The Political and Strategic Imperatives of National Missile Defense

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Recommended Citation

Joeseph Cirincione, "The Political and Strategic Imperatives of National Missile Defense", nuke policy, October 12, 2000, https://nautilus.org/nuke-policy/the-political-and-strategic-imperatives-of-national-missile-defense/

Seventh ISODARCO-Beijing Seminar on Arms Control

XIAN, CHINA — 8-12 OCTOBER 2000

 

OVERVIEW

PARTICIPANTS

AGENDA

PAPERS


by Joeseph Cirincione

Director, Non-Proliferation Prject
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

 

SUMMARY

The drive to deploy a National Missile Defense System in the United 
States is not driven primarily by threats or technology, but by 
politics.  The ballistic missile threat to the homeland of the United 
States has substantially decreased over the past 15 years.  Despite 
years of effort and over $60 billion spent on research, there remain 
major technological obstacles to effective ballistic missile defense. 
The push for a national missile defense is motivated primarily by 
deeply-held conservative political and strategic views on the nature 
of international conflict. 

Conservative analysts see a dangerous world with mounting threats. 
They believe that American security cannot be safeguarded by 
international agreements but primarily by military might.  If the 
United States is to continue to project its military power, it must 
have defenses to thwart any nation’s potential nuclear-armed missiles. 
Some conservatives also see war with a rising China as possible, even 
inevitable, requiring robust missile defenses.  The Clinton 
Administration has tried to “triangulate” the issue, hoping to deploy 
a limited system that would not overturn existing arms control 
arrangements or antagonize Russia or China.  The Clinton strategy 
failed diplomatically and technologically, but succeeding politically 
in neutralizing missile defense as a issue in the 2000 presidential 
campaign (though it does not seem that defense would have been a 
significant issue, in any event.).   The international consequences of 
this strategy, however, are still severe, and an presidential decision 
in the future to abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty would 
destabilizing the entire non-proliferation regime.

This paper outlines the decreasing missile threats to the United 
States, the technical weaknesses of proposed missile defense systems 
and details the political divide at the root of the missile defense 
debate
SECTION ONE:   THE DECREASING BALLISTIC MISSILE THREAT

Official Estimates

The unclassified version of the 1999 National Intelligence Estimate 
(NIE), “Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat 
to the United States Through 2015,” released on September 9, 1999 
represents the official U.S. government view of the ballistic missile 
threat. 

It presents a limited view of some of the ballistic missile threats to 
the United States.  The estimate lowers the established intelligence 
agency standards for judging threats and thus presents known missile 
programs as more immediate threats than previous assessments. While 
some officials within the Administration may disagree with the 
assessment, they have not publicly expressed their views.

The NIE projects forward some current technological and development 
trends, but, by assessing “projected possible and likely missile 
developments by 2015 independent of significant political and economic 
changes,” (emphasis added) it overestimates potential ballistic 
missile threats from still developing countries such as Iraq, Iran and 
North Korea, and poorly prepared policy-makers for the sharply 
deteriorated international security environment that would emerge 
should the non-proliferation regime weaken or collapse.  The NIE 
cautions that it tried to balance what could happen, with what is most 
likely to happen. 

Every since the 1998 Rumsfeld Commission report asserted, somewhat 
hysterically, that a new nation could plausibly field an ICBM “with 
little or no warning,”(1) government analysts have struggled to cover 
all possibilities, while still preserving their value for policy-
makers by reporting what is most likely to happen.  This conflict is 
evident in the introduction to the NIE, which notes a dissenting 
opinion from one of the intelligence agencies involved in producing 
the consensus report:

“Some analysts believe that the prominence given to missiles countries 
‘could’ develop gives more credence than is warranted to developments 
that may prove implausible.”

This “could” issue is perhaps the most striking difference 
between the 1999 NIE and those published in 1993 and 1995. “Could” is 
a highly ambiguous word.  For some it means “remotely possible,” for 
others it means “will.”  The shift to the “could” standard represents 
one of the three major changes made to the assessment methodology from 
previous assessments.  The other two shifts are: 

(1)  substantially reducing the range of missiles considered serious 
threats by shifting from threats to the 48 continental states to 
threats to any part of the land mass of the 50 states; and,

(2)  changing the timeline from when a country would first deploy a 
long-range missile to when a country could first test a long-range 
missile. 

The shift on potential US targets represents a range change of some 
5,000 kilometers (the distance from Seattle to the western-most tip of 
the Aleutian island chain).  It essentially means that an 
intermediate-range ballistic missile, such as the Taepo-dong II, could 
be considered in the same class as an intercontinental-range missile. 
The timeline shift represents a difference of five years (what 
previous estimates said was the difference between first test and 
likely deployment).  The Indian experience with the Agni II missile 
provides some indication the original standard may be the more 
accurate.  An Agni II was first tested in April 1999 with a potential 
range of 2,500 kilometers, but despite Indian declarations of intent 
to deploy, the missile has yet to enter production. The Agni program 
began in the mid-1980s.

