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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

Understanding the Extraordinary Cost Of Missile Defense

Understanding the Extraordinary Cost Of Missile Defense

December 2000

By David E. Mosher

Ballistic missile defenses, particularly national missile defenses, have always been one of the most divisive issues in national security. From the anti-ballistic missile (ABM) debates of the late 1960s over countering the growing Soviet threat to the current debate over whether to deploy a limited national missile defense (NMD) system to protect the United States from attacks by emerging missile states, the issue has cut to the heart of questions about nuclear deterrence and strategic stability.

Cost has been one factor that has galvanized this debate. It is often the anvil upon which the success or failure of a missile defense scheme (or any other weapons system) is forged. Cost is never the sole reason why a system is deployed or scuttled, nor should it be. But it is a hurdle, a reality check, that any proposed system must pass to survive.

If there is a grave threat to the United States that missile defenses could address effectively and if deploying them would improve U.S. security writ large, a national missile defense system would be deployed even at great expense. But if the threat is not compelling enough or the strategic rationale is not perceived as clearly benefiting national security, the tendrils of congressional oversight and competition for resources within the Pentagon will wrap around the program and gradually squeeze the life out of it.

The 1970s Safeguard ABM system is a good example. The Army successfully developed and then deployed the system in North Dakota at a cost of $23 billion (in year 2000 dollars), excluding the cost of developing and building the nuclear warheads.1 Its mission: to protect an ICBM field from Soviet attack so that its missiles could be used in a retaliatory strike. The system was fully consistent with the consensus strategic concept of the day and even with the ABM Treaty. And yet it survived only four months before the Department of Defense shut it down because it was too expensive to operate, given what became to be perceived as its marginal contribution to U.S. security.

Budget battles have a disciplining effect—a program that is perceived as weak, either because of technical problems or lack of high-level support within the executive branch or Congress, will be tripped up. Budgets will be trimmed or appropriations redirected, slowing the program down until it proves itself to be stronger. Leverage to slow a program comes from one of the ironclad laws of research and development: it takes money to fix technical problems. So even if a program manages to shake off attempts to cut it, it may not get the extra resources it needs to solve the problems and remain on schedule.

The Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) program is a perfect example of this. Despite the compelling need to protect U.S. forces against an existing theater ballistic missile threat and despite the full weight of the Army and the secretary of defense, a series of test failures led to cuts that delayed the program by several years. The program got "healthy" by hitting two of its targets. Budgets rose and the testing program was quickly ended. THAAD is now enjoying broad support during the early phases of engineering development, but, if it encounters several test failures during the next round of flight tests, it will be slowed again.

Clearly, costs will continue to play an important role in the success or failure of missile defense programs. To date, however, budget hurdles have not been kind to missile defense programs, tripping them up in large part because their costs have continued to rise, seemingly without end. This phenomenon could have a significant impact on the life of whichever national missile defense system the next administration tries to develop, as well as many of the theater missile defense (TMD) systems already under development.

The academic literature on cost growth has shown that costs rise in the vast majority of major acquisition programs (see box).2 In general, the increase has varied by type of system: ships tend to have the lowest rates (roughly 15 percent on average), whereas tactical munitions and vehicles have the highest (roughly 100 percent on average). The average cost growth for other types of systems fall somewhere in between, with most in the 20-30 percent range.

Much of the cost-growth literature is historical, and there are too few data points for missile defenses to have their own category—only Safeguard and the original Patriot system have been included in most academic analyses of cost growth. But costs of strategic missile and space programs, which are similar in some respects to missile defense programs, have only on average risen by 20 percent and 30 percent, respectively. Thus a 20-30 percent growth rate would not seem unreasonable for missile defenses.

But the experience of the last two decades suggests the actual rate will be much higher. Understanding why the costs of missile defense programs seem to grow faster than other types of weapons systems is important because, if any of those systems are to succeed, rising costs must be contained.

 

An Alternative Theory

The explanation for this abnormal cost growth appears to be that missile defense programs (at least over the past 20 years or so) are fundamentally different from other development programs, and therefore do not lend themselves to simple projections of cost growth based on historical experience. There are three interrelated and interacting reasons for this:

• Missile defense programs are highly political.

• Missile defense programs respond to a perceived, urgent near-term threat.

• The technical challenges of missile defense are significantly underestimated.

As a result of these factors, the costs of ballistic missile defense programs have been significantly underestimated in almost every case. Other types of weapons programs may encounter one or more of these factors, but few, if any, suffer from all three. This theory has not been subject to rigorous review or statistical analysis, but it seems to explain the most significant causes of the problem and provides a way to gauge how susceptible a missile defense program will be to rising costs. Hopefully, future research will elucidate the causes more systematically and completely.

This article analyzes the causes of cost growth in missile defense programs. It is not a call to increase missile defense budgets or to halt missile defense programs. Nor does it suggest that building defenses will be easy or impossible. These are strategic, political, and technical questions that are beyond the scope of this piece. Rather, this article makes the case that, for a missile defense program to succeed, it must be carefully designed to account for the inevitable problems and technical challenges it will encounter and that proposed budgets must (to the extent possible) accurately reflect the costs of meeting those challenges.

 

The Political Factor

Missile defense programs tend not to bubble up from below but are instead created in the crucible of ideological combat. There are few security issues as highly charged as missile defense, and people on both sides approach the topic with religious zeal. This polarizes the debate and makes it difficult for a consensus to emerge or for proposals to be carefully considered. In this climate, ideas and programs are not fully conceived or vetted by the Pentagon bureaucracy and the budget process before they are pushed into the spotlight, contributing to poor program design, inaccurate initial cost estimates, and subsequent increases.

Ronald Reagan's claim that the Strategic Defense Initiative would render "nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete" had more to do with a vision than with technical realities. Similar visionary thinking has plagued other missile defense proposals.

A good example is the swirl of claims surrounding the upper-tier theater missile defense known as Navy Theater Wide. The Navy is developing the system to intercept intermediate-range theater missiles. It will be deployed sometime after 2010 on the Navy's existing fleet of Aegis-equipped cruisers and use modified Standard missiles launched from existing vertical launch tubes. The kill vehicle will be lightweight and not very sophisticated at discriminating between warheads and decoys.3 The Aegis radar also has limitations. Its resolution is too coarse for it to discriminate well and its power is too limited.

Despite those shortcomings and before the system's kill vehicle has hit a single target, supporters of Navy Theater Wide have recommended it for everything from a mid-course national missile defense (a direct substitute for the administration's NMD system), to an ascent-phase NMD system, to a boost-phase NMD system. Usually the price tag for one of these capabilities is advertised to be around $2 billion, a figure that neglects many of the requirements for developing an actual system. For the midcourse NMD capability, the Pentagon's own estimate is much higher, $16-$19 billion, in part because it would abandon the Navy Theater Wide's current kill vehicle and instead use the much larger and more capable exoatmospheric kill vehicle that is being developed for the ground-based NMD system. Naturally, this would require that a new, larger missile be developed and that the ships be modified to carry them.4 If history is a guide, prices could be even higher than the Pentagon estimates. No credible cost estimates have been advanced for converting an Aegis-equipped ship to the boost-phase mission.

 

The Perceived Near-Term Threat

The political warfare surrounding missile defense has been amplified by what are perceived as looming threats to U.S. forces, allies, and even the United States itself from countries in several key regions of the world. The growing capabilities of those countries cannot be denied, although their significance to U.S. security is still an open question. But in the context of this developing threat, new proposals for missile defenses are usually presented in "got to have it as soon as possible" terms. This adds a sense of extreme urgency to the missile defense debate, and the primary effect is that the schedules for missile defense programs are significantly compressed.

The urgency to "solve" the ballistic missile threat has created a "crash program mentality" within parts of the executive branch and Congress, and within the non-governmental groups and industries that push for missile defense. The result is predictable: the proposed defenses are not fully conceived acquisition programs, subjected to the Pentagon's disciplined risk, schedule, and costing analysis. Insufficient attention is paid to testing requirements, developing proper testing and simulation facilities, and the concept of operations.

Efforts to reduce technical risks and integrate myriad system components are also given short shrift. The desire to develop a defense as quickly as possible to address the growing threat from ballistic missiles, coupled with the belief that technology will solve the problem, creates a sense of both urgency and optimism that leads to unrealistic estimates of capability, technical risk, costs, and schedules.

In 1998, a blue-ribbon commission headed by retired General Larry Welch found similar problems in almost every missile defense program it examined. The panel noted that the urgency in theater missile defense programs has led to high levels of risk and "less-than-minimal testing or highly compressed flight testing or both." In its view, the assumptions driving the NMD program have been even more optimistic. Instead of accelerating development times, the panel found that crash programs were leading to program delays. In short, the crash program mentality was causing a "rush to failure."

The crash program mentality is a natural reaction to a serious problem, and, in times of serious crisis, it may be the correct response. But in those situations, special measures must be taken to structure the acquisition program to reduce the technical risks. They do not eliminate the risks and they cost money, often significant sums, but they are essential if an accelerated program is to have a chance to succeed. Most of the NMD and TMD proposals to date do not include anywhere near enough money to fund the robust ground testing, flight testing, and risk reduction programs that would be required for an urgent program to succeed on a compressed schedule. And regardless of how much money you throw at a program, it cannot be accelerated if the technology is not well in hand.

The last decade provides ample evidence of this crash program phenomenon. For example, the Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS) system was proposed by the Bush administration in January 1991 in response to congressional pressure to focus on protecting U.S. troops from the theater ballistic missiles that Iraq possessed rather than pursue its plans for a large defensive shield to protect the United States from a Soviet attack. The Strategic Defense Initiative Organization developed a concept for a robust system that it planned to deploy in less than a decade to protect the United States (and to some degree its allies) against an accidental launch by Russia of up to 200 warheads accompanied by sophisticated countermeasures. GPALS also included theater missile defenses to protect U.S. troops and allied populations in regional conflicts. It was estimated to cost $53 billion (in year 2000 dollars).

Many of the systems that the United States is developing today were included in the GPALS system or at least had their roots there. Their costs have grown, however, and schedules have slipped.

The national missile defense that is currently being developed includes the X-band radar, the upgraded early-warning radar, the ground-based interceptor, the exoatmospheric kill vehicle, and SBIRS-low missile-tracking satellites, all of which were part of the GPALS architecture, although some of the names have been changed. The estimated price tag for the NMD portion of GPALS was $42 billion when it was first unveiled. Today, the capability-2 configuration of the NMD system is a mere shadow of the original GPALS system, with one-seventh the number of interceptors, two-thirds the number of ground-based radars, fewer than half the number of SBIRS-low satellites, and none of the 1,000 space-based interceptors known as Brilliant Pebbles. Yet that small system is estimated by the Congressional Budget Office to cost more than $30 billion, fully three-quarters of the projected GPALS price, and it will take as long to deploy as was projected for GPALS.5

Many TMD systems that the United States is developing today also were included in GPALS: THAAD and its GBR-T radar, the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3), and some form of the Medium Extended Air Defense System. The GPALS price tag for those systems: $12 billion in today's dollars. The current estimate for just THAAD and PAC-3 is more than $20 billion and is likely to rise further. Likewise, the time it will take to deploy those systems has expanded significantly from the original timelines assumed for them in GPALS.

The Clinton administration's efforts to develop an NMD system present a more recent example of the crash program mentality. Its first foray into NMD was the so-called 2+2 system suggested by Defense Secretary William Perry in 1995—a defense that was intended to be developed within two years and deployed within two if a threat emerged that would warrant it. The idea was that the system would provide some rudimentary protection if a threat emerged more quickly from North Korea, Iraq, or Iran than predicted by intelligence estimates. It would have consisted of 20 interceptors deployed in North Dakota. The system was to use as much off-the-shelf technology as possible and be done quickly and cheaply.

The 2+2 system never got far enough to be assigned a price tag, but the approach it embodied—get something deployed quickly in response to political pressure from the Congress, but do it as cheaply as possible—set the tone for future administration efforts to develop a national missile defense.

