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Bloomberg News
August 27, 2018
The United States and the Americas

Congressional Delegation Visits North Korea to Ease Tension

Jonathan Yang

A bipartisan delegation returned June 3 from a rare trip to North Korea convinced that a negotiated solution could be found to the current tension over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

The delegation considered its purpose to put “a human face on the U.S.” rather than to represent the administration, according to Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and the leader of the delegation. Representatives Solomon Ortiz (D-TX), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), Jeff Miller (R-FL), and Joe Wilson (R-SC) were also members of the delegation. Weldon added that the delegation’s trip was “extremely worthwhile” and “positive,” with discussions covering a variety of issues with North Korean officials, including allegations of drug trafficking, weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missile testing and sales, and Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

Trying to gauge whether diplomacy could solve the current tensions with Pyongyang, Weldon presented a 10-point plan of action to Kim Gye Gwan, North Korean vice foreign minister and the appointed leader for negotiations on this issue, and received an encouraging response. In a June 25 speech at the 50th anniversary celebration of the U.S.-South Korean alliance, Weldon emphasized that the plan was not an attempt to negotiate, and the vice minister understood that the points were Weldon’s personal ideas and were not endorsed by the U.S. State Department. However, the vice minister’s extremely positive response provided encouragement that official negotiations could provide a solution—after hearing the plan, Kim “smiled and said that it was ‘exactly what we’re looking for,’” recalled Weldon.

In his June 25 speech, Weldon described his 10-point plan as a two-phase solution. Initially, the United States, its allies and North Korea would pursue five points of action. These included the United States entering into a one-year nonaggression pact with the North Korean government and officially recognizing that government. Pyongyang would “officially renounce its entire nuclear weapons and research programs” and rejoin the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The United States and its allies would also provide an economic aid package to help North Korea’s economy and its citizens.

The second phase would occur at the end of one year or another agreed upon time period, contingent on the successful completion of the other points in phase one, including complete nuclear transparency and ratification of the NPT by North Korea. This phase proposes an additional five points of action. Pyongyang would join the Missile Technology Control Regime and agree to establish a plan for improving humanitarian rights in North Korea. The United States would enter into a permanent nonaggression pact and establish interparliamentary relationships to work with North Korea’s legislature on a variety of issues. Finally, a multinational threat reduction program would attempt to remove all nuclear weapons, materials, resources, and capabilities from North Korea within two years.

With the sense that a diplomatic solution exists, Weldon is now focused on encouraging Pyongyang to drop its opposition to multilateral talks. He plans to meet in New York City with North Korea’s UN ambassador, Song Ryol Han, to discuss this issue.

 

A bipartisan delegation returned June 3 from a rare trip to North Korea convinced that a negotiated solution could be found to the current tension over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Bush Okays $3 Billion Aid Package to Pakistan,

Rose Gordon

President George W. Bush is asking Congress to approve a five-year $3 billion security and development aid package to Pakistan, half of which would go to “defense matters.”

Bush announced his plan while meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf at Camp David June 24.

Prior to September 11, 2001, U.S. aid to Pakistan had shriveled considerably in response to Islamabad’s development of nuclear weapons. Yet, since the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the White House has elevated Pakistan to the status of a key U.S. ally in the war on terror, leading to a significant increase in both military and economic aid to the South Asian nation. This was Musharraf’s fourth visit to the United States since September 11, 2001.

A senior Bush administration official, however, cautioned that the aid is dependent on whether Pakistan meets the expectations of the White House by countering terrorism and proliferation and enacting democracy. “I’m not calling those conditions, but let’s be realistic; three years down the road, if things are going badly in those areas, [the aid package is] not going to happen,” the official said in a press briefing shortly after Bush and Musharraf’s joint press conference at Camp David.

Concern that Pakistan might be aiding the proliferation of other non-nuclear-weapons states grew this March, when Pakistan’s nuclear weapons laboratory, Khan Research Laboratories (KRL), was sanctioned by the United States for missile-related technology from North Korea. Some press reports suggested that North Korea had traded the missile technology to KRL in exchange for nuclear technology from the laboratory, although the State Department later denied such reports. (See ACT, May 2003.)

The senior official said that Musharraf assured Bush during their private meeting that he fully understood the U.S. view on proliferation, and he had also made a commitment not to have any “military-related” contact with North Korea. Musharraf also reiterated the Pakistani stance that such allegations against KRL were false during a speech at the U.S. Institute of Peace the day after his meeting with Bush. He added that Pakistan has “never proliferated,” nor will it ever do so.

