"Though we have acheived progress, our work is not over. That is why I support the mission of the Arms Control Association. It is, quite simply, the most effective and important organization working in the field today." 

– Larry Weiler
Former U.S.-Russian arms control negotiator
August 7, 2018
What Next for NMD and Arms Control?
Share this

President Clinton announced on September 1 that he would not deploy the proposed national missile defense (NMD) system, leaving the decision to his successor. The decision drew praise from several countries that view the system as a threat to strategic stability and arms control. Clinton's decision not to authorize any predeployment activity provides both Vice President Al Gore and Texas Governor George W. Bush the opportunity to articulate their own visions of what their NMD and arms control policies will be without being tied to any construction or deployment activity already underway.

On September 6, the Arms Control Association held a press conference to discuss the impact of Clinton's decision on the NMD program and on domestic and international opinion, as well as on the campaign for the White House.

Panelists for the discussion were Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr., President and Executive Director of the Arms Control Association; Richard Garwin, Senior Fellow for Science and Technology at the Council of Foreign Relations; Jack Mendelsohn, Vice President and Executive Director of the Lawyers Alliance for World Security; and Mark Mellman, CEO of The Mellman Group, a polling and consulting firm.

The following is an edited transcript of their remarks and the question-and-answer session that followed.

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

Good Morning. Welcome to today's press conference sponsored by the Arms Control Association on President Clinton's decision not to deploy an NMD. We thought it most appropriate to provide an independent assessment of this decision, and to consider where NMD goes from here. Let me introduce the other members of the panel who will be speaking today: Richard Garwin, a distinguished scientist in the field of nuclear weapons and advanced systems technology, who, like myself, has been involved in this NMD debate for the last 40 years. He's currently working with the Council on Foreign Relations on scientific issues; Jack Mendelsohn, who I think most of you know, a former senior foreign service officer, who's now Vice President of the Council for . . . of the LAWS group, who has been following this issue diplomatically a couple of decades as well; and we'll be joined shortly by Mark Mellman, of the Mellman Group, who is, I think, the best informed pollster/public opinion man, who has been following the public views on national missile defense for some time.

I personally believe that Clinton did the right thing in just saying no to deployment of NMD. And I believe this is probably one of the most important security-related decisions of his presidency. I know he also said no to any hedging decisions to undertake preliminary preparations for deployment that might or might not be considered compatible with the ABM treaty. Now there's been a great deal of speculation over the last year as to what Clinton would finally do with regard to NMD. And many pundits felt it was a foregone conclusion that for political reasons that he would opt for deployment. I think it's really not too surprising that he chose not to call for a deployment of an NMD and not to take any preliminary steps when you look at his own record and the position he has consistently taken on this issue. When he signed the legislation a year ago, calling for a deployment of an NMD system when it was technically feasible, he made clear that his decision would be based on four criteria. One is, that the system was technically mature enough to make a responsible decision to deploy; two, the threat required it; three, that the cost was acceptable in terms of other priorities; and finally, that the implications of the decision for the overall security of the United States, including the future of arms control.

Now looking at these things, briefly—and I think the President addressed them very well in his Friday statement—none of these conditions have been met, in terms supporting a deployment decision. The case of technology is not—clearly not ready for a responsible decision on this particular system. And even more significant, there are seriously questions as to whether the system is inherently, even if technology proceeds favorably, suitable to achieve even its limited mission. And Garwin, Dr. Garwin will discuss this issue and where this business will go in the future in some detail. The second issue is the threat itself. Now although there is considerable dispute as to what the capabilities of the North Koreans are at present and what they could become, I think there is a general agreement that the North Koreans have at their disposal, a range of other options for the delivery of weapons of mass destruction, which are simpler and more at hand. And are not in any way dealt with the proposed, limited NMD national missile defense system. And I would add, in addition, the country that is the principal point of concern, North Korea, is currently engaged in a complicated adjustment to the real world and there is good reason to believe that there is a possibility or even a probability, or even a probability, that they are prepared to trade their missile capability and their missile program for other considerations. And these negotiations are currently underway at a number of levels. With regard to the cost, the United States can certainly afford a $60 billion tab if this were really needed. However, this will compete with other more, I believe, and I believe the military believes, more pressing military requirements. And if this turns out to be the first step to a much more elaborate system, as Gov. Bush would have us believe or states to be his objective, you are talking about a system that would cost several hundred billion dollars, and that would be something that would really get one's attention. But the real problem, and it was clearly recognized by President Clinton in his decision, were the costs, the non-financial costs, of a deployment decision in our relations with the rest of the world.

The proposed deployment is strongly opposed, as I'm sure you all know, by Russia and China. And even some of our principal NATO allies. In fact, with the exception of Israel, I find it hard to identify any country that supports the United States in this endeavor. We truly are going against the tide of world opinion. The Russians and just a word, and Jack Mendelsohn will elaborate on this part of the problem, the Russians see it as a slippery slope to a system that could eventually threaten their deterrent. The Chinese feel that it is an open threat to their minimum deterrent, and do not take seriously the assertions that it's really directed at North Korea. And the NATO allies have a range of reasons, that Jack is an expert on, but basically, they are very concerned about what we are about to do in our general relations with Russia and with the future of arms control—two issues on which they are pleased with the progress to date and wish to see more. Now I think it's significant, particularly significant, that in making his decision, President Clinton has specifically decided not to fund advanced procurement initial preparation of the site for the radar on Shemya, which was alleged to be necessary to keep going for a operational date of 2005. I would note that no one in the pentagon believes anymore that the date of 2005 would be met, so in a sense, this point is moot. Nevertheless, it would be seen by many people, many observers, many in the press, that the likely outcome is a way that Clinton could hedge his position by not deploying, by at the same time saying he was facilitating the deployment process. By deciding not to go down this path, I think he has not prejudiced the position that will face the next president, albeit Gore or Bush in deciding how they choose to proceed in this matter.