These three changes account for almost all of the differences between 
the 1999 NIE and earlier estimates.   Thus, the new estimate, rather 
than presenting a new, dramatic development in the ballistic missile 
threat, represents a lowering of the standards for judging when a 
system would be considered a threat.  This NIE may lead some observers 
to conclude that there has been a significant technological leap 
forward in Third World missile programs, when, in fact there has been 
only incremental development in programs well-known to analysts for 
years.

For example, the 1993 NIE said:

“Only China and the CIS strategic forces in several states of the 
former Soviet Union currently have the capability to strike the 
continental United States (CONUS) with land-based ballistic missiles. 
Analysis of available information shows the probability is low that 
any other country will acquire this capability during the next 15 
years.”

The 1995 NIE, as summarized by publicly by Richard Cooper, Chairman of 
the National Intelligence Council, found:

“Nearly a dozen countries other than Russia and China have ballistic 
missile development programs.  In the view of the Intelligence 
Community, these programs are to serve regional goals.  Making the 
change from a short or medium range missile—that may pose a threat to 
US troops located abroad—to a long range ICBM capable of threatening 
our citizens at home, is a major technological leap .The Intelligence 
Community judges that in the next 15 years no country other than the 
major declared nuclear powers will develop a ballistic missile that 
could threaten the continuous 48 states or Canada.”

Several leading members of congress harshly attacked the 1995 and 1993 
estimates.  In December 1996, a congressionally-mandated panel headed 
by former Bush administration CIA director Robert Gates reviewed the 
1995 NIE and agreed that the the continental United States was 
unlikely to face an ICBM threat from a third world country before 2010 
“even taking into account the acquisition of foreign hardware and 
technical assistance, and that case is even stronger than was 
presented in the estimate.”

With the three altered measurement standards and in the wake of the 
Rumsfeld Commision report, the new 1999 NIE finds that over the next 
15 years the US:

“Post likely will face ICBM threats from Russia, China and North Korea 
probably from Iran, and possibly from Iraq, although the threats will 
consist of dramatically fewer weapons than today because of 
significant reductions we expect in Russian strategic forces.” 

By making the analysis so specific, the NIE does a real service.  It 
highlights the very narrow nature of the missile proliferation threat, 
one confined to a few countries whose political evolution will be a 
determining factor in whether they remain threats to the United 
States. However, by projecting “possible and likely missile 
developments by 2015 independent of significant political and economic 
changes,” the NIE limits its value as a risk assessment tool.  The 
adoption of the “could standard” and the selective and partial 
inclusion of political factors in analyzing the threat are the two 
greatest weaknesses of this NIE.

Some might argue, for example, that the diplomatic developments in 
North Korea made the NIE obsolete two weeks after it was publicly 
released.  If North Korea does not flight test the Taepo-dong II and 
if that nation can be further convinced not to export missiles or 
related technology, we would eliminate the greatest source of an 
additional ICBM threat to the United States. If North Korea were taken 
out of the equation, there would be very little left to this estimate. 
Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Command Admiral Dennis Blair said 
“The North Korean development and the Taepo-Dong launch is clearly one 
of the key, if not the key factor, in determining the parameters and 
the deployment schedule and the capabilities of [the national missile 
defense system].”(2)  So if the Korean problem were resolved, “it 
would have a very big effect” on the program schedule and direction. 
No mention was made in the report of these diplomatic efforts or their 
potential significance. 

Similarly, under some other plausible scenarios, North Korea may 
collapse; democratizing trends in Iran could alter the direction of 
that nation’s program; while a post-Saddam Iraq could restore friendly 
relations with the West.  These, of course, are political risk 
assessments, not the kind of technology estimates the 1999 NIE 
details, although they were included in previous NIEs.  The 
international political, diplomatic and legal environment is highly 
relevant to the prospects for global development of ballistic 
missiles. 

Declining Global Arsenals

It has now become common wisdom and certainly common political usage 
to refer to the growing threat of ballistic missiles.  But is this 
true?  The threat is certainly changing, and is increasing by some 
measures.  But by several other important criteria, the ballistic 
missile threat to the United States is significantly smaller than it 
was in the mid-1980s.

1. Decreasing ICBM Arsenals.

The number of intercontinental ballistic missiles has decreased 
dramatically since the height of the Cold War.  During the 1980s, the 
Soviet Union deployed over 9,540 nuclear warheads on 2,318 long-range 
missiles aimed at the United States.  Currently, Russia has fewer than 
5,200 missile warheads deployed on approximately 1,100 missiles (a 52-
percent decline).

2. Eliminated IRBM Arsenals. 

There has been a near-100 percent decrease in the threat from 
intermediate-range ballistic missiles (with ranges of 3,000 to 5,500 
kilometers) since the mid-1980s.  President Ronald Reagan negotiated 
and implemented the Intermediate-Nuclear Forces Treaty.  The Soviet 
Union destroyed 1,846 missiles in this range, eliminating this entire 
class of missiles from U.S. and Soviet arsenals.  China has some 20 
missiles in this range, and no other nation has developed 
intermediate-range ballistic missiles (though the launch of North 
Korea’s developmental Taepodong-2 would add a few missiles to this 
category).