The two leaders also discussed relations between Pakistan and India, including Kashmir and a recent peace initiative by Indian Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee. (See ACT, June 2003.) Bush said he “stand[s] by, ready to help” the peace process between India and Pakistan but that, ultimately, “the decision-makers will be the Pakistani government and the Indian government.”

Bush denied Islamabad’s long-standing request for the transfer of F-16 fighter jets to Pakistan, saying that they would not be a part of this aid package. In 1990, Washington halted the delivery of 28 F-16s it had previously promised to Pakistan, citing Islamabad’s inability to meet U.S. requirements that it did not have a “nuclear explosive device.” Pakistan was later reimbursed for the undelivered jets.

The senior official added that the United States is “perfectly willing to consider” upgrading the F-16s Pakistan already possesses but that Pakistan has many other defense needs that need to be met before new F-16 sales are taken up.

 

 

President George W. Bush is asking Congress to approve a five-year $3 billion security and development aid package to Pakistan, half of which would go to “defense matters.”

GAO Warns Against Hurrying Missile Defense Deployment

Wade Boese

By pushing to meet President George W. Bush’s September 2004 deadline for deploying an initial, limited missile defense system, the Pentagon is deviating from a proven approach to building weapons systems and is risking fielding defenses that will not work and will cost more in the long run, warned a report released June 4 by the General Accounting Office (GAO).

Tasked with conducting studies for Congress, GAO stated that the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has “adopted practices that offer the best opportunity to develop a complex weapon system successfully.” Known as “spiral development,” those practices include developing the system incrementally and integrating components after they are successfully tested. But GAO warned that, in its haste to fulfill Bush’s goal of having a missile defense system ready by next fall, MDA is abandoning some of those practices. This revised approach “places MDA in danger of getting off track early” and “opens the door to greater cost and performance risks,” GAO cautioned.

GAO described the mission of building missile defenses to stay abreast of changing missile threats as “an expensive and risky endeavor.”

Bush’s deployment plan, in part, calls for six ground-based strategic missile interceptors to be stationed at Fort Greely, Alaska, and four more at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, before October 1, 2004. Another 10 interceptors are to be added at Fort Greely in 2005.

Each interceptor is to be made up of a powerful booster and an exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV), which is designed to home in on and collide with an enemy warhead in space. The booster lifts the EKV into space.

GAO pointed out that the booster for the interceptor is far behind schedule and has not yet been tested. In the interceptor’s eight intercept tests—five successes and three failures—a weaker, surrogate booster has been used.

MDA plans to conduct two intercept tests with a new booster before the 10 interceptors are to be deployed next year, but two competing versions of the booster have not yet been flight-tested.

More generally, GAO critiqued past testing as insufficiently challenging. GAO noted that all the tests essentially repeated the same scenario and were carried out at slower speeds and shorter ranges than what a real intercept would require. “As a result, testing to date has provided only limited data for determining whether the system will work as intended in 2004,” the report stated.

GAO indicated that more thorough testing before deployment could save future costs by avoiding the need to replace or repair components that do not perform properly.

At this time, MDA is estimating that it will spend $50 billion on missile defenses between fiscal years 2004 and 2009. But GAO noted that this figure is incomplete because it only includes research and development costs and does not account for production, operational, and maintenance expenses.

GAO recommended that MDA conduct a more comprehensive calculation of how much missile defenses might cost and for the Pentagon to start budgeting for those additional expenditures. Otherwise, GAO cautioned that the Pentagon might not have the necessary funding to build and field future systems without cutting spending for other weapons programs. MDA responded to the GAO report by saying it will prepare “life-cycle” cost estimates.

Two Democratic Senate missile defense skeptics seized on the GAO report to charge that the Bush administration’s deployment plan is being driven by politics. The deployment date is several weeks before the 2004 presidential election.

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) declared in a June 3 statement with Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) that “[f]ielding such an unproven system may pick up political points with some people, but it won’t contribute to the defense or security of our country.” Reed echoed Levin: “The President’s decision to deploy an untested national missile defense system still seems to be motivated more by politics than effective military strategy.”

MDA defended its approach. In a prepared statement regarding the GAO report, MDA spokesman Rick Lehner stated, “In the face of this credible [missile] threat and technical challenges, MDA has structured the program to manage and reduce risk to fielding an effective, though limited, missile defense capability by the fall of 2004.” He described MDA as “highly confident” that it will achieve its goal.

The GAO report is not the first to warn against developing missile defense systems to meet a specific timetable. In February 1998, a group of independent experts headed by retired Air Force General Larry Welch characterized the Pentagon’s missile defense programs as being on a “rush to failure.”