There is, was an interesting debate, that many of you are aware of, as to whether this initial deployment would be legal under the ABM Treaty, but I think that debate is largely moot at the present time, and I think you could argue it on either side. But on thing is clear: and that was it would be seen by the rest of the world as essentially a U.S. decision to proceed with the deployment of the system and simply giving the courtesy of the decision to the next president. The, President Clinton clearly decided that he did not want to go down that path.

Well, now that Clinton has built some time into this decision process, I think it's interesting to speculate a bit as to where this leaves the next President, be it Gore or Bush. In the case of President Gore, in the case of President Gore, he has associated himself with the President's logic in dealing with this decision, so he will have to contend with the same considerations but without the pressure of an election. And I think that I would make the observation that none of the points were missing in Clinton's process of arriving at a decision will change significantly for some time. The technology is not going to, the next test does not resolve the technology problems with the worth of the system. And the threat, hopefully, will, its likelihood will further reduce on the basis of present negotiations, and there is no indication that I am aware of, it's my judgement that the President may not share, but Russia is about to change its position on not desiring to modify the ABM treaty and it will be a hard sell to explain to the Chinese why this is not relevant to their security. If Bush is the next president, he has staked out in very broad terms what he would like to do, namely, have a much more effective system that will protect the rest of the world, and he will want to move quickly on this. But he does want to talk with our allies and the Russians on this first. I think bush is going to have a very complicated time defining just what this system is that he is talking about, and it will certain involve much more complicated and troublesome technological problems and a longer timescale than the limited NMD that the Clinton administration has talked about. it will involve rather large financial commitments, and I think that bush as any president, if one can look back on the history of president Nixon and others, but what he actually, if he is actually in position of power, he will have to consider the broader implications of this decision and its interaction with the rest of the world. And that will not that will take some time to accomplish.

I have also observed that this time that has been bought by pushing the problem down the road gives us an opportunity to accomplish some things that may well affect the decision itself. and one is to let your diplomacy a chance in trying to work with the north Korean problem. it gives us time to try and build an international consensus on dealing with Iraq.

And finally, it gives us some time to consider alternatives to this particular limited NMD system if it should finally be decided for whatever reasons that we must have a system of some sort to deal with this issue. So the time…time will be a valuable commodity in our—the future of the NMD architecture and system.

Finally, I would note that the immediate question that a lot of people are all interested in, is how this is going to affect the election, if it affects it at all. And my own view, despite the fact that a clear difference between bush and gore on this issue, with Bush calling for a much more expansive system and Gore, apparently, supporting the general approach of president Clinton, on the basis of 40 years of involvement on this issue, my feeling is that this simply will not be a significant issue in this election. I think the domestic issues that have been staked out are so encompassing that it is unlikely that this will be a central issue or that it will affect very many votes.

However, I would hope that Mark Mellman, who has been following this very closely from the public opinion point of view, can tell us some more about this—what people really think about this issue and how deep those feelings are. Do they reach a level that affects their decision on how to vote compared with the other principle issues, which will be on their plate. well, with this long introduction, let me turn the microphone over to Dick Garwin, who I think can give us some interesting insight, insights as to the technical situation.

[Back to top]

Richard Garwin

Thank you, Spurgeon. I am delighted with the occasion for my appearance here today. I'd be saying the same thing, but without such a happy grin on my face if the President had made some other decision. As Spurgeon said, the President outlined in July 1999 his four criteria and even in this political year, he followed through. Looking at the objective facts, it's not hard to see that this is the only decision that could have been made and should have been made sooner, because the threat is vanishing or at least not emerging, the technology is clearly not there, the cost is not really stated, and the overall impact on national security has got to be negative. The system is not ready for a favorable deployment decision.

You know about the three reports from the independent review team, led by General Larry D. Welch. In its first report, it emphasized that these hit to kill systems were really a rush to failure. They were being done too fast to provide an increment to national security. In the second report, they said frankly that the defense readiness review provided by the defense department in preparation for the President's decision expected this summer, could not be a defense readiness review, at best it would be a feasibility review to judge that the technology was indeed feasible. So is this technology possible? That is a system that sees missiles being launched, alerts some radars, launches an interceptor from Alaska or North Dakota, sends it toward the threat-cloud, intercepts in mid course, picks out the re-entry vehicle from confusing objects like the third-stage of the missile or possible decoys. And the answer is, yes and no. Yes, it was demonstrated in a way by a hit to kill collision of a mock national missile defense interceptor with a mock-warhead in October 1999. And no, because that demonstration was with a cooperation warhead like a friendly puppy dog that wags its tail and just wanted to be petted. If it were more like a cat and went to hide in the corner, you wouldn't have a chance. And that's more than a metaphor, that's the reality of missile defense and offense. And I've been working on it at least as long as Spurgeon going back to 1953 or so. On both sides, that is, getting U.S. missiles to penetrate potential defenses that we could imagine, and see with greater clarity as our satellite reconnaissance evolved, and in evaluating proposals for U.S. defenses against various missile threats where countermeasures have always been the problem, and remain the problem.

In January and July of this year we had two more attempts at intercept. These were gross failures, but not to worry. It wasn't the key technology that failed, it was only getting the food to the table that failed, so you couldn't evaluate the performance of the cook. Or the Olympic contestant who would have won, maybe, if he hadn't taken the wrong train. We can have results like that, at much lower cost, if we don't even try to test. But this system of mid-course intercept has inherent problems. These were recognized in 1984, when the Fletcher Committee was put together under Jim Fletcher, to put some substance on what President Reagan had announced on March 23, 1983 on his SDI and Star Wars speech. Those folks recognized in their report, that we would be unable to do the job against warheads in space, that they would have to catch them in boost-phase, while the rocket was still burning, and before decoys and other countermeasures such as radar jammers and chaff could be deployed. But there has been no detailed analysis of countermeasures in the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization program, neither how well the system would work against specific countermeasures or what countermeasures could be achieved even by these three states of concern, also known as rogue states, that were identified in intelligence and in the Rumsfeld Commission report of July 1998.

