ACA’s journal, Arms Control Today, remains the best in the market. Well focused. Solidly researched. Prudent.

– Hans Blix,
former IAEA Director-General

Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty

The 1997 START/ABM Package at a Glance

January 2003

Contacts: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, (202) 463-8270 x107

Updated: January 2003

In September 1997, representatives from the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine signed a package of agreements in New York designed to enhance the prospects for Russian ratification of START II and to clarify issues pertaining to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. Efforts to bring the package into force have been terminated, however, following the signing of the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT) between Moscow and Washington in May 2002, the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in June 2002, and Russia's subsequent announcement that it would no longer be bound by its START II commitments.

The package consisted of the START II extension protocol and associated agreements, a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on ABM Treaty succession, the first and second agreed statements on ABM-theater missile defense (TMD) demarcation, a confidence-building measures agreement related to TMD systems, and an agreement updating the regulations of the Standing Consultative Commission, a body composed of treaty party representatives that discusses implementing issues.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin transmitted these agreements to the Duma in April 1998. The Clinton administration stated that it would submit the START II documents, MOU on Succession, and both demarcation agreements to the Senate for its advice and consent on ratification after Russia ratified START II, but it failed to do so after Russia approved START II and the 1997 agreements in early 2000.

START II Protocol and Associated Agreements

  • START II Protocol: Extended the time period for the completion of START II reductions from January 1, 2003 to December 31, 2007.
  • Albright-Primakov letters on early deactivation: Upon START II's entry into force, the United States and Russia would deactivate all strategic nuclear delivery vehicles slated for elimination under the treaty (e.g. SS-18, SS-24, and MX missiles) by December 31, 2003 by "removing their nuclear reentry vehicles or taking other jointly agreed steps." Primakov's letter also contained a unilateral statement: "Taking into account the supreme national interests of the county, the Russian Federation proceeds from the understanding that well in advance of the above deactivation deadline the START III Treaty will be achieved and enter into force." Albright's letter took note of Russia's position.
  • Joint Agreed Statement: Allowed the United States to "download" (remove warheads from) Minuteman III ICBMs under START II any time before December 31, 2007, the deadline for all START II-mandated reductions. Previously, the United States was required to download its Minuteman IIIs by December 5, 2001, seven years after START I's entry into force.

MOU on Succession to the ABM Treaty

  • Designated the United States, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine as the parties to the ABM Treaty. Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine would assume the rights and obligations of the former Soviet Union under the treaty. In this way, they collectively would be limited to ABM deployment at a single site and a total of 15 ABM launchers at test ranges.
  • Broadened the ABM Treaty's membership because a number of ABM-related facilities, required to operate Russia's ABM system, were located outside Russian territory after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine also regarded ABM Treaty membership as a key element of their independent status. The United States viewed the MOU as important because it recognized the states of the former Soviet Union that are bound by the treaty.
  • Although the Clinton administration argued that the ABM Treaty was in force because the power to determine succession lies within the executive branch, it agreed in May 1997 to submit the MOU to the Senate for approval in connection with the ratification of an unrelated agreement associated with the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty. However, the MOU was never submitted.

First Agreed Statement on Demarcation

  • Permitted the deployment of "lower-velocity" TMD systems (those with interceptor velocities of 3 kilometers per second or less) provided that they would not be tested against ballistic missile targets with velocities above 5 kilometers per second or ranges that exceeded 3,500 kilometers.
  • Enabled the United States to deploy the Army's Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) and Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) systems, as well as the Navy's Area Defense system. Previously, the United States had reviewed these systems and declared them to be treaty-compliant.

Second Agreed Statement on Demarcation

  • Prohibited the parties from testing "higher-velocity" TMD systems (those with interceptor velocities above 3 kilometers per second) against ballistic missile targets with velocities above 5 kilometers per second or ranges that exceeded 3,500 kilometers.
  • Prohibited the development, testing or deployment of space-based TMD interceptor missiles, or space-based components based on other physical principles (such as lasers) which could be capable of substituting for such interceptor missiles.
  • Allowed each side to determine its own compliance with respect to higher-velocity TMD systems. The United States had determined that the Navy's Theater-Wide Defense (NTWD) system was compliant with ABM Treaty requirements.

Confidence-Building Measures Agreement (CBMA)

  • Ninety days after entry into force, the parties would conduct an initial exchange of information on TMD systems and components covered by the CBMA: U.S. THAAD and NTWD systems, as well as the Russian, Belarussian and Ukrainian SA-12 systems. (Kazakhstan does not possess the SA-12.). This information would be updated annually.
  • Prior to testing, parties would notify one another of the test ranges that would be used to test a system governed under the CBMA. Ten days' advance notification was required prior to a TMD system test using ballistic missile targets.

Regulations of the Standing Consultative Commission (SCC)

  • The United States and Soviet Union established operating regulations for the SCC in 1973. These regulations were revised after Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan and Ukraine agreed to assume the rights and obligations of the former Soviet Union under the ABM Treaty.
Strategic Arms Control and Policy

Posted: July 25, 2017

The Complex and Increasingly Dangerous Nuclear Weapons Geometry of Asia


Asian states Pakistan, India, China, and North Korea comprise four of the world's nine nuclear-armed states. The interconnections of these countries must be considered to fully understand how nuclear nonproliferation can be influenced.


By Greg Thielmann
July 2016

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While much of the world’s attention is focused on efforts to halt the nuclear and missile tests of North Korea, the nuclear arsenals and ambitions of India, Pakistan, and China also pose significant dangers and deserve more attention.

The complicated nuclear weapons geometry of Asia extends from the subcontinent to the other side of the world. While Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is designed to counter India’s conventional and nuclear forces, New Delhi measures its own nuclear weapons program against that of China. Beijing, in turn, judges the adequacy of its nuclear arsenal against the threat it perceives from the United States’ strategic offensive and defensive capabilities. And in its efforts to mitigate the ballistic missile threat from North Korea, the United States and its allies in the region are expanding their strategic and theater missile defense capabilities.

In order to fully understand how the pace and direction of nuclear proliferation can be influenced, the interconnections of these countries must be considered, along with the kinds of nuclear weapons they have at their disposal.

Posted: July 27, 2016

Assessing Threats: Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit—Remarks By Greg Thielmann to DIAA/DCOR



In relying on threat assessments, it is wise to ask about the track records, evidence, and probabilities.


Assessing Threats: Where You Stand Depends on Where You Sit

By Greg Thielmann, Senior Fellow, Arms Control Association
Presentation to the Defense Intelligence Alumni Association and
the Diplomats and Consular Officers Retired

Washington, DC
July 27, 2016

In devising a title for my presentation today, I borrowed a phrase popularized by Graham Allison in his 1971 book on the Cuban Missile Crisis, Essence of Decision.  I suspect that every public policy student in the 1970s is familiar with it: “Where you stand depends on where you sit.”

As everyone in this audience appreciates, the “rational actor model” does not explain everything that happens inside government or between nation-states.  So even though the discipline of intelligence analysis is built on an ethos of objectivity, I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to argue that assessing threats is no exception to Allison’s aphorism.  I’d like to reflect on some threat assessments I’ve witnessed during my career in the executive and legislative branches of government. 

Backing into Threat Assessment

I backed into threat assessment in my first full-time job with the federal government.  Having just received my Masters Degree in Public Policy, I was hired as a budget examiner in the National Security Division of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).  My task was to monitor a $4 billion line item, Navy Research and Development, and look for ways to save money on the function.  (Where I sat certainly influenced where I stood on assessing the threat!)

One of the things that I learned very quickly was that nearly all U.S. Navy R&D spending was then being justified by the need to stay ahead of Soviet military forces.  The Soviets were assessed to pose the only serious challenge to the U.S. Navy for control of the seas and for forcing entry on land.  I was told that Soviet warships were newer than America’s; they were armed with faster torpedoes and more capable surface-to-surface missiles; Soviet submarines were more numerous than their American counterparts; they could dive deeper and travel faster, and were double-hulled and hence less vulnerable to attack. Soviet anti-aircraft defenses were described as the most formidable in the world, and Soviet Backfire medium-range bombers could actually fly all the way to the continental U.S.

Exaggerating the Threat

As I gradually learned about the numerous advantages the U.S. and its allies enjoyed in the maritime realm over the Warsaw Pact, I became suspicious of the way the way the Soviet threat was being portrayed, and began to realize two things about DoD characterizations of foreign threats.