 

By pushing to meet President George W. Bush’s September 2004 deadline for deploying an initial, limited missile defense system, the Pentagon is deviating...

Energy Department Endorses Shorter Preparation for Nuclear Test

Christine Kucia

The Department of Energy submitted a report to the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 20 calling for the United States to shorten the time it would take to conduct a nuclear test to 18 months in order to provide a “reasonable level of flexibility” for the Bush administration.

Congress requested the report in November 2002, instructing Secretary of Energy Spencer Abraham to draw up plans that would enable the department to test within six, 12, 18, or 24 months. Currently, the United States can conduct a nuclear test within 24-36 months of a presidential directive to do so. Congress also asked Abraham to determine, in consultation with the secretary of defense, which readiness period would be optimal. (See ACT, December 2002.)

The 18-month recommendation “reflects what is achievable and cost effective,” according to the report, which was prepared by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semiautonomous agency within the Energy Department. The report indicated that 18 months is the minimum amount of time needed to evaluate a problem identified in the U.S. nuclear stockpile, propose a solution, and “execute a test that would provide the information needed to certify the ‘fix.’” The recommendation is “consistent with realistic testing schedules” established during previous U.S. nuclear testing, which ceased in 1992.

By contrast, shortening test readiness to six or 12 months would require a “substantial diversion of personnel and facilities at the laboratories,” according to the report. That would “represent a major redirection of the stockpile stewardship program,” which is intended to maintain the nuclear arsenal in the absence of testing. Adopting a testing posture of a year or less would be “most relevant…[if] the President might direct that testing resume for political reasons.” The report also noted that the shorter readiness period would be considerably more expensive.

The transition to shorten the current 24-36 month readiness posture, expected to take three years, is already underway. NNSA conducted an Enhanced Test Readiness Cost Study in July 2002 to determine the steps and funding required to shorten the readiness posture, and the Nuclear Weapons Council, a consultative group of officials from the Energy Department and the Pentagon, approved the plan to transition to an 18-month readiness window in September 2002, according to the report. The Bush administration asked for funds to begin moving to a shorter test readiness posture in its fiscal year 2004 budget request. (See ACT, March 2003.)

Charles Anson Franklin, NNSA spokesman, said that the current readiness posture of 24-36-months was “a policy decision of the previous administration. This administration has made a policy decision of an 18-month readiness period.” He added, “It’s been out there—it’s not been a surprise…We’ve been talking about [moving to an 18-month readiness posture] since 2001.”

The changes will be fully implemented by the end of fiscal year 2005 and will cost $83 million, with an additional $25-30 million needed annually to sustain the heightened state of scientific, technological, and personnel preparedness, according to the report. The report examined a speedier transition but concluded that reaching the 18-month readiness posture sooner would cost more and disrupt other programs because of the limited number of nuclear weapons personnel.

Addressing Foster

The Energy Department’s test readiness assessment also responded to the latest findings by the Panel to Assess the Reliability, Safety, and Security of the United States Nuclear Stockpile, which was established by Congress in the fiscal year 1999 Defense Authorization Act. Senators on the Armed Services Committee received those findings April 11 from the panel’s chair, John Foster.

The Foster panel suggested that applicable defense agencies and nuclear laboratories identify possible tests that could be needed and set aside the test articles and instrumentation in advance. However, the Energy Department noted that, while various tests are routinely identified, “none of these tests have been deemed essential by any of the directors in the context of today’s stockpile stewardship program.” The Energy Department report also rebuffed the Foster panel’s recommendation that the nuclear laboratories should propose tests to enhance their knowledge of nuclear weapons science, stating that there are no gaps in scientific knowledge that would require full-scale testing.

In March 2002, the Foster panel recommended a readiness window of 3-12 months, and in its April report the panel characterized the Energy Department’s test readiness assumptions as “overly conservative.” (See ACT, April 2002.) In response, the Energy Department noted that the recommended 18-month period is based on U.S. experience with nuclear testing toward the end of the Cold War and that it “would be optimistic to assume that a well-diagnosed test could be conducted in a much shorter period of time after a decade hiatus.”

 

 

The Department of Energy submitted a report to the Senate Armed Services Committee on May 20 calling for the United States to shorten the time it would take to conduct...

U.S. Army Obtains Patent for Bio-Weapon Launcher

Kerry Boyd

The U.S. Army is reviewing a patent it recently obtained for a rifle attachment that could launch biological agents. Several arms control experts had raised concern that developing the device might violate the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC). Obtaining the patent, however, does not appear to violate the BWC, which bans all biological weapons and equipment to use them.