To fill this lack, a group of us, sponsored by the Union of Concerned Scientists and MIT, in April of this year produced this report, "Countermeasures to National Missile Defense," Which you can get on www.ucsusa.org. This is a thorough analysis that discusses what countermeasures are, how defenses deal with them, specifically for a mid-course intercept hit-to-kill system where the interceptor actually has to run into a warhead. There are three effective countermeasures that we believe are well within the ability of a nation deploying it first ICBM. I'll tell you about the first two of these, because they're easy to explain and hard to argue against. Remember, this NMD system is a counter to strategic attack by long-range missiles with biological or nuclear warheads. But it would not protect against BW, such as an infectious agent like anthrax or tularemia or Venezuelan equine encephalitis or any of the other agents we used to work on in this country until President Nixon in 1969 issued an executive order banning work on them. But that doesn't protect us against other people using BW against us. The most effective way to do this is not to drop a ton of anthrax in the middle of Washington on a long-range missile. If you use a long-range missile, it's much more effective to divide the payload into bomblets weighing a few pounds each—hundreds of them—and liberated them on ascent, after the missile has gotten up to its full speed. The 100 bomblets would spread to about a ten-mile pattern and land individually on the target. This increases their effectiveness in killing people and, incidentally, it prevents any mid-course system from destroying these bomblets one at a time, if it could see them. What do people say in support of the proposed NMD system against the BW threat? Well, they say, of course it won't work against this, it was never designed to do so. And yet people claim that the system is necessary to defend us against strategic attack of BW as well as nuclear warheads.

The second countermeasure protects the nuclear warhead. In case a country is foolish enough to mate a first generation, unreliable nuclear warhead with a first-generation unreliable ballistic missile, it should not use decoys that try to mimic this warhead with fusing antennae and things like that so that we could try with our radar to try to separate the warheads from the decoys. You would instead put an aluminumized Mylar balloon, the kind that you see at children's parties, around the warhead. And you have similar, low-cost aluminumized Mylar balloons that are decoys. Although a feather and a lead weight dropped from the leaning tower of Pisa will strike the ground at different times, if they were dropped in the vacuum of space, they go at exactly the same speed. We cannot tell them apart. This is not a new observation; it goes back as far as ballistic missiles and was analyzed by White House strategic military panel in the 1960s and 1970s. Furthermore, North Korea need not test these countermeasures in flight. It would actually be suicidal for North Korea to launch such a system, whether it worked or not against the United States, whether it was intercepted or not. For North Korea, Iraq, or Iran, the object is to have a not incredible threat. And how can we know that they would not under certain circumstances commit suicide by launching such things and threatening some small part of the U.S. population of 280 million people, perhaps 100,000, would be at risk from a first-generation nuclear warhead. And somewhat more from one of these biological warhead attacks, with lesser payloads and simpler technology.

The midcourse intercept concept is not a dead end, it's dead on arrival-before it can be deployed. If the long-range threat is there, the countermeasures will be there as well. Now this was contested in a July report from Israeli team Uzi Rubin that was send to BMDO and the UCS-MIT group, including myself, have written a response, which you can find on the UCS website.

The Rumsfeld Commission in July 1998 identified the potential long-range missile threat from these three countries. That's what we were set up to do. Our report was predictably misused because that's what its instigators wanted this commission to say: namely that such a threat existed and they said, therefore, there must be a defense, which must be the one under development. Now that consensus is falling apart, having forced the Administration to pursue a defense that may or may not emerge is very hard to sell. While these threats are in development, we have no idea whether they're going to emerge as full-fledged threats. So the Rumsfeld Commission postulated long-range missile threats from three countries, North Korea, Iran, and Iraq in as little as five years. But unnoticed, its report also warned that the defense would have to take into account the possibility of BW bomblets, and also, BW or nuclear warheads on short-range cruise missiles or ballistic missiles launched from ships against U.S. cities within 100 miles or so of the coast. But the goal of this NMD is to defend against a few missiles launched from North Korea.

Well, what to do if this threat could emerge and the midcourse will not work? We should slow the development, although some day we may have some use for such things, and we should look at boost-phase intercept, which would not be affected by countermeasures. North Korea is ideally located for striking the missiles while they are still burning during the four or five minutes, that a first-generation ICBM takes to get up to speed. We already have had half of this system operating for 30 years, that is, the geosynchronous orbit Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites that, according to the Defense Department, saw every missile launched during the Gulf War in 1991. And now they see them in stereo, one can get the information from them within 100 seconds of ICBM ignition to permit the launch of an interceptor located within maybe 600 miles of the launch site of the ICBM in order to catch it comfortably while the booster is still burning. It has to be a big interceptor in order to get up to ICBM like speeds, even though it's not like chasing the ICBM. Many boost-phase intercept systems have been mentioned in the last year or so. Most of them don't have a chance to handle the threat from an inland site, even in North Korea or Iraq or Iran. But a system utilizing national missile defense class interceptors launched from a joint U.S.-Russian site, north of North Korea, or from U.S. military type cargo ships in the Japan Basin, 100 miles 200 miles from North Korea could handle this threat. Will it work? I know that BMDO and other people are looking at it.

What is the needed reliability or effectiveness? The idea that we're going to go to war and not lose a combatant or that we will be able to shrug off any threat that anybody throws against us by countering that threat, given the fact that the short-range missiles are undefended against, and the same countries can detonate nuclear weapons in harbors in shipping containers on ships that do not even know they are carrying nuclear weapons, the reliability and effectiveness, need not be very great. But the effectiveness would be greater for a boost phase intercept system which can be available in my opinion with single minded effort sooner than this national missile defense and can be deployed incrementally first against North Korea, which it is essentially surrounded by water, Iraq could be handled later from a single site in southeast Turkey, and Iran—a much bigger country, four times as large as Iraq—would probably need two interceptor bases, one cooperatively with the Russians in the Caspian Sea, perhaps, and the other from the Gulf of Oman.