  • First, senior DoD officials and military commanders lean toward prudent worst-case analyses, and justifiably so because underestimating an enemy can be disastrous if deterrence fails and war occurs.
  • Second, OSD and the U.S. military have a vested, bureaucratic interest in exaggerating foreign capabilities to Congress, because doing so tends to increase appropriations for defense.

It was, therefore, unsurprising that the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and the service intelligence agencies would paint the threat in more dire terms than the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) or the State Department’s intelligence bureau, INR.  The latter two entities, I concluded, were consistently more objective in characterizing the threat.

After two years in OMB, I began a 25-year career in the Foreign Service, often working in political-military jobs at home and abroad.  In two of my last three tours working for the State Department, I served in INR, where assessing nuclear threats was my principal focus.

My exposure to the U.S. intelligence community, both at State and later on the Senate Intelligence Committee, contributed to my current view that national threat assessments, though dominated by the supposedly unbiased criteria of the CIA, were also skewed toward “worst case” outcomes rather than those judged “most likely.”

One of my “take-aways” from witnessing the threat estimation process up-close over the years was that even the CIA had a vested interest in exaggerating threats:

  • After all, the more dangerous the world, the more necessary it was to have a large and powerful intelligence establishment; and
  • An organization that warns against all manner of calamities is more likely to be able to claim “I told you so” if something bad happens.

Worst-Case Thinking

I think we can all agree that nasty surprises send huge shock waves throughout the national security establishment.  The mother of all such surprises was, of course, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But there have been other notable examples since then -- China’s intervention in the Korean War in 1950, the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957, the Tet Offensive in 1968, and the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington in 2001.  Indeed, any intelligence analyst’s worst nightmare is failing to provide advanced warning of an adversary’s capability (or plan) to strike.  

And there hasn’t really been any bureaucratic penalty for over-estimating the threat, as the United States did during much of the Cold War – at least not until the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The Iraq WMD Fiasco

The second U.S. war against Iraq was justified by the need to stop Saddam Hussein’s aggressive pursuit of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD).  But, of course, we all now know that Saddam’s WMD had been eliminated before the invasion and his ability to reconstitute his WMD programs had been effectively stymied by the UN.

Political Pandering

I realized then that I had underestimated the willingness of the Director of Central Intelligence and other intelligence officials to support the political desires of the White House.  Daily access to President George W. Bush by the DCI and the rapport between them was important to George Tenet.  The numerous visits of Vice President Dick Cheney to CIA had an impact on the agency’s product.  So did the establishment of a DoD Undersecretary for Intelligence, which created a mechanism for bypassing the intelligence community to deliver unvetted intelligence information to the president.

One of the keystones to the Bush administration’s case that Saddam was reconstituting his nuclear weapons program came from intercepting a delivery of high-strength aluminum tubes to Iraq.  The CIA said these tubes were intended to be used for centrifuges in the production of highly enriched uranium, a critical material used for nuclear weapons.  The Department of Energy, which operated U.S. nuclear weapons labs, correctly assessed that the tubes were not suitable for centrifuges.  (They were actually being used to manufacture artillery rockets.)  INR concurred.

The CIA also assessed that Saddam was importing “yellow cake” from Niger that was needed to manufacture the uranium hexafluoride, which would be fed into the centrifuges.  DOE and INR again challenged the validity of these reports, based on technical analysis and country expertise.

The judgments of the best experts in the U.S. Government on these issues were key to INR’s critical dissent in the 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq’s WMD Program.  But when the day arrived to finalize (“coordinate”) the estimate, DOE sided with the 15 other members of the intelligence community, delivering what the White House wanted -- the conclusion that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear weapons program.  INR was thus left to stand alone in disagreeing with the most important judgment in the estimate.  And INR registered it in a conspicuous dissent on the bottom of page one of the Executive Summary at the bottom of the  one-page summary of the estimate that went to the president.

Congressional Cowardice

The U.S. Congress and the press failed to rigorously examine the intelligence on which the administration’s allegations were based.  (The head of INR was never asked to explain his bureau’s dissent in hearings on the NIE held by Congress.)  By mid-October of 2002, following a brief debate, the Congress authorized the use of force against Iraq – an action many Members of Congress hoped would persuade Saddam to allow the return of UN inspectors.  This pressure, backed by a UN Security Council resolution in November, was successful.  The inspectors returned at the end of the month, resumed on-cite inspections, and began filling in the information, which had been absent since their expulsion in 1998.  But their findings over the next three months were spurned by the administration and largely ignored by Congress and the press. 


The invasion was launched in March 2003, but no WMD was found.  The baleful legacy for the Middle East and the U.S. in terms of lives lost and treasure squandered is continuing to be felt, both at home and abroad.  And the decision to invade has now been labeled by people from both political parties as one of the biggest foreign policy blunders in post-Cold War history.

Although the systemic failures ultimately led to a significant reform of the U.S. intelligence community structure and process, those administration officials who were culpable for willfully distorting an already flawed intelligence product were never held to account – either at the polls or in their privileged government positions.

So too did most in Congress escape retribution for their dereliction of duty in failing to revisit the previous year’s authorization to use military force before the invasion.  (In my admittedly biased view, it should have been clear in February 2003 to anyone paying close attention that every evidentiary pillar of support for the administration’s case was collapsing.) 

The Fantasical Thinking of Star Wars

Another insight about threat estimates I’ve gained over the years was the inability of many politicians and military officials to put themselves in the shoes of their adversaries.  This means that decisions made on military measures to meet the threat frequently do not adequately consider either the adversary’s perspective or likely response.

The classical case for me is the U.S. decision in 2002 to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.  That treaty, then 30 years old, had created specific limits on defenses against strategic offensive ballistic missiles, a necessary condition for securing and sustaining reductions in U.S. and Soviet (or Russian) nuclear weapons.  The ABM Treaty had facilitated the limits and reductions achieved by the SALT and START processes.

Moreover, negotiators had agreed on a protocol to the ABM Treaty, which established a dividing line between the strategic missile defense interceptors limited in the treaty, and the theater and tactical missile defense interceptors, which would not affect the strategic balance.  Hence, Patriot and THAAD interceptors, which are used to blunt the effectiveness of ballistic missile use against troop formations, port facilities, air bases, and other point targets, could be produced and deployed without limits under the ABM Treaty.

But when the U.S. revoked the ABM Treaty, the Russians refused to ratify the terms of START II – a treaty on strategic offensive systems, which, among other things, would have eliminated all multiple warheads on Russian ICBMs.  Russia reacted as the U.S. did when faced with Soviet strategic defenses in the 1960s; it increased its strategic offensive efforts to compensate and safeguard the viability of its nuclear deterrent.

The intelligence community has been very reticent to include in its threat assessments the obvious point that strategic missile defense deployments lead to strategic missile offense deployments.  There is no empirical evidence that strategic missile defenses discourage proliferators as its proponents assert – whether it is Russia, China, Pakistan, North Korea, or Iran.  And yet, the policy community moves forward with what one missile defense proponent this month termed: “the long-running principled opposition to ‘reject any negotiated restraints’ on missile defenses. 

The Perfidious Persians

In my third and most recent historical example, I find evidence of both assessment problems I’ve wanted to highlight.  In describing  Iran’s ballistic missile program over the last two decades, the U.S. Government has both overestimated the technological threat and underestimated Iran’s determination to thwart U.S. policy on ballistic missiles. 

Ballistic Missile Balderdash I

I go back aways on this issue.  One of my most interesting professional endeavors was to participate in coordination of a 1999 National Intelligence Estimate on the Foreign Ballistic Missile Threat.  This estimate constituted an official reaction to the extremely influential report on the ballistic missile threat in the previous year of the Rumsfeld Commission.  That commission essentially predicted in the spring of 1998 that, within five years, North Korea, Iraq, and Iran would be able to develop ICBMs (a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead 5,500+ km).  An attempted North Korean launch of a satellite a few months later seemed to many to validate Rumsfeld’s dire forecast.

The 1999 NIE assessed that a North Korean ICBM could be launched at any time, an Iranian or Iraqi ICBM could be launched between 2005 and 2010.  In terms of likelihood, the estimate judged that, by 2015: a North Korean ICBM was most likely, an Iranian ICBM was probable; an Iraqi ICBM was possible.