The 2+2 proposal mutated into the 3+3 system, proposed in 1996. It was a more fleshed-out concept that featured 100 interceptors in North Dakota. It would take at least three years to develop, according to the administration, and another three to deploy the first 20 interceptors if deployment became necessary. The price tag for this system was estimated by the Pentagon to be just short of $8 billion. A variant proposed by the Air Force, which could trace its lineage back to Perry's off-the-shelf approach, would have used existing Minuteman boosters and a small kill vehicle that was an improved version of the one being developed for Navy Theater Wide. It also would have used an existing type of radar. The Air Force's price tag: $2.5 billion.

Today, the original 3+3 system has become the first and second phase of the NMD system that the administration is readying for deployment. In the process, the schedule has slipped and the price has risen. According to the current schedule, the system will take at least nine years to deploy and cost at least $20 billion to build, or 2.5 times the price that was originally advertised for the 3+3 system to get the same capability just four years earlier. Much of this huge price rise can be traced to overly optimistic assumptions about technology and costs—an optimism that was created by the crash program mentality combined with a desire to do the job as cheaply as possible. Together, those forces led to an acquisition program that had little of the usual funding for such essential activities as systems engineering, reducing technical risks, and testing. As the Welch panel has pointed out, this was an even more significant omission for such a high-risk and complex program.

It has only been in the last 18 months or so that the NMD program has taken the first steps away from the crash program mentality that has so pervaded missile defense efforts over the past two decades. The program is now beginning to include some of the features that one would expect to see in an acquisition program of this complexity. That does not mean that its cost growth problems are behind it—many aspects of the program need to be made more robust, such as ground testing, flight testing, and reducing technical risk. But at least program managers are beginning to address some of the problems.

 

The Technical Challenges

Missile defense is a tough challenge, both technically and operationally. It was difficult enough when interceptors carried nuclear weapons and had a kill radius measured in hundreds of meters or even kilometers. But hit-to-kill requires precision that is measured in tens of centimeters and microseconds. It is especially challenging for national missile defense because there is very low tolerance for leakers, warheads that slip through the defense. Nearly everyone underestimates the breadth of the effort that will be required to field effective missile defenses. This does not necessarily mean that the job cannot be done, just that a program must fully account for all the challenges for it to be successful (assuming, of course, that the program is technically feasible to begin with). The technical challenges of missile defense amplify the effects of politically driven proposals and compressed schedules.

Developing the components of an NMD system—hit-to-kill interceptors, seekers, infrared sensors, high-resolution X-band radar, discrimination, and command and control—will require pushing the state of the art in many dimensions. Most other acquisition programs push the state of the art in just a few. Most critically, those subsystems must be integrated into one seamless system of unprecedented scale and complexity that functions with near-perfect reliability. This will require extensive efforts to integrate the system and test it in both laboratory and real-life conditions.

The scale of the task is akin to the one facing the United States in the 1950s when it was developing its entire nuclear deterrent—warheads, missiles, early-warning radars and satellites, launch control centers, communication networks, and a central command and control center—all at the same time. In some critical respects, NMD is even more challenging because the coordination between the pieces must be tighter. Interceptors must be able to distinguish warheads from decoys and maneuver to hit them at closing speeds that may be in excess of 10 kilometers per second. Errors of a few centimeters or microseconds can mean the difference between success and failure. By contrast, ICBMs need only to fly from one point on the ground to another with an accuracy of a few hundred to a few thousand meters.

Similarly, the existing early-warning system that was developed for the nuclear deterrent role needs only to detect an enemy launch and give a general description of the size and character of the attack. The command and control system must reliably transmit that information to the National Command Authority and then transmit any launch orders to ICBM, bomber, and submarine commanders. Solving those challenges was not trivial; it took the United States several decades. But for NMD, the early-warning system must be supplemented with very precise radars and infrared satellites that track the missiles and their warheads and decoys. The battle management and command and control system must then transmit the data to the command center, fuse the data from myriad sensor platforms into a spatially precise picture, discriminate between warheads and decoys, and send instructions to the interceptors so they can fly to the best position to intercept their targets. Theater missile defense systems share many of the same complexities.

The fact remains that nobody has done most of those things before. Some people doubt that missile defense can ever be done with hit-to-kill, particularly in the midcourse when the vacuum of space allows inexpensive decoys to be effective and makes discrimination extremely difficult. If ballistic missile defense can be done, three key components will be necessary for success: robust risk mitigation, system integration, and testing efforts. Failure to adequately fund any of these will inevitably lead to cost increases and schedule delays.

Risk Mitigation: Risk mitigation is the engineering term for reducing the technical (and by extension, schedule) risks in the program—that is, the chances that the system will not work as hoped. The head of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) has described the proposed NMD system as very high risk, and most theater defense programs are also high risk.

Program managers try to reduce technical and schedule risks in their program through a variety of methods, including letting alternative technologies or engineering approaches compete with each other so that the best approach will emerge. After selecting one approach, program managers can also continue to develop alternative technologies or systems so that they will be available if the primary one fails. Other approaches include using computer simulations and testing components in facilities that simulate actual combat conditions. All of those approaches cost money up front, and in a tight budget environment that is often caused by external budget pressures or internal technical problems, program managers are often forced to cut back on risk reduction efforts to keep the program on schedule. This happens over and over again.

Take the SBIRS-low program, a constellation of 24 space-based infrared satellites (previously known as the Space and Missile Tracking System and Brilliant Eyes) designed to track warheads and decoys. Two teams were initially selected to build prototype satellites and fly them in space, but for budget reasons, one was dropped. The winning contractor was tasked to build a single satellite for a flight demonstration system. But after program costs began to grow out of sight, a second contractor was added to develop an alternative sensor. Finally, costs got so high that both programs were cancelled. To keep costs down, the Air Force has now decided that it does not need to demonstrate key high-risk technologies in space before it deploys the first phase of the system.

The THAAD program presents another example of how a more robustly funded risk mitigation program could have helped avoid problems. THAAD initially suffered well-publicized problems including four straight flight-test failures. The program was delayed after each failure and costs went up. But THAAD was not killed because the Army viewed it as essential for protecting its soldiers from longer-range theater ballistic missiles. If a second contractor had been funded to develop another prototype, two things might have happened: the first contractor might have tried harder knowing that it might lose the competition, or the contractor could have been fired if it could not correct the problems. Either way, the Army would have had an alternative for addressing its pressing need for force protection.

Reducing technical risk is essential, particularly for ballistic missile defense programs that push the state of the art in many dimensions. When a program starts cutting back on planned risk reduction efforts, it is usually an indication that costs are likely to rise—a case of being penny wise and pound foolish.

System Integration: Making sure that the individual components of a missile defense system are carefully designed to work together and thoroughly tested together is known as system integration and can be the most difficult part of an acquisition program. Much of the system integration rubber for missile defense meets the road in the battle management/command and control system. The challenges are evident from the discussion in the previous section. But how well the components of a defense have been integrated—and thus how effective a defense will be—is revealed only during combat, or in test conditions that mimic combat as realistically as possible.

System integration for a complex missile defense program can cost billions of dollars. For example, the Pentagon estimates that it will cost $5.4 billion for system integration of the first phase of the NMD system, or nearly 30 percent of the $18.6 billion it expects the system to cost. The more complex the system integration task, the more weight is placed on the testing program to prove the system's effectiveness.

Testing: Proper testing is complicated, expensive, and to date has not been included in most missile defense programs. Responding to criticisms from the three Welch panel reports, more money for testing has been added to the theater and national missile defense programs, something that should have been done from the start if the development programs had been properly conceived and designed and the technical challenges were not understated. But despite the Welch reports and the responses from the programs, it is not clear that the fundamental problems have been solved, and this raises the specter of further cost growth.

In the face of significant technical challenges, the current NMD program is using a testing program that is based on a relatively new approach—one that has yet to be fully validated for a program this complex. Most TMD programs are also using this approach. In the traditional approach, large numbers of flight tests are conducted during development and after the system is deployed. This allows more time and opportunities to resolve any technical issues that arise.

By contrast, the new approach relies on extensive simulations and ground tests to complement a historically small number of flight tests. Table 1 illustrates this trend. It shows that 40-60 flight tests were conducted during research and development programs for first-of-their-kind ICBM and SLBM programs. That number fell into the 20s in more recent years, in part because of the rising sophistication of simulation and ground-test facilities. Long-range ballistic missiles are similar to missile defenses because very high reliability and effectiveness are demanded of both. But in important ways ballistic missile programs are different: they only need to fly from one well-known point on the earth to another. By contrast, missile defense interceptors must fly to a precise point in space to meet a dynamic target that could come from almost infinite directions and angles and deploy a wide range of countermeasures against the defense. In this regard, the missile defense problem is more like air defense.

Air defenses have been subjected to far more flight tests than ballistic missiles: Block I and II of the Navy's Standard missile had 88, the original air-defense version of the Patriot had 114, and Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missile had 111. The testing program for Safeguard, the only NMD system that the United States has deployed, was consistent with these air-defense programs—165 tests were conducted.

By comparison, 19 flight tests have been planned for the current NMD system, about the same number for THAAD, and 10 tests with 16 missiles for PAC-3. In several important ways, though, missile defense is even tougher than air defense, in large part because of the very short time lines, high speeds, and the challenges of overcoming decoys.

The primary motivation for adopting this new approach has been cost. For the current NMD system, a flight test that pits a single interceptor against a single missile costs $80-100 million, including all the pretest and post-test activities and analysis. Even the modest flight-test program planned for the NMD system will require $1.5-2 billion—a sum that would make any program manager look hard for alternatives. Computer simulations, hardware-in-the-loop tests, and ground tests in facilities that simulate a few aspects of real operational environments are reasonable and well-established ways to supplement flight tests, and BMDO is making extensive use of all three.

But it is not clear that those tools can substitute for flight tests rather than just supplement them, particularly for a program as challenging as missile defense where reliability and effectiveness must be so high. First, it is not clear that the programs have the proper simulation and ground-test facilities. Although the Pentagon has built several significant simulation and ground-test facilities over the past 20 years for TMD and NMD systems, the 1998 Welch report argued that THAAD, Navy Theater Wide, NMD, and to some extent Patriot did not have properly designed ground-testing programs. Second, the few flight tests planned are not demanding enough. The NMD system is designed to defend against a few dozen warheads and by shooting four or five interceptors at each, but no tests have been planned in which the system will face more than one warhead or in which the system will target the warhead with more than one interceptor. And questions have also been raised about how realistic the targets and decoys are. Unless both these issues are addressed, costs will rise.

 

Lessons for the Future

What lessons can the new administration and the new Congress draw from the experience of the past two decades as they wade into the thicket of missile defense? First and foremost, they must recognize that the same three forces that have caused costs to rise in the past will continue to plague ongoing programs, particularly NMD, unless those programs are subjected to careful scrutiny before revised price tags are attached. This is also true for the alternatives that have been suggested to current programs, including new land, sea, and space-based boost-phase systems. Because the success of missile defense programs will depend in part on how well the acquisition programs have been designed and how complete the resulting cost estimates will be, the next administration and Congress should keep the following points in mind as they review the ballistic missile defense programs that they have inherited and consider new approaches:

• To the greatest extent possible, minimize the political fighting and seek consensus. The challenge of this task may seem huge, but the dividends of consensus could be larger. They include a stable program with predictable funding and a higher tolerance for the inevitable flight test failures and other problems, making planning and executing the program much easier. In fact, it may be impossible to deploy a system as complex as NMD without a broad consensus.

• Resist the temptation to compress schedules. Compressing the development and testing time has actually slowed progress on missile defense rather than accelerated it, according to the Welch panel. If the threat is so compelling that deployment must be accelerated, extraordinary efforts should be made to include robust risk reduction programs for every critical technology and system component. Properly funding this effort will be very expensive and will not guarantee success, but it will reduce the chances and significance of delays and failure.

• Never underestimate the difficulty of missile defense. Despite many optimistic statements to the contrary, the technology for missile defense is not yet well in hand. Expect problems, delays, and, most of all, test failures. A program should be designed to withstand them. It must have a robust risk reduction program. Every component that pushes the state of the art should have one or more backup components in development. Also, do not overlook system integration. This may be the most difficult activity of all, so it must be well designed and fully funded.

