NAPSNet Special Report

Recommended Citation


DECEMBER 21, 2000

On June 24-5, the Nautilus Institute and The United Nations University 
jointly convened the collaborative workshop, "East Asian Regional 
Security Futures: Theater Missile Defense Implications."  The purpose of 
the meeting was to increase communication and knowledge of current 
theater missile defense (TMD) proposals among specialists from China, 
Japan and the United States.  The meeting culminated the first phase of 
the Nautilus Institute's Missile Defense Initiative.  

Participants are providing papers based on their presentations at the 
workshop, and incorporating their reflections on the workshop 

The following paper is from Ryukichi IMAI, currently Counselor for the 
Atomic Energy Commission and Senior Advisor for the Japan Atomic 
Industrial Forum.  He is a distinguished scholar and a Board Member of 
the Institute for International Policy Studies. 


by Ryukichi IMAI


More than forty years have passed since Albert Wohlstetter wrote his 
famous "Delicate Balance of Terror" in Foreign Affairs in 1959, kicking 
off the worldwide debate about strategic nuclear forces, their balances, 
and possible imbalances.  Theories of nuclear deterrence dominated the 
nuclear disarmament and arms control debate for decades until the START 
treaties in the 1990s, and probably even after them.  During these past 
forty years, the problem changed phases, appearances, and most of all, 
in the number and capabilities of long-range nuclear missiles, which 
have expanded beyond imagination.  The problem reached its peak during 
the period of Mutual and Assured Destruction (MAD), which, after the 
1990's, gradually sledded into the arena of rogue state missile attacks 
with nuclear, biological, and chemical warheads (all together called 
weapons of mass destruction WMD).  The concern was no longer between 
legitimate (?) nuclear weapon states under the Non Proliferation Treaty 
(NPT) but an out of the blue attack from unexpected and illegitimate (?) 
rogue countries.  Instead of an Anti Ballistic Missile (ABM) systems of 
earlier days or the more sophisticated and nuclear pumped SDI (Strategic 
Defense Initiative), smaller, more manageable non-nuclear Ballistic 
Missile Defenses (BMD) or Theater Missile Defenses (TMD) became the 
topic of conversation.  The ballistic missile defense is another side of 
the nuclear coin. 

This article is a new version of my paper at a TMD workshop sponsored by 
the Nautilus Institute and the UN University last summer and attempts to 
discuss that the fundamental balance of terror remains as delicate as 
ever between smaller number of WMD missiles and similarly smaller number 
of ground based, direct hit-to-kill vehicles of TMD or NMD.  The level 
of terror may be less because people are talking about smaller scale 
nuclear and other attacks, but for those directly targeted, it matters 
less whether they die as a part of the nuclear Third World War or a less 
noticeable regional nuclear conflict.  The definition of rogue states is 
becoming less clear with European and American major oil companies 
getting more interested in cutting deals with Iran, and with the sudden 
opening of dialogue between the North and South Korea in June, 2000.  
This paper is an expansion of the author's closing remarks at the 


About twenty experts from China, Japan, and the US met in UN University 
in Tokyo, and some very excited exchanges took place regarding the roles 
of TMD for East Asia and the US NMD system of 100 interceptors to be 
based initially in Alaska and later to be expanded into North Dakota.  
Discussions were very lively and sometimes heated.  In the end, it was 
realized that although the two days did not resolve any new positions, 
problems were, nevertheless, better sorted out, clarified, and 
understood.  In discussions, strategic and theatre nuclear weapons were 
very much brought up, creating sharp contrast to the three parties' 
approaches to nuclear weapons and nuclear proliferation.  The US 
participants did not necessarily support the Clinton Administration's 
position, while the Chinese denounced NMD as a poorly veiled threat 
against their country.  The Japanese (including the author) were 
probably the most ambivalent to the technical feasibility, economic 
viability, or military value of the proposed TMD cooperation.