Now President Putin, at the June Summit, nodded favorably at helping the United States with boost phase intercept. Exactly what the Russians mean by this is not clear. But a favorable nod is useful, since such a system could not be deployed in conformity with the ABM treaty. However, that treaty could easily be modified if there's agreement between the two sides to do so, which should be much easier for the system than the present NMD system since this boost phase system would not be any threat to the Russian or Chinese deterrent.

So I see in the future, more emphasis on a system that would really work against the real threats, and less emphasis on a system that is politically undesirable because one party wants it and the other party doesn't, and serves as a bone of contention. We will see how that issue plays out. Whether or not it's an issue in the forthcoming campaign, I'm sure it will rear its ugly head in the next administration, and has to be decided on its merits. Thank you.

[Back to top]

Jack Mendelsohn

I'm very glad to be here to talk about a subject that has been with us for, as our previous two speakers have indicated, three to four decades. For those of you that are not aware, the Lawyers Alliance has recently published a white paper on missile defense, which reviews a lot of the arguments that have been brought up today and which you know from the debate.

I'd like to start by making a kind of contrarian statement about the whole issue. If you look at the criteria for national missile defense, none of them can justify deploying the system. If you look at the threat, if you look at the technology, if you look at the impact, and if you look at the cost, it's really very hard to find solid, supportive reasons under any of those criteria to go ahead. Nonetheless, the program has a strong dynamic, and is still in play; nonetheless, we are still concerned about missile defense deployments. Why?

I'd like to make one suggestion on this and then move on with what the impact of this is. We're not really dealing with rational arguments for missile defense in the debate in the United States. This is really politically driven at the present time. What's going on is that there has been for decades, a struggle for the soul of American foreign policy between those who believe American security is best assured in the long run by interdependence, by agreements, by cooperation, by integration into a larger community, and those who believe that America should be absolutely free to make the decisions it needs to make and wants to make on behalf of its own defense. Those, if you want, might be called the unilateralists. Let me just read you one, short sentence by a member of the U.S. Senate. "I agree with Governor Bush and the officials from previous administrations"—which stood with him on May 24, at the big Madame Toussaud wax-works national security speech —"that we need a different approach to national security issues," dash, dash "an approach that begins with the premise that the U.S. must be able to act unilaterally in its own best interests." This is your firm supporter of missile defense Senator Jon Kyl. He goes on, incidentally, to say that, "I believe that we should work to secure peace and our safety first through our own strength."

So what we're really dealing with here is not a rational analysis. We're dealing with a fundamental struggle over what the future of U.S. policy should be; and if we're moving in a unilateral mode, it obviously has a massive impact on our relationships with our allies, with our potential adversaries, and with a whole category of countries that are just out there perhaps without any particular position. I'd just like to mention one recent statement by the French foreign minister Védrine, who points out in his annual lecture to the French ambassadors that, as far as the United States is concerned, and talking again about missile defense, [that] "we are at the beginning of a sort of neo-unilateralism," sounds like he's been reading Kyl's statement. This results, Védrine says, almost automatically from the United States being what the French like to call a hyper-power, not a superpower, but a hyper-power. And this is, I think, the interesting statement: "It calls into question the idea that the United States ought to negotiate with others, adversaries or allies." This is where we are internationally, with the realization in Europe that the United States and national missile defense issues are being driven by this fight for the soul of American foreign policy: to be pursued cooperatively in an interdependent way, or pursued unilaterally. And the unilateralists are the ones pursuing missile defense.

Clearly, the President's speech did not solve the NMD issue. It's put it off, if you will, to next year, or the year after. But the next administration is going to have to make a decision on where missile defense is going. Whether they're going to avoid deployment and stay in a development mode, which is what we've been doing for years; whether we're going to pursue the present program, which as Dick Garwin indicated has some real technological liabilities. If Gore wins, he'll have to make a decision on that. Or whether we're going to adopt a new approach, as the Bush people have hinted. God only knows what it is. That is one of the problems in dealing with both our Allies and our potential adversaries. There is no clear program. Nobody knows what the national missile defense program is really going to look like. This makes it exceedingly difficult to conduct a negotiation if you're trying to alter the ABM Treaty. What is it that you're trying to alter it for and where do the alterations that you have in mind stop?

That was the lesson of the draft protocol and the talking points that were leaked earlier this year. Where it was quite clear that the United States had at best a ten-month position. Because one of the articles said everything in this protocol was only good until March of 2001 when the issue can be opened again.

Let me talk first about the Europeans. First of all, the Europeans can't be all lumped together; there are clearly some distinctions. The Europeans agree in their support of the ABM Treaty. They like the predictability and they like the structure given to the strategic relationship by the ABM treaty. They do not want the United States unilaterally to modify the treaty or drop the treaty and upset this strategic predictability. They don't believe it's wise to provoke an unnecessary response. On these points, I think the Europeans are quite united. After that there are lots of divisions and particular angles. One group of Europeans: the U.K., Denmark, and count Canada as a NATO/European ally because they all have some equities in this discussion. They're all basing countries for current sensor systems and whatever adjustments might happen in the future and in the case of Canada it shares the air defense responsibilities with the United States, and has to be very cautious about what they do. The U.K. has a special relationship, which it doesn't want to jeopardize, and feels under a great deal of pressure to walk a line. Although they've all made it clear that they have great concern about where the missile defense program is going, they haven't absolutely said that they will refuse to cooperate. Incidentally, this includes Australia, which has a downlink for some sensor information that would be collected under the NMD program in the future. There are four basing countries that are all on the spot, because they're close allies of the United States. They don't want to pull the rug out, but they are not by any means happy.