3. More MRBM Programs. 

Apart from China and Russia, a few countries have conducted tests of 
medium- range ballistic missiles (with ranges of 1,000 to 3,000 km) 
which do not threaten the territory of the United States. India 
intends to begin production of the Agni II, with a range of about 
2,000 km and may be working on a longer- range “Surya” missile.  The 
only other significant medium-range threats come from missiles derived 
from the North Korean No Dong: Pakistan’s Ghauri (1,300-km range) and 
Ghauri II (2,000-km range) missiles and Iran’s Shahab-3 (also 1,300-km 
range), all of which have been flight tested.

4. Aging Scud Inventories. 

Almost all the other nations that possess ballistic missiles have only 
short-range missiles.  For most, their best missiles are aging Scuds 
bought or inherited from the former Soviet Union and now declining in 
military utility over time. 

5. Fewer, Poorer Programs. 

The number of countries trying or threatening to develop long-range 
ballistic missiles has not changed greatly in 15 years, and is 
actually smaller than in the past.  The nations now attempting to 
perfect long-range missiles are also smaller, poorer and less 
technologically advanced than were the nations with missile programs 
15 years ago.

Only China and Russia have the capability to hit the United States 
with nuclear warheads on intercontinental ballistic missiles.  This 
has not changed since Russia and China deployed their first ICBMs in 
1959 and 1981 respectively. Confusion arises when policy-makers speak 
of threats from missiles to the United States or U.S. interests, such 
as forward-deployed troops or allied nations.  This merges threats 
from very short-range missiles, of which there are many, with long-
range missiles, of which there are few.

In short, the ballistic missile threat is confined, limited and 
changing relatively slowly.
Declining Ballistic Missile Arsenals

Threat
Status (1985 vs. 2000)
Trend
ICBM (>5500 km)
52 % decrease.

IRBM (3000-5500 km)
99 % decrease.

MRBM (1000-3000 km)
3 new national programs.

SRBM (<1000 km)
Static but declining as 
Scud inventories age.

Number of nations with 
ballistic missile 
programs of concern
Fewer, less advanced 
(8 in mid-1980s, 7 
today).

Potentially hostile 
nations with ballistic 
missile programs
More (3 in mid-1980s, 5 
today).

Potential damage to the 
United States from a 
missile attack
Vastly decreased.

By focusing on developments in a small number of missile programs in 
developing nations, current intelligence estimates neglect dramatic 
declines in global ballistic missile arsenals.  As a result, official 
statements of the ballistic missile threat to the United States have 
been distorted by an exaggerated sense of the military dangers the 
nation faces from long-range missiles. 

The missile threat is certainly changing, and is increasing by several 
important criteria. Globally, however, compared to the threats the 
United States confronted in the 1980s, there are far fewer 
intercontinental-range ballistic missiles, almost no intermediate-
range ballistic missiles, fewer nations with missile programs (and 
those that exist are less technologically-advanced), and, compared to 
the threat of a global thermonuclear war that would have ended life on 
the planet, the potential damage from a missile attack is vastly 
decreased.

The United States is now legitimately concerned primarily about five 
nations, in addition to Russia and China:  North Korea, Iran, Iraq, 
India and Pakistan.  Fifteen years ago, North Korea was not a concern, 
but India, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, South Africa and perhaps Libya 
were all involved in programs to develop long-range missiles.  All but 
India have since terminated such efforts.  Israel retains the 
capability to develop long-range missiles, but is not considered a 
threat to the United States nor a likely exporter of missile 
technology.

The Carnegie Non-Proliferation Project maintains a comprehensive list 
of all nations with ballistic missiles of all ranges.  The list is 
available at the Project web site at:  www.ceip.org/npp.

SECTION TWO: 
TECHNICAL OBSTACLES TO EFFECTIVE BALLISTIC MISSILE DEFENSE

None of the dozens of national missile defense systems proposed over 
the past 20 years has ever proven to be technical feasible.  This 
includes the wide-range of systems researched and developed under the 
Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) program and the current candidates 
proposed by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) and 
missile defense advocates.
It is highly unlikely that any candidate system can be shown to be 
militarily effective during the next eight years.  That is, during the 
next two presidential terms neither the technology nor our testing 
methods will provide an assured capability to defeat long-range 
ballistic missiles.  It is possible that the next president may decide 
to proceed with deployment of a national missile defense system during 
that time, but that decision will be based on political considerations 
or the perception that the threat justifies early deployment, not on 
demonstrated ability to defeat the likely threats. 
Given the overwhelming advantage enjoyed by offensive nuclear forces, 
and the enormous technical difficulties inherent in any missile 
defense, this should not be surprising.  It may be possible to someday 
construct a system that could provide at least some defense against 
intercontinental ballistic missiles.  However, the United States is 
years away from conducting the kinds of realistic tests that could 
provide military and political leaders with the minimum confidence 
they must have before risking the lives of millions of citizens.
Understanding Ballistic Missile Defense Interceptor Tests 

The past two decades of efforts to invent a viable national missile 
defense have been characterized by exaggerated claims of success and 
promises of performance that later proved false.  It is difficult to 
recall a missile defense proponent who understated the actual 
performance of a system.  The problems began with the false claims of 
proponents of the X-ray laser that helped launch the SDI program(3) 
and continue through claims today that Aegis destroyers and cruisers 
can quickly and inexpensively provide a highly-effective defense 
against both intermediate- and intercontinental-range ballistic 
missiles.