The Rumsfeld Commission report and the NIE helped kill the ABM Treaty and, as collateral damage, the START II agreement.  They helped solidify the congressional view of U.S. missile defense requirements that has lasted 17 years.  They were also spectacularly wrong.  None of these three countries has fielded an ICBM.  When Iraq was invaded in 2003, it was working on a 200 km range ballistic missile. North Korea has come closest, with several launches of a large space rocket that could be used as the basis for developing an ICBM, but the only type of “ICBMs” it has paraded have never flown.  Iran has never tested a missile with a range over 2,000 km. The U.S. military now says that Iran could field an ICBM as soon as 2020, but it is unlikely to have a nuclear warhead for 10-15 years, because of the Iran nuclear deal.

Of course, having squirmed in the uncomfortable position of dissenting from the majority estimates during my years as an intelligence analyst, I jumped on the chance to remind the public in the summer of 2003 (after retiring from the State Department) that Rumsfeld’s five years had expired, asking: where are the ICBMs?  I also enjoyed authoring an Arms Control Association blogpost in 2013, facetiously asking: “What Kind of Glasses Do You Need to See Iranian ICBMs?”

Ballistic Missile Balderdash II

As if exaggerating Iran’s missile prowess was not enough, we now seem to be implying that the Iranians are acting irresponsibly and deceitfully in improving their short- and medium-range ballistic missile force.  This failure to understand and predict Iranian behavior may be more appropriately blamed on the Congress and the press, but both have been aided and abetted by the intelligence community’s silence. 

In the 8-year war that started with Iraq’s invasion of Iran, Saddam Hussein had weapons superiority over Iran across the spectrum: more modern aircraft, missiles, and tanks – and in greater quantities; and an arsenal of chemical weapons along with a willingness to use them.  It was Iraq, which initiated the ballistic missile attacks against Iranian cities.  It was Iraq, which violated the 1925 Protocol against chemical weapons use.  Yet the West supported Iraq in the conflict.

To expect Iran not only to accept the Iran nuclear deal, but also a ban on all medium-range conventionally-armed ballistic missiles, is extremely naïve.  Such missiles are Iran’s only direct deterrent against nuclear-armed Israel.  Moreover, they serve to counterbalance -- although only in small measure – the much larger and more modern air forces of potential enemies Israel, Saudi Arabia, and the U.S.

Yet the tenor of discussion in Washington about the Iran nuclear deal gives the impression that this agreement between Iran and the P5+1 includes limits on ballistic missiles.  Politicians assert incorrectly that Iran is “violating” the deal and/or acting irresponsibly as a regional power to even test missiles with ranges over 300 km.  Was anyone in the intelligence community expecting the Iranians to abandon their medium-range missile program?  Did anyone in the IC fail to understand the compromise resulting in watered down language on ballistic missiles in the new UN Security Council resolution?   Well, I guess the answers to these rhetorical questions are classified, but I think the answer to both is “no.”


My point in these case studies is not to suggest that prognostication is easy or that I have a perfect track record.  (In fact, I joke about my good luck that some of my correct calls have been publicized, while my mistakes remain classified.)

But I would advise that, before one relies on threat assessments, it is wise to ask about the track record of the assessor, to ask for the kind of evidence on which projections are based, and the probability attached to whatever horrendous outcome the assessor says is possible.  Finally, one must look realistically at how the adversary will respond to U.S. actions.  Otherwise, if we’re not careful, we will prepare for a future that is very unlikely – and in a way, which leads to an outcome that leaves us worse off than before. 

Posted: July 27, 2016

Mixed Messages on Missile Defense

The Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff delivered an unusually clear and coherent speech on U.S. missile defense polic y at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) May 19 in Washington. Although Adm. James A. Winnefeld, Jr. emphasized in his remarks that U.S. missile defenses should be of no concern to Russia or China, it is easy to see how parts of his comprehensive presentation could be viewed from Moscow or Beijing as hypocritical, or at least deeply ironic. Not About Russia and China During his presentation, Winnefeld reiterated the long-standing position of the...

Removing the Missile Defense Obstacle to Deeper Nuclear Cuts

It has been obvious for decades that advances in strategic ballistic missile defenses can complicate efforts to maintain a balance in strategic offensive forces while reducing overall nuclear arsenals. The two Cold War superpowers addressed this problem by negotiating the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 1972, which limited the breadth and scope of ballistic missile defense (BMD) deployments. But U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty in 2002 and enthusiastic pursuit of BMD by the United States has again brought the negative impact of missile defense on nuclear arms control efforts to the...

News Briefs

Indonesia to Ratify Test Ban Treaty

Meri Lugo

Indonesia will begin proceedings to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), Foreign Minister R. M. Marty M. Natalegawa announced May 3. “Indonesia is initiating the process of the ratification,” he said during Indonesia’s opening statement at the 2010 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference at the United Nations. “It is our fervent hope that this further demonstration of our commitment to the nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation agenda will encourage other countries that have not ratified the treaty to do the same,” he added.

Indonesia is one of nine remaining “Annex 2” states whose ratifications are required for the treaty to enter into force; the other eight are China, Egypt, India, Iran, Israel, North Korea, Pakistan, and the United States. Under Annex 2 of the CTBT, 44 specified countries must ratify the treaty to bring it into force.

Indonesia signed the CTBT in 1996, on the first day it was opened for signature.

During a speech in Washington last June, then-Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda announced that Indonesia would ratify the CTBT as soon as the United States did so. Explaining the policy change at a May 4 press conference, Natalegawa said Indonesia hoped that its decision would “be a positive incentive for other states to follow suit.”

In their opening statements at the review conference, several speakers applauded Indonesia’s new policy. Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organization Executive Secretary Tibor Tóth said May 6 that “the announcement is of crucial importance in moving the treaty closer to entry into force, and underscores the leadership role of Indonesia in regional and global nonproliferation and disarmament efforts.”

In a May 4 statement, President Barack Obama thanked Indonesia “for its responsible leadership in the global effort to reinforce the nuclear nonproliferation regime.”

In April 2009, Obama pledged to pursue U.S. ratification of the CTBT and is expected to do so after Senate consideration of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.

Meanwhile, Trinidad and Tobago and the Central African Republic deposited their instruments of ratification for the CTBT on May 26, bringing the total number of ratifications to 153.


U.S. to Give Missile Launch Notifications

Volha Charnysh

The United States has agreed to provide prelaunch notification for the majority of its ballistic missile and satellite launches, officials said last month.

The United States sent a confidential note to the secretariat of the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC), Peter Launsky-Tieffenthal, spokesman for the Austrian Foreign Ministry, which coordinates HCOC information exchanges, said in a May 25 interview.

The U.S. move, which was first reported by the Associated Press, was “a confidence-building measure,” he said.

Under the HCOC, which has 130 members and is the most wide-ranging international agreement on missile proliferation, countries make a nonbinding commitment to provide prelaunch notifications on ballistic missile and space-launch vehicle launches. Although the United States has regularly provided the HCOC with annual reports, it has never supplied prelaunch notifications through the code. Moscow stopped notifying HCOC members of its ballistic missile launches in 2008 on the grounds that some current members have not been issuing prelaunch notifications. (See ACT, March 2008.)

A U.S. Department of State official said in a May 28 interview that Washington had recently completed a review of its policy on prelaunch notifications and decided to issue such notifications of commercial and NASA space launches, as well as “the majority” of its intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missile launches using the HCOC process. The United States had been abiding by the December 2000 Memorandum of Understanding on Notifications of Missile Launches with Russia instead of the HCOC, he said. Consistent with its position at the time of the HCOC’s creation in November 2002, the United States will “on rare occasions” withhold launch information on certain ballistic missiles or space-launch vehicles, he said.

Launsky-Tieffenthal said the U.S. prenotification plans were to be further discussed at the next regular meeting of the HCOC, scheduled for May 31-June 1.


Landmine Review Garners Congressional Support

Jeff Abramson

Sixty-eight senators last month expressed support for the Obama administration’s review of U.S. landmine policy as well as a potential presidential decision that would lead to joining an international treaty banning their use.

In a May 18 letter, the senators said, “We are confident that through a thorough, deliberative review, the Administration can identify any obstacles to joining the Convention and develop a plan to overcome them as soon as possible.”