On February 25, the U.S. Army received Patent #6,523,478 for a “rifle-launched non-lethal cargo dispenser.” The device, according to the patent description, is designed to launch projectiles, especially so-called nonlethal aerosols, “during combat or non-combat operations.”

Although a number of the potential projectiles listed on the patent description, such as dyes and smoke, would probably be legal under international law, the patent specifically lists “biological agents” as one of the aerosols the invention is designed to launch. The development of such a weapon might violate the BWC, which explicitly bans the development of equipment to deliver biological weapons.

Article I of the BWC states that states-parties undertake “never in any circumstances to develop, produce, stockpile or otherwise acquire or retain…[w]eapons, equipment, or means of delivery designed to use such agents or toxins for hostile purposes or in armed conflict.”

It would be very difficult to argue that developing equipment designed to disperse biological agents—even nonlethal ones—does not violate the BWC, Ambassador James Leonard, the lead U.S. negotiator during the drafting of the treaty, said in a May 21 interview. There is some disagreement among experts, however, about whether the BWC applies to so-called nonlethal biological agents. Although it is generally agreed that the treaty prohibits biological agents that could cause harm to humans, some experts say nonlethal agents, such as agents designed to consume oil for cleaning up oil spills, are legal. Others disagree.

The Department of Defense is reviewing the patent and has not yet determined if and how the invention will be used, Lieutenant Colonel Donald Sewell confirmed May 28.

So far, the debate over the newly patented device is largely theoretical. Experts say that applying for and receiving a patent might only indicate a wish to protect an idea. Many patented inventions are never developed.

 

The U.S. Army is reviewing a patent it recently obtained for a rifle attachment that could launch biological agents. Several arms control experts had raised concern that developing...

U.S. Levels Accusations Against Iranian Weapons Programs

Paul Kerr

The United States has been levying charges against Iran similar to those it made against Iraq prior to the March invasion of that country, including harboring the al Qaeda terrorist network and pursuing weapons of mass destruction programs.

In a May 27 press briefing, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer repeated U.S. charges that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program and rejected Iranian claims that its nuclear program is only for civilian purposes. “Our strong position is that Iran is preparing, instead, to produce fissile materials for nuclear weapons. That is what we see,” he said.

Possible IAEA Safeguards Violation

Washington has called on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to state whether Iran is in compliance with its obligations under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). (See ACT, April 2003.) Apparently in response to this pressure, the IAEA has made the question of Iran’s compliance with its Safeguards Agreement an agenda item for its June 16 Board of Governors meeting, a State Department official said in a May 21 interview.

U.S. Ambassador Kenneth Brill made a formal request during a March 17 Board of Governors meeting that IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei submit a report on the matter, the official said. Brill, as well as other governments, including the European Union, also made this request during a May 6 IAEA meeting. Safeguards agreements allow the IAEA to monitor the nuclear facilities belonging to an NPT member state.

Washington has long expressed the belief that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program, but the IAEA has never found any of Iran’s nuclear activities to be in violation of its IAEA safeguards agreement.

The United States argues that recent disclosures about Tehran’s nuclear activities likely place it in violation of its safeguards agreement. Undersecretary of State John Bolton stated during a May 5 press conference in Russia that Iran is “in violation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty and its safeguards agreement with the IAEA,” according to the Russian news agency Interfax. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Andrew Semmel was more measured during a May 2 speech at the meeting to prepare for the 2005 NPT Review Conference, stating that Washington “strongly suspect[s]” that Iran is in violation of its safeguards agreement.

If the IAEA Board of Governors finds that Iran is in violation of its safeguards agreement, it is required to report the matter to the UN Security Council, Bolton pointed out May 5. The IAEA presented such a report about North Korea’s nuclear activities to the council in February. (See ACT, March 2003.)

In a May 1 address during the NPT conference, Semmel called on Tehran to allow the IAEA “complete access” to its nuclear facilities and “fully disclose all information about its nuclear programs.” He also called on Iran to “answer the questions and concerns that have been raised, and take all measures necessary to restore confidence in its nuclear program.” (See ACT, June 2003.)

Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister G. Ali Khoshroo had already stated April 29 during the conference that Iran “is providing substantiated [sic] information in great detail and with complete transparency” to the agency.

Perhaps the most significant discovery about Iran’s nuclear program has been the revelation that Iran has made significant progress on its gas centrifuge uranium-enrichment facility located in a complex at Natanz. A State Department official told Arms Control Today in March that IAEA officials were surprised by the facility’s advanced state during a February visit. Uranium enrichment is one method for producing fissile material for use in nuclear weapons.