One of the major problems with the original ABM scheme was that it used 
nuclear explosions to intercept incoming missiles.  This probably was 
the last occasion that use of nuclear devices was proposed in a matter-
of-fact way.  After this period and later into the1970s, people became 
more cautious in using nuclear devices as a part of offensive or 
defensive weapons systems.  People believed less in scenarios of using 
nuclear weapons in conventional battlefields.  The argument in the case 
of ABM was that only the large explosive power of nuclear weapons could 
destroy an incoming warhead, considering the poor precision of missile 
guidance in hitting supersonic reentry vehicles.  Thus, the problem if 
interception is to take place in mid-course, in the outer space, is that 
real missile warheads and decoys such as balloons and chaffs cannot be 
distinguished and the intercepting party could not know which was the 
real target.  On the other hand, if they waited until reentry and air 
resistance to distinguish a heavy warhead from light decoys, nuclear 
interception may be too close to home and may bring about destruction of 
that which they are trying to defend.  By the SALT-I negotiation of 
1972, the US and the then-USSR had a choice of giving up ABM or keeping 
MIRV (Multiple Independently Targeted Reentry Vehicles).  The treaty for 
limiting ABM to less than two sites was agreed, while MIRV was left 
free, bringing about a tremendous increase in the numbers of nuclear 
warheads out of proportion with the number of missiles.  In 1983, the 
SDI (Strategic Defense Initiative) or Star Wars site brought about the 
intense X-ray raiser which would destroy the enemy missile while still 
at the ascending stage (therefore moving with slower speed).  This was a 
much more sophisticated and ambitious technical undertaking and involved 
nuclear weapons detonation mechanisms as well as the focusing of the 
intense laser.  Only President Reagan and his advisor Edward Teller (and 
Michael Gorbachev for a while) were convinced.  The author remembers 
many negative comments he received when he made a two-week tour of 
Washington to collect personal impressions of the people inside and 
outside of the US government who were involved in its development.  
These negative impressions were fed back to the Prime Minister in Tokyo.


The latest proposal for missile defense consists of several portions.  
First, there has to be a new satellite/radar combination to track down 
ascending and incoming missiles.  Intercepting incoming SCUD class 
warheads and missiles with improved PATRIOT-3 (PAC-3) is expected to 
work, since the earlier version of the same Surface-to-Air missile 
worked in both hitting enemy warheads, and pushing them outside the 
flight trajectory through the proximity fuse during the Gulf War.  
Similar Navy interceptors in the Aegis Cruisers are an extension of 
existing technology.  What would be the most difficult is to intercept 
enemy warheads at a high altitude with non-nuclear kinetic-kill device 
while in mid air flight.  This is somewhat like trying to intercept a 
bullet fired from a rifle at high supersonic speed with another 
supersonic bullet.  The device, as a category, is called THAAD (Theatre 
High Altitude Air Defense).  So far, three live tests to shoot down 
incoming ICBM warheads with ground launched kill vehicles fired from the 
Kwajalein Atoll did not score good marks and the final decision for BMD 
deployment will be delayed until the next presidency.  Even if THAAD can 
hit its target, another difficulty is the problem of decoys in midair.  
Somewhat similar to the case of nuclear detonated ABM, it is suggested 
that a balloon wrapped warhead, accompanied by many empty balloons, will 
make the problems very complicated.  In the case of defending against 
non-nuclear WMD, namely chemical and/or biological weapons, if the 
warheads divide themselves into many sub-munitions at an earlier stage, 
there will be no effective defense against them.  Since the Taepodong-I 
testing by North Korea (Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or DPRK) 
on August 31, 1998, the United States Congress passed legislation 
requiring the Secretary of Defense to conduct a study on the 
establishment and operation of a TMD system in the Asia-Pacific region 
to protect the US' "key regional allies" ( including Japan and Taiwan).  
Not all Japanese are particularly impressed that the system would be 
technically feasible.  The huge cost of joint development and deployment 
of a TMD system will also cause difficulties in keeping the defense 
budget to less than (the national goal of) one percent of GNP.  In 1994, 
the US proposed four TMD options to Japan, ranging from 4.5 billion to 
16.3 billion dollars, to be deployed by 2004 or 2005.  It will also 
create organizational problems as to who should be in charge of the 
command between air, land, and sea self-defense forces.  Since the first 
sighting of a missile launch or movement of enemy missiles has to be 
detected by US satellite and radar with information transmitted for 
interception outside of the territorial air space of Japan, some argue 
that it raises complications in interpretation of the Constitution.  The 
problem of including Taiwan into TMD certainly touches the raw nerve of 
China, even if the explanation is that TMD is to counter a DPRK attack 
and not a Chinese one.  In view of the small and less sophisticated 
status of DPRK Taepodong, whatever missile defense is proposed is not 
cost-effective in the foreseeable future.  Whatever the case may be, any 
missile defense directed toward the general direction of China seems to 
raise the issue of a nuclear-armed Japan.