• Keep an eye on the full testing program. The new testing paradigm that the Pentagon is using for missile defense relies heavily on computer simulation, anchored by extensive ground testing and occasional flight testing. Data from flight tests will be used to validate simulations and ground-test facilities. In turn, validated simulations and test facilities make it possible, the argument goes, to run very lean (by historical standards) follow-on flight tests after the system has been deployed. Remember that this approach is driven by cost, and a number of questions need to be kept in mind. Does it strike the right balance between flight tests and the others? Given the importance of each flight test, does the schedule allow enough time to prepare for the test and incorporate the results of the test into the program before the next test? Will all the necessary ground-test facilities be built and fully exploited? More fundamentally, will this approach prove itself?

• Don't forget the extras. Developing and deploying a missile defense is not the end of the story, but rather the beginning of a long process that will span decades. Budgets should include the costs of operating the system (including follow-on flight testing to ensure the system remains reliable and effective), sustaining the system (especially for space-based systems where satellites must be replaced every 5-10 years), and continuing research and development (missile defense is a dynamic process, and research must continue to keep ahead of what potential adversaries are doing to undermine the defense). These activities usually represent 50 percent or more of the lifetime costs for a system.

• Watch for inconsistent cost assumptions. Make sure that the assumptions are consistent when comparing the price tags on competing missile defense proposals. Does the price include development, procurement, and operating costs? Are the estimates presented in constant dollars (adjusted to eliminate the effects of inflation) or inflated dollars, which make price comparisons more difficult.

Costs in any complicated acquisition program are likely to grow—20 percent to 30 percent or so on average. But if a missile defense program has not been carefully thought through and well designed; if it does not include a robust effort to reduce technical risk for all critical components; if it short-changes system integration; or if it cuts corners on simulation, ground testing and ground-test facilities, and realistic flight tests, costs will spiral out of sight and delays will be rampant. Unfortunately, that has been the experience of the past two decades. Only if all those factors are properly addressed will missile defense programs experience more normal levels of cost growth and avoid some of the cost-related pitfalls that lay ahead.

In short, there is nothing cheap about missile defense except talk. There are no shortcuts to building a complex system. And missile defense, particularly national missile defense, may be the most complex system that the United States has ever attempted. Based on the experience of the past two decades, it is clear that, if the United States is to deploy the missile defense systems now under development, it will have to spend more, probably significantly more, than current estimates suggest.

 

NOTES

1. Stephen I. Schwartz, ed., Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 (Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 1998), p. 289.

2. J.A. Drezner, et al., An Analysis of Weapon System Cost Growth (Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 1993) and Karen W. Tyson, et al., The Effects of Management Initiatives on the Costs and Schedules of Defense Acquisition Programs (Alexandria, VA: Institute for Defense Analyses, 1992).

3. Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, Summary of the Report to Congress on Utility of Sea-Based Assets to National Missile Defense, June 1, 1999, p. 10-11.

4. Rodney W. Jones, Taking National Missile Defense to Sea: A Critique of Sea-Based and Boost-Phase Proposals, (Washington, D.C.: Council for a Livable World Education Fund, October 2000).

5. Congressional Budget Office, "Budgetary and Technical Implications of the Administration's Plan for National Missile Defense," April 2000.

 


David E. Mosher, who worked at the Congressional Budget Office for 10 years analyzing nuclear weapons, arms control, and missile defense policies and programs, is currently at RAND. The views expressed here are his own.

Posted: December 1, 2000

Time to Reason Why

By the time this is read, the United States should have a president-elect...

December 2000

By Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

By the time this is read, the United States should have a president-elect who will have neither a popular mandate nor a working majority in Congress. While this will make it difficult for the president to take new initiatives, it may have the consolation of limiting his ability to take controversial, damaging actions. Under these circumstances, President Bill Clinton's wise decision not to deploy a limited national missile defense (NMD) gives the next president adequate time to think long and hard before making an NMD deployment decision that would endanger three decades of negotiated arms control.

One of the interesting features of the recent dreary election campaign was the almost complete absence of reference to the NMD deployment issue. When asked, Vice President Al Gore hedged his position by asserting support for a limited national missile defense while associating himself with Clinton's four criteria for deployment: technological readiness; status of the threat; cost; and impact on national security, including arms control and relations with other countries. Moreover, he emphasized the need to deploy within the framework of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

For his part, Governor George W. Bush criticized the Clinton administration's NMD proposal and called for a much more robust system to protect not only all 50 states but also U.S. friends and allies. While not revealing what kind of system he envisaged, he made clear that he would withdraw from the ABM Treaty if Russia did not modify it to allow deployment. Despite the major differences between the candidates, the press did not pursue the issue because of perceived lack of public concern or interest.

If elected, Gore should have little incentive to deploy in the coming year and probably during his presidency. He has stated that he would follow Clinton's four criteria in making his decision. And there is no chance that any of these criteria (except possibly cost) can be met next year. While the technological basis of the system should improve with time, the system's inherent inability to provide an "effective" defense, as called for by Congress, against even a limited threat will also become more apparent. The perceived threat from "states of concern" will very likely diminish or even be eliminated by vigorous diplomacy, to which Gore is committed. There is little prospect that Russia will be persuaded to amend the ABM Treaty to permit a system it sees as a slippery slope that might threaten its security or that China will be convinced the system is not primarily directed at its minimum deterrent. While he would presumably continue research and development, it is hard to foresee developments that would persuade Gore to authorize actual deployment.

If Bush is elected, a deployment decision next year will also be difficult, despite his enthusiasm for NMD, for the simple reason that there is nothing to deploy. As he has not even identified the nature of the system he has called for, a year will hardly be adequate to define the system's architecture and the additional research and development required. Bush and his advisers should be troubled when they discover that it will take more than a decade before his system can possibly be operational. He will also quickly learn that Russia will not amend the ABM Treaty to permit deployment and that the concerns of the NATO allies and China will not be easily assuaged. Bush should think long and hard about a deployment announcement that would seriously weaken U.S. security internationally and produce nothing but problems to show his domestic constituency in the next four or even eight years.

After examining the issue from a position of responsibility during his first year, Bush and his advisers might at one extreme decide to follow the example of President Richard Nixon, who, after campaigning for a ballistic missile defense, negotiated the ABM Treaty. At the other extreme, Bush might follow the advice of some of his current advisers to move toward a world without arms control where the United States could pursue NMD. Or he might follow the example of President Ronald Reagan, who continued to advocate and throw money at his Strategic Defense Initiative but never authorized either deployment or withdrawal from the ABM Treaty.

Without a clear mandate, whoever wins the presidency will have to choose his actions carefully to establish leadership and unify a deeply divided electorate. A highly controversial decision to deploy an NMD will not contribute to this objective. Clinton's decision has given the new president ample time to consider the problem objectively as part of the nuclear policy review both candidates have proposed. Above all, the future president must take a holistic view of U.S. security and not take unnecessary and provocative actions that would do far more harm than good in protecting U.S. security.

Posted: December 1, 2000

Clinton Says No to NMD As Program Lags; Cites Technology Doubts and Foreign Concerns

Wade Boese

Citing a lack of confidence in the technology and detailing continued international opposition to U.S. missile defense plans, President Bill Clinton announced September 1 that he would not authorize deployment of a national missile defense (NMD) system. Clinton said that leaving the deployment decision to his successor would not significantly affect the date when the defense could be fielded—a recognition that the program has fallen behind schedule due to test failures and growing development delays.

Clinton made his remarks in a hastily arranged speech at Georgetown University the Friday before Labor Day weekend. Declaring that progress had been made in developing the defense, Clinton nevertheless said that the United States "should not move forward until we have absolute confidence that the system will work." While minimizing the cost issue and arguing that the emerging missile threat is "real," Clinton maintained that doubts about the technology and concerns about the international reaction warranted not deploying the system now.

In order to meet a system operational goal of 2005, Pentagon plans had required the president to let construction contracts this fall for preparatory work to start next summer at Shemya, an isolated Aleutian island where an advanced X-band radar essential to the NMD system would be based. Originally deemed a deployment decision, top Pentagon officials began downplaying the significance of Clinton's decision as program problems mounted during the summer. Secretary of Defense William Cohen, testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 25, said that Clinton's decision would not be a deployment decision but simply a move to prepare the radar site. A decision on actually building the radar, Cohen asserted, would be taken by the next president.

Though it did not explicitly say so, Clinton's statement indicated the contracts would not be awarded this fall, according to Samuel Berger, the president's national security adviser. The president will not proceed "with activity that might be called predeployment activity," Berger told reporters at the White House later the same day.

Cohen, the leading NMD advocate in the administration, had reportedly pressed the president to award the contracts just days before Clinton's speech. Cohen released a statement after the announcement, saying he supported the president's approach of having the "next President fully involved in decisions regarding the future of the program."

 

Clinton Makes His Case

Clinton signed legislation in July 1999 making it the policy of the United States to deploy an "effective" national missile defense "as soon as is technologically possible," but a day after signing the NMD act, he declared that the new law did not constitute a final deployment decision. Instead, Clinton said that he would make a decision in the summer of 2000 whether to deploy the proposed system based on four criteria: technological readiness, the status of the threat, cost, and the impact on overall U.S. national security, including arms control.

In his September 1 speech, Clinton addressed these criteria, focusing on the technology and the strategic impact. He described the NMD technology as "promising" but declared that "the system as a whole is not yet proven." Clinton said that a successful intercept test (October 2, 1999) proved that it is possible "to hit a bullet with a bullet." Yet he noted the only other two intercept tests, conducted on January 18 and July 8 of this year, had failed and that questions about whether the system would be able to handle countermeasures, such as realistic decoys, remain unresolved.

Explaining that only three of 19 planned intercept attempts had been conducted and that the system's booster had not been tested at all, Clinton stressed the need for continued testing and authorized Cohen to continue with a "robust" testing and development program. "We need more tests against more challenging targets and more simulations before we can responsibly commit our nation's resources to deployment," Clinton stated.

Similar concerns about the realism of the NMD testing program had been raised in Congress earlier this summer when Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) introduced an amendment to the national defense authorization act requiring the Pentagon to conduct tests against "realistic" countermeasures before declaring a missile defense operational. Although it had the support of Philip Coyle, director of the Pentagon's office of operational test and evaluation, the amendment was defeated 52-48 on July 13.

Turning to the strong international opposition to the proposed U.S. system, Clinton further argued that the United States should not move forward with deployment "until we have made every reasonable diplomatic effort to minimize the cost of deployment." Russia and China—the only two states with ICBMs capable of striking the continental United States—staunchly oppose the system and close NATO allies, led by France and Germany, worry that the system will strain the transatlantic alliance and halt or reverse progress in arms control.

While declaring that no country can have a veto over U.S. plans, Clinton cautioned, "We can never afford to overlook the fact that the actions and reactions of others in this increasingly interdependent world do bear on our security." Clinton warned that a deployment decision needs to avoid "stimulating an already dangerous regional nuclear capability from China to South Asia." In addition, Clinton admitted Washington "must" have allied support because U.S. plans call for stationing NMD elements on allies' territory. Britain and Greenland are designated as sites for forward-deployed radars.

Central to international opposition to the proposed U.S. defense is the fact that it would violate the 1972 ABM Treaty banning national defenses against strategic ballistic missiles. The Clinton administration has aggressively pursued negotiations with Russia to amend the accord to permit the limited defense, but Moscow has rejected all U.S. entreaties. Clinton, who does not want to abrogate the accord, stated his decision to put off deployment will allow more time to try to "narrow our differences with Russia." He deemed it would be "far better to move forward [with an NMD system] in the context of the ABM Treaty and allied support."

Though Cohen had testified that his understanding was that White House legal advisers agreed that an actual breach of the treaty would not occur until the radar rails, on which the radar would rotate, are laid, other administration officials reportedly disputed the secretary's testimony. Pentagon plans called for the rails to be added to the building foundation in 2002, but Berger said all talk of when the treaty would be violated by U.S. construction activity is "kind of mooted" by the president's decision.

Clinton declared the United States could not solely rely on a missile defense to protect itself from emerging ballistic missile threats—a strategy he characterized as "folly." Instead, the United States should "explore the frontiers of strategic defenses, while continuing to pursue arms control, to stand with our allies and to work with Russia and others to stop the spread of deadly weapons," Clinton concluded.