Semmel stated May 2 during the NPT conference that Washington is “skeptical” that Tehran “could have developed…[the Natanz facility] without conducting pilot operations that were not reported to the IAEA.” A State Department official said in March that Iran might have introduced nuclear material into centrifuges at another location in order to test them.

An undeclared pilot program that has used nuclear material for testing purposes would be in violation of Iran’s safeguards agreement, an IAEA official confirmed in a March interview. The Natanz facility does not violate this agreement because Iran has not yet introduced nuclear material into it.

The State Department official provided new details about the IAEA’s investigation into Iran’s uranium-enrichment activities during a May 20 interview, stating that the IAEA is checking a shipment of Chinese-supplied nuclear material, including uranium hexafluoride, to ensure that it is all accounted for. Uranium hexafluoride is the material introduced into gas centrifuges for processing into reactor-grade fuel. If any of the material is missing, it “might suggest” that Iran has conducted activities in violation of its safeguards agreement, the official added. The official said China shipped the material in 1991.

A May 9 State Department statement detailing China’s nuclear cooperation with Iran indicates that China agreed in 1997 “not to undertake new nuclear cooperation with Iran and…[to] cancel cooperation on a uranium conversion facility.” Such a facility is used to convert uranium oxide to uranium hexafluoride, an essential component of a gas-centrifuge-based nuclear program. China also agreed “to complete…two existing contracts for non-sensitive assistance”—a reference to a research reactor and a facility to produce cladding for nuclear fuel rods, according to a 2001 Department of Defense report. The statement does not mention the 1991 shipment.

The official added that the United States hopes the IAEA “requests access to all suspect sites” in Iran, including a site occupied by the Kala Electric company. The National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political arm of the Mujahideen-e Khalq resistance group that publicly revealed the existence of the Natanz facility in August 2002, referred to Kala Electric as a “front company” for the uranium-enrichment project.

Iran is involved in other nuclear activities, but none have yet been found in violation of its safeguards agreement.

Semmel’s May 2 speech addressed another U.S. concern about Iran’s nuclear program: its construction of a heavy-water plant near a town called Arak. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher stated May 9 that the heavy-water plant is part of a plan for Iran to develop an additional capability to produce fissile material for nuclear weapons via plutonium reprocessing. Iran has no such reactor at present and is currently constructing light-water reactors, which are less suited for plutonium production, Boucher said.

Iranian Vice President Gholamreza Aghazadeh said in a May 6 speech during the NPT conference that Iran will be building Canada Deuterium Uranium (CANDU)-type heavy-water nuclear reactors, but he said their construction would not be a proliferation concern because they would operate under IAEA safeguards.

A State Department official said in a May 28 interview that heavy-water reactors pose a greater proliferation risk than light-water reactors because it is easier to reprocess weapons-grade plutonium from the spent fuel. Additionally, CANDU reactors use natural uranium for nuclear fuel, which allows countries to bypass the uranium-enrichment stage and use indigenous uranium, the official said. The use of natural uranium can also potentially complicate efforts to monitor the diversion of nuclear fuel, he added.

The United States first expressed concern about the plant in December, but construction of the heavy-water plant does not itself violate Iran’s safeguards agreement.

Semmel also cited Iran’s “aggressive pursuit of a full nuclear fuel cycle capability” as evidence that the country is pursuing a nuclear weapons capability. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami announced in February that it has started mining uranium and is developing the facilities necessary for a complete nuclear fuel cycle. Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council Hassan Rowhani announced in March that Iran would begin operating its uranium-conversion facility, completed by Iran after China pulled out of the project.

In addition, Russia is constructing a light-water nuclear reactor at Bushehr in Iran. Washington has long opposed the project out of concern Iran will gain access to dual-use technology that can aid it in developing a nuclear weapons program, although the reactor will operate under IAEA safeguards when finished. Russia rejects the claim that its cooperation contributes to an Iranian nuclear weapons program.

Russia has agreed to supply Iran with reactor fuel but only with the condition that Iran return the spent fuel. That agreement has still not been finalized, the State Department official said May 20, adding that Moscow’s condition remains in effect.

Russia also expressed some concern about Iran’s nuclear activities, although it has not stopped its nuclear cooperation with Iran. Referring to the IAEA’s investigation, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Georgy Mamedov said May 19 that Moscow has “questions” about Iran’s nuclear activities, although he did not say Moscow has any reason to believe Iran is violating its safeguards agreement. He also expressed hope that Iran would sign an Additional Protocol to its safeguards agreement, which is designed to provide for more rigorous inspections.

Tehran agreed in February to discuss concluding an Additional Protocol with the IAEA, but Iran placed conditions on this agreement in March.