The senators were referring to the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on Their Destruction, also known as the Mine Ban Treaty. Before the United States could join the treaty, at least two-thirds of the Senate—67, if all 100 senators are present—would have to support it. Treaty advocates said the 68 signatures on the letter make a decision to join the treaty easier for the administration.

Key members of Senate committees, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) and ranking member Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Senate Arms Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), signed the letter, which was circulated by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and George Voinovich (R-Ohio). Obama received a similar letter from 57 House members.

In 2009 the administration announced it would conduct a comprehensive review of landmine policy and attended a meeting of treaty states-parties for the first time. (See ACT, December 2009.) That review is ongoing, and the administration has not indicated whether it plans to join the treaty.

Under a policy inherited by the Obama administration, the United States this year will forswear use of persistent mines, also known as “dumb mines,” but retain so-called smart mines, those equipped with self-destruct mechanisms. Both types of mines are prohibited by the treaty. So called “command-detonated” mines, which require an operator to detonate them intentionally, are permitted.


UK Ratifies Cluster Munitions Convention

Jeff Abramson

The United Kingdom, a key U.S. ally and past user and producer of cluster munitions, ratified the Convention on Cluster Munitions May 4, becoming the 11th NATO member to do so. Since February, when the treaty met its minimum number of 30 ratifications needed to set an entry-into-force date, Ecuador, Samoa, and the Seychelles have also ratified the accord, bringing total ratifications to 34. In April, Mauritania signed it, raising the total number of signatories to 106.


Posted: June 4, 2010

NEWS ANALYSIS: Missile Defense Five Years After the ABM Treaty

Five years after President George W. Bush orchestrated the June 13, 2002, U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to build an “effective” missile defense, the system remains unproven or insufficient in the eyes of many. (Continue)

Wade Boese

Five years after President George W. Bush orchestrated the June 13, 2002, U.S. withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to build an “effective” missile defense, the system remains unproven or insufficient in the eyes of many.

Yet, Bush administration officials say that their fledgling strategic missile defense system proved its worth when North Korea fired several ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan last July. Right before the tests, the Bush administration activated the system as a precaution.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates penned an April 26 Daily Telegraph piece claiming that the defense had helped “promote stability” by allowing U.S. leaders “to consider a wider, more flexible range of responses to a potential attack.” John Rood, assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, declared in a Feb. 27 speech that the system’s activation had “heartened” him.

North Korea’s missile launch preparations were no secret last June and had been reported generally as being for testing purposes. Still, Rick Lehner, a spokesperson for the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA), told Arms Control Today May 29 that North Korea’s intentions were not known and, therefore, the “system was brought to alert status in case it was needed to defend the country.” As it turned out, the system was unneeded because North Korea was conducting flight tests, and the Taepo Dong-2, the missile of greatest U.S. concern, flopped approximately 40 seconds into its inaugural flight.

The MDA asserts the defense would have stopped the Taepo Dong-2 had the test been a real attack. Lieutenant General Henry Obering, the head of the MDA, told the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee April 11, “I am confident [the system] would have worked.”

Not everyone has such confidence. Skeptics and critics point to what they say is skimpy and rudimentary testing of the system, which has components stretching from radars in Japan and the United Kingdom to 18 interceptors deployed in Alaska and California. On the other hand, some missile defense supporters criticize the administration for not being ambitious enough after pulling out of the ABM Treaty, which barred Moscow and Washington from developing nationwide strategic ballistic missile defenses.

Although Russia initially had a muted reaction to the U.S. treaty withdrawal, Russian leaders now more strongly assert that U.S. missile defenses, particularly a plan to base interceptors in Poland, are provocative. They imply that if Washington continues to proceed, it could trigger another arms race, which is what Bush and other senior administration officials said would not result from a U.S. ABM Treaty exit.

No Consensus on Capability

Despite its proclaimed confidence in the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD), which was the system activated last summer, the administration has had trouble convincing others to share the same view, largely because it has performed few visible tests over the past several years. Indeed, since Bush’s December 2002 decision to deploy the GMD system, only one successful intercept test has been conducted.

The MDA hoped to double this tally with a May 25 test, but the experiment was scrubbed when the target missile failed to fly properly. Obering said the agency would try again this summer.

The sole, recent success came Sept. 1, 2006, when a GMD interceptor fired from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, obliterated a mock warhead launched south from Kodiak Island, Alaska. (See ACT, October 2006.) The interceptor is comprised of powerful boosters that lift into space an exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) that detaches from the boosters and, using radar updates and onboard sensors, hones in on and collides with a target at a combined closing speed of 35,000 kilometers per hour.

MDA officials heralded the test as proof that the system works. Speaking Jan. 29, Brigadier General Patrick O’Reilly, MDA deputy director, contended there is “very little more we can do to make [tests] more operationally realistic.”

The test differed significantly from its 10 predecessors, five of which ended in intercepts. The September experiment involved an interceptor model that was the same as those currently deployed and also involved operational crews and radars, as well as a target trajectory more closely resembling one that a North Korean missile might travel. Previously, targets were shot away from California west over the Pacific Ocean toward the Marshall Islands, from where the test interceptors were fired.

Some critics dispute the claim that the recent test was realistic. In a May 23 Arms Control Today interview, Philip Coyle, former director of the Pentagon’s Office of Operational Test and Evaluation, said the latest test was “the simplest” to date and “less challenging than tests that I oversaw,” highlighting the absence of decoys in the recent test. Previous tests included one to three decoys, although they did not closely resemble the target.

Coyle, who is currently a senior adviser at the nonprofit Center for Defense Information, contends that the Achilles’ heel of the system is countermeasures, including decoys, because the system cannot discriminate between real targets and fake ones. He contends that adversaries capable of launching a long-range ballistic missile would employ decoys or other countermeasures to penetrate the system.

That assertion is based on U.S. intelligence. Robert D. Walpole, a national intelligence officer, informed lawmakers Feb. 9, 2000, that North Korea and Iran “could develop countermeasures based on [readily available] technologies by the time they flight-test their missiles.” Neither Iran nor North Korea has successfully flight-tested a missile with a range greater than approximately 2,000 kilometers.

Obering defends the MDA testing strategy. At the April 11 hearing, he argued, “We think that there are many situations where we will not be faced with complex countermeasures.” At an April 25 Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee hearing, the general stated, “Just because you do not have countermeasures does not mean that [tests are] not realistic.”

The MDA has deployed a sea-based X-band radar, which would have been prohibited by the ABM Treaty, that the agency claims will help with target discrimination. The agency also is working to miniaturize EKVs so that a single interceptor can carry several at a time to engage separate objects in a target cluster. Flight testing of this Multiple Kill Vehicle program is set to start in 2012.

The current head of the Pentagon’s testing office, Charles McQueary, testified April 11 that the current system has “demonstrated a capability to intercept a simple foreign threat.” Meanwhile, his office’s annual report, released earlier this year, stated that a lack of flight-test data “limits confidence in assessments” of the defense. It recommended that future program decisions should “stress reliable and repeatable performance in integrated system testing.”

Similarly, a March report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which conducts investigations for Congress, concluded the system “has not completed sufficient flight testing to provide a high level of confidence that [U.S. missile defenses] can reliably intercept ICBMs.” It applauded the MDA for generally reducing missile defense test failures and improving quality control procedures but reported that previous shortcomings may have permitted “less reliable or inappropriate parts” to be incorporated in the deployed interceptors, raising questions about their “reliability.” According to the GAO, the MDA plans to spend $65.5 million to retrofit the interceptors beginning in fiscal year 2009.

Stable of Programs Remains Similar

When running for president, Bush derided the Clinton administration’s ground-based system as too modest. (The ABM Treaty permitted Moscow and Washington each to field up to 100 strategic ground-based interceptors at one site.) He suggested that if the United States truly wanted to shield itself against ballistic missiles, it had to break free from ABM Treaty rules against air-, sea-, space-, and mobile land-based systems as well as foreign deployments. This position reflected decades-long complaints of missile defense advocates that the only thing blocking effective defenses was treaty limits making certain technologies and basing modes off-limits.

Writing in The Wall Street Journal a day after the U.S. treaty withdrawal took effect, then-Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz hailed the possibilities that the MDA could now exploit. “We can now move forward with the robust development and testing program that the Department of Defense has designed to take advantage of new technologies and basing modes,” he stated.