The French and the Germans and other Europeans, which are not joint-basing countries, have been freer to criticize. The French make a very simple argument, as do some of the other Europeans, namely the three D's. They are concerned about "decoupling," they're concerned about "disarmament," and they're concerned about "deterrence." And I think the Europeans in general share these concerns. Whenever the United States takes any kind of a policy decision, strategic forces, conventional forces, the Europeans always look at it through the optic of decoupling. And that is, does it in some way reduce American attachment to the defense and support of Europe? The European sense is that NMD has the potential to somehow differentiate the security that's available to them as opposed to the United States, and that differentiation might have some impact on U.S. decisions to support or not support the Europeans in a crisis. Now, that may or may not be a sound argument, I think there's some doubt about it; but Europeans are very concerned about the impact of NMD on U.S. support. The NMD undercuts "disarmament." The French have gone so far as to say, national missile defense and U.S. current policy is an expression of, and this is a quote "contempt for the NPT." This reflects the belief that the U.S. is essentially thumbing its nose at the interdependence represented by the nonproliferation regime. The same applies to other agreements as well. And lastly the key role of deterrence, which they believe the NMD undermines or threatens by saying the U.S. no longer has confidence in deterrence. On those issues I think the Europeans are fairly clear and understand what that all means.

I'd just like to mention a couple of other issues that are of interest to the Europeans. Some Europeans are interested in missile defense, but they're interested in theater missile defense. They don't see how national missile defense is going to help them on this, and they would like much more attention spent on theater missile defense. And, if you look at the kind of threats that U.S. actually might face, they are either short-range attacks from off the coasts of the United States or shorter range attacks on our allies. And that's what our allies are concerned about. They would like us to be spending less time on national missile defense and give more thought more money, and more effort to theater missile defense. That's their concern. Now you could argue that maybe if we did both, theater missile defense and national missile defense we should be able to buy off some of their concerns.

In an interesting way, American behavior on this issue is driving the Europeans in the direction of thinking more about a common security and foreign policy interest. If America is dashing down the unilateralist trail, then the Europeans ought to be thinking a little more about having a joint policy on some of these issues. So, in a way, you could argue that the national missile defense issue is encouraging deeper European thought about common policies on security. If the United States will no longer take into consideration European concerns, then Europeans may have to think about fending for themselves.

Now, Russia has a kind of bifurcated reaction to the President's decision. Some of them, understandably, consider this is a victory for Russian policy. Putin personally stood up to this, whereas Yeltsin might not have been such a staunch opponent, and therefore Russians can read this as partly a victory for Putin and his policies. Others are concerned that this is really a phony victory, and that the issue has not gone away and America is just, if you will, the famous French word, drawing back in order to spring forward later. To come back to a point I made earlier, Russia has a serious problem dealing with the United States on this issue because the United States cannot present them with a fixed plan for the future. So the Russians refuse to deal on the details of the current plan because once they do that, they've opened the entire negotiation to what they cannot foresee. So Russia to date has had a very simple position, and that is: any NMD is in violation of the fundamental principles of the ABM Treaty. It does not want to talk about whether the U.S. can do this, or whether it will modify that, because fundamentally, it's in violation of the treaty. Russia has refused to move from this very principled opposition to defense, to talk details because it understands that once it starts it's a slippery slope since the U.S. does not have a fixed position.

Now, Russia has a little more leeway on actually dealing on missile defense, if and when we ever get the program we can negotiate, because after all, they do have several thousand deliverable long-range warheads, and a small missile defense, because 100-150 interceptors would not necessarily present the Russians with an insurmountable problem. But that's not the case for China.

China's concern is considerably different. For China, even a small U.S. NMD program would have a direct impact on its very small deterrent capabilities. Even without NMD, China is concerned about U.S. theater missile defense programs. And lastly, a point that the Chinese make, and I should feedback as a concern as well for Russia, is that they are very concerned that our NMD system is just the first step in a path towards to the total militarization of space. They say this openly, they say this in Geneva, and they say this in every meeting, that this is really just the first step. And the sensors that we intend to deploy in connection with even the minimalist Clinton/Gore program, the second phase of the space-based interceptors, which are supposed to track midcourse warhead flight, are just an example of where the United States is going. They read what goes on in the military press as well as we do. The Russians also share this concern with the Chinese. Again, as I said, they could probably absorb a deployment of 100-150 interceptors, but the issue for the Russians is: where are you going with the sensors connected with NMD? It sounds like the U.S. wants to wire the universe, and that means the U.S. is laying a base for something much more significant in the future.

China considers the North Korean threat to be a total pretext for the deployment, and make no bones about it. It makes the very interesting point that they are not going to consider U.S. stated intentions regarding North Korea, they intend to look at U.S. capabilities. And that goes back to a fundamental debate about how does one address security, how does one address arms control? Does one deal with intentions or does one deal with capabilities. For years, the United States insisted that it dealt only with capabilities, when talking about strategic forces, now the U.S. is telling the Chinese and the Russians, don't worry about anything, our intentions are totally benign. [Back to top]

Mark Mellman

Thank you. It's a pleasure to be here with such a distinguished group. I'm going to bring the intellectual level of the discussion down about 20 or 30 notches real quickly and focus not on public policy and erudite discussions thereof, but rather, on politics and practical day-to-day politics. Usually somebody like me, a pollster, comes to a press conference to talk about issues that are important, salient, and significant to the public. I find myself in the rather unusual position of being here to talk about an issue, that from a political point of view—not from a substantive point of view—is frankly trivial, insignificant, and inconsequential. And that is an unusual position, but I think it's quite clear from looking at the data that that is the nature of this issue, in the public mind. From an electoral perspective, it is trivial, it is insignificant, and it is inconsequential.

First, it's quite clear that people are just not interested in this debate. In a recent CNN/USA Today poll, 11% of the American public said they were following this debate about national missile defense. In a CBS News poll, only 6% of the American public even said they heard a lot about it, so there are some people that say they've been following the debate but hadn't heard anything yet, but basically very few people are paying any attention to this issue whatsoever. Second, to the extent that we can determine, this national missile defense is an extraordinary low priority for the American public. In a poll we did in the spring, we asked people what the most important issue facing the country was, gave them a list that included maintain a strong national defense, including developing missile defense, and 4% of the American public selected maintaining a strong national defense as the most important problem facing the country, less than 1% said a national missile defense was the most important problem. Indeed, when you look at people's professed priorities, spending for national missile defense is a much lower priority than spending on a host of defense-related programs. So when we asked people, which was more important, spending money on education or spending money on national missile defense, by 77%-14% people said education as more important. We asked about social security and Medicare, by 72%-17% people said pending on social security and Medicare was more important than national missile defense. And with crime, the numbers were 49% in favor of spending more on crime rather than on national missile defense. Indeed, even the much-maligned tax-cuts received more support than spending on national missile defense. Even within the defense area, when you look at training and pay, by 59%-24%, more than two-to-one, people said it's more important to spend money on training and pay than to spending money on national missile defense. By 56%-26% people said it's more important to spend money defending against terrorism than to spend money on national missile defense. No matter how you look at it, no matter how you cut the data, the reality is that NMD is an extraordinarily low priority for the American public, almost every other domestic issue, almost every other defense issue is a higher priory for the American public than is national missile defense.