Defending his decision, Clinton noted that the system, according to experts, would not likely be ready until 2006 or 2007 and that his decision would not affect that timeline. Cohen, in his July 25 testimony, said he agreed with former Air Force Chief of Staff General Larry Welch, who headed an independent panel that reviewed and reported on the NMD program three times, that the "realism" of the 2005 date had been called into question.

 

The NMD Program

Cohen's assessment reflected growing uncertainty surrounding the program in the wake of the NMD system's latest test failure. The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), which oversees U.S. missile defense programs, is still conducting an analysis of what went wrong with the July 8 test. An early mishap in the booster stage prevented the defense from even attempting an intercept. (See ACT, July/August 2000.)

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon reported August 10 that the cause of the failure may have been a circuit board on the booster that did not signal the system's exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) to separate from the booster. Once separated, the EKV is designed to seek out and collide with an incoming target, though the kill vehicle failed to do so in a January 18 test due to a malfunction in its internal cooling system.

Although on August 8 Bacon characterized the Defense Department as being "pretty sure" as to why the booster did not send a signal in the last test, he said the Pentagon had not yet "figured out how to respond to it." While Cohen testified that the next test, scheduled for October or November, could slip to December, the Pentagon now believes the test may take place in January.

The booster model that failed in the July 8 test is not the booster intended for use in the completed NMD system. Development of the actual booster is more than eight months behind schedule, and, according to Bacon, the delay is continuing to grow.

Scheduled for its first solo flight test last April, the booster may not be tested until next spring and will not be used in an actual intercept test until flight-test 8, one test later than originally planned. Those plans could also change because BMDO still intends to hold three solo flight tests of the booster before integrating it into an actual intercept test. Including the July 8 test, there have been five flight tests of the NMD system to date, three of which have been intercept attempts.

According to a BMDO spokesman, a number of issues are slowing construction of the actual booster. Installing a control system to stabilize the interceptor during the "burning" of its first of three boosters is one challenge and devising a system to lessen the booster's vibrations on the EKV is another. In a report last November, the Welch panel expressed concern that the EKV would not be able to handle the more severe vibrations of the actual higher-acceleration booster as opposed to the lesser vibrations of the current surrogate booster.

The Boeing company, which is contracted with managing the NMD program, released an August 10 statement declaring that it had only received half of a potential bonus it could have earned for the November 1999 to April 2000 period. The halved bonus signaled the Pentagon's displeasure with the prolonged booster development, as well as delays in delivery of software for conducting simulations of intercept tests. "We are dissatisfied and disappointed with our performance," the company stated. A Boeing spokesperson would not comment on the value of the bonus lost, though a company official said it can be earned back.

Earlier, on August 4, the company reassigned its manager of the NMD program to another position, explaining the move as a "transition" in the program from development to testing. The company has not named a permanent replacement.

Posted: September 1, 2000

Clinton NMD Decision Welcomed Abroad, Reactions at Home Are Mixed

Wade Boese

World leaders from Europe to Asia welcomed President Bill Clinton's September 1 announcement that he would not deploy a limited national missile defense (NMD) system, but the response from U.S. politicians was mixed. While congressional Democrats, many of whom had called on the president to defer a decision, strongly supported the announcement, some long-time Republican advocates of missile defense criticized the action. Presidential candidates Al Gore and George W. Bush quickly issued statements on the announcement but revealed little of their own plans.

Russia and China, the two leading opponents of U.S. missile defense plans, reacted positively but with relative reserve to the announcement, presumably reflecting an understanding that U.S. plans have been put on hold rather than shelved permanently. Russian and Chinese official press services reported, respectively, that Russian President Vladimir Putin said Clinton's announcement will help "strategic stability," while a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman described the decision as "rational." Both statements made it clear that the U.S. action did not remove the NMD issue as a point of contention.

China fears the U.S. system's real aim is to counter Beijing's small force of some 20 ICBMs, while Russia worries the proposed system could prove to be a "slippery slope," leading to much more capable and robust defenses that could eventually threaten its nuclear deterrent. Pentagon plans call for the U.S. defense to be comprised of 20 missile interceptors initially, but to expand to 100 interceptors within two years of deployment and then perhaps to as many as 250 total, split equally between two sites in Alaska and North Dakota. The system would violate the 1972 ABM Treaty and a subsequent 1974 protocol, which together prohibit national defenses against strategic ballistic missiles and limit the United States to a single regional defense located in North Dakota.

Meeting earlier this summer in Beijing, Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin had issued a joint statement July 18 criticizing U.S. NMD plans as "seeking unilateral military and security superiority." The two leaders warned that the program "will give rise to most serious negative consequences" and that any move to undermine the ABM Treaty would "trigger off another round of arms race."

A U.K. House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report dated July 25 made a similar point, warning that a U.S. missile defense would undermine strategic stability if Russia and China opted to respond by "enhancing their offensive nuclear capabilities." A classified U.S. national intelligence estimate, delivered to the White House the second week of August, also reportedly cautioned that Beijing could accelerate its strategic modernization plans and Russia could halt cooperation on non-proliferation efforts in response to a U.S. missile defense deployment. Concerns like these, shared across Europe, have cultivated wide-spread skepticism of and opposition to the proposed U.S. shield.

Not surprisingly, Clinton's announcement was received well throughout Europe. The French and German governments characterized the decision as "wise," while Italy's prime minister said it was "positive." British foreign minister Robin Cook termed Clinton's action a "measured approach," and NATO Secretary-General George Robertson described the decision as a "prudent course of action."

In his speech September 1, Clinton said that the United States "must" have allied support for its missile defense plans, and he acknowledged that the NATO allies "have all made clear" their preference that the United States pursue its missile defense plans without abrogating the ABM Treaty. By deciding against deployment for now, Washington will get "time to answer our allies' questions and consult further on the path ahead," Clinton said.

Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 25, Secretary of Defense William Cohen repeatedly emphasized the necessity of allied backing for the U.S. defense to be effective. Without forward-deployed radar systems, which are planned for Britain and Greenland, Cohen said the United States would not be able to "see the missiles coming." Cohen testified that he believed U.S. allies would support Washington's plan if Russia could be won over. At the same time, he deemed it more likely that Russia would agree to modify the ABM Treaty if all U.S. allies supported the system. The defense secretary concluded that he believed Moscow's goal so far has been to "divide" the United States and its allies on the issue.

 

Domestic Response

Democrats in both houses of Congress hailed the president's decision, emphasizing that they did not oppose missile defenses but agreeing that deploying an unproven defense at the expense of relations with key U.S. allies and Russia could undermine U.S. national security. Congressman Tom Allen (D-ME), who organized a July 25 letter with 60 other representatives calling on the president to defer his decision, stated September 1 that Clinton had made a "wise, thoughtful decision."

Senators Joseph Biden (D-DE) and Carl Levin (D-MI) both welcomed the additional time created by Clinton's decision to engage in further talks with Russia to win its agreement to modify the ABM Treaty. Biden, who joined with 30 Democratic senators on July 26 to demand that Clinton not take "any steps toward deployment at this time," said Clinton's action will permit time to "perfect our political approach to the ballistic missile threat, as well as our technology." Senator Chuck Hagel (R-NE) crossed party lines by also endorsing the president's decision, stating that a missile defense "cannot develop in a vacuum" and "must move forward on four parallel tracks—technology, Congress, our allies, and the Russians." There will be "dangerous consequences," Hagel stated, if one of the "tracks" is left "incomplete."

Not all Republicans shared Hagel's opinion. His Senate colleague, Jon Kyl (R-AZ), described the decision as a "capstone to a string of poor decisions that have left us defenseless." A spokesman for Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC) charged the administration had already deferred the decision for "the last eight years."

Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA), a fervent supporter of missile defenses, attacked Clinton as putting off "the day that our families will be protected from the threat of missile attack." After accusing Clinton and Gore of dragging their feet, Weldon called for a leader who "will stand up" and tell the world that the United States will deploy a missile defense.

Republican presidential candidate George W. Bush declared within hours of Clinton's speech that he, if chosen president, would develop and deploy an "effective" missile defense at the "earliest possible date." The Texas governor said he welcomed the "opportunity to act where [Clinton and Gore] have failed to lead" and pledged that he would seek a defense to protect not only all 50 states but also "our friends and allies." Bush, who has claimed he would withdraw from the ABM Treaty if Russia would not modify the accord, provided no details as to what type of system he would pursue, though he has indicated he would explore all options, including laser-based systems.

Gore, in a statement released the same day, said that he agreed with Clinton's decision and that he would use the additional time to persuade Moscow to amend the ABM Treaty. Yet the vice president also stated he would not allow Russian opposition to block deployment if the defense was "affordable and needed." Gore also said he would work to ease Chinese concerns and would oppose defenses that "threaten to open the gates for a renewed arms race with Russia and a new arms race with China."

The vice president also welcomed the time made available for additional testing of the system before a deployment decision, which he said could be made at any time during the testing process. The extra time, according to Gore's statement, would provide the "opportunity to be more certain" that the NMD technologies would "work together properly."

Posted: September 1, 2000

Missile Defense: The View From the Other Side of the Atlantic

Camille Grand

Just as in the United States, a wide variety of views have been expressed in Europe concerning the proposed U.S. national missile defense (NMD). They have ranged from robust support among conservatives like former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher to vigorous opposition from peace-oriented groups and political parties. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that the vast majority of the comments made by Western European political leaders, defense and arms control experts, and journalists have demonstrated some level of concern about Washington's missile defense plans.1

Although European opinion has not yet had an impact on the U.S. debate, NMD could prove a divisive issue in the Atlantic alliance. Such a crisis would certainly not be welcomed at a time when transatlantic solidarity is needed to face the many security challenges of the new century—challenges that extend beyond missile proliferation. Europe is even more important in the short term because the United States needs the agreement of the United Kingdom and Denmark to build or upgrade key NMD facilities. In addition, Moscow could use even limited European support on the NMD issue to complicate ABM Treaty negotiations with the United States.

Most Europeans are also genuinely concerned that the country that invented arms control and non-proliferation is showing a mounting distrust, if not outright contempt, for bilateral and multilateral regimes and treaties. Coming after the U.S. Senate's rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the determined pursuit of national missile defense is another signal of a growing U.S. preference for unilateral responses to global issues. At a time when major arms control negotiations are facing a stalemate (the Biological Weapons Convention protocol and the fissile material cutoff treaty to name two examples about which Europeans care very much), this trend worries many U.S. friends and allies.

Moreover, a U.S. shift away from arms control provides an easy justification for those who are reluctant to join—or to comply with—non-proliferation and disarmament norms. In terms of a U.S.-European cooperative fight against the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, a U.S. shift could lead either to a counterproductive division of labor or to a conceptual decoupling, whereby the United States pursues military and defense options while Europe insists on diplomatic and arms control tools.

Given that the proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction is considered a major strategic challenge on both sides of the Atlantic, the United States needs to take a closer look at European views on whether missile defense is necessary and, if so, how it should be pursued. While, as with all national security issues, the decision to build a limited NMD system will be primarily a domestic one, the fact that the debate on missile defense has been confined to the domestic U.S. arena may mean that major issues remain unaddressed.

There are lessons to be learned from foreign attitudes on NMD, and failure to take them into account could have significant consequences. For the proponents of NMD in the United States, European perspectives could help them design an architecture that would be less destabilizing and thus more acceptable. For opponents, it is just as important to understand that the international criticisms of NMD often focus on different issues than the U.S. debate does. Most importantly, to miss the insights of the United States' major partners on such a key issue seriously risks straining the transatlantic alliance. That is a risk that is certainly not worth taking.