Aghazadeh reiterated Iran’s claim that its nuclear program is for generating electricity, arguing that the reduced use of fossil fuels for electricity will save Iran money and protect its environment. He also argued that Iran needs to produce its own nuclear fuel because it cannot rely on foreign suppliers. He added that the acquisition of nuclear weapons would not enhance its security and that all programs will operate under IAEA safeguards.

A January 2003 Congressional Research Service report states that “the consensus among U.S. experts appears to be that Iran is still about eight to ten years away from a nuclear weapons capability, although foreign help or Iranian procurement abroad of fissionable materials could shorten that timetable.” A February Defense Intelligence Agency estimate says Iran will have a nuclear bomb by 2010 if it acquires the necessary technology and fissile material.

The United States has also had long-standing concerns about Iran’s missile program. Assistant Secretary of Defense J. D. Crouch testified before Congress in March that Tehran could “flight test” a missile capable of reaching the United States “by mid-decade,” but a December 2001 National Intelligence Estimate places this date at 2015.

Chemical Weapons

Meanwhile, the Bush administration also reprimanded Iran for its suspected chemical weapons activities. Assistant Secretary of State Stephen Rademaker accused Iran of violating its obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention in an April 28 speech at the First Review Conference of the treaty—a claim the United States has repeatedly made in the past. (See ACT, June 2003.) Tehran has stated that it is not producing chemical weapons.

 

 

 

The United States has been levying charges against Iran similar to those it made against Iraq prior to the March invasion of that country...

New NNSA Head Appointed Amid Controversy

Christine Kucia

Ambassador Linton Brooks was installed May 16 as administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and undersecretary of energy for nuclear security after his confirmation by the Senate May 1. Brooks, who has been acting director of the semi-autonomous Department of Energy (DOE) agency responsible for maintaining the U.S. nuclear stockpile for nearly one year, officially assumed leadership amid management controversies at New Mexico’s Los Alamos National Laboratory and as Congress moved toward granting approval for new nuclear weapons research.

The most recent controversy stirred at Los Alamos in late November 2002, when investigators discovered that the laboratory could not account for $2.7 million in computers and equipment and thousands of dollars in questionable credit card transactions. The problems subsequently led to the resignation of Los Alamos director John Browne in early January 2003.

Problems with the laboratory’s safety in handling radioactive materials, including piping contaminated with plutonium, emerged April 18 when DOE cited Los Alamos “for violations of nuclear safety rules and procedures” in September 2002. The Energy Department stated that Los Alamos failed “to ensure that previously identified work control problems were effectively identified, controlled and corrected.”

Recent dissatisfaction with the University of California’s management—which has run Los Alamos for the Energy Department since 1943—led DOE to decide April 30 to open competition for the laboratory’s management and operations. The university’s contract expires in September 2005.

During a May 1 House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing, members of Congress criticized the department for failing to properly supervise Los Alamos, whose scientists and programs are key to maintaining U.S. nuclear weapons security. Brooks and Deputy Secretary of Energy Kyle McSlarrow were taken to task for poor oversight of the laboratory as the problems unfolded over several months. Representative James Greenwood (R-PA) wanted to know whose “job it was to provide this oversight? And what consequences do they face?”

At the hearing, Brooks said, “I believe that the problem with the department oversight was not primarily failure of individuals, but failure of structure.” In reply, Greenwood stated, “But somebody has the responsibility to create that structure.”

After he was appointed acting director in July 2002, Brooks sought to improve accountability and oversight of NNSA facilities. Brooks noted in a December 18, 2002, announcement of an overall NNSA reorganization that the effort focused on “streamlining operations and oversight while clarifying roles and responsibilities. The new, more responsive organization will improve federal management of our nuclear weapons complex.”

The problems at Los Alamos are symptomatic of broader structural problems that Brooks will confront as head of NNSA. An April 2002 study by the Commission on Science and Security, a nongovernmental panel tasked by DOE to assess the challenges the department faces in managing its science facilities, reported that “DOE’s policies and practices risk undermining its security and compromising its science and technology programs.” A May 2003 report from the DOE Office of the Inspector General criticized the planning mechanism NNSA is employing to plan the rebuilding and improvement of the nuclear weapons complex’s physical infrastructure. The study emphasized that, without reliable site plans, “NNSA may be at risk of being unable to ensure the vitality and readiness of the nuclear weapons complex.”