For example, many experts and officials believe that countermeasures 
will not be significant obstacles to effective ballistic missile 
defense because we have already solved the discrimination problem. 
This is not true, despite some misleading claims of success.  The 
national missile defense interceptor on 2 October 1999 contained a 
test element where the interceptor was to distinguish between the 
target and a decoy object.  Ballistic Missile Defense officials 
provided important qualifying details of the test in briefings before 
the test that did not make it into their briefings after the test. 

The official news release for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for 
Public Affairs on 2 October stated:

“The test successfully demonstrated ‘hit to kill technology’ to 
intercept and destroy the ballistic missile target.  An exoatmospheric 
kill vehicle (EKV) weighing about 120 pounds, equipped with two 
infrared sensors, a visible sensor, and a small propulsion system, 
located and tracked the target, guiding the kill vehicle to a body-to-
body impact with the target and resulting in the target destruction 
using only the kinetic energy of the collision.  This “hit to kill’ 
intercept demonstrates that a warhead carrying a weapon of mass 
destruction-nuclear, chemical or biological – will be totally 
destroyed and neutralized.”

Hitting a small target at these distances and speeds is a remarkable 
technological achievement, but not an unprecedented one.  Previous 
tests of similar interceptors have hit targets twice, in 1984 and in 
1991.  In both previous cases, as in this demonstration, the targets 
were significantly enhanced to ensure the likelihood of success.  The 
October  news release cited above neglected to mention four critical 
test enhancements:

1)  The target followed a pre-programmed flight path to a designated 
position.

2)  The interceptor missile also flew to a pre-programmed position.

3)  A Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) receiver was placed on the 
target to send its position to ground control and the necessary target 
location information was downloaded to a computer in the kill vehicle.

4)  The decoy released had a significantly different thermal signature 
than the target, making it easier for the sensors on the kill vehicle 
to distinguish between the objects.

 5)  Later analysis, disclosed by The New York Times, not by test 
officials, that the test had very nearly failed due to three other key 
problems:

6)  Incorrect star maps loaded into the kill-vehicle’s computer 
prevented the vehicle from ascertaining its position once it had 
separated from the booster

7)  Back-up inertial guidance systems led to inaccuracies in pointing 
the sensors used to locate the target.

8)  The sensors finally saw the large, bright balloon decoy, re-
oriented, continued searching and located the cooler warhead that it 
had been programmed to recognize as the correct target.

For test purposes, there is nothing wrong with minimizing the number 
of variables in order to test key elements of the weapon system.  The 
GPS receiver, for example, was substituting for information that might 
be provided by future missile defense radars.  It is vital, however, 
that test officials provide full disclosure of test limitations to 
policy-makers at every stage of the process, lest test results be 
interpreted to have greater significance than, in fact, they do.  The 
October test was much more a demonstration of two missiles 
intercepting each other than it was a test of intercepting an enemy 
missile under combat conditions.  It proved only that a kill vehicle 
can intercept a target if it can see it.

Some officials, such as Department of Defense Director of Operational 
Test and Evaluation Philip Coyle, have tried to caution lawmakers on 
the tests.  Director Coyle warns that the test are “carefully 
scripted.”  In his latest annual report to Congress he notes that the 
test program for a national missile defense system:

“is building a target suite that, while an adequate representation of 
one or two re-entry vehicles, may not be representative of threat-
penetration aids, booster or post-boost vehicles.  Test targets of the 
current program do not represent the complete ‘design-to’ threat space 
and are not representative of the full sensor requirements spectrum 
(eg., discrimination requirements).”

Misinterpretation of test results is not an abstract concern.  The 
last time the United States conducted a successful high-altitude, hit-
to-kill intercept in the presence of decoys in 1991, the then-director 
of the Strategic Defense Initiative Office told Congress that the ERIS 
interceptor had determined on its own “which of the targets to go 
after, whether the decoy or the target.”  His annual report to 
Congress that year claimed that the ERIS test “validates the concept 
of performing mid-course intercepts using basic discrimination 
techniques” and had discriminated between decoy balloons and the 
target warhead.

These clams were false.  The General Accounting Office in their 
report, “Strategic Defense Initiative: Some Claims Overstated for 
Early Flight Tests of Interceptors,” (NSIAD-92-282) found that SDIO 
officials consistently overstated the success of interceptor flight 
tests.  In particular, in the ERIS intercept of 1991:

