and it still goes a long way, particularly against small and weak states.

Fetter: Sadly, no one seems to be listening to the strategic arguments against missile defense. I think that the best course may be to focus on the fact that it won't work. Even if the system works exactly as intended, it can't protect the United States from missile attack, much less any other type of attack. It is a sad fact of life that we simply have to rely on deterrence. There is no other option.

Mendelsohn: I think that all of the arguments—the strategic argument, the technological argument, and the cost argument—are compelling arguments. But, as some of our European allies have said, no one is listening to those arguments. Someone has to stand up politically and say these have to be paid attention to.

If you go out and talk about this issue, you always get asked the question: "What is the president going to say if a missile lands on an unprotected Los Angeles?" The answer is very simple. He is going to say exactly the same thing he says after we spend $50 billion to put up a missile defense system and the warhead still lands on Los Angeles.

Question: What is the role of China as a threat in driving the decision to deploy a missile defense?

Keeny: The administration would say that this deployment has nothing to do with China, and that we are going to convince China of that. It's going to be a hard sell.

Cirincione: The Chinese look at missile defense, and it is crystal clear to them that they are the target, that national missile defense is aimed at them. After all, the requirement for the system is that it be able to defeat tens of warheads with countermeasures. Who has tens of warheads? Not North Korea; they don't have any. Not Russia; they have thousands. Only China has tens of warheads.

The problem you have here is that even with a national missile defense system, you are not significantly adding to a military commander's confidence that he could win a showdown with a country armed with a ballistic missile. You would never have the 100 percent assurance that you would need. Deterrence is never going to go away. It's always going to be there, and I think it will always be the dominant factor with or without missile defense.

Question: According to wire reports, it looks like Putin's government is open to missile defenses against rogue states. How would that play into a U.S. decision to deploy NMD?

Mendelsohn: Some Russians have said that under certain unspecified conditions they are not opposed to limited, controlled deployment. Certainly, the Russians are sensitive to the fact that they are surrounded by states that are not necessarily friendly and that have offensive missile systems. Many of those, however, could be handled by theater missile defense systems. I don't think that Putin has the intention of accepting the U.S. NMD deployment program. But they have been very careful to say that there is some room for deployment under the existing ABM Treaty, but that the United States is asking for too much. In order to strike a deal, it is quite clear that the Russians have in mind U.S. abandonment of certain aspects of the program, in particular multiple X-band and space-based radars. [Back to top]

Side bar: Assessing the Threat/Assessing the Technology

Posted: April 1, 2000