 

Keys to the European Debate

To begin, it must be made clear that the European debate on missile defense is only now emerging. Whereas in the United States missile defenses have been a major issue for years (if not decades) not only within strategic circles but also in the domestic political sphere, ballistic missile defense (BMD) has not been much of a public issue in Western Europe. The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) faced vigorous critics, such as French President François Mitterrand, but it never came close to generating the sort of public debate the deployment of the "euromissiles" had triggered just a few years earlier.2 As a French analyst recently summarized, "European politicians tend to know as little about U.S. NMD as most U.S. politicians do about the new defense policy of the European Union (EU). Until NMD becomes a reality, Europeans not specialized in defense matters are not going to focus on it."3

To the extent that it is an issue, reactions have come primarily from the largest countries (Britain, France, and Germany) and from those with a tradition of promoting disarmament (Ireland and Sweden). The Europeans have not reacted as a whole, with one exception. Portugal, speaking on behalf of 31 European countries (the EU's 15 members plus 16 associated nations), expressed support for the ABM Treaty during the 2000 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference in a statement that read, "We reaffirm the importance of the ABM Treaty, as one of the pillars of strategic stability. The [European Union] wishes to see that treaty preserved." Among the variety of European approaches to the issue of NMD, preservation of the ABM Treaty appears to be the lowest common denominator.

An important point to remember when charting the European debate is that the lack of public interest does not make BMD a priority for politicians and military planners. Of course, there are studies underway within NATO to work jointly on projects related to theater missile defense (TMD), and the leading European arms industries are involved in research and development projects on antimissile technologies. But in a time of severe budgetary constraints, there are many other priorities, and BMD programs are still seen as expensive with a debatable cost-effectiveness. Although the difference between a European extended TMD and a limited NMD is dubious because of Europe's geography, the interest in a European NMD architecture is currently almost nonexistent. Even if it could become an issue one day, Europeans have other priorities—such as meeting the "headline goals" for force projection defined in the European Defense Policy. They are not ready to spend billions of euros on missile defenses.

The primary reasons for the disparity between U.S. and European attention to missile defense are a difference in how the threat posed by states like Iran, Iraq, and North Korea is perceived and a difference in strategic culture.

The Western European states do take the dangers of missile proliferation very seriously. Most of them are members of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), and all of them control missile technology exports. Since the Persian Gulf War, European military planners have also increasingly taken into account the effect that missile proliferation has on regions of crisis. European threat assessments are therefore broadly similar to the well-known U.S. threat assessment: missile proliferation is increasing and, combined with WMD proliferation, presents a major strategic challenge.

Furthermore, the trend is making existing regimes, like the MTCR, less efficient since technology transfers are increasingly taking place among proliferators themselves.

However, the details of the European assessments sometimes differ. First, there is the method of assessment. European nations usually consider intentions when evaluating a threat. For instance, the French define a threat as the combination of a technical capability and of a hostile purpose. Thus, whereas the U.S. approach to threat assessment is primarily "capabilities-based," the Europeans take a broader approach that includes more factors. Second, European analysts require a state's technical capability to be proven and fully tested, which can mean that their threat time frame may differ from Washington's. Although one should not expect a proliferating country to follow the path of testing that nuclear-weapon states use to field a weapons system, a single test does not create an immediate threat, especially if hostile intent is not obvious. Finally, the European assessment tends to focus more on the warhead (WMD or not) rather than on the means of delivery—there are many ways besides a ballistic missile to deliver a weapon of mass destruction.

Accordingly, European threat assessments and responses could be defined along the following lines: the threat from new missile owners is growing and could threaten large parts of European territory in the coming years. The southeastern part of Europe is already within range of some Middle Eastern ballistic systems, and intermediate-range (versus intercontinental) systems could soon pose a threat to most of the continent. Nevertheless, this threat should not be overemphasized when other dangers, such as terrorism and regional crises on the borders of Europe, are immediate and acute.

In addition to the difference in threat assessments, there is a major transatlantic difference in strategic cultures and public perceptions. Over the centuries, Europeans have learned to live with a certain degree of inescapable vulnerability. Having survived 40 years under the threat of an overwhelming Soviet conventional and nuclear threat that could have obliterated most of Western Europe in a matter of minutes, the growing but limited missile capabilities of a few so-called states of concern do not raise intense public anxiety. The fact that, in real terms, the missile threat to U.S. territory has also vastly decreased after the Cold War has not led to the same attitude in the United States.4

History is the first obvious key to this difference. All European nations have lived with direct threats to their territories from their neighbors. Belgium, Poland, France, Italy, and Germany have been invaded several times in the past 200 years. Even the isolated British Isles suffered direct and severe bombing during World War II. During the Cold War, the direct Soviet threat was for many Europeans similar to what they had experienced from other prominent powers (Spain, France, or Germany) in the past. By contrast, the United States has not suffered foreign invasion of its territory since 1812. It has had peaceful relations with its two only neighbors for almost a century (by contrast, Germany has nine neighboring countries; France has six). It has enjoyed unchallenged leadership in the entire Western Hemisphere and an almost complete absence of threat to its territory for most of its history.

One could write a history of related U.S. strategic fears, starting with debates on long-range strategic bombing before World War II, continuing with the "missile gap" with the Soviets, moving to the Chinese nuclear threat, and finishing today with missile proliferation and WMD terrorism. Since 1945, none of these technology-related fears has reached the same levels in Europe. During the Cold War, the United States never viewed the fact that Soviet missiles could threaten its soil as acceptable, and now that the Cold War is over, it feels it should be able to close that window of imposed vulnerability. The strategic environment should "go back to normal" (i.e., without any potential threats to the U.S. homeland), when for European countries, it is the current security environment, which lacks immediate threats, that seems somehow abnormal.

But despite Europe's lower threat assessment, as was the case with SDI, debate over the wisdom of missile defenses has begun to emerge in Europe in response to U.S. national missile defense plans. But NMD has not yet generated even the modest level of debate that SDI did. The reasons probably lie in NMD's less ambitious goals and the fact that it is presented more as a limited technological answer to a threat than as a grand strategic vision. There is also a spreading assumption that given U.S. domestic political pressure, the amount of money already spent, the technological progress made, and the limited nature of the proposed system, U.S. deployment of some form of NMD in the next few years or decades is inevitable.

This assumption does not lead European leaders to adopt a passive posture or abandon all criticism. It does, however, slightly change the focus of their approach: rather than entering a debate on the technical and doctrinal aspects of NMD (as they did for SDI), they press the diplomatic and strategic dimensions of the project to make sure their concerns for the alliance, arms control, and strategic stability are taken into account. If those concerns are neglected, many European political figures are ready to forcefully voice their opposition.

Parliamentary interest in Europe is already growing as evinced by two recent reports—one by the French Senate Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Armed Forces Committee and the other by the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee.5 Although they both provide a fair assessment of the NMD debate, both of these remarkable pieces of parliamentary work also express doubts about the political consequences of NMD. Surprisingly (given the United Kingdom's close ties with the United States), the British report is more critical than the French.

The European press is also commenting on the U.S. debate—usually in a negative way. After the successful October 2 intercept test, the French newspaper Libération ran the headline, "The U.S. Re-Launches the Antimissile Race. The Unbalance of Terror." In Belgium, the press described NMD as "Star Wars in a Bad Way." The German press expressed concern about European security: "Europe will turn into a target for every dictator, for every major power that wants to hit the Pentagon but instead aims at its partners." Fearing "cracks in the alliance," the Dutch media warned that NMD is "an enterprise that awakens distrust among the European partners with regards to the U.S.' strategic objectives." Only rare op-eds have suggested that Europe is lagging being the United States and should work on its own ballistic missile defense.6

The effect that NMD could have on Europe's security relationship with Russia is another consideration that is having a major impact on policy. Having spent billions of deutsche marks to stabilize Russia, Germany is at the forefront of this debate. Despite Moscow's loosening of links with the West in the last two years, Europeans value a cooperative security relationship with Russia. Although no European country is willing to trade transatlantic links for an illusory Russian-European axis, European governments fear that NMD will add another major item to the already long list of strategic disagreements with Russia, with potentially negative ramifications for European security.

Although the U.S. and European threat assessments are broadly similar, the keys to Europe's perception of missile proliferation and missile defenses can be found in the fact that vulnerability is more acceptable in Europe and in the low priority that the issue holds in the eyes of decision makers and the public. There is a rising debate about these issues that could swing toward favoring defenses if there were new missile tests near Europe and an acutely increased threat. But the Europeans have so far expressed more concern about the downsides of NMD than interest in its potential security benefits versus missile proliferation.

 

Three Transatlantic Issues

In 1998, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright summarized her concerns about the emerging European Defense Policy by putting forward the famous "three D's": no decoupling, no discrimination, and no duplication. Today, the Europeans could list their own concerns about NMD with another set of "D's": decoupling, disarmament, and deterrence. Does NMD lead to transatlantic decoupling? Does NMD stand for "no more disarmament"?7 Does NMD mean "no more deterrence"? None of the answers to these questions are obvious, but each of the European states has, in one way or another, expressed concern relating to these three issues.

 

    The Risk of Decoupling

    Strategic decoupling of the two sides of the Atlantic has been a major concern for NATO strategic planners. By deploying U.S. troops and nuclear weapons in Europe and by adapting U.S. nuclear strategy to meet the requirements of extended deterrence, the alliance has always carefully tried to maintain a strong coupling, or link, between the security of Europe and that of the United States. For 40 years, U.S. vulnerability to the Soviet nuclear threat was viewed with apprehension as potentially dividing U.S. and European security the traditional "would you trade Chicago for Hamburg" argument, so it would be difficult to say now that U.S. invulnerability would have the same effect. But it is clear—especially if the Europeans do not build a defense for themselves—that missile defense could have a profound impact on the alliance's interaction and the coordination of strategy.

    The United States and Europe have already begun something of a strategic and political separation. It is disturbing that after the 1999 airstrikes against Yugoslavia, the first open war in the alliance's history, U.S. strategic thinking began to focus on the unilateral protection offered by NMD, while the Europeans decided after the French-British summit in St. Malo and the EU summit in Helsinki to work toward an autonomous European Defense Policy aimed at enhancing European projection capabilities. The pursuit of separate parochial priorities within the alliance could open a strategic rift.

    This raises a set of questions that need to be addressed in a transatlantic framework.

    First, will a more or less protected United States be more or less likely to intervene overseas to preserve international security, for instance near Europe? On the one hand, it is certainly true that NMD could help protect the United States from blackmail aimed at deterring a U.S. intervention. On the other hand, one could also argue that NMD makes U.S. involvement in a regional crisis less likely and necessary since U.S. security would be less intertwined with that of Europe. NMD could thus foster isolationist tendencies already feared by the Europeans.

    Second, how does a scenario in which the U.S. territory is under a BMD umbrella and Europe is not affect the ability of Western countries to act in concert? During the Cold War, the United States had to accept a certain degree of vulnerability in order to convince both the Soviets and the Europeans that a limited war in Europe was not an option; at the same time, the United States had to be less vulnerable than Europe in order to provide a credible extended deterrent. Today, the situation could be changed. If Europe is vulnerable and the United States is not, the two partners are likely to have different objectives and concerns in a crisis.

    Third, what are the side effects of NMD deployment on European security? Many potential Russian responses, such as redeploying tactical nuclear weapons or even withdrawing from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, would primarily affect Western Europe. In this twisted scenario, better protection of U.S. territory would indirectly lead to an enhanced threat on European borders, thus creating the need for a strengthened U.S. commitment to European security through NATO.

    Finally, and more broadly, what would be the political consequences for the alliance if the U.S. government were to take a unilateral decision to deploy a missile defense when most of its European allies have expressed hostility to the idea? There have been major strategic debates in NATO's history, some of which had U.S. origin (flexible response), others of which met European demands (the deployment of the "euromissiles"). Many decisions were taken after heated debates, but there is an old tradition of consensus-building within the alliance. The Europeans therefore expect at least a serious debate within the alliance before Washington takes the serious step of deploying a national missile defense.

    There is no clear answer to these four questions, but they certainly deserve a much deeper transatlantic consultation. As a European analyst has written, "It is in the U.S. interest to be open to the sensitivities of its best friends, rather than to launch into uncertain and unproven experiments."8

     

    "No More Disarmament"?

    Leading European leaders have made numerous statements demonstrating a genuine concern that, if mishandled, NMD could or would jeopardize 30 years of arms control efforts. French President Jacques Chirac recently stated that NMD is "of a nature to retrigger a proliferation of weapons, notably nuclear missiles."9 German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder expressed a similar view when he said, "Neither economically, nor politically, can we afford a new round of the arms race."10 Schroeder meant not only that the Europeans have other spending priorities, but also that the European public is not ready to focus on such an issue.