“The interceptor was not capable of discriminating targets from 
decoys.  A program official said that the interceptor was pre-
programmed to hit the middle object in the target complex his if the 
target complex had not deployed as planned and one of the balloons had 
been positioned as the middle object instead of the re-entry vehicle, 
ERIS would have attempted to intercept the balloon, since it cannot 
discriminate a re-entry vehicle from a decoy on its own.”
The 1991 test also placed a transponder of the target vehicle to guide 
the interceptor to the RV.  None of this information was disclosed to 
Congress until an investigation by the Government Operations Committee 
revealed the limitations of the test and the misrepresentations of 
success.  Similarly the only hit from four attempts during the Homing 
Overlay Experiment (HOE) in the early 1980s was made possible only 
after the target was heated to 100 degrees Fahrenheit to increase its 
visibility to the interceptor’s infrared sensors.  Still the HOE, ERIS 
and now EKV tests go down in the books as successes, usually 
unqualified.
The GAO report cited above found a pattern of misleading claims, 
forcing them to conclude that SDI officials had inaccurately portrayed 
four of five tests as successes, when they were not. 
Equally relevant to the current debate, these inaccurate reports 
included claims that a space-based “Brilliant Pebbles” test was “a 
“90-percent success,” and was ready to proceed to more advanced 
testing.  GAO found that the “90-percent success” claim was based on a 
substantially downward revision of the original goals for the test to 
correspond with what the interceptor was able to achieve, not what was 
originally planned.  Of the original four goals, none was fully met, 
including its complete inability to detect, acquire and track a 
target.  Since the program’s “accomplishments were significantly less 
than planned,” GAO concluded, the first phase of the program’s testing 
“was completed only in the sense that SDIO had decided to proceed into 
Phase II.”(4)
This history is part of the reason why it is common to hear advocates 
of missile defense claim that their proposed system is ready to go, 
inexpensive to build and highly effective.  But as former BMDO 
Director Air Force General Lester Lyles said, in directly rebutting 
before the Senate last year the claims of the Heritage Foundation that 
effective sea-based missile defenses could be rapidly deployed, “When 
it comes to missile defense, there is nothing quick, cheap and easy.”
President Clinton rediscovered this truth when, despite large funding 
increases by both Congress and the Administration over the past four 
years, the technical problems with the proposed National Missile 
Defense System proved overwhelming.  He said on September 1, “I simply 
cannot conclude with the information I have today that we have enough 
confidence in the technology, and the operational effectiveness of the 
entire NMD system, to move forward to deployment.” 
MISPLACED FAITH

Some argue that when President Clinton assumed office in 1993, he 
sabotaged plans that, if allowed to continue, would have by now 
produced a working and affordable missile defense. The Global 
Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS) plan introduced by 
President George Bush and Defense Secretary Richard Cheney in January 
1991 scaled-back the original SDI program. It proposed instead a 
space-, sea- and land-based system to destroy from 10 to 200 warheads 
“delivered by ballistic missiles launched from anywhere in the world 
to attack areas anywhere else in the world.”  The system relied 
heavily on the so-called “Brilliant Pebbles” space-based kinetic kill 
weapons.
Some advocate a return to such a system today.  But their confidence 
in the concept is based on faith, not fact.
The Congressional Budge Office at the time estimated that the 12-year 
cost of the GPALS plan would be at least $85 billion (in 1992 
dollars).(5) Annual expenditures would have averaged $8 billion. 
Since the system consisted largely of view graphs and concept studies, 
CBO pointed out that “the complexity of the Grand Forks and GPALS 
defenses suggests that total costs could exceed planned levels.”(6)
The General Accounting Office, in a report to the Chairman of the 
Legislation and National Security Subcommittee in 1992, warned that 
the plan would have to “overcome tremendous technical challenges.”(7) 
This report was the last independent evaluation conducted of the GPALS 
program.  It was not optimistic about the technical feasibility of the 
weapons proposed.  “Such a system will push the cutting edge of 
technology,” GAO warned,  “SDIO must rely on some technologies that 
are as yet unproven and learn how to integrate them into a reliable 
system” For the system to work, the GAO advised, “significant advances 
must be made over the next several years in critical areas . . . if 
these advances are not achieved, schedule delays, escalating costs, 
and performance problems could occur.”
Even if the technologies became available, the analysts said, there 
was still “the enormous challenge of integrating them into a cohesive 
system.” 
In short, space- and sea-based systems proposed in the waning days of 
the previous administration were hardly the ready-to-go weapons that 
advocates now fondly remember.  Outside of those with a direct 
financial or career interest in the programs, few experts or military 
officers thought any of these programs could deliver real, near-term 
military benefit.

THE HISTORIC RECORD

Based on current schedules and all available evidence it is reasonable 
to assume that if proposed high-altitude, ballistic missile defense 
systems are used in combat they will fall far short of predicted 
effectiveness.  It is unlikely that the systems will completely fail, 
but the evidence indicates that they will perform significantly below 
either tested or predicted kill rates.  Military commanders, 
therefore, would be wise not to base troop deployments or engagement 
strategies on unrealistic expectations of the protection these 
defenses will offer. 
The evidence available includes: 
*  the performance of the Patriot missile system in the Gulf War 
*  the performance of high-altitude missile defense systems in tests 
to-date 
*  current test plans for proposed systems prior to production and 
deployment 