Finally, it's quite clear that voters are reluctant, not surprisingly, to spend money to deploy a system that doesn't work. Now this ought to cause no surprise to anybody except some of the advocates of national missile defense, who would have you believe that people are anxious to spend money on a system that doesn't work.

We asked a question of the public, again in the spring whether they thought we ought to go ahead and deploy a national missile defense system under current circumstances or there ought to be a required certification that substantial progress had been made toward achieving success with NMD first. By 54%-14% people said let's not deploy, let's require substantial progress before we make any decision. The rest of the folks admitted they had no idea what we were talking about at all. Indeed, two thirds of the American public, without the technical knowledge of Dr. Garwin, came to the same conclusion. Sixty-Eight percent of the American public said that within the next five to ten years, our enemies would be able to develop countermeasures that will render any national missile defense we put together as ineffective and ineffectual. They've seen Mylar balloons at their kid's birthday parties, they may not know how to use them as decoys, but the reality is they come to the same conclusion. And indeed, when people are told if there's doubt about whether such a system would work, by 55%-25% in a recent CNN/USA Today poll, people said, well, let's not build it if it doesn't work. Again, it's hardly surprising in this day and age that people are reluctant to spend money on programs that don't work, that can't be proven to work. The data, I think, is clear and overwhelming.

So, just to reiterate: the reason this issue will not play any significant role in voter's decision-making processes as we enter the fall, is that it is an extraordinarily low priority, it is an issue which people are not paying attention to, and which they are not following, and indeed, it is an issue where they agree with the fundamental premise that money should not be spend, deployment should not be undertaken, until and unless we can be sure the system works. After that, there are other consideration, foreign policy, diplomatic, and arms control considerations, all of which they are willing to entertain, but first and foremost, people are unwilling to deploy a system to expend more money on a system that doesn't work and where scientists doubt that it can be made to work in any reasonable time frame. Thank you.

[Back to top]

Questions and Answers

KEENY: Thank you very much. We're open to questions now. Any aspect of this from the audience?

QUESTION: Quick question on the poll? How many people and when did you do it?

MELLMAN: Although I cited several different polls, in the ones we had done, one of them was done in September 1999 and the other in April 2000. Each of them had, I believe, 1000 samples.

QUESTION: To Mark Mellman. Given your polling results, do you think the Bush campaign and Republican congressional candidates are not going to spend any money on this issue this year?

MELLMAN: I can't predict what they will do, but I can predict what would be wise for them to do and what would be foolish. They may well spend money on this, but it would be foolish for them to do so in the course of this election. We thought last year in this last cycle, we would see ads about national missile defense. It was suggested at one point that they might be run in the California Senate race for example, but none of these ads ever materialized. When campaigns are called upon to make real spending decisions, they are going to focus their message on what voters believe are the most important issues. Not one person in the country, to my knowledge, chose to make missile defense an issue in the campaign. There's no question that I think it would be foolish for them to do so now. That's not to say they won't do so. Part of the reason they might do so is, I think, a fundamental misreading of the poll we made. If you look at the rest of the polling data, where Democrats and republicans are on various issues, the one issue on which Republicans are trusted more than Democrats by significant margins is national defense. So I think part of what's led Republicans, incorrectly, down the path towards this as a potential political issue, is to focus on that one single number, that says they're more trusted on defense than Democrats. Therefore, they have to find a defense issue to ride, and this might be it. But that analysis ignores the fundamental fact that people aren't that interested in national missile defense issues and haven't been for some time, and it's going to be extraordinarily difficult to make them interested. And second, it ignores the other point that I made in terms of the fundamental position of the public on this issue.

QUESTION: Couple questions on the polling. How much of an influence do you think the poll results had on Clinton's decision last week?

MELLMAN: Very little.

QUESTION: He's not paying attention?

MELLMAN: I can't tell you what he's paying attention to, but my sense is his decision, and this is substantiated by the other speakers, his decision was based on the criteria he developed for making this decision, independent from polling.

QUESTION: And could you defend your poll a little bit, on the objectivity of the questions. We often hear about poll results from Frank Gaffney and the questions are so loaded as to elicit the response that his side is looking for. Can you give assurances that your poll…?

MELLMAN: You have my personal assurances. I'd be happy to share with you the questions. In some of the polls I've said, the CBS/New York Times poll, USA Today/Gallup poll, some are our own polling, but any question that provides information is necessarily loaded in some way. A lot of questions I've tried to refer to are questions that don't provide any information, others do, I'd be happy to show you what the arguments are, but I think to the extent that we've provided people with information, we've done so in a way that fairly captures what both sides are saying. The fundamental point here, from a polling perspective is, given how you have a public that knows nothing about this and isn't very concerned-and I think it's very hard to find yourself with anything different than that-if you give them the option of either being protected or unprotected, people are going to choose to be protected. You wonder who the people are that say, I prefer to be not protected-who are they and what's wrong with them. But when you start to suggest that there are arguments on both sides, dealing with technical feasibility, diplomacy up against arguments on the other side in terms of threat and so on, the balance starts to shift, and shift pretty dramatically, but people are largely unaware of the arguments on both sides. Given the choice between being protected and unprotected, they're going to choose to be protected, but they're not willing to spend money on a program that doesn't work or that will heat up the arms race, even though there is, as seen from the other side, a possibility for threats and so on. Part of what your seeing from the other side is a fairly simplistic analysis, not very robust sense of what Republican opinion is, because what's important is the people that care about this issue.