Yet, five years after the administration shed the treaty constraints and spent some $41 billion on the MDA, the U.S. inventory of systems has changed little (see table 1). Air-, sea-, space-, and mobile land-based systems to counter strategic long-range missiles or ICBMs have not materialized.

The MDA has programs that fit these basing modes, but they are systems geared toward stopping shorter-range missiles and were under development prior to the treaty withdrawal. To be sure, the MDA contends some of the programs have an inherent capability against longer-range missiles or that they can be upgraded for the mission, but such claims remain unproven.

The Airborne Laser (ABL) is a prime example. Initiated under the Clinton administration, the ABL program called for arming a Boeing 747 with a powerful laser to destroy shorter-range ballistic missiles shortly after their launch. Following the U.S. treaty withdrawal, program officials announced the system also could shoot down longer-range missiles. Prolonged development delays, however, have postponed the first ABL intercept attempt from 2003 to at least 2009. Not yet armed with its main laser, the aircraft recently tracked a target, but Obering noted in the April 25 hearing that the program is not “out of the woods.”

Some ABM Treaty antagonists also saw great promise in fielding ship-based strategic interceptors, pointing to the then-Navy Theater Wide program as a possible model or starting point. Now known as Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, the program has recorded eight intercepts in 10 tests involving shorter-range missiles, and MDA officials are seeking to expand its capabilities. As with the ABL program, however, the schedule has slipped. Whereas a first attempt to hit a long-range target had been predicted for as early as 2007, now it is set for 2014.

The MDA’s only mobile land-based system nearing deployment is the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), which is supposed to collide with missiles during their last minute or so of flight. Intercept testing of the system resumed last July after completion of an interceptor redesign that started in 1999. In the three intercept tests since then, THAAD has not missed. The system is designed to destroy missiles below the strategic threshold.

A mobile land-based strategic system, the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI), is in the works, but it has suffered frequent budget cuts from lawmakers who question the program’s utility. As a result, the MDA has pushed back possible deployment of the system, which has yet to be flight-tested, from 2010 to at least 2014.

Space-based interceptors remain just a gleam in Obering’s eyes. “Space offers a lot of flexibility, and it offers a lot of attraction,” he testified April 25. But his agency has requested relatively modest sums to explore the option. Congress, particularly Democratic members, have signaled strong reservations about basing interceptors in orbit. In its defense authorization bill passed May 17, the House of Representatives cut nearly $800 million, including all $10 million for the space project, from the MDA’s fiscal year 2008 $8.8 billion budget request. The Senate has yet to pass its version of this bill, which will have to be reconciled with the House measure.

For some missile defense doubters and opponents, the administration’s failure to bring any new systems to fruition might be bittersweet vindication of their arguments that it was premature on technical grounds to withdraw from the ABM Treaty.

A number of missile defense supporters, however, knock the administration for not being aggressive enough. Daniel Goure, vice president of the nonprofit Lexington Institute, contended in an April 23 paper that the administration “went on to squander the opportunity” presented by scrapping the ABM Treaty. He suggests the KEI program be ramped up and put on ships.

Other missile defense proponents such as Ambassador Henry Cooper, who headed one of the MDA’s predecessors, issued a 2006 report criticizing the administration for sticking with the ground-based system. They recommended limiting work on that system and devoting more time and effort to sea- and space-based interceptors. The report noted that the current approach ignores defending against Chinese and Russian missiles.

Russian Reactions

A major point of contention when the Bush administration was maneuvering to withdraw from the ABM Treaty was how other states, particularly Russia and China, would respond. The possibility that either country might build up its arsenal in reaction to a U.S. treaty withdrawal and construction of a nationwide defense induced anxiety within Washington and worldwide.

The Bush administration dismissed such concerns as exaggerated. It argued that future U.S. defenses would not be aimed at China or Russia and that the withdrawal would help usher in a new era of better relations between the United States and Russia by removing an irritant and a vestige of Cold War competition. White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer noted Dec. 12, 2001, that the president often remarked that withdrawing from the treaty would “lead to a strengthening of U.S.-Russian relations.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin characterized the withdrawal at the time as “mistaken,” and the Kremlin has grumbled ever since. But a U.S. proposal to nullify a potential Iranian missile threat by stationing 10-ground-based U.S. interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic now has Russia growling. (See ACT, April 2007. )

Putin set the tone in a Feb. 10 speech, saying the U.S. plans “cannot help but disturb us.” He asked, “Who needs the next step of what would be, in this case, an inevitable arms race?”

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also suggested May 15 that an arms competition was certain. “In questions of military-strategic stability, there are its own immutable laws: actions, counteractions, defensive, offensive systems,” he explained, adding that “these laws operate regardless of how somebody would like to see this or that situation.”

Although 10 interceptors would clearly pose no threat to Russia’s roughly 530 ICBMs, Russian officials indicate their concern is that the deployment is just the tip of the iceberg. The Russian news agency Itar-Tass May 14 published a Russian Foreign Ministry statement that “one cannot ignore the fact that U.S. offensive weapons, combined with the missile defense being created, can turn into a strategic complex capable of delivering an incapacitating blow.”

How seriously Russia fears such a scenario and how it would really respond is difficult to gauge. Moscow is seeking a new arms reduction agreement with Washington (see ACT, May 2007 ), but it also regularly speaks of retaining older weapon systems with multiple warheads and tripling the warhead capacity of its new class of Topol-M ICBMs.

Bush administration officials say Russia is overreacting and that a difference exists between the Kremlin’s private and public comments. They speculate that Russian officials might be trying to drive a wedge between the United States and Europe or engaging in electoral politics at home. Regardless, Rice said May 15 in Moscow that the United States would not give Russia “a veto on American security interests.”

U.S. officials have made a pitch to soften Russia’s rhetoric by proposing cooperation on missile defenses. Moscow so far has shunned the offers, perhaps recalling that nothing much came of Bush’s June 13, 2002, pledge to Russia to “look for ways to cooperate on missile defenses, including expanding military exercises, sharing early warning data, and exploring potential joint research and development of missile defense technologies.”

Estimated to have an arsenal of approximately 20 ICBMs capable of reaching the continental United States, China has stayed relatively silent about U.S. missile defense developments, even though it would appear to have greater reason than Russia to be concerned. Beijing has had a secretive, yet slow strategic modernization program underway for years, and there is little evidence that its pace or scope has changed. Chinese unease with U.S. plans, however, is viewed as stoking Beijing’s push for negotiations on the prevention of an arms race in outer space at the Geneva-based Conference on Disarmament.

Washington has gained some greater international acceptance of missile defenses. In addition to winning consent from the United Kingdom and Denmark to upgrade and integrate U.S. radars on their territories into the U.S. GMD system, the Bush administration also deployed a mobile radar to Japan and is cooperating with Tokyo on improving the ship-based Aegis defense. The ABM Treaty barred any of these actions. Other countries with ongoing projects with the United States include Australia, Germany, Israel, Italy, and the Netherlands.

Still, some governments, including a few U.S. missile defense partners, are uneasy with the seemingly deteriorating U.S.-Russian relationship, of which missile defense appears partially responsible. In a March 18 article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier cautioned that, in protecting against a possible Iranian threat, “the price of security must not be new suspicion or, worse still, fresh insecurity.” He also wrote, “[W]e cannot allow a missile defense system to be either a reason or a pretext for a new arms race.”

Posted: June 2, 2007

Sea-Based Missile Defense System Misses Target

A sea-based theater missile defense system scheduled for deployment within the next two years suffered its first failure in four intercept tries June 18. The Pentagon is now trying to figure out what went wrong...

Wade Boese

A sea-based theater missile defense system scheduled for deployment within the next two years suffered its first failure in four intercept tries June 18. The Pentagon is now trying to figure out what went wrong.

In its first test since November 2002, the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system was supposed to destroy a target missile minutes after its launch from Kauai Island, Hawaii. If all had worked according to plan, a kill vehicle on a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor fired from the USS Lake Erie was to home in and collide with an Aries ballistic missile target as it rose into space. Instead, the kill vehicle and the Aries target flew past each other.

A day after the miss, Rick Lehner, a spokesman for the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA), explained that everything seemed to be going correctly seconds before the expected impact, but then the kill vehicle lost the target in the “end game.” How much distance separated the two is uncertain, though Lehner said that it “appeared to be close.”