 THE PATRIOT EXPERIENCE

 In the United States, confusion over the Patriot’s performance in the 
Gulf War still fuels overly optimistic estimates of the effectiveness 
of new, proposed defensive systems.  During the war, many believed 
that the Patriot had achieved a near-perfect intercept rate, as was 
reported initially from the battlefield and Washington.  Claims were 
revised downwards from 96 percent in testimony to Congress after the 
war, to 80 percent, 70 percent, and—after a investigation by the 
Government Operations Committee in 1992—to 52 percent, though the 
Army report notes that destruction of only 25 percent of the Scud 
warheads is supported by evidence with high confidence levels.(8) 
 Independent evaluations are more pessimistic, concluding that the 
Patriot hit few if any Scuds during the war.  These include 
assessments conducted by the Israeli Defense Force, the Congressional 
Research Service, the General Accounting Office, and the Massachusetts 
Institute of Technology and staff of the Government Operations 
Committee. 
 The General Accounting Office review of the evidence in support of the 
Army claims revealed that, using the Army’s own methodology and 
evidence, a strong case can be made that Patriots hit only 9 percent 
of the Scud warheads engaged, and there are serious questions about 
these few hits.  The speed of the Scuds, the limitations of the 
Patriot missile system, and the confusion and targeting difficulties 
caused by the break-up of the Scud missile as it re-entered the 
atmosphere seem to have contributed to the high failure rate. 
 The Patriot missile, equipped with a new multi-mode seeker, failed in 
two out of three intercept tests conducted after the war.  The Army 
declared it “operationally unacceptable.”  The new replacement 
interceptor missile for the PAC-3 configuration, the ERINT, will not 
initially deployed until 2001.  Until then, US forces cannot reliably 
intercept even the short-range Scuds encountered in the Gulf War. 
 Whatever the kill ratio attributed to Patriot, the few unclassified 
hard figures released by the Army should serve as a sobering reminder 
of how combat conditions can wreck havoc even on systems that perform 
well on the test ranges, as the Patriot did. 
 A total of 158 Patriot missiles were fired at fewer than 47 Scuds 
during the war: 
*  86 Patriots were launched at real Scud targets, but
*  30 per cent of the Patriots were launched as Scud debris mistaken 
for targets
*  15 per cent of the Patriots were launched against false targets 
caused by radar backlobe and sidelobe interference (including one 
launched by accident in Turkey.) 

The fragmentation and EMC problems were known at the time (the Scud 
fragmentation had been observed during the Iran-Iraq war) but were not 
included in deployment and operational planning for the Patriot nor 
were they included in any tests of the system. 
It is my personal evaluation, as the chief investigator for the 
Government Operation Committee’s 1992 review and based on all 
available evidence, that the Patriot hit few, if any, Scud warheads. 
The Patriot was simple overmatched.  It was never designed to hit a 
target as complex as that presented by the Scud.  As Raytheon 
executive Robert Stein explained after the war:
“Upon reentry, the resulting forces caused the missile to break apart 
into several pieces.  These extra pieces looked to the Patriot 
software like targets that were diving at high speed and were going to 
impact in the areas that the defense design was laid out to defend. 
In effect, they became ‘decoys’ that were indistinguishable from TBMs 
to the Patriot radar, since no discrimination features had been 
implemented in anticipation of these types of targets.
“The anomalous behavior that the operators were seeing was created by 
the aerodynamic instability of the warhead section after the missile 
started to break up.  It was spiraling, rather than travelling on an 
expected ballistic trajectory, because of changes in its center of 
gravity and center of aerodynamic pressure after breakup.  In 
addition, its radar reflectivity had dropped significantly because of 
its smaller size.  In effect, what Iraqi engineers had created, purely 
unintentionally and by poor workmanship and design, was a high-speed, 
low radar-cross-section, maneuvering reentry vehicle (RV0 accompanied 
by decoys…”(9)
This is the type of target that TMD and NMD systems should expect in 
combat and should be used extensively in all test programs now.

CURRENT PLANS

All the proposed new missile defense systems except for the Navy Area-
Wide system, employ hit-to-kill interceptors.  That is, unlike the 
Patriot interceptors, which used a proximity fuse and an explosive 
warhead to scatter pellet-size fragment in the path of the intended 
target, the new interceptors will attempt to hit the target head-on 
using the kinetic energy of the encounter to destroy the target. 
The track record for test of exo-atmospheric hit-to-kill interceptors 
should indicate caution in projections of future capabilities.  There 
have only been 15 intercept attempts outside the atmosphere conducted 
by the Department of Defense since 1982.  Of these, only 4, or 26 per 
cent, actually hit their targets.(10)  The low number of past tests 
and the weak success rate warrant deep skepticism for much success in 
the near future with the proposed systems.

LOWER-TIER SYSTEMS

The most promising new system, the improved Patriot system, or PAC-3, 
is designed to intercept Scud-type missiles of the type now deployed 
by potential Third World adversaries.  These 300- to 1000-kilometer-
range missiles will represent a challenge, but one which the PAC-3 
should be capable of intercepting.  The new ERINT missile for the 
system successfully intercepted two targets (although at relatively 
short ranges) in a shoot-off with the Patriot multi-mode missile in 
1993, but its has since undergone some design changes.  It has enjoyed 
five successful intercepts over the past two years; three against 
short-range Hera targets and two against cruise missile targets  The 
Navy Area-Wide (Lower Tier) system (an upgrade to the AEGIS radar 
system and Standard missile) and the multi-national MEADS program are 
also aimed at these lower-range threats, but have yet to have any 
intercept tests. 
Some experts still voice concern, however.  David Eshel, a retired 
career officer in the Israeli Defense Force, writes in the September 
Janes’ Intelligence Review, “Although this system [the PAC-3] has an 
increased range and an onboard terminal radar guidance system it is 
doubtful that this could overcome the unique corkscrewing effect of 
the Iraqi Al-Hussayin Scud missile.”
Without realistic tests it is impossible to predict performance, but 
these lower-tier systems appear to hold out the best possibility of 
successfully intercepting the existing Third World missile threats 
armed with single warheads.  (Missiles armed with submunitions 
released after the boost phase would defeat any known kinetic energy 
missile defense system.)  They rely on previously developed radar and 
hardware systems and, because they intercept their targets within the 
atmosphere after any decoys deployed would have been stripped away, 
they do not encounter the difficult discrimination problems facing 
higher, outside the atmosphere interceptors. Countermeasures remain 
one of the major unsolved technical barriers to effective missile 
defense despite decades of effort. 