QUESTION: Jack, what's the status of the Russian missile defense? Don't they have a ring around Moscow of some kind?

MENDELSOHN: They have a system that's been deployed since the 1960s of 100 interceptors, which the U.S. does not consider to be any threat to our offensive forces.

QUESTION: Does it work?

MENDELSOHN: We don't know. It has nuclear warheads, so you didn't have to strike directly on the incoming target, so probably if you launched nuclear warheads up above Moscow, you probably would knock down some incoming warheads. But that was never a concern of the United States.

QUESTION: So it's not a violation of the ABM Treaty?

MENDELSOHN: No, you were permitted 200 interceptors, a protocol was added to the treaty in 1974, which cut that back to 100 interceptors, and that's what the Russians have now. It's not a system that I think they can rely on.

QUESTION: Doesn't that give us a right to 100 interceptors?

MENDELSOHN: We have a right to 100 interceptors. We had 100 interceptors operational in, let me guess 1975, but over six months, we figured out it was a waste of money.

QUESTION: But the difference is national or…?

MENDELSOHN: The difference now is that we're asking to, we don't know what we're asking for, the Clinton-Gore program is for 200 interceptors located at least one site that is not permitted under the treaty and it would involve new sets of sensors in locations that are not permitted. Plus, who knows what else we're going to do.

KEENY: Let me add one thing on the history here. The treaty as amended in 1974 allowed you to pick your national capital or a missile field for the one site you wanted to defend. And the U.S., in its infinite wisdom during the Nixon administration, decided to deploy at a missile field and the Russians chose Moscow. At that time, both sides' interceptors were armed with nuclear warheads. But they were also relatively short-range. And the Moscow system only really defends the greater Moscow area, couple-hundred miles at most. Against a very small attack, those nuclear-armed interceptors would in fact, be effective. The problem is that against a massive attack, the use of nuclear warheads jams the system itself, so it would tend to collapse, but against a very small attack, it would be useful. As Jack said, we chose to discontinue deployment at Grand Forks because it just wasn't worth he cost of sustaining it. By the treaty, we could move the site back to Washington, but we can't move it anywhere else, like Alaska, without an amendment to the treaty. Now there's a debate within the community whether the Moscow system is still fully operational, it could be, but it's sort of a relic in some ways, and some judge it as no longer operational, others judge it could be. The thing to understand in all of this is that the ABM treaty allowed a single site for a region, and the treaty in its first article makes it clear that you cannot have a national missile defense of the whole territory of the country.

MENDELSOHN: That's the point the Russians have make in principle, that anything you do to have a national missile defense will be a violation of Article 1. There's one other point about the sensor is that is not just about location but, if we have space-based sensors that can actually track incoming objects, then you are beginning to put ABM battle management capabilities into space and that also is blocked by the ABM treaty. So there are lots of things about the administration program, which are not immediately obvious, that makes them in violation of the treaty.

QUESTION: If we were to have a national missile defense, I don't think a smart enemy would attempt to penetrate it with ICBMs, unless he had a backup play, another option in the event that his attempts were to fail. I think this tells us that backup option could be attacks requiring a lot of theater missile defense; ancillary attacks against important U.S. strategic positions around the world. This presents us with an argument, not for national missile defense, because that may be insufficient, but rather for something we would call global missile defense, where our national missile defense would have to be interlocked with a lot of theater missile defense systems. If we don't do that, having only national missile defense is certainly not going to be enough to protect U.S. targets. Mainly because we are not a homeland body, America is expanded all around the world. So I would like some comments on that. I would also like, if I may, a related comment, where public perceptions are concerned. No American cared about missile defense, and then there was a speech by Ronald Reagan, his famous Star Wars speech, and within a few weeks Congress provided around $25 billion in its first batch of research funds to the DOD. Smart salesmanship could probably do that again, so I'm not sure that this 2% of interest that exists would be overturned almost overnight by a very canny speaker on the TV set.

KEENY: Well, let me start out and then turn it over to the other panelists. The Star Wars speech came as quite a surprise to a lot of people, particularly the technical and scientific communities, who didn't think it made any sense, but it was certainly a new idea. But that was in 1983, and it never went anywhere. Despite the interest in Congress and elsewhere, it didn't really sell itself. It's been a constant puzzlement to some of the extreme hawks in the Republican party, why that notion doesn't catch fire with the American people, and that's why I think these surveys are interesting. The advocates feel, as you suggest, that a national missile defense is something that ought to sell, and it doesn't sell. And for that reason, I don't think you can pump up Star Wars again and try to sell it a second time. As to the theater missile defense idea, this is a policy that's being pursued. The U.S. is developing, with some considerable difficulties, a range of theater missile defenses. Garwin will want to say something about this. If I understand you, you're sort of suggesting a global system made up of a national missile defense plus theater missile defenses to defend everybody else. This is quite an undertaking and I suppose that is one formulation of what our current policy appears to be. Now those who want a limited defense or even a more extensive defense would offer TMD to the rest of the world. I think the next step on that is the one that Bush apparently is toying with, an integrated defense that's capable of defending all of our allies, essentially the globe, as part of the package. And let me tell you, the technology of that is pretty daunting and the cost is incredible. But Dick, how do you deal with this?

GARWIN: I should say I'm in favor of many kinds of defenses, among them theater missile defenses, but those are against high-explosive missiles. If people start using nuclear warheads in theaters, we have a much bigger problem than if they have only high explosives. If your opponent uses only high-explosive missiles you can win an offense-defense battle if you're smarter than the other guy. But incidentally, we should be content with shorter-range systems for defending rather than trying to reach out to cover whole theaters, because that gets to be a national missile defense problem and it's too easily defeated. Local systems do have an appeal, we solve this decoupling problem, and they give something to everybody to join in. The Russians know that, so they have a propaganda campaign, and maybe there's something underlying it, but they haven't been clear yet to explain it, for a global missile control regime of some kind. Which would set rules of the road and might involve some kinds of defenses. Russia has three proposals approaching the table: one for a global missile control regime, one with boost-phase intercept to help the U.S. with its problems that it sees in North Korea, and one for theater missile defense, where Russia would just love to get a contract to help defend Europe from missiles launched from the middle east or north Africa.