In addition to existing challenges in the laboratories and NNSA management, Brooks will oversee work to develop new nuclear weapons capabilities and enhance the U.S. nuclear test posture. A three-year study on a robust nuclear earth-penetrating weapon is underway following congressional approval last year. (See ACT, December 2002.) In its fiscal year 2004 appropriations request, NNSA has asked for funding to shorten the preparation time for a nuclear test from as long as 36 months to just 18 months.

Meanwhile, Congress is poised to lift the decade-long ban on researching low-yield nuclear weapons. (See ACT, June 2003.) Brooks supports this initiative to allow scientists greater scope for their nuclear weapons work. Although Brooks testified at an April 8 Senate hearing that “we have no requirement to actually develop any new weapons at this time,” he claimed during a May 15 visit to California’s Lawrence Livermore Laboratory that such weapons would usefully act as a deterrent by persuading aggressor states that the U.S. nuclear threat is real.

 

 

 

Ambassador Linton Brooks was installed May 16 as administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and undersecretary of energy for nuclear security after his confirmation...

Congress Approves Research on New Nuclear Weapons

Christine Kucia

The U.S. House and Senate each voted in late May to allow research on low-yield nuclear warheads and authorized the continuation of an Energy Department program exploring development of a robust nuclear earth penetrator (RNEP) using existing warheads. The programs were contained in the record-setting $400.5 billion fiscal year 2004 defense authorization bill, which the chambers approved separately May 22.

Congress will reconcile the two versions of the authorization bill in conference committee meetings in June. Legislators must harmonize the wording on the low-yield nuclear weapons research provisions, as well as items on nuclear readiness that were changed in the House bill but left untouched from the administration’s request during the Senate’s deliberations.

Creating new or modified nuclear weapons capabilities has been a source of considerable debate. Bush administration officials highlighted in the January 2002 Nuclear Posture Review a need for a nuclear weapon to penetrate hardened, deeply buried targets, such as underground biological- or chemical-weapon facilities, and development of new types of “[nuclear] warheads that reduce collateral damage.” (See ACT, April 2002.) Critics maintain that U.S. credibility in nuclear nonproliferation would be undermined if it researches new nuclear capabilities, which could create a need for resuming explosive nuclear testing.

Administration Wants New Nukes

Congressional action on the nuclear provisions included in the president’s defense authorization request occurred as administration officials offered mixed messages about the ultimate goal of the nuclear-weapon research programs. Department of Defense officials responsible for guiding nuclear policy have declared their strong support for the earth-penetrating and low-yield nuclear weapons research programs. Fred Celec, deputy assistant to the secretary of defense for nuclear matters, indicated that, if nuclear scientists could design a nuclear earth-penetrating weapon that could penetrate deeply into rock, “[i]t will ultimately get fielded,” the San Jose Mercury News reported April 23. But Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld was more cautious in May 20 comments: “It is a study. It is nothing more and nothing less. And it is not pursuing, and it is not developing, it is not building, it is not manufacturing, it is not deploying, and it is not using.”

Linton Brooks, head of the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, denied that a military requirement exists for a new nuclear weapon during a Senate hearing April 8 and re-emphasized that repealing the fiscal year 1994 Spratt-Furse law, which prohibits research and development on nuclear warheads with a yield of five kilotons or less, would provide important research opportunities for nuclear weapons scientists. When pressed about what role a low-yield nuclear weapon would play in U.S. security, he stated, “I have a bias in favor of the lowest usable yield because I have a bias in favor of something that is the minimum destruction.…That means I have a bias in favor of things that might be usable. I think that’s just an inherent part of deterrence.”

The Bush administration put an end to the mixed messages in a Statement of Administration Policy (SAP) issued to the Senate May 20, at the start of congressional floor deliberations of the defense authorization bill. The policy, which was coordinated among all concerned agencies and approved by the White House, indicates administration approval of Senate action to allow “critical research and development for low-yield nuclear weapons.” The SAP continued, “It is essential to undertake the research needed to evaluate a range of U.S. options that may prove essential in deterring or neutralizing future threats.”

Research Allowed, Work Restricted

Amid the mixed messages from administration officials, a contentious Senate floor debate on authorizing the nuclear weapons provisions began May 20, as Democrats sought to roll back the administration’s initiatives that were endorsed by the Republican-led committees. After the Senate Armed Services Committee approved the administration’s request to repeal the Spratt-Furse law, Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) introduced a floor amendment to maintain the prohibition on low-yield research and development. Both argued that restarting nuclear research would likely lead to renewed development and testing in the United States and possibly in other countries. Feinstein said she finds the administration’s initiative “absolutely chilling and even diabolical, particularly when we preach to other nations” that they should abandon plans to start or improve their own nuclear weapons capabilities. The Feinstein-Kennedy effort failed 51-43.