HIGHER-TIER SYSTEMS

Potentially more threatening than Scuds are medium-range missiles that 
travel from 1000 to 3,500 kilometers. No nation hostile to the United 
States currently fields such missiles, except for several Nodong 
missiles deployed by North Korea with a range of 1000 km.  But this is 
the threat represented by systems reportedly under development in 
North Korea and Iran.  Both the Administration and Congress favor 
developing systems to intercept these missiles, with Congress urging a 
faster development and deployment schedule.  To-date, tests of the 
most promising candidates, the Army’s Theater High-Altitude Area 
Defense system (THAAD) and the Navy Theater-Wide (Upper Tier) system, 
have been disappointing.  While both systems may be technically 
feasible, THAAD has failed in six of its eight test intercept 
attempts, and the Navy has gone zero for four in tests of the LEAP 
kill vehicle (Lightweight Exo-Atmospheric Projectile). 
These were tests against specially designed targets, with known 
trajectories and characteristics, well within the expected performance 
range of the systems. The THAAD tests were against Storm and Hera 
targets, which have a maximum range of about 750 and 1,100 kilometers, 
respectively.  A suitable long-range target of 2,000 kilometers or 
more, does not yet exist.  The Navy plans to use surplus Terrier 
missiles as targets for the Theater-Wide tests. 

NATIONAL MISSILE DEFENSE SYSTEM

Noting that the NMD schedule is shorter than most other major system 
acquisition programs, the General Accounting Office warned in 1997 of 
the high risks inherent in the program: 
“Because of the compressed development schedule, only a limited amount 
of flight test data will be available for the system deployment 
decision in fiscal year 2000.  By that time, BMDO will have conducted 
only one system-level flight test, and that test may not include all 
system elements or involve stressing conditions such as targets that 
employ sophisticated countermeasure or multiple warheads.  As a 
result, not all technical issues, such as discrimination, will be 
resolved by the time of the deployment review.  Also the current 
schedule will permit only a single test of the integrated ground-based 
interceptor before production of the interceptor’s booster element 
must begin.  If subsequent tests reveal problems, costly redesign or 
modification of already produced hardware may be required.”(11)
By comparison, the only other U.S.-based ballistic missile defense 
system, the Safeguard, had an acquisition schedule twice as long as 
planned for the NMD program.  Safeguard also had 111 flight tests, 
compared to only three intercept tests and one system-level flight 
test before a fiscal year 2000 deployment decision.  The GAO noted 
that even this system-level test will not be comprehensive because it 
will not include all system elements, and: 
“The single integrated system test will not assess the NMD system’s 
capabilities against stressing threats such as those that use 
sophisticated countermeasures or multiple warheads.  The test is to be 
conducted against a single target with only simple countermeasures 
such as decoys.  No test against multiple warheads is planned.”
In June 1998, the GAO reaffirmed its findings, concluding that even 
with increased funding technical and schedule risks are high.

THE BOTTOM LINE

There are no current plans to test the THAAD, the Navy Theater-Wide or 
the NMD system against realistic threats such as multiple warhead 
missiles that deploy warheads with realistic decoys or jammers. 
Department of Defense Director of Operation Test and Evaluation Phil 
Coyle concluded in a August 11 memorandum (reported by Bloomberg News 
on August 23) that “test results so far do not support a 
recommendation at this time to deploy in 20005.”  President Clinton 
apparently agreed.

Director Coyle also warned:

“Deployment means the fielding of an operational system with some 
military utility which is effective under realist combat conditions, 
against realist threats and countermeasures when operated by military 
personnel at all times of day or night and in all weather.  Such a 
capability is yet to be shown to be practicable for NMD.” 
The same, of course, is true of the higher altitude TMD systems.  This 
should give military commanders and policy-makers low confidence in 
the ability of these systems, if deployed, to provide their troops, 
the nation or US allies any appreciable degree of protection against 
longer-range ballistic missile threats.  Defense planner should 
consider whether more realistic schedules and elimination of 
duplicative programs could reduce the approximately $20 billion 
planned for missile defense efforts over the next five years and the 
savings allocated to more pressing defense needs.Section Three:  The 
Political Divide
The debate over the wisdom of deploying a national missile defense 
system has been determined in large part, by the struggle between two 
main schools of thought: those that favor maintaining the current 
global treaty regime and those who seek to replace it with a new 
conservative defense paradigm. 