National Missile Defense in Alaska (and in North Dakota) will provide 
protection to the entire United States and this in itself is a violation 
of the ABM treaty of 1972.  But we shall not get into details of ABM 
except to note that the Russian Duma would not bring START-II into 
operation without the 1997 protocol, which the US Administration is 
still unable to present to the Senate for ratification.  As a concept, 
the ABM dies hard in the US defense system.  The SDI Office was turned 
into the BMD Office and still occupies the same space in the Pentagon 
building.  With many criticisms of NMD within the United States and 
continued failure of THAAD tests, it is not quite clear where the 
project stands.  The US argument is that the system is built with the 
increased DPRK missile capabilities in mind, and not to counter Chinese, 
which is supposed to possess more than twenty missiles of 
intercontinental range and some one hundred with 2,000 to 5,000 km 
range.  It is correct to say that US NMD is to deal with the North 
Korean capability of five to ten years in the future, and there is also 
a valid argument that the 100 interceptors to be deployed in Alaska are 
looking at both the DPRK (which the Chinese say is an excuse) and a 
Chinese invasion of Taiwan rather than an intercontinental attack on the 
US mainland.

A member of the Chinese team bitterly complained that after the DPRK 
shot a Taepodong in August 1998, the US started its NMD program and 
Japan began placing so many satellites into space.  However, people were 
trying to assure them that the satellites are for peaceful purposes.  If 
history teaches us anything, no matter what Japan says about its 
peaceful purposes, Japan with its economy and with its technology base 
certainly looks capable of arming itself with nuclear weapons, although 
more detailed examination proves that to be extremely incompatible.  
With the sort of transparency in Japanese society and its budgetary 
system, it is impossible to hide a project of that size.  On the part of 
the Japanese, there was an atmosphere that once arguments moved into 
that direction, somehow we were incapable of convincing anybody that we 
have nothing but peaceful interests in the development of nuclear 
energy.  It is possible to postulate that Japan will change its 
constitution, its atomic energy basic law, and mobilize its uranium 
enrichment and plutonium production program behind some peaceful screen 
so that someday it can announce its nuclear weapons capabilities.  But 
until the Japanese people seriously realize that there are120 million 
people in their island country, with its technical and industrial 
capabilities, speaking the same language and sharing the same tradition, 
and it is all a unique phenomenon in the world, we may not find a 
convincing and persuasive explanation that we are not interested in 
nuclear weapons.