The kill vehicle was an updated version of ones employed in previous tests. In a June 16 statement, the Pentagon said the new design was intended to “improve performance and improved production.”

Another twist differentiating the June test from its predecessors was the inclusion of a second ship, which tracked the target first and then relayed intercept data to the USS Lake Erie. Lehner said this aspect of the test “worked fine.”

The latest test marked the second in a series of six tests to be completed by the end of 2005. Unless MDA repeats the June scenario, the next test will feature a target with a separating warhead. In the tests to date, the Aries missile stays in one piece, making it a bigger target.

Up to 20 SM-3 interceptors, designed to counter short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, are to be deployed on three Aegis ships as part of the Bush administration’s limited missile defense deployment scheduled for 2004 and 2005. The Pentagon also plans to outfit another 15 ships with upgraded radars to track ballistic missiles.

The Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system—formerly known as the sea-based midcourse defense and, before that, Navy Theater Wide—is not the only missile defense system set for near-term deployment that has suffered a letdown in its most recent test. The ground-based interceptor system designed to defend against long-range ballistic missiles also failed in a December 2002 intercept test.


Posted: July 1, 2003

GAO Faults Missile Defense Satellite Plan

Despite a recent revamping and name change, a satellite program to aid missile defense missions is still not on the right path, according to a May report by the General Accounting Office (GAO)...

Wade Boese

Despite a recent revamping and name change, a satellite program to aid missile defense missions is still not on the right path, according to a May report by the General Accounting Office (GAO).

Formerly known as the Space-Based Infrared System-low (SBIRS-low), the Space Tracking and Surveillance System (STSS) is set to have its first two satellites launched in 2007. GAO, which conducts studies for Congress, reported that the two satellites are to be built from equipment shelved four years ago and that they will not serve as the design model for future STSS satellites. Focusing near-term efforts on building these two satellites rather than exploring and developing a new satellite design is not the best strategy, GAO indicated.

GAO explained that putting off work on a newer satellite “will merely delay the opportunity to learn more about a design that could offer a future operational capability.”

Over the next six years, the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency has budgeted roughly $1 billion to complete work on the first two satellites and $1.3 billion for developing the next generation satellite, which is supposed to be launched in 2011. Projected spending for fiscal year 2004 calls for using 92 percent of STSS funding to make the first two satellites operational.

STSS is intended to be a system capable of detecting a missile launch, tracking the missile’s entire flight, and relaying that information quickly to missile defense systems so they can try to intercept the missile. As SBIRS-low, the system was also intended to be able to discriminate a warhead from any decoys that might be accompanying it, but that requirement has been dropped for now. SBIRS-low was overhauled because of cost overruns, schedule delays, and poor performance.

GAO noted that developing space-based systems for missile defense has proved difficult. Despite spending billions of dollars since 1984 on such projects, GAO noted that the Pentagon “has not launched a single satellite or demonstrated any space-based missile tracking capabilities from space using technologies similar to those to be used by STSS.” GAO further identified seven specific capabilities that still needed to be demonstrated for satellites tasked with missile defense missions. Those include an ability to track a missile warhead in space from thousands of kilometers away and passing that tracking data to other satellites and systems.

GAO warned that the current STSS approach is ill conceived. The Pentagon is “at risk of repeating past mistakes because it has made decisions that are largely focused on meeting its 2007 launch date rather than making sure the satellites and ground station can work as intended and that it can gain the maximum knowledge at the lowest cost.”



Posted: June 1, 2003

Missile Defense Post-ABM Treaty: No System, No Arms Race

Last June 13, the United States withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, eliminating the treaty’s limits on the U.S. ability to develop...

Wade Boese

Last June 13, the United States withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, eliminating the treaty’s limits on the U.S. ability to develop and deploy nationwide defenses against long-range ballistic missiles and dampening three decades of contentious debate over whether the United States should pursue such defenses.

In the days and months leading up to the withdrawal, two sharply contrasting forecasts of the potential consequences had clashed. Missile defense proponents, who vilified the ABM Treaty as jeopardizing U.S. security by shackling efforts to protect the country against growing ballistic missile threats, suggested that rapid progress toward the deployment of effective defenses could be achieved once the treaty was abolished. Critics and skeptics of missile defense argued otherwise, warning that the treaty’s demise might make the United States less safe by provoking a new arms race. They asserted Russia might halt or reverse cuts to its nuclear forces and China could respond by expanding its arsenal, which would likely spur India and then Pakistan to follow suit. Those dubious of missile defense also added that the largest impediment to making missile defense work was not the ABM Treaty but the limits of technology.

To date, neither side’s prediction has proven prescient. The United States has not made great strides toward having an operationally reliable nationwide missile defense. The limited missile defense deployment plan for 2004 and 2005 that President George W. Bush announced last December is essentially the same as that proposed by the Clinton administration. Two of the three systems to be fielded under the Bush plan would have been permitted under the ABM Treaty, which barred Washington and Moscow from deploying nationwide defenses against long-range or strategic ballistic missiles but allowed limited defenses against short- and medium-range missiles. The third system to be deployed was originally designated as part of a new test site and possibly could have been legal under the treaty. On the other hand, negative repercussions from the treaty withdrawal appear minimal. Russia criticized the move as a mistake, but no country is known to have launched or expanded a weapons buildup in response to the U.S. withdrawal.

It is still too soon to draw definitive conclusions about whether the United States will derive any significant advantage from abrogating the ABM Treaty or reap more benefits than costs. Missile defense programs initiated in the withdrawal’s wake could take years to show results. Likewise, another country’s arms buildup or hostile attitude in response to the treaty’s end might take some time to become apparent. Nevertheless, preliminary assessments can be made about both sides’ claims.

Assessing the Case for Withdrawal

Since Bush’s December 13, 2001, announcement of his intention to withdraw the United States from the ABM Treaty, as well as the subsequent withdrawal, Bush administration officials have identified three main benefits of exiting the treaty. First and foremost, the United States secured the freedom to deploy any and all strategic missile defense systems that it wants, anywhere it wants. Under the treaty, the United States could deploy no more than 100 ground-based interceptors in North Dakota to protect against long-range ballistic missiles. Second, the Pentagon gained a freer hand to explore and test technologies and basing modes, such as sea- or space-based systems, that were proscribed against long-range ballistic missiles. Third, the Pentagon received greater license to pursue foreign cooperation on missile defense. Though the rhetoric has soared with the treaty’s end—J. D. Crouch, assistant secretary of defense for international security policy, described the United States as being “liberated” in a March 2003 address—measurable results have been modest.

Deploying a Test Bed

The most visible move by the Bush administration since the ABM Treaty withdrawal has been Bush’s December 17, 2002, missile defense deployment announcement. Under the plan, the Pentagon will seek to deploy a total of 10 ground-based strategic missile interceptors in 2004. Six of the interceptors are to be located at Fort Greely, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. The Pentagon also aims to field another 10 ground-based interceptors at Fort Greely in 2005, up to 20 sea-based interceptors on three ships, and an undisclosed number of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) interceptors.

With the exception of the second wave of ground-based interceptors in 2005, the administration’s deployment plan might have been permissible under the ABM Treaty. Both the PAC-3 and the sea-based missile interceptors are designed to counter short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, which is a mission known as theater missile defense (TMD). The ABM Treaty did not prohibit TMD systems. And prior to the treaty withdrawal, the Pentagon had unveiled a plan to station six ground-based strategic missile interceptors at Fort Greely as elements of a new test site. The ABM Treaty permitted the addition of new test sites, although there was uncertainty within the State Department over whether the United States simply needed to notify Russia of a new test site or gain Moscow’s approval to establish it. Pentagon statements that the test site could possibly be used in an emergency situation, blurring its status as an operational or test site, complicated the matter. Ultimately, what had been conceptualized and first described as a test site before the decision to withdraw from the ABM Treaty then became a deployment following the treaty’s end. Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA), has been frank about Fort Greely’s dual nature. He testified before a Senate subcommittee April 9 that “[i]n other words, instead of building a test bed that might be used operationally, we are fielding an initial defensive capability that we will continue to test.”