President Clinton has tried to bridge the gap by advocating deployment 
of a missile defense system that is compliant with an amended Anti-
Ballistic Missile Treaty.  However, when the U.S. administration 
failed to overcome the deep misgiving of the NATO members, they lost 
any chance of winning Russian support for sweeping treaty amendments. 
Test failures undercut domestic support for rushing to an early 
deployment decision and reinforced European, Russian and Chinese 
opposition.  President Clinton abandoned the effort on September 1. 

The debate over missile defense, however, is certain to continue.  It 
can best be understood in terms of this larger clash of world views.

DEFENDERS OF THE REGIME

The establishment view seeks to preserve the existing framework of 
interlocking treaties and agreements that has, with some noticeable 
failures, prevented the spread of weapons of mass destruction from a 
few to many nations and has helped prevent wars involving these 
weapons among the nations that still possess them.   The treaty regime 
has been painstakingly assembled oven the past fifty years through the 
efforts of many nations, but most often with the leadership of the 
United States under both Republican and Democratic presidents.

This view is similar if not identical to the views of European leaders 
and publics.  Most leaders of the NATO nations have summarized the 
current situation in words similar to those of President Jacques 
Chirac:

“Worrying events have occurred in the last two years with renewed 
tests of nuclear and ballistic weapons, the fact that three nuclear-
weapon States failed to ratify the CTBT [Comprehensive Test Ban 
Treaty], and that the fundamental provisions of the ABM [Anti-
Ballistic Missile] Treaty  were challenged yet again.  The 21st century 
should not only seek to safeguard the valuable achievements generated 
over the pas fifty years by multilateral treaties, but also enable the 
international community to regain the momentum it appears to have lost 
today.” (12)

The basic strategy for preventing further proliferation and for 
thwarting missile attacks on the United States was summed up by then-
Secretary of Defense William Perry in 1996.  The United States, he 
said, has three lines of defense against proliferation.  The first and 
strongest is to prevent and reduce the threat through the non-
proliferation regime.  But some nations will cheat on the treaties or 
remain outside the regime.  Therefore the second line of defense is a 
strong military to deter any attack and to seek out and destroy mass 
destruction weapons before they can be used.  If this line fails, a 
third line of defense is provided by active defenses, including 
ballistic missile defense systems.

President Clinton referenced these three lines of defense in his 
speech announcing a delay in the national missile defense program on 
September 1.

“We have carried out a comprehensive strategy to reduce and secure 
nuclear arsenals, to strengthen the international regime against 
biological weapons and nuclear testing and to stop the flow of 
dangerous technology to nations that might wish us harm. At the same 
time, we have pursued new technologies that could strengthen our 
defenses against a possible attack, including a terrorist attack here 
at home. None of these elements of our national security strategy can 
be pursued in isolation. Each is important, and we have made progress 
in each area.”

Within this camp, there are differences over how serious are the 
threats from new ballistic missile programs and how effective and 
reliable missile defenses can be.  In general, however, if forced to 
choose between deploying a limited national missile defense system and 
preserving the treaty regime, they would choose the regime.

THE ASSAULT ON THE REGIME

For proponents of the new defense paradigm, this is precisely the 
problem.  Hundreds of articles and speeches by conservatives have used 
the South Asian tests and the Korean and Iranian missile launches as 
proof that future threats are inherently unpredictable, our 
intelligence estimates are consistently unreliable, the proliferation 
of weapons of mass destruction fundamentally unstoppable and, thus, 
the only truly effective response is reliance on American defense 
technology.  This requires substantial defense budget increases and 
the deployment of new weapons systems, including new types of nuclear 
weapons and, most prominently, missile defense systems.  Conservatives 
have skillfully deployed expert commissions and congressional 
investigations to endorse this view. 

The reports of the Commission on the Ballistic Missile Threat to the 
United States in 1998 (the Rumsfeld Commission) and the Committee on 
U.S. National Security and the People’s Republic of China in 1999 (the 
Cox Committee) were particularly influential in shaping media and 
political elite opinion.  The Administration’s response was been to 
cede ground, embracing missile defense and budget increases while 
husbanding the political and personal capital usually devoted to the 
first line of defense.  With the most conservative elements of the 
Republican Party in control of congressional committees, treaty 
ratifications and diplomatic appointments were been delayed for years. 
The impact has been global.  A regime in need of repair and 
revitalization remains in a state of suspended anticipation.

It is difficult for many in Europe and Asia to fathom this rather 
cavalier disregard for existing treaties and threat reduction 
arrangements.  But the now dominant side in this debate forcefully 
rejects the very idea of negotiated arms reductions as a Cold War 
relic, unsuited for the current period. 

Many conservatives see a world, in Governor George W. Bush’s phrase, 
“of terror and missiles and madmen.”  Paul Wolfowitz, one of Bush’s 
key advisers and a former deputy secretary of defense, compares the 
1990s to the 1890s.  Then, too, he says, Americans thought the great 
wars were behind them and the coming century would be characterized by 
an internationalizing economy, the spread of wonderful new 
technologies, and the resolution of national disputes through 
arbitration.  Instead, he says, the twentieth century brought us the 
two most horrific wars in human history.  These wars were started by 
two nations no one in the 1890s thought of as great powers: Germany, 
just united as a nation; and Japan, only