    Viewed from Europe, the worst-case arms control scenario is that NMD deployment would be followed by Russia's withdrawal from major arms treaties and verification regimes (the INF Treaty, the tactical nuclear regime of 1991, START), as well as its development of greater offensive and defensive capabilities. China would also block further arms control efforts and increase the expansion of its nuclear forces. Additionally, Russia and China would loosen their already weak export controls and deliberately accelerate missile and WMD technology proliferation.

    States of concern would engage in a missile buildup to try to challenge the emerging NMD and local TMD programs. This would lead to a renewed interest and potential arms race among the major powers in more modern offensive capabilities and counter-options, including space-based weapons.

    Of course, the worst case scenario is unlikely. Some problems—such as China's strategic modernization and opposition to arms control and Russia's temptation to insist on its tactical nuclear capabilities—are already on the table. It would also be unfair to blame the current deadlock on arms control negotiations on NMD only.

    But from the perspective of European countries deeply committed to strategic reductions and non-proliferation, the underlying point is that NMD could damage the ABM Treaty, thereby threatening the entire framework of arms control. In the European view, the ABM Treaty is, rightly or wrongly, an essential element of international security and should therefore be handled with care. This explains Europe's clear preference for a negotiated amendment process that would ease the anxiety of Russia and others, and it explains Europe's desire to combine BMD-related efforts with a renewed interest in arms control and non-proliferation regimes.

    If NMD were to trigger an arms race between Russia, the United States, and possibly China, it would also certainly make further French and British unilateral reductions less likely and affect the ability of the two European nuclear-weapon states to become more deeply engaged in international nuclear arms control measures and treaties. As British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned in a July 24 statement to the House of Commons, U.S. concerns should be met "in a way that does not put at risk the substantial progress that has been made on nuclear disarmament over the past few years."

    Most Europeans do not oppose amending the ABM Treaty in principle (it has been amended before), but they are wary of the effects that a unilateral move by the United States could have. As French Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine said in a July 6 speech, "I think this project takes the risk of provoking hostile and dangerous reactions by some countries in the world." However, he drew a distinction between two scenarios: "If the United States does go ahead in spite of a Russian refusal, challenging the policy of negotiated arms control, then France, and the other European Union countries will have to have a strong response. The reaction will be different if the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, agrees [to amend the treaty]."

    The recent report by the British House of Commons committee also urged "the Government to impress upon the US administration that it cannot necessarily assume unqualified UK cooperation with US plans to deploy NMD in the event of unilateral US abrogation of the ABM Treaty." Coming from the parliament of the closest U.S. ally in Europe and a country that hosts two key facilities for the NMD architecture (Fylingdales and Menwith Hill), this position is worth noting.11 Greenland's prime minister has warned that Greenland would refuse to upgrade the Thule radar facility "if it resulted in increased tension and world destabilization."12 The final decision belongs to Denmark, but Copenhagen has said that local views would be taken into account.

    In other words, Europe would probably not oppose amendments to the ABM Treaty as long as the inner logic of the treaty (limitations on defenses) and the treaty itself are preserved, and as long as amendments take place in an U.S.-Russian negotiated process. In order that the future of arms control may be preserved, Europeans do not want to see multilateral approaches to security abandoned in favor of unilateral defenses.

     

    "No More Deterrence"?

    Even though a shift in the role of deterrence is primarily a concern for the two nuclear-weapon states in Western Europe, there is widespread concern about the impact of replacing deterrence with defense. European analysts take the U.S. point that current missile defense plans are intended to complement, not replace, deterrence, but they have concerns about the long-term consequences of missile defense for the strategic stability that nuclear deterrence has provided for the past 50 years.

    French and British experts are confident that their national deterrent forces will not be threatened in any way in the foreseeable future. But in the long term, both countries need to factor in the possible disappearance of the ABM Treaty, which has been a structuring factor for French and British force levels for almost 30 years. In the long term, they need to take into account that a possible U.S.-Russian agreement might lead to improved Russian early-warning and defense capabilities that could in turn warrant improvement of their minimal deterrent. Therefore, if the United States deploys a national missile defense, it cannot be assumed that the European nuclear-weapon states will continue on their path of major unilateral nuclear cuts.

    Eventually, such developments would undermine the logic of deterrence with destabilizing consequences for international security. The ABM Treaty was specifically designed to preserve the logic of mutual and reciprocal deterrence, with the limitation imposed on ABM defenses aimed primarily at keeping both sides vulnerable. As was the case with SDI, national missile defense could effect a shift in thinking by putting the emphasis on defenses versus offenses.13 In the French and British view, accepting vulnerability remains an integral part of deterrence because it contributes to the credibility of the deterrent and because European analysts have traditionally doubted that missile defenses could ever be truly effective.14 The United States, on the other hand, has always wanted to develop options and responses other than retaliation, since being left with nuclear retaliation as the only choice can create dilemmas.

    NMD could also generate a false sense of security and create the illusion that deterrence is less necessary.15 It might be unwise to assure the public that it is protected from the dangers of WMD proliferation—and even less wise for a state to behave as if this were true—when a missile defense could be easily overcome simply by a larger number of missiles or by other means of delivery, like bombers, cruise missiles, or terrorist-delivered bombs.

    Europe as a whole also has to consider the effects of NMD on extended deterrence, which are not yet clear. On the one hand, the United States faces a credibility problem: Can it use the threat of a nuclear strike to protect its allies from limited WMD threats while primarily relying on missile defenses for itself when faced with a similar scenario? On the other hand, a less vulnerable or invulnerable national territory does strengthen U.S. credibility because the United States can act abroad with reduced fear of reprisal.

     

None of the answers to the above problems are easy, but there are certainly pros and cons that should be further evaluated jointly.16 European politicians are not very keen to engage in a Europe-wide debate on nuclear deterrence versus BMD (at a time when the European security debate should focus on other issues, the BMD issue could prove divisive), but at the very least, there must be a discussion among experts.

 

Conclusion

The majority of European governments feel it is not their responsibility to lecture the United States on its security choices. The EU is therefore unlikely to take a major diplomatic counter-initiative, as is sometimes hoped by NMD opponents. However, concerning the possible deployment of a U.S. missile defense, the Europeans are becoming clearer about what they do not want to see happen and what could be more acceptable, as well as the fact that they expect to be consulted before further steps are taken.

The Europeans want to preserve the ABM Treaty as a cornerstone of the international arms control regime. Although they are wary of being used by Russia in its struggle with the United States, Europeans are increasingly emphasizing a cooperative approach to the future of the ABM Treaty and resisting the idea of a U.S. unilateral withdrawal. Since the Russian position will remain unclear until the next U.S. administration is in place and has put forward a clear proposal, the next U.S. president is expected to demonstrate a genuine effort to secure a deal with Moscow.

The Europeans have not suggested a single alternative to BMD deployments as a response to missile proliferation, but they would certainly feel more at ease with an NMD that fits into a broader non-proliferation and arms control agenda. They are also ready to join the United States in diplomatic moves than could limit the spread of missiles in regions of concern (such as the Korean Peninsula and the Middle East), and they are hopeful that domestic political evolutions in those regions and diplomatic efforts could reduce the need for NMD.

Despite Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush's proposal to include U.S. allies under a missile defense and the Clinton administration's late attempt to involve Europeans in the NMD project, it is unlikely that European countries will show any enthusiasm for such participation at this stage. It therefore makes little sense at this point to try to turn NMD into a NATO project. However, Europeans would be more ready to take part in broader projects, such as joint early-warning efforts or renewed and enhanced missile non-proliferation regimes.

Some U.S. analysts seem to expect that after some minor public disagreement the Europeans will accept NMD, but that is a risky assumption to make. First, NMD requires the unqualified support of the European countries that will host NMD-related facilities (the United Kingdom, Denmark, and possibly Norway). These countries cannot be expected to easily acquiesce if none of their concerns are met. Second, having expressed genuine concerns about the future of arms control, many European countries would resent a bold U.S. unilateral move on the ABM Treaty, and such resentment could have long-term political consequences for the transatlantic link. Third, an unconcerted NMD decision would support the position of those that favor the fast development of an independent European foreign and defense policy. This is not necessarily bad from a European perspective, but it is probably not seen with the same enthusiasm in Washington.

For the last 50 years, the Atlantic alliance has been built on the principle that defense choices for one pillar benefit both. Historically, major strategic choices always attempted to follow that principle. If an NMD decision were to be taken on a purely unilateral basis, it could damage the alliance. Though most Europeans may acknowledge the decision to deploy an NMD as primarily a domestic one, they expect their closest ally to attach importance to their concerns because of the possible international implications. Europe is already playing a useful role by warning its best ally on the potential consequences of NMD deployment, by expressing support for the ABM Treaty, and by attaching importance to the security relationship with Russia.

Europeans expect a deeper transatlantic discussion of this issue and hope that the next U.S. administration (whether Democrat or Republican) will factor in their concerns when taking the NMD deployment decision. The current transatlantic debate emerged only after the decision to go ahead was taken in 1999.17 It might be wiser to exchange views before the next step rather than after.

 

NOTES

1. For the purposes of this paper, "Europe" refers to Western Europe (i.e., primarily NATO and EU countries).

2. Euromissiles included the Pershing II and long-range cruise missiles deployed in Europe in the early 1980s, dismantled after the 1987 INF Treaty.

3. François Heisbourg, "Brussel's Burden," The Washington Quarterly, Summer 2000, p. 127-133.

4. On this point see Joseph Cirincione, "Assessing the Assessment: The 1999 National Intelligence Estimate of the Ballistic Missile Threat," The Nonproliferation Review, Spring 2000, p. 125-137.

5. Xavier de Villepin, "La défense antimissiles du territoire (NMD) aux Etats-Unis," Rapport d'information, n°417, June 14, 2000. House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, "Weapons of Mass Destruction," HC 407 of 1999-2000, July 25, 2000.

6. The citations in this paragraph are taken, respectively, from Libération, November 24, 1999; Le Soir, January 20, 2000; Münchener Merkur, February 2, 2000; and NRC Handelsblatt, February 11, 2000.

7. The author borrows this summary of the potential effects of NMD on arms control from George Bunn, "Does NMD Stand for 'No More Disarmament' as well as 'National Missile Defense'?" Disarmament Diplomacy, December 1999.

8. Guillaume Parmentier, "Europeans Need Friendly Persuasion to Feel Secure," Los Angeles Times, June 22, 2000, p. 11.

9. Marc Lacey, "Putin Bends Clinton's Ear Hoping to Halt Missile Shield," The New York Times, July 22, 2000, p. A6.

10. Berliner Zeitung, June 2, 2000.

11. The British minister of defense has, however, said that "the history of our close friendship with the U.S. is that we are sympathetic to such requests," and the Foreign Affairs Committee says that a refusal to upgrade Fylingdales would be "unprecedented."

12. "U.S. delegation to brief Greenland on anti-missile scheme," Agence France Presse, August 21, 2000.

13. On deterrence and the offense-defense debate, see the classic paper: Robert Jervis, "Cooperation under the Security Dilemma," World Politics, January 1978, p. 167-214.

14. It is even possible to trace back the first European criticisms on BMD to the late 1960s. For an early doctrinal criticism of ABM defenses, see Lucien Poirier and Alain Bru, "Dissuasion et défense anti-missile," Revue de Défense Nationale, November and December 1968.

15. Lawrence Freedman, "NMD and Deterrence," in Burkard Schmitt (ed.), National Missile Defence and the Future of Nuclear Policy, Occasional Paper No. 18, Western European Union-Institute for Security Studies, August 2000. (These are the proceedings of one of the only truly transatlantic seminars on NMD [Paris, June 9, 2000], soon available at www.weu.int/institute/publ_uk.htm ).

16. A fair assessment of the debate on deterrence and NMD can be found in Thérèse Delpech, "National Missile Defense and Nuclear Policy," in Schmitt, National Missile Defence and the Future of Nuclear Policy.

17. Transatlantic exchanges on NMD did not really begin until the December 1999 NATO summit. See Wade Boese, "NATO Ministers Skeptical of U.S. NMD Plans," Arms Control Today, December 1999, p. 21.