Although the ground-based interceptors scheduled for deployment at Fort Greely were a key element of the Clinton administration’s National Missile Defense (NMD) program and have been under development for years, they have not been tested in their final form yet. The interceptor’s booster, which carries the exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) that is to collide with a warhead in space, has not been flight-tested or selected. A surrogate booster has been used in all eight intercept tests to date. Originally, the Pentagon was supposed to have a new booster for intercept testing by early 2001. However, the booster’s development has been significantly delayed. Two competing models are each to be flight-tested twice this summer. Depending on their performance, the Pentagon will choose one or keep both for future intercept testing and deployment.

In general, the strategic ground-based system to be deployed beginning in 2004 is unproven. Thomas Christie, who heads the Pentagon’s office of operational test and evaluation, reported to Congress in a February report that the proposed defense “has yet to demonstrate significant operational capability.”

The system’s eight intercept tests to date—five of which have proven successful—have not been very challenging or representative of a real-world scenario. Citing range limitations and safety considerations, the Pentagon has essentially been repeating the same test at a lower altitude and slower speeds than what a real intercept is likely to demand. The target in all the tests has been equipped with a C-band transponder, and data from that transponder is used to calculate the intercept plan guiding the interceptor into space toward the target. MDA justifies this practice as necessary due to the lack of a radar in the testing area to track the target in its early stages of flight. Information on the target is also fed into the EKV before the intercept attempt so that it can identify the mock warhead from among the other objects, including decoys, in the target cluster. The decoys used in the testing, balloons that are not vaguely similar to the mock warhead, are also largely considered unrepresentative of the foils a potential enemy might employ.

The Pentagon does not refute these criticisms but argues that such limitations and artificialities are the norm in early weapons testing. Kadish recently described the tests as “very scripted,” and Christie suggested the tests have been “relatively unrealistic.” Both officials say more complicated and stressful testing is soon to come. At the same time, documents submitted with the Pentagon’s fiscal year 2004 budget request reveal that MDA has cut several intercept tests previously planned prior to 2009. Between eight to 10 intercept tests are now planned over the next six years. One Senate Democratic staffer remarked in a May 14 interview that MDA’s testing plans have gone from “impossible to execute to anemic.” The staffer was referring to the fact that in recent years the Pentagon suggested it hoped to conduct up to four or even five intercept tests per year. A MDA spokesperson defended the schedule changes May 20, contending that a test schedule is “always notional, as it is for all weapon systems, and is adjusted to meet program needs.”

Despite the system’s acknowledged rudimentary and relatively untested nature, the Bush administration sees no reason not to deploy it. The underlying rationale is that something is better than nothing and can always be improved. In a May 20 document explaining its missile defense approach, the White House described the 2004 deployment as a “starting point” upon which it will add new systems when they become ready. The White House further contended that it is pursuing an “evolutionary approach” to missile defense and that there will be no “final, fixed missile defense architecture.” Democratic lawmakers have criticized this approach, claiming it results in systems being fielded prematurely.

New Tests, Same Uncertainty

The ABM Treaty specifically ruled out the testing, development, and deployment of strategic missile defense systems or components that were air-, sea-, space-, and mobile land-based. Recognizing that neither Washington nor Moscow would be able to verify what went on behind closed doors, the treaty’s negotiators did not bar research. Moreover, the treaty did not prohibit work on TMD systems, such as the PAC-3 that saw action in Iraq. Under the treaty, however, TMD systems and their components could not be tested or used against long-range targets.

In addition to the NMD program designed to counter strategic ballistic missiles, the Bush administration inherited several TMD programs from the Clinton administration. Many missile defense advocates inside and outside government were keen to see if some of these systems could contribute to or perform strategic intercepts. The ABM Treaty withdrawal provided the Pentagon with the opportunity to test such possibilities.

Since the treaty withdrawal, the Pentagon has conducted only two strategic missile defense intercept tests; one succeeded and one failed. In both, the Pentagon involved radars and sensors from various TMD systems to check whether they might be able to play a role in future strategic missile defenses. A ship-based radar, the Aegis system’s AN/SPY-1, was incorporated into both tests. A ground-based radar for the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and a sensor on the Airborne Laser (ABL) aircraft—a modified Boeing 747 that is to be outfitted with a powerful laser—were part of the second test. All three systems participated in “shadow mode,” meaning they were used to observe the target, but the data they acquired was not used to aid the intercept attempt. All the sensors performed well, according to the Pentagon, although there has yet to be a determination whether they worked well enough to support a strategic intercept. The MDA spokesperson said May 20, however, that the ship-based radar could provide targeting data to “help” the ground-based interceptor system “develop a better firing solution.”

Some missile defense supporters have suggested that THAAD, ABL, and the ship-based system, which has been renamed twice by the Bush administration and is now known as Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD), might be able to do more than just track long-range targets—that they could also shoot them down. Yet, the Pentagon has not tested this proposition largely because the three systems have not proven themselves against the missiles they were initially designed to defend against. Long-range missile warheads travel at least seven to eight kilometers per second, which is nearly twice as fast as a medium-range missile, making strategic targets more elusive. The current Aegis BMD interceptor missile is deemed too slow by half to intercept a long-range missile warhead, and it has only been tested three times against relatively big targets moving slower than a medium-range ballistic missile warhead. The THAAD system has not been tested since the summer of 1999, when it destroyed two nonstrategic targets after failing in six straight tests, and is not to be flight-tested again until late 2004. The ABL aircraft has not been equipped with its laser, and the program’s future is clouded. Kadish noted at the April hearing, “[W]e are right on the edge of making this very revolutionary technology either prove itself or fail. And we just don’t know the answer to that question yet.” If the program continues, Kadish is predicting the first ABL test against a nonstrategic target no earlier than the end of 2004. None of the three systems is scheduled to be fired against a strategic target within the next few years.

The U.S. treaty withdrawal sent the Pentagon back to the drawing board for radars and sensors in general. In his April testimony, Kadish said, “I know we’re rethinking the combination of sensors…without the treaty now.” But instead of clarifying plans, the treaty withdrawal appears to have jumbled them, at least in the short term. Kadish admitted as much. “And there is a major debate inside the community…based on affordability reasons and a whole host of other technical issues. In my view, that debate is not resolved yet,” Kadish explained.

During the Clinton administration, Pentagon plans called for the construction of an advanced X-band radar on Alaska’s Shemya Island, a desolate island at the western tip of the Aleutians, and the deployment of two satellite constellations (Space-Based Infrared System (SBIRS)-low and SBIRS-high) to track and discriminate among incoming ballistic missile warheads. Now, the Pentagon is planning to put the X-band radar on a sea-based platform. It has also significantly scaled back SBIRS-low and renamed it the Space Tracking and Surveillance System, while SBIRS-high has experienced a series of delays and cost overruns, pushing back its potential availability.

The near-term implication is that the ground-based interceptors to be deployed in 2004 and 2005 will not be supported by sensors that were previously assessed as being important elements for any future strategic missile defense. An upgraded early-warning radar and older model sensor satellites are intended to support the interceptors, but they are less capable than the envisioned systems. The X-band radar and new satellites were not to be available until 2005 or later under the Clinton administration as well, but the nascent and troubled state of the programs has raised greater concern about when they might really be ready. One of the staunchest Senate supporters of missile defense, Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK), even expressed doubts about the direction of sensor programs, critically questioning Kadish in April about MDA’s plans to put the X-band radar on a sea-based platform.

In addition to re-evaluating what sensors might do the best job of supporting a strategic missile intercept, the Pentagon is also considering new interceptor systems as well. MDA is exploring conceptual designs for miniature kill vehicles to enable multiple ones to be put on a single interceptor so it can engage several targets or decoys. A kill vehicle is the part of the interceptor that separates from the booster lifting it into space and then homes in on a target for a destructive collision. MDA also intends to soon begin evaluating designs for satellites armed with interceptors to shoot down ballistic missiles within the first few minutes after their launch. MDA intends to deploy up to three or five such satellites for testing purposes as early as 2008. Both of these concepts would have eventually run afoul of the ABM Treaty. At the same time, they are both in the preliminary stages and could have been investigated under the treaty for some time, perhaps years, before running up against the accord’s prohibition against testing and development.

A Little Help From Our Friends

The White House also advocated withdrawing from the ABM Treaty so international cooperation on missile defenses could be expanded. Other countries might be invited to participate in joint research, or they could also potentially permit U.S. missile defense assets to be deployed on their territories. Although the United States has sent delegations far and wide to discuss potential missile defense cooperation, the Pentagon has few results to show for its efforts.