Throughout the discussion, as BMD was very much the central topic, it 
became clear that the May NPT review conference in New York avoided the 
most important non-proliferation issues, namely START treaties and ABMs. 
The New York review stayed away from clarifying the BM controversies, 
clarifying the START missile reduction schedule, or mapping the road 
toward a completely nuclear free world.  Compromise wordings such as "an 
unequivocal undertaking by the nuclear weapon states to accomplish the 
total elimination of their nuclear arsenal" without indicating the 
process or time frame toward the target was discouraging since the 
discussion had already started outside of the official disarmament 
world.  Vague compromise wordings are the general products of the 
multilateral disarmament negotiations, in which sides "win" and "lose" 
by obtaining or giving away new expressions to cover up the worldwide 
lack of interest in complete disarmament procedures.  The problem was 
clear when it did not appear in the International Herald Tribune during 
the four weeks of the Review Conference in April and May, demonstrating 
that the paper did not consider the conference newsworthy.  It was 
another contrast to the report by the Japanese delegation that 
satisfactory scores had been recorded in the accomplishments of nuclear 
disarmament diplomacy by Japan in successfully inserting a number of new 
expressions from the Japanese proposal into the final declaration of the 
conference.  It may be added that the review conference that took place 
at the turn of the century was also the first immediately after the 1995 
review which the NPT stipulated as the time to decide on whether to 
extend the treaty itself.  A great deal of expectation to break the ice 
of no visible progress in nuclear disarmament surrounded the aura of the 
Millennium Review.

There certainly were justifications for Japanese negotiators to be proud 
of such accomplishments because many of the new expressions reflected 
the outcome of the Tokyo Forum.  The Tokyo Forum was sponsored by Japan 
with the backing of its Foreign Ministry.  It gathered some twenty 
experts from around the world for four meetings during 1998/1999 to 
write a road map for a nuclear free world.  The author had the 
privileges of being a member of both the Canberra Commission sponsored 
by the Australian Government (which also held four meetings in 
1995/1996) and the Tokyo Forum, which preceded it.  He was thus familiar 
with the dedicated and hard work by young diplomats of both the 
Australian and the Japanese foreign ministries.  The original eight 
point proposal found its way into the review conference final document 
prepared in Tokyo and jointly sponsored by the two governments.  As a 
former disarmament ambassador of Japan, the author had special reasons 
to be proud of their accomplishments as well as to be disappointed by 
the deja vu of the real world's lack of interest in such a subject as 
the total elimination of nuclear weapons.   On a number of occasions, 
the author proposed the creation of a Framework Convention for 
Elimination of Nuclear Weapons, which defines the principle to be 
followed by various protocols that provide detailed process and numbers 
for such work as products from continued negotiations.  It would a 
pattern similar to adopting The Framework Convention on Climatic Change 
in Rio de Janeiro, to be followed by Kyoto and other conventions with 
more concrete, numerical limitations.  The Vienna Convention on ozone 
effects followed by the Montreal Protocol may be the other.  The 
"unequivocal undertaking" in the Final Document of the 2000 NPT review 
conference described the main spirit of such a convention.  
Unfortunately, it did not have any practical vehicle for protocols to 
turn it into reality.  Canberra, Tokyo, and two or three more cities, 
the author hoped, could lead to such a convention.

