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"I want to thank the Arms Control Association … for being such effective advocates for sensible policies to stem the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and most importantly, reduce the risk of nuclear war."
– Senator Joe Biden
January 28, 2004
Press Releases

Panel Upholds NIE Assessment of Ballistic Missile Threat to U.S.


Craig Cerniello

ON JANUARY 23, the CIA released the unclassified version of the independent panel review of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) 95 19—the controversial assessment that concluded that no countries, other than the declared nuclear weapon states, will develop a ballistic missile capable of threatening the contiguous 48 states or Canada in the next 15 years. The panel, headed by former CIA Director Robert Gates, rejected the claim made by congressional conservatives that NIE 95 19 was politically influenced by the Clinton administration in order to downplay the longer range missile threat to U.S. territory. Although acknowledging several deficiencies in the intelligence estimate, the panel reaffirmed the estimate's conclusion that the United States is unlikely to face a limited missile threat from any "rogue" country before 2010. Congressional critics of the NIE have now taken aim at the panel's findings.

 

Gates Panel Review

One of the most hotly contested issues in the current national missile defense (NMD) debate is the nature of the threat to the United States posed by longer range ballistic missiles. When the NIE was released in November 1995, it posed a significant challenge to congressional Republicans who advocated the early deployment of an NMD system to defend against what they claim is an emerging missile threat to U.S. territory. In subsequent months, several congressional members challenged the NIE's findings and argued that the estimate was politically influenced by the administration in order to justify its decision not to commit to the early deployment of an NMD system.

As a result of the controversy generated by NIE 95 19, Congress, in its fiscal year 1997 defense authorization bill, required the director of the CIA to convene a panel of "independent, nongovernmental individuals with appropriate expertise and experience" to review the underlying assumptions and conclusions of the estimate. Then CIA Director John Deutch appointed Gates to chair the independent panel, which included Ambassador Richard Armitage, Sidney Drell, Arnold Kanter, Janne E. Nolan, Henry S. Rowen and retired Air Force General Jasper Welch. The conclusions reached by the seven panel members were unanimous.

The Gates panel dismissed the charge that NIE 95 19 was politically influenced. "The Panel found no evidence of politicization and is completely satisfied that the analysts' views were based on the evidence before them and their substantive analysis," the report stated. Moreover, it concluded that, "unsubstantiated allegations challenging the integrity of Intelligence Community analysts by those who simply disagree with their conclusions, including Members of Congress, are irresponsible."

The Gates panel noted that there were several deficiencies with respect to the process in preparing the NIE and the manner in which it was presented. The panel said those in senior management positions were not sufficiently involved in the preparation of the estimate, especially given the controversial nature of the issue being addressed. "The result was not a politicized Estimate but one that was politically naive," the report said. The panel also claimed that the estimate lacked a clear scope and was "rushed to completion."

The Gates panel pointed out that one of the most serious problems in NIE 95 19 was that its main conclusion on the missile threat to the United States was based on "a stronger evidentiary and technical case than was presented in the Estimate." The panel's report illustrates several examples of how the NIE's key judgment could have been strengthened. For instance, the panel stated that the estimate could have analyzed the length of time it took countries with successful missile programs, such as China, to develop an ICBM capability. Such an analysis, they claimed, would have revealed that it took China more than 20 years to develop its 4,750 kilometer range CSS 3 ICBM—a clear indication that states with much less resources (e.g. North Korea) have a long way to go before successfully developing an ICBM capable of reaching U.S. territory.

The panel also identified several analytical shortcomings in NIE 95 19. Most important, the panel claimed that the intelligence estimate failed to thoroughly address the motives and objectives of those states seeking an ICBM capability. The panel's report said insufficient attention was devoted to the potential threat to the United States posed by land attack cruise missiles and shorter range, sea based ballistic missiles. Other deficiencies included the failure to ask whether potential adversaries could acquire an ICBM capability through channels not considered by the intelligence community, and an overemphasis on the Missile Technology Control Regime as a means of slowing ballistic missile proliferation.

In the final analysis, however, the Gates panel concluded that "the Intelligence Community has a strong case that, for sound technical reasons, the United States is unlikely to face an indigenously developed and tested intercontinental ballistic missile threat from the Third World before 2010, even taking into account the acquisition of foreign hardware and technical assistance. That case is even stronger than presented in the NIE."

Clearly dissatisfied with the panel's findings, Representative Curt Weldon (R PA) argued in a January 17 letter to Gates that the independent review failed to adequately refute the charge that NIE 95 19 was politically influenced by the administration. "Not once did your panel provide an opportunity for Members who charged politicization to be heard. Given your harsh condemnation, I believe you had a responsibility to explore those allegations and to offer a detailed rebuttal of them," Weldon wrote. The letter also rejected the notion that Congress was responsible for rushing the estimate to completion.

