"I want to tell you that your fact sheet on the [Missile Technology Control Regime] is very well done and useful for me when I have to speak on MTCR issues."

– Amb. Thomas Hajnoczi
Chair, MTCR
May 19, 2021
It Was The Technology, Not The ABM Treaty: Missile Defense Remains Unready One Year Before Deployment

For Immediate Release: June 5, 2003

Press Contacts: Daryl Kimball, (202) 463-8270 x107 or Wade Boese, (202) 463-8270 x104

(Washington, D.C.): One year after the United States withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to boost its missile defense efforts, an initial, limited system scheduled for deployment next year remains undeveloped and unproven. Before scrapping the treaty, the Bush administration painted the accord as the primary culprit preventing the development of effective nationwide missile defenses. However, the rudimentary nature of the Pentagon's various missile defense programs highlights that the true challenge was, and will continue to be, making the technology work.

President George W. Bush announced his goal of deploying the initial elements of a missile defense system one year after his December 2001 declaration of the U.S. intention to withdraw from the ABM Treaty, which barred Washington and Moscow from fielding nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles. Although many viewed the treaty as instrumental in slowing the nuclear arms race, Bush condemned it as hindering the U.S. "ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks." The U.S. withdrawal took effect June 13, 2002.

Bush's deployment plan calls for a total of 10 ground-based interceptors to be fielded by the end of September 2004-only months before the presidential election. Six interceptors are to be deployed at Fort Greely, Alaska and four are to be located at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Another 10 interceptors are to be added at Fort Greely in 2005.

Yet, the interceptors to be deployed have not been built or thoroughly tested. The interceptor is to be comprised of a booster and an exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV), which is the component that homes in on the target and collides with it in space. But the interceptors used in the system's eight intercept tests to date-five of which have been successful-have employed a prototype EKV and a surrogate booster. The Pentagon planned to have a new, more powerful booster ready for intercept testing in early 2001, but that will not happen until at least the end of this year due to significant problems in developing it.

The intercept tests to date have also been limited in several other ways. The interceptor's intercept plan is calculated before launch using data from a C-band transponder attached to the mock warhead; the EKV is preprogrammed with information on what the target will look like; the intercept takes place at a lower altitude and slower speeds than what is expected in a real situation; and decoys that a potential enemy might use do not accompany the target. These testing limitations are indicative of a system in the early stages of development, not one that is ready for deployment.

A report released June 4 by the General Accounting Office (GAO), which conducts studies for Congress, finds that "flight tests have also been executed under nonstressing conditions that are not fully representative of the environments that the elements would experience in combat." GAO warned that the Pentagon's rush to field a system to meet Bush's deadline could result in a system that does not work and ends up costing taxpayers more in the long run.

Given the technical challenges confronting missile defense, it is all the more vital that the United States bolster and renew national and multilateral efforts to halt ballistic missile proliferation. A key step would be for the Bush administration to resume talks with North Korea on a permanent and verifiable freeze of its ballistic missile programs and exports. When it took office, the Bush administration suspended and then abandoned negotiations the Clinton administration had initiated with North Korea on the matter.

The Bush administration should also refrain from actions that could undercut existing restraints on the trade of missile technology globally. The White House has indicated that it is looking for ways to implement the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) so it does not hamper the U.S. pursuit of missile defense cooperation with foreign governments. MTCR guidelines call on the regime's 33 members, including the United States, to restrict the transfer of missiles and related technologies capable of delivering a 500-kilogram payload at least 300 kilometers.

A thorough analysis of the state of U.S. missile defense efforts one year after the ABM Treaty withdrawal is available at the Arms Control Association's Web site at http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2003_06/mdanalysis_june03.asp.

A summary of the status of each major Pentagon missile defense program is also available at http://www.armscontrol.org/act/2003_06/mdfactfile_june03.asp.

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The Arms Control Association is an independent, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to promoting public understanding of and support for effective arms control policies to address security threats posed by nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons, as well as conventional arms.

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