The most tangible accomplishment has been the British government’s February decision to permit the United States to upgrade the Fylingdales early-warning radar on British territory. A similar request to the Danish government to do the same to a radar located at Thule, Greenland, has not been answered. The Pentagon’s aim is to improve the two radars’ tracking ability against missiles fired from the Middle East and enable them to guide interceptors to potential targets. Currently, the radars are limited to spotting missile launches and tracking missiles during their first few minutes of flight.

State Department and Pentagon officials said they could not name any other new programs initiated with foreign governments, but they said discussions were underway. While claiming that there has been “a good deal of progress” on international cooperation, one Pentagon official interviewed May 13 remarked, “[B]ut in the terms of getting into the details of specific countries, specific programs, specific discussions, the status of programs and discussions, we’re not ready to do that.” A State Department official interviewed May 19 reported that no “blueprint-type data” has been shared with foreign governments—an action Kadish frequently cites as one of the key benefits of the treaty withdrawal. The official added that some European countries have volunteered their territory for the deployment of missile defense assets.

Although only London has publicly signed up for new cooperation, Washington’s treaty withdrawal has quieted most overseas criticism of its missile defense plans. The State Department official interviewed May 19 characterized the change in tone as “remarkable,” noting that vehement opposition no longer exists and countries are more interested in exploring and discussing operational aspects of missile defenses, such as command and control issues. Reflecting this attitude shift, NATO agreed last November to undertake a study of missile defenses to protect allied territories and population against all ranges of ballistic missiles. Two NATO members, France and Germany, were leading missile defense opponents prior to the U.S. treaty withdrawal.

In its May 20 missile defense paper, the Bush administration said that, in order to pursue foreign missile defense cooperation, it would review existing U.S. export regulations that could hinder joint work or the transfer of missile defense technologies abroad. The White House declared it would “seek to eliminate impediments to such cooperation.” It also stated that the United States would implement the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR)—an informal regime of 33 countries that aims to restrict the transfer of ballistic missiles capable of delivering a 500-kilogram payload 300 kilometers or more—in a manner so that it would not interfere with international missile defense cooperation. A State Department official interviewed May 22 said how that would be done has not been decided yet. Last summer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Vann Van Diepen warned in congressional testimony that the United States should be cognizant of the potential precedent it could set if it chose to allow transfers of missile systems that might fall under MTCR controls. Washington might undercut its ability to persuade other countries to abide by their MTCR commitments if the United States is also pursuing deals at odds with the regime, he suggested.

The ABM Treaty did not rule out all U.S. cooperation on missile defenses with foreign governments. Israel, Japan, Italy, and Germany had programs for jointly researching or developing TMD systems underway with the United States when Bush took office. Washington and Moscow also agreed to work together in 1992 on designing two satellites for use in spotting ballistic missile launches. All of these programs are still ongoing, although some, particularly the Russian project, have been troubled.


U.S. Missile Defense: Protection
Against a North Korean Threat?

As the Bush administration seeks to maintain political support for its missile defense plans, it is using the potential threat posed by North Korea’s nuclear program as a key element in its sales pitch. President George W. Bush argued during an April 24 interview that a U.S. missile defense “will make it less likely that a nuclear country could blackmail us or Japan or any one of our friends.”

White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer added during an April 25 briefing that North Korea’s recent “announcement” that it possesses nuclear weapons “is an important reminder of why missile defense is an important part of our strategy to defend our country.”

A May 20 White House fact sheet on U.S. missile defense policy states that the United States is pursuing such a defense to augment its deterrence capability against states “aggressively pursuing the development of weapons of mass destruction and long-range missiles as a means of coercing the United States and our allies”—a possible reference to North Korea.

Although North Korea’s long-range missile programs have been a source of concern, both administration officials and other experts have expressed concern that a nuclear-armed North Korea could present security threats that a U.S. missile defense system could not counter, such as selling fissile material to other governments or inspiring other regional powers to acquire nuclear weapons.

Director of Central Intelligence George Tenet sounded a new alarm about North Korea’s missile program when he testified during a February congressional hearing that Pyongyang currently possesses a missile capable of reaching the United States.

A CIA spokesperson interviewed in February cited a December 2001 National Intelligence Estimate as the agency’s most recent public assessment of North Korea’s missile program. The estimate says North Korea’s Taepo Dong-2 missile could hit parts of the continental United States in a two-stage configuration and all of North America in a three-stage configuration. North Korea has not tested these missiles, the spokesman said.

The longest-range missile North Korea has flight-tested is the Taepo Dong-1, which it launched into the Sea of Japan in 1998. As configured, that missile cannot reach the United States. Pyongyang announced in September that it would extend indefinitely a 1999 moratorium on long-range missile testing.

What About Costs?

Although the scorecard appears relatively bare for those who advocated dumping the ABM Treaty, no serious negative repercussions have accumulated either.

Russia and China condemned the U.S. withdrawal and still grumble occasionally about U.S. missile defense plans, but neither has announced new armament plans. There has not been an unraveling of arms control treaties as Russia threatened could happen. In fact, Moscow negotiated a new nuclear arms reduction agreement, the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty (SORT), with Washington after Bush announced his intention to scrap the ABM Treaty. Both Moscow and Beijing seem to have concluded that the technical complexity of missile defenses will hamper the United States from fielding anything in the short term that could threaten their security and therefore have adopted a wait-and-see attitude. To be sure, both countries are strongly pushing for negotiation of a treaty essentially devoted to preventing the deployment of space-based missile defenses. Any U.S. move to test or deploy such systems would generate significant anxiety and ill will, and not just from Russia and China.

Harder to assess is whether the treaty withdrawal impacted other countries’ willingness to cooperate with the United States on other international security issues, such as confronting and disarming Iraq. Many countries have expressed dismay with what they perceive as the Bush administration’s unilateralist style, but the ABM Treaty withdrawal is just one of a series of actions that have elicited foreign consternation. One European diplomat based in Washington and interviewed May 16 speculated that Washington’s rejection of the Kyoto Protocol regarding global warming ranked as the U.S. act that most upset other countries. The diplomat went on to say that, politically, the withdrawal would seem to have been largely positive so far, taking into account the shift in tone surrounding missile defense globally.

What Has Not Happened

Nearly a year after the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, it is as easy to identify what has not happened as what has. The United States appears no closer to deploying a working defense against strategic ballistic missiles than it was before withdrawing from the treaty. The sole system on the horizon is the same one inherited from the Clinton administration, and it still remains unproven. The possible deployment of sensors and radars for tracking long-range ballistic missiles has slipped further. Despite concerted attempts to sell other countries on the merits of missile defenses, few have bought in, although that could change. But no countries have also taken up arms against the United States for its move, and none have copied the U.S. action. North Korea’s announced withdrawal from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty earlier this year cannot be attributed to the U.S. ABM Treaty withdrawal, and Russia’s June 2002 declaration that it would no longer be bound by the START II nuclear arms reduction accord, which had not entered into force and was effectively superseded by SORT, was more symbolic than substantive.

While not agreeing on much, some missile defense proponents and critics have contended that the U.S. ABM Treaty withdrawal, coupled with Bush’s December 2002 deployment announcement, has ended the long debate over missile defenses. Until missile defenses are proven to work, however, the expenditure of several billions of dollars per year on their research and development will surely stimulate debate. Furthermore, if the United States ultimately proves successful in fielding effective defenses, the response from other countries could make the original motivation leading to the negotiation of the ABM Treaty—the desire to avoid an offensive-defensive arms race—relevant again.

Whether the United States can deploy effective defenses remains unknown. Notwithstanding the Patriot systems’ purported success in the latest Iraq conflict, technical challenges and obstacles did not disappear with the ABM Treaty. The objective of hitting a relatively slow-moving short-range ballistic missile warhead differs significantly from destroying a long-range ballistic missile warhead potentially accompanied by sophisticated countermeasures speeding through space. Philip Coyle, who reviewed all Pentagon weapons testing for six years during the Clinton administration, describes missile defense as the hardest thing the Pentagon has ever tried to do. One person who probably understands this better than anybody else is Kadish, who noted at a March 2003 missile defense conference that, with the U.S. withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, the Bush administration “has taken our excuses away.”


Posted: June 1, 2003


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