Taking another tack, Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) offered an amendment May 21 to reinstate the Spratt-Furse law with changes to allow research on low-yield nuclear weapons but still to prohibit development engineering. Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner (R-VA) countered with an amendment allowing research on low-yield nuclear weapons but stipulating that “the Secretary of Energy may not commence the engineering development phase, or any subsequent phase, of a low-yield nuclear weapon unless specifically authorized by Congress.” The Warner amendment passed on a 59-38 vote. The Senate also approved an analogous provision offered by Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) for nuclear earth penetrator capabilities currently being researched, calling for congressional authorization prior to RNEP development work.

Similarly, in House Armed Services Committee deliberations May 14, Representative John Spratt (D-SC) offered an amendment to his original law. The amendment permits research but states that the Energy Department “may not conduct, or provide for the conduct of, develop, produce, or provide for the development or production of, a low-yield nuclear weapon.” It passed the committee on a voice vote, and no further action on low-yield nuclear weapons was taken on the House floor.

House Debates RNEP Research

The House panel also debated the possibility of slashing $21 million requested for fiscal year 2004 Energy Department nuclear weapons research. The funding covers $15 million for RNEP feasibility and cost studies as well as $6 million for Advanced Concepts Initiatives, which would fund nuclear weapons laboratories’ feasibility studies for potential weapons technologies. (See ACT, March 2003.) Representative Ellen Tauscher (D-CA) proposed during committee debate to use the money instead to fund research on the bunker-busting abilities of non-nuclear munitions, but her measure failed in a tight 28-29 vote.

Reintroducing the amendment on the House floor along with co-sponsor Edward Markey (D-MA), Tauscher explained, “Until we have exhausted all conventional means to defeat hardened targets and the military service produces a current requirement for an RNEP, it would be irresponsible for Congress to jump the gun and promote new uses for nuclear weapons.” In reply to Tauscher’s amendment, Representative Heather Wilson (R-NM) emphasized, “We must continue to maintain our weapons of mass destruction program so that we can never be subject to surprise.” The amendment failed on the House floor 226-199.

Missile Defense, Threat Reduction

Congress approved the administration’s full funding request for missile defense and threat reduction activities, but the House and Senate each shifted money to address different priorities within the programs. In a move later endorsed by the full House, the House panel voted to transfer $280 million from long-term missile defense research to bolster theater missile defense work, “reflecting the need to fund more near-term requirements.”

The Senate, however, took steps to make the missile defense program more accountable. The Senate allocated $100 million to conduct an additional intercept test, established performance criteria for each missile defense system segment, required a schedule of operational testing plans, and mandated an annual report from the Pentagon on the program’s progress. The Senate’s action comes amid criticism that the Missile Defense Agency decided to pare down the number of intercept tests and is now planning to deploy ground- and sea-based interceptors prior to operational testing. (See ACT, June 2003.) Feinstein and Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) co-sponsored an amendment, which the Senate adopted, prohibiting work on nuclear-tipped interceptors for missile defense—an idea the Pentagon floated in April 2002. (See ACT, May 2002.)

Both congressional committees fully funded programs providing Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) assistance to help secure and destroy Russia’s weapons of mass destruction. Both the House and Senate approved another one-year waiver of conditions that must be met in order to continue construction of Russia’s Shchuch’ye chemical weapons destruction facility. The waiver allows the president to release funds even if he decides he cannot certify Russia’s compliance with several congressional requirements.

In addition, the House approved an amendment offered by Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) that would allow the secretary of state to establish an International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation program—to transport fissile materials out of vulnerable facilities or to protect them—for countries outside the former Soviet Union. The Weldon amendment also mandates an annual report on the use of U.S. threat reduction funds and the level of Russian financial contributions to the program, in addition to a detailed plan on securing and destroying Russian biological and chemical weapons and materials. The Senate simply extended authorization for up to $50 million of CTR funds to be used in countries needing assistance outside of the former Soviet Union as the administration had requested.

 

 

 

The U.S. House and Senate each voted in late May to allow research on low-yield nuclear warheads and authorized the continuation of an Energy Department program...

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

Wade Boese

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

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

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

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

Assessing the Case for Withdrawal

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

Deploying a Test Bed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Tests, Same Uncertainty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Little Help From Our Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About Costs?

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

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

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

What Has Not Happened

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

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

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

 

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

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

Wade Boese

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

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

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

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

Assessing the Case for Withdrawal

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

Deploying a Test Bed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Tests, Same Uncertainty

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Little Help From Our Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What About Costs?

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

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

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

What Has Not Happened

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

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

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

 

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

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