 


Camille Grand is an arms control analyst and a lecturer at the Institut d'Etudes Politiques in Paris and at the Ecole Spéciale Militaire in St. Cyr-Coëtquidan. The views expressed here are his own.

Posted: September 1, 2000

The Right Thing to Do

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

President Bill Clinton's decision to "just say no" to the deployment of a national missile defense (NMD) is probably his most important security decision. To avoid any misunderstanding, he also wisely refused to authorize contracts for preliminary construction work on the system that would have been seen as signaling a commitment to deployment. Although the NMD decision has simply been kicked down the road, Clinton's action has bought time and forced the next president to review the facts before making this fateful decision.

While Clinton's decision surprised those who view all actions as election-year politics, it was the only logical outcome of Clinton's position from the beginning. After he signed internally contradictory legislation making it U.S. policy both to deploy an "effective" NMD as soon as technologically possible and to negotiate nuclear weapons reductions with Russia, Clinton formally stated that his decision would depend on four criteria: status of the technological readiness, the threat, cost, and the impact on U.S. national security, including arms control. He also made it clear that this should be done by negotiating any necessary amendments to the ABM Treaty, which he has considered fundamental to strategic stability.

None of Clinton's criteria support a deployment decision at this time. The technology is not sufficiently advanced to permit a responsible deployment decision and there are also serious questions as to whether the proposed system can effectively defend against even a very limited threat because of its inherent inability to handle even simple penetration aids. The threat itself is questionable since North Korea, the country on which the system is focused, shows diminished interest in pursuing an ICBM capability and appears willing to abandon its missile program if the price is right. Moreover, weapons of mass destruction can be delivered much more easily by other means, such as aircraft and ships, against which NMD provides no protection.

If the need were real, the United States could afford the estimated $60 billion price tag, but it is not clear what the eventual price tag will really be, and presidential candidate George W. Bush's vision for the program would certainly cost hundreds of billions of dollars. But the real costs of the system—as Clinton clearly recognized—are the negative impacts of a deployment decision on U.S. arms control objectives and our relations with the rest of the world.

Russia has adamantly opposed deployment and refused on principle to consider ABM Treaty amendments, which it sees as a slippery slope leading to systems that could endanger its deterrent and undercut past as well as future arms control agreements. China considers the system a threat to its minimal deterrent. Our NATO allies are seriously concerned about the deployment for reasons ranging from the negative impact on relations with Russia to perceptions of U.S. unilateralism. In fact, it is difficult to identify any country that supports U.S. NMD deployment. Clearly, this is a high cost to pay for a system that probably would not work against a threat that is very unlikely to materialize.

Clinton's action has built some much-needed time into the NMD decision process for his successor. Candidate Al Gore has associated himself with Clinton's criteria, and the technical problems with the present system will not soon be resolved, while the perceived threat itself may well recede. There is also no indication that Russia will agree to amend the ABM Treaty or that China will be persuaded that the proposed NMD system is not a threat to its deterrent. While candidate Bush has called for a much more robust "global" defense, he has not revealed how this would be accomplished. He will find the system he envisages is much more complex, technically demanding and expensive than he imagines and that a responsible deployment decision is years off. As president, he would probably also discover that the international consequences of repudiation of the ABM Treaty are too high a price to pay for an undefined and probably nonachievable NMD system. One recalls Richard Nixon campaigning in 1968 for military superiority and as president after a year of intensive study proceeding to negotiate the ABM Treaty and SALT I.

The time that has been bought will also allow pursuit of diplomatic activities that could well reduce the perceived need for an NMD. These include: giving diplomacy a chance to work out the North Korean problem, building an international consensus to constrain Iraq, developing better relations with a changing Iran, and developing an improved cooperation program with Russia and China to counter missile proliferation.

In passing responsibility for an NMD deployment decision on to his successor, President Clinton indeed did the right thing. Freed from the pressures of election-year politics, the next president will have ample time to contemplate the implications of succumbing to the siren song of NMD.

Posted: September 1, 2000

Little Progress on ABM, START at Moscow Summit; Putin Proposes Joint Anti-Missile 'Umbrella'

Little Progress on ABM, START at Moscow Summit; Putin Proposes Joint Anti-Missile 'Umbrella'

July/August 2000

By Wade Boese

As Clinton administration officials expected, Russia rebuffed U.S. entreaties at the June 3-5 Moscow summit to amend the 1972 ABM Treaty to permit the United States to deploy its proposed limited national missile defense (NMD). As an alternative, Moscow proposed putting an "umbrella" over potential missile threats, but Washington said that such a plan could only supplement, not replace, a U.S. NMD system. In addition to building upon two secondary arms control agreements (see p. 28), Presidents Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin issued a compromise "Joint Statement on Principles of Strategic Stability," committing the two sides to further intensify discussions on ABM issues in parallel with talks on future strategic reductions.

Aiming to protect all 50 states from a limited attack by or accidental launch of strategic ballistic missiles, the Clinton administration is currently developing a land-based missile defense system for deployment by 2005. The proposed system would violate the ABM Treaty, which prohibits strategic missile defenses capable of protecting a country's entire territory or the base for such a defense. Not wanting to abrogate the treaty, Clinton has sought negotiations with Russia to modify the accord to allow the planned U.S. system, but Moscow has staunchly refused every effort.

Putin proved no more receptive to U.S. missile defense plans during the summit with Clinton, the first between the two presidents. Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, speaking June 4, said Putin made it "absolutely clear" that Russia still opposes amending the ABM Treaty and fears a U.S. NMD will "undermine strategic stability, threaten Russia's strategic deterrent, and provoke a new arms race." If Washington withdraws from the treaty, Putin and other Russian officials have warned that Moscow will withdraw from other arms control accords, including START II and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.

The 100 missile interceptors currently planned for the first phase of the U.S. defense could be easily overwhelmed by Russia's current strategic arsenal, but the Clinton administration has made clear that after winning amendments to facilitate the initial NMD deployment, the United States will seek additional amendments for an expanded NMD. Russian leaders fear that system could be rapidly augmented in the future, when Moscow assumes it will have a much smaller nuclear force, threatening Russia's deterrent capability.

While disagreeing on U.S. NMD plans, the presidents were able to reach a compromise statement that emphasized the importance of the ABM Treaty—reaffirming it as a "cornerstone of strategic stability"—while also noting that new threats could alter the international security environment. Administration officials pointed out that the statement also provided for consideration of "possible proposals for further increasing the viability of the Treaty." However, Talbott emphasized that this provision did not imply Russia had agreed to amend the accord; it only meant that discussions on possible changes could take place.

According to the statement, talks on the ABM Treaty will be held in parallel with future strategic reduction discussions within the framework of a START III accord, which, according to a 1997 agreement, would limit Russia and the United States to 2,000 to 2,500 deployed strategic warheads apiece. Moscow wants a lower agreed level of 1,500 warheads each. Talbott explained that the joint statement established a "clear agreement between [Russia and the United States] that these two processes are going to have to move forward together—the control of strategic defenses and the reduction of strategic offenses."

Clinton, as well as other U.S. officials, highlighted Russia's acknowledgment in the joint statement that the world faces a "growing threat of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and their means of delivery." Yet shortly after the summit, Russian leaders challenged the perception that they had moved closer to sharing the U.S. threat assessment, which most countries view with skepticism. Putin, in an interview with the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag published June 11, said the threats most commonly cited by Washington do "fundamentally not exist, neither today, nor in the foreseeable future."

In the joint statement, however, the presidents agreed to address emerging threats through "mutual cooperation and mutual respect of each other's security interests."

 

Joint Defense Cooperation Proposed

Just two days prior to Clinton's arrival in Moscow, Putin, who warned the ABM Treaty "should not be touched," caught U.S. officials off-guard with a vague proposal on "NBC News" that a jointly developed umbrella be placed over "potential areas of threat." Putin offered no specifics on his proposal during the summit.

Top Russian officials later explained to U.S. and European officials that the proposal was meant as a broad framework for cooperation, beginning with threat assessments and progressing eventually, if there is agreement a threat actually exists, to non-strategic missile defenses, including Europe-based theater missile defenses. Russian officials also alluded to a boost-phase missile defense, but on June 29, Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said, "They have not come forward with details."

Unlike the planned U.S. system, which would try to hit a warhead during its mid-course flight outside the atmosphere, the goal of a boost-phase system would be to hit the missile during its ascent, when the rocket engine is still burning and before the warhead, as well as any possible decoys, have separated from the booster. Underscoring the technical challenges, Pentagon officials said acquiring and shooting down a target in its boost phase would need to take place within 300 seconds of its launch, requiring interceptors to be deployed close to the launch site.

After meeting with Putin and Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev in Moscow on June 13, Secretary of Defense William Cohen said that Washington is "prepared to cooperate" on both theater and boost-phase missile defense but that neither would serve as a substitute for U.S. NMD plans. Cohen noted that a European theater missile defense would not protect the United States and that a boost-phase system would not defend the United States in the short term because the technology does not yet exist. The day before, he had said such a system would be at least 10 years away.

Clinton officials point to recent U.S. intelligence estimates warning that North Korea could possess an ICBM by 2005 as a rationale for rapid NMD deployment. Other so-called rogue states, a term publicly abandoned June 19 by the State Department in favor of "states of concern," are also cited as possibly developing long-range missiles by 2015. The language shift came on the heels of the first-ever presidential summit between North and South Korea, held June 13 to 15, at which the two countries talked of eventual reunification. (See p. 32.) When questioned as to whether the Korean summit would affect the U.S. threat assessment, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said June 14 that there were no "seeds of any changes that would change the possible threat that we might face." A day later, Bacon added that "North Korea is not the only country we worry about."

On June 20, Pyongyang reaffirmed its September 1999 moratorium on missile flight testing, and on June 28 the United States announced it would hold a formal round of missile talks, the first since March 1999, with North Korea from July 10 to 12. While describing the Korean summit as a "very, very important development" and saying he felt "encouraged" by Pyongyang's extension of its flight-testing moratorium, Clinton cautioned June 28 that he did not think the North Korean missile program problem had yet been resolved.

Clinton also stressed that he had not yet made a final decision on NMD deployment and repeated that his decision would be based on an assessment of the technological readiness of the system, the maturity of the threat, the system's cost, and its impact on U.S. national security, including relations with European allies, Russia, and China. He also noted that he would need to consider the possible "boomerang effect" that China's reaction could have on India and Pakistan. The president said he would formulate his position over the next several weeks.

Posted: July 1, 2000

The Buck Stops Here

The Buck Stops Here

July/August 2000

By Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

President Clinton will make the most important security decision of his presidency when he determines later this year whether or not to deploy a limited national missile defense (NMD). With the failure of the latest test and the absence of a credible threat, there is no basis for a decision to deploy. When the extremely serious negative consequences of deployment are considered, there is every reason to explicitly reject deployment now and not simply defer the decision to the next administration.

Upon signing legislation making it U.S. policy to deploy an "effective" NMD as soon as "technologically possible," Clinton wisely stated that he would consider technical progress, the threat, system costs, and the impact on arms control objectives. It is now clear that none of the four criteria supports a deployment decision.

Quite aside from the test debacle, technical progress does not begin to support a responsible deployment decision. Testing has had to rely on surrogate components under limited and unrealistic conditions. The Pentagon's own advisory group under retired Air Force Chief of Staff General Larry Welch has labeled the program "high risk," saying that demonstration of "readiness to deploy" is not possible until 2003 at the earliest. The program directors themselves acknowledge the program is high risk. More fundamentally, independent technical critics argue persuasively that, even if the NMD system "works," it could be easily defeated by simple available decoys.

The ICBM threat from so-called rogue states has been grossly exaggerated, with a worst-case technical capability increasingly being identified as an expected development. Even

in the unlikely event it developed the capability, the likelihood that a poverty-stricken, isolated North Korea would attack, or threaten to attack, the United States, thereby assuring its own obliteration, is so remote as to lack credibility. In the real world, North Korea has recently declared a moratorium on long-range missile flight tests, begun negotiations with South Korea, and is clearly interested in trading its missile program for the right price. Concurrently, Iran has taken steps toward a more democratic and open society, and the inter-national community has found a new consensus in seeking to monitor any Iraqi efforts to revive its largely destroyed ballistic missile program. Significantly, the State Department has quietly substituted "state of concern" for the contemptuous appellation of "rogue state."