As for selling a global system, they've tried. It's not as if it will come out of the blue now, with a catch phrase, but the Reagan speech of March 1983 was not only a surprise to the scientific community, it was astonishing to the Secretary of Defense, to the Secretary of State, and to all but three or four people in the administration. In fact, you can read the Frances Fitzgerald book, but if you don't have time to read the book you can read of review of it, which was in the Los Angeles Times, if you go to my web page.

So I don't think it's going to come out of nowhere and overwhelm people. And this is the wrong place to start. You don't want NMD as the keystone of an expanding system that's built on sand, but on foam. You want to have something that really works against a real threat before you start expanding it to have a bigger, greater capability defense.

KEENY: Mark, do you have something to add on the selling of national missile defense?

MELLMAN: Just really a few words. First of all, when Reagan gave that speech in 1983, he did get initial support, but that support quickly melted away. In fact, it was not too long after that a majority of Americans opposed the Star Wars program, and indeed it became a term of ridicule, very quickly. The reference is now a pejorative, not a positive. Second, in 1983 the fundamental, underlying public opinion was significantly different in the following respects: people were much more concerned about the potential for nuclear war, about the potential of a major conflict between the superpowers, and the whole issue of national defense was higher on people's agenda than it is today. So in 1983, Reagan was essentially saying to the country, there's already prior concern about this threat, so let me give you a definitive solution. When it became apparent there was nothing there, it quickly became an object or ridicule. Today, a President would be saying, let me try to convince you that this problem's actually more important than you think it is, and then let me try to give you a solution that has already been ridiculed.

QUESTION: I'm a reporter from the New China News agency with a question on China. Let me give you a little background to the question. Mr. Mendelsohn, while addressing the recent response to the NMD deployment, talked comparatively little on China's concerns. For Chinese, the United States seems to be preparing a war with China and even the preliminary deployment of 100 interceptors is just enough to cap China's nuclear weapons. In fact, as reported by the AP and Reuters, a congressman has said, in a written report, that the real purpose of NMD is to deal with China. So, in your opinion, what is the real purpose of NMD?

KEENY: I think we could all deal with that, because the point you make about China's concern is completely understandable. Since China does not take North Korea's threat seriously and the location of the proposed U.S. national missile system would appear to be ideally suited to deal with China, China has every reason to raise the question. I know the administration says they are going to work very hard to persuade the Chinese that they have no reason to be concerned, but I think that's a pretty difficult assignment to carry out, unless the administration is prepared to say the system is so ineffective that China doesn't have to worry about it working. But let me ask Dick for his response.

GARWIN: The proposed NMD has various purposes according to the people that are supporting it. Those whom work on it like the challenge, they have a job to do, that's their purpose. Many supporters of the NMD support it, in my opinion, just because it will work in principle against the Chinese strategic force. North Korea, in the fable of the three bears, is too little—the baby bear—too easy. Russia is the papa bear—too hard. But the middle bear—momma bear—China, is just the right size. In fact, Jim Woolsey, a fellow member of the Rumsfeld Commission and former Director of the CIA, when he testified in February of this year before the Senate Foreign Relations committee, was asked by Senator Biden, if the proposed system worked perfectly against the states of concern but had no effectiveness against China or Russia, would he support it? And Mr. Woolsey said no, because his interest is having something that would work, obviously not against Russia, but against China. From the point of view of China, that's the downside. The upside is that China could easily deal with the system with penetration aids at some expense. But the Chinese government is probably no more sensible than the American government; the Chinese military would come in and say, besides the countermeasures, we have to build a lot more strategic weapons. And it would probably be hard for the Chinese government to resist.

KEENY: There's no question that the statements, by people like Jim Woolsey and Sen. Kyl (R-AZ) in supporting their interests in a national missile defense, are extremely controversial and extremely confrontational with China, Russia, and other countries. This is part of the problem that President Clinton had to balance in coming to a decision whether or not to move forward with deployment. Going forward would certainly be interpreted by China, Russia, and lots of other countries as having these other hidden objectives. But I can assure you that no one at this table takes any responsibility for the statements of Woolsey or Kyl.

QUESTION: Mr. Mendelsohn made the point that Chinese system seems to be threatened by a TMD system as well, and TMD has a lot more political support than NMD. Doesn't that suggest that China will probably decide to increase their nuclear arsenal anyway?

GARWIN: Two problems with that. China is very upset about the prospect of TMD of Taiwan. And this is a political problem; I don't know if the United States will help Taiwan with a theater missile defense, we do not believe that China should be encouraged to throw missiles at Taiwan. Taiwan does not have nuclear weapons, so it's not destabilizing to have a defense. China has some hundreds of nuclear weapon, but only about 20 of them are on long-range ballistic missiles capable of striking the U.S. The fall 1999 National Intelligence Estimate, in its unclassified version, says China is in the process of deploying mobile missiles, which are not subject to preemptive attack and destruction before launch. That has been the problem with the Chinese missiles; yet, China doesn't appear to worry about it. If a war started, those missiles would be destroyed before they could be used. So one doesn't need a national missile defense to counter the existing Chinese force. The mobile missiles that would face a national missile defense, should we deploy it, would have to be deployed with penetration aids. No, China does not have a need to develop more than perhaps an additional 20 mobile missiles, in the absence of a national missile defense. And if they have appropriate countermeasures, they could stick with that as well. But they may decide for their own domestic political purposes because of the political strength of the military—which is not very great—that they should build more missiles, which of course would cut into their other military capabilities, in a fixed budget.

KEENY: Any other questions? I think then we can adjourn our meeting and stay within the club rules that we would be thrown out at 11:00 if we were not finished. Thank you all very much for coming.