NMD Debate in Congress Heats Up As Lott, Lugar Introduce New Bills


Craig Cerniello

AS THE 105th session of Congress began in January, the debate about whether the United States should deploy a national missile defense (NMD) system intensified. On January 21, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R MS) and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Don Nickles (R OK) announced that the Republican agenda in the Senate this legislative session would consist of national missile defense along with 10 domestic policy initiatives. The "National Missile Defense Act of 1997," introduced that day by Lott and 25 co sponsors, requires the United States to deploy an NMD system by the end of 2003—a similar, though scaled down, version of last year's highly contentious "Defend America Act."

The Clinton administration's so called "3 plus 3" program, on the other hand, requires the United States to develop the elements of an NMD system by 2000, at which time it will evaluate the ballistic missile threat to its territory and be in a position to deploy a system by 2003 if necessary (see ACT, March 1996). If the missile threat has not materialized by 2000, then the United States will continue developing and refining its NMD system, maintaining a rolling three year deployment capability, until a rogue nation threat justifying such a decision has been identified.

In an attempt to bridge the gap between Lott's NMD proposal and the administration's program, Senator Richard Lugar (R IN) introduced the "Defend the United States of America Act of 1997" on January 21. The bill requires the United States to develop an NMD system which is capable of being deployed by the end of 2003. It also calls for a congressional vote in 2000 on whether to deploy the system.

 

The Lott Bill

The National Missile Defense Act states that it is U.S. policy to deploy an NMD system by the end of 2003 that "is capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate)," and that "could be augmented over time to provide a layered defense against larger and more sophisticated ballistic missile threats if they emerge." This language is similar to that contained in the "Defend America Act of 1996," sponsored by former Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R KS) and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R GA). The Dole Gingrich bill was withdrawn from House consideration in May 1996 when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the NMD system would incur acquisition costs between $31 billion to $60 billion through 2010 (see ACT, May/June 1996).

Aware of the influence the CBO estimate had in shaping last year's debate, the National Missile Defense Act deliberately tones down some of the key language contained in the Defend America Act in an attempt to reduce costs. Whereas the Dole Gingrich bill called for the deployment of a NMD system that could provide a "highly effective" defense against "limited, unauthorized, or accidental ballistic missile attacks," the Lott bill only requires that the system be capable of defending against limited missile attack. Furthermore, the Lott bill only states that the NMD system "could" rather than "will" be augmented over time to provide a layered defense against more sophisticated missile threats.

The National Missile Defense Act also scales down the elements of the NMD system. Under the Lott bill, the NMD system will consist of an interceptor system; fixed, ground based radars; space based sensors; and battle management, command, control and communications. The Dole Gingrich bill, however, envisioned a much more elaborate interceptor system that included one or a combination of ground based and sea based interceptors; space based, kinetic energy interceptors; and space based, directed energy systems.

Nevertheless, the National Missile Defense Act retains some important provisions that were included in the 1996 Defend America Act. For instance, Lott's legislation "urges" the president to pursue negotiations with the Russians to amend the ABM Treaty to permit deployment of the NMD system, and requires the United States to consider withdrawing from the treaty if these negotiations have not succeeded within one year of the bill's enactment. Moreover, the Lott bill states that it is U.S. policy "to seek a cooperative transition to a regime that does not feature an offense only form of deterrence as the basis for strategic stability."

 

The Lugar Bill

Lugar's legislation attempts to find a middle ground between the administration's NMD approach and the more ambitious Republican proposals. During his January 21 remarks to the Senate in which he introduced the bill, Lugar said, "I hold the view that the ABM Treaty does have, or can be made to have, sufficient flexibility or elasticity to accommodate certain kinds of national missile or theater missile defense systems. By the same token, I reject the notion that we can only achieve the types of theater missile defense or national missile defense we need by outright abrogation of the ABM Treaty."

The Lugar bill directs the secretary of defense to conduct a "research and development program" to develop a single site NMD system that can be deployed by the end of 2003. The system will be "designed to protect the United States against limited ballistic missile threats, including accidental or unauthorized launches or attacks by Third World countries."

In addition, the bill requires Congress to make a decision concerning deployment of the NMD system during 2000. The deployment decision will be based on five factors: the projected ballistic missile threat to the United States in 2000 and beyond; the projected cost and effectiveness of the system based on available technology and testing results; the projected cost and effectiveness of the system if deployment were deferred for one to three years while additional development continued; arms control factors; and an assessment of U.S. preparedness in defending against an attack involving nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

The Lugar legislation also mandates that the NMD system be compliant with the ABM Treaty. In this connection, the system will consist of fixed, ground based battle management radars; up to 100 ground based interceptor missiles; as necessary, space based adjuncts permitted under the treaty; and, as necessary, large phased array radars that are located on the periphery of the United States and oriented outward. The bill also urges the president to pursue discussions with Russia on possible amendments to the ABM Treaty that would allow for more effective defenses, such as a return to the original treaty provision permitting ABM deployment at two sites. However, it does not require the United States to consider withdrawing from the ABM Treaty if these negotiations do not succeed within one year.

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