While the United States could afford the proposed program, it would present taxpayers with a substantial financial commitment, estimated at some $36 billion for the first phase and more than $60 billion for the complete limited NMD. That would be a substantial outlay for a system that would probably not work against an extremely unlikely threat, and based on past experience, those costs would probably double.

However, the real cost of deployment would be the significant adverse consequences to U.S. security. The entire arms control framework, painstakingly developed over the past three decades, would be endangered, and future negotiated reductions in the Russian nuclear arsenal, which were also mandated by the NMD legislation, would probably be halted for the foreseeable future. Russia has adamantly refused to amend the ABM Treaty to permit the proposed limited NMD deployment because it sees this action as a slippery slope leading to the demise of the treaty, which it holds is the key to strategic stability. President Vladimir Putin has even threatened to withdraw from existing strategic arms agreements if the United States withdraws from the ABM Treaty. China, which is convinced that the limited NMD system is intended to negate its deterrent, has denounced the project and can be expected to respond by accelerating and expanding its strategic modernization program. This in turn would probably stimulate an Indian reaction, leading to an arms race in South Asia with Chinese support for Pakistan.

A deployment decision would also be a major blow to U.S. leadership in the nuclear non-proliferation regime. Non-nuclear-weapon states would hold the United States in clear violation of its obligation under Article VI of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) despite Washington's specific recommitment at the recent NPT review conference to preserve and strengthen the ABM Treaty. After a year of frenetic efforts, U.S. officials have failed to reassure Russia and China as to U.S. intentions or to obtain any foreign support for a limited NMD. Even our NATO allies have reacted very negatively to the proposed deployment, which they see as undercutting efforts to improve relations with Russia and raising serious questions as to true U.S. motives.

When the deployment issue reaches his desk, President Clinton should not abdicate his presidential responsibility by deferring the decision to his successor. Heeding President Harry Truman's declaration that "the buck stops here," Clinton should, on the basis of his own criteria, explicitly reject deployment, as well as initiation of construction that would widely be seen as endorsing a future decision to deploy.

Posted: July 1, 2000

Russia Ratifies START II, Extension Protocol; ABM-Related Agreements Also Approved

Russia Ratifies START II, Extension Protocol; ABM-Related Agreements Also Approved

May 2000

By Philipp C. Bleek

More than seven years after signing the treaty, Russia ratified START II on May 4, also approving a package of agreements that extend the treaty's deadline and clarify issues concerning the 1972 ABM Treaty. The ratification puts additional pressure on the United States at a sensitive time for U.S.-Russian relations as Washington tries to negotiate changes to the ABM Treaty to permit deployment of a limited national missile defense. The ratification has also eased criticism of Russia at the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference for the nuclear-weapon states' lack of progress on disarmament.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's outspoken support for the treaty and the more politically moderate composition of the newly elected Duma were decisive factors in the parliament's approval of the accord. The Duma, Russia's lower house of parliament, passed a resolution of ratification April 14 by a vote of 288-131 with four abstentions. The upper house of parliament followed suit April 19, voting 122-15 in favor of the resolution. On May 4, Putin signed the resolution, officially ratifying the treaty. (See the full text of the resolution.)

Following Duma approval of the treaty, which was widely heralded as a demonstration of the newly elected president's strength and apparent commitment to arms control, Putin said that "for Russia, the conclusion of the START II treaty opens the possibility to ensure its security on a parity basis with the U.S.A." In an April 15 telephone conversation with Putin, President Bill Clinton called the Duma's action "an important step towards the reduction of nuclear arms."

Signed in January 1993 by Presidents George Bush and Boris Yeltsin, START II reduces the U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals to 3,000-3,500 deployed warheads each, eliminates multiple warheads on land-based missiles, and limits warheads deployed on submarine- launched ballistic missiles. The deadline for treaty implementation was originally January 1, 2003.

Bush submitted the agreement to the Senate shortly after it was signed, and the Senate approved it in 1996. Yeltsin submitted the treaty to the Duma in 1995, but the original agreement was never brought to a vote due to insufficient support, based in part on the perception that Russia had made too many concessions in the treaty.

To encourage Russian ratification of the treaty, an agreement to update START II was reached at the U.S.-Russian summit held in Helsinki in March 1997. In September 1997, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and then-Russian Foreign Minister Yevgeny Primakov signed a protocol to START II extending the deadline for completing reductions by five years, to December 31, 2007. Albright and Primakov also agreed that the United States would have more time to remove warheads from its Minuteman III ICBMs, as required by the treaty, and that both states would deactivate by December 31, 2003, all strategic nuclear delivery vehicles to be eliminated under START II (the U.S. MX missile and the Russian SS-18 and SS-24).

At the same time, the United States and Russia, along with Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) designating Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine as successor states to the Soviet Union for the purposes of the ABM Treaty. The five states also signed agreements clarifying the demarcation line between strategic missile defenses, which are limited by the treaty, and theater missile defenses, which are not.

Although the extension protocol was negotiated to facilitate Russian approval of START II, the Duma repeatedly postponed scheduled votes on the treaty. Two postponements followed the initiation of U.S. airstrikes—first against Iraq in December 1998, and then against Yugoslavia in March 1999—which undermined Russian support for the treaty.

 

Entry Into Force Unlikely Soon

The treaty's entry into force now technically depends on the U.S. Senate's approval of the 1997 START II protocol, but Russia has complicated the situation by linking the protocol to the 1997 ABM agreements. Article 9 of the Russian resolution of ratification specifically makes exchange of the instruments of ratification, the final step required to bring the treaty into force, contingent on Senate approval of all the 1997 agreements.

The Clinton administration has yet to submit the 1997 agreements to the Senate largely because Senator Jesse Helms (R-NC), chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, has indicated that the ABM-related agreements will be rejected. Helms, along with many other conservative Republicans, believes that the ABM Treaty inappropriately constrains U.S. missile defense development and deployment efforts and that it is no longer in effect without Senate approval of the MOU on succession.

The Duma's ratification legislation also reaffirms what Russian officials have repeatedly stated in recent months: if the United States withdraws from the ABM Treaty to deploy a limited national missile defense, Russia retains the option to withdraw from START II. Putin emphasized this point in his speech to the Duma prior to the START II vote, stating that if "the United States decides to destroy the 1972 ABM Treaty…we will withdraw not only from the START II treaty but also the whole system of treaties on limitation and control of strategic and conventional weapons."

According to State Department spokesman James Rubin, the administration has not made a final decision on when to submit the 1997 package. In recent weeks, Rubin has repeatedly emphasized that the administration will continue to "consult with Congress" on the 1997 documents and related issues.

 

START III Negotiations Expected

The United States had been unwilling to pursue negotiations on START III until Russia ratified START II, agreeing only to hold "discussions" on the topic, but Russia's ratification has opened the door for formal talks on further strategic reductions. In his April 14 press briefing, Rubin said, "Now we can move in an accelerated way to negotiations on START III." In a statement following the Duma vote, Putin stated that "ratification of the START II treaty opens a way to the start of official talks on further reduction of strategic arsenals of Russia and the U.S.A. in the framework of a START III treaty."

Putin went on to call for reducing deployed nuclear arsenals to 1,500 warheads, instead of the 2,000-2,500 level agreed to by Clinton and Yeltsin in Helsinki. In response to repeated Russian calls for deeper cuts in recent months, U.S. officials have maintained that they are still only seeking reductions to 2,000-2,500 warheads, but some senior administration officials have indicated that the United States may be prepared to negotiate deeper cuts in exchange for Russian concessions on ABM Treaty modification. On April 25, after meeting with Clinton at the White House, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov reiterated Russia's call for maintenance of the ABM Treaty but also said, "We are ready to listen to any suggestions."

During a joint briefing to journalists two days later, both Ivanov and Albright highlighted the upcoming summit meeting between Clinton and Putin, currently scheduled to take place June 4-5 in Moscow. According to David Stockwell, a spokesman for the National Security Council, the summit will allow the presidents "to have intensive conversations about and seize opportunities on arms control…and non-proliferation." White House spokesman Joe Lockhart emphasized at an April 28 press briefing that while a breakthrough is unlikely, issues relating to the ABM Treaty, missile defense, and the START process are "certainly high on the agenda."

Posted: May 1, 2000

Russia Proposes Global Regime On Missile Proliferation

Russia Proposes Global Regime On Missile Proliferation

May 2000

By Matthew Rice

Offering an alternative to missile defense as a means to deal with missile proliferation, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov urged consideration of a Russian proposal for a global missile confidence-building and non-proliferation regime April 25 at the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review conference in New York. Combined with further reductions in nuclear arsenals, the regime would enhance international security and existing arms control arrangements by offering a "real alternative to the destruction of the ABM Treaty," Ivanov said.

Formally known as the Global Control System for the Non-Proliferation of Missiles and Missile Technology (GCS), the proposed regime was initially introduced by then- Russian President Boris Yeltsin at the June 1999 G-8 summit in Cologne, Germany. It was then discussed in Moscow March 16 at an expert-level meeting convened by the Russian government and chaired by Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov. In attendance were representatives from 46 countries and the United Nations, including Iran and large delegations from China, India, and Egypt. The United States sent an observer but did not participate.

The GCS would increase transparency and reduce the risk of miscalculation or misunderstanding by requiring nations to provide notification of pending missile or space-launch vehicle (SLV) test-launches. To discourage proliferation, the GCS would offer incentives to members of the regime that forswore the use of missiles as delivery mechanisms for weapons of mass destruction, including security assurances against the use of missile systems and assistance from the UN Security Council if such weapons were used. In addition, referencing Article IV of the NPT, the regime would provide for assistance in the peaceful uses of space for members that gave up missiles as weapons.

Modest international support has emerged for a stronger missile non-proliferation regime. The Russian statement at the NPT conference noted that Australia, Britain, Canada, and France had all made preliminary proposals on the topic throughout the 1990s. As Canadian Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy explained April 25, "There exists no treaty, no code of conduct, no set of guidelines defining responsible behavior in these areas. This is a matter that must be addressed."

The only current restrictions on the transfer of missile-related technology are embodied in the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), created by the United States and its G-7 allies in 1987 to stem the proliferation of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles. Unlike the NPT, the MTCR is a voluntary, non-binding agreement and membership is restricted. The regime currently has 28 members.

Western countries have expressed a preference that preliminary discussions of a broader system take place within the confines of the MTCR. At an MTCR meeting held in Paris April 23-24, the United States, Britain, and France each offered steps to curb missile proliferation that would reinforce MTCR export controls. Proposed measures included increased dialogue with non-MTCR parties, pre-launch notification for missile and SLV launches, and international standards in the missile field. The proposals will be synthesized for discussion at an MTCR meeting in September to prepare for the regime's October plenary session.

U.S. officials responded to the Russian GCS plan during a January trip to Moscow by State Department Senior Adviser for Arms Control and International Security John Holum, according to documents leaked to The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists and first made public April 28. (See document.) While expressing general interest in the proposal, the United States was critical of specific elements in what it said were the proposal's four main points.

First, while supporting the multilateral exchange of test-launch data, Washington expressed concern that the GCS plan could "legitimize the missile programs of rogue states." Second, it maintained that assuring the security of countries that renounce their missile programs is "unfeasible." Third, the United States argued against using "one-size-fits-all" incentives to encourage states to forgo missile programs at the expense of targeted bilateral efforts, and expressed particular concern that aid to peaceful space programs could be readily applied to military missile programs. Finally, the United States said that the MTCR should remain the only forum for discussing such matters. "We do not believe that broad multilateral discussions will be productive at this time," the U.S. documents state.

Both Russia and the United States have expressed interest in continuing discussion on the GCS. While the Russian government has stated its intention to open the proposal for debate at the "millennium session" of the United Nations General Assembly, which begins September 5, it remains to be seen whether it will be on the agenda for the June summit meeting between Presidents Bill Clinton and Vladimir Putin.

Posted: May 1, 2000

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