The fact that the ABM/NMD issue was not taken up at the NPT review 
conference in New York was probably necessary in order to end the 
conference in the scheduled four-week time limit without visible cracks 
in the wall.  It is possible to argue that the New York NPT was not an 
appropriate place or time to raise the issue.  However, if people want 
to take credit for successfully dealing with these bilateral 
(multilateral in case of 1997 protocol) deals, having had Russia ratify 
both START-II and CTBT, one can certainly ask for more in-depth 
exploration of the issue. The 1997 protocol involved a dividing line 
between ABM and non-ABM.  Clinton's announcement about NMD violates the 
1997 demarcation between ABM and BMD and requires amendment to the ABM 
treaty.  What is more, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee will never 
ratify the 1997 Protocol as long as Jessie Helms is the chair.  So, the 
decision at the NPT Review not to take up the ABM issue automatically 
closed all possibilities of advancing the non-proliferation subject 
beyond START-I.  As for the East Asian TMD, it is possible to argue that 
a similarity exists between the SS-20 versus Pershing-II in Europe 
between 1979-1983 and the Taepodong and Chinese missile versus NMD now.  
Both are cases of theatre nuclear confrontation.  The major difference 
is that while the Soviet Union was certainly the major counterpart in 
the past, in the year 2000, are China (?), along with DPRK, or Iran or 
Iraq (what about Israel?) rogue states that can be dealt with by non-
nuclear precision guided missiles?  If one realizes that the nearly 
70,000 nuclear warheads around the world in 1986 were reduced to about 
30,000 by the year 2000, one can understand what serious steps START 
treaties could accomplish by reducing them to less than 5,000 by 2010.  
In order to deal with the issue of dismantling and disposing tens of 
thousands of nuclear warheads, the US and Russia are working together in 
the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program with more than 4 billion 
dollars budgeted for the work.  At the same time, if one realizes that 
under START-III, 1,500-2,000 missiles are the numbers neither side 
intend to reduce any further, and thinks about the four and half billion 
dollar DOE projects needed to keep the maintenance capabilities or even 
extend the design lives for these warheads (Trident and Minuteman), the 
importance is clear for the START reduction agreements and the CTR 
project.  They are the most serious of non-proliferation agreements.  To 
avoid mentioning these subjects at the Review Conference is very 
serious, especially since proposals were made in the eight points 
presented by Australia and Japan.

China in this sense introduces new problems. China's four hundred or so 
less sophisticated nuclear weapons arsenal was not a serious 
consideration in the earlier phases of nuclear disarmament.  It was only 
in the context of India, Pakistan, and regional disputes in South Asia, 
that they were given credit.  While the US and the USSR were confronting 
each other, the three other nuclear weapon states did not matter very 
much.  China and France were not even members of the Nonproliferation 
Treaty until very recently.  Now that the East/West confrontation is an 
order of magnitude down in its intensity and the many regional disputes 
are occupying newspaper headlines, Chinese nuclear weapons are becoming 
a very serious matter.  When the START process proceeds further and 
comes to 2000/2000 or 1500/1500 warheads each in START-III, it is only a 
couple of more steps before China's 500 nuclear weapons becomes an issue 
of serious consideration.  It is said that the UK may give up being a 
nuclear power, while all France needs is recognition of her prestige in 
the European theatre.  China is one country with a great economic 
development potential, a population of 1.5 billion; it seems not 
interested in promoting the CTBT (Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty) and 
wishing very much to advance its nuclear weapons and submarine lunched 
missile technology.  As China gains more confidence in dealing with 
international diplomacy, including issues of nuclear disarmament, the 
subject will greatly increase in importance.  Somewhere, a device must 
be found to include France, UK, and China in the START process.  It will 
become important that something similar to the Cooperative Threat 
Reduction Program should be worked out with China as a party.  Unless 
such an arrangement is worked out, both the United States and Russia 
will refuse to further reduce their warheads from the START-III level.  
When the Conference on Disarmament in Geneva cannot even agree on the 
agenda of work, that is a very strong signal.  On the other hand, one 
possible consolation is that with more than sixty memberships, the CD 
has lost its capabilities to effectively function.  The three party 
workshop in Tokyo at least gave a kind of consolation that reasonable 
people, if sufficiently patient, can work out an understanding.


Major technical systems have been proposed in the past and followed 
different paths of usage.  The Manhattan Project was a success, and so 
was the Apollo moon flight.  The MX missile with race tracking 
deployment probably did not stand a chance.  One may have good 
discussions over B-2 bombers, or the Super Conductive Super Collider 
(SCC) project.  We are still waiting to see what happens to the joint 
international space station, or the nuclear fusion prototype ITER 
reactor, and the National Ignition Facility at Lawrence Livermore seems 
to be running into unending cost overruns.  Whether the NMD as a large-
scale project will prove itself technically, financially, and 
politically feasible is yet to be seen.  At least it does not look easy.  
NMD and Chinese missiles may be another terror in a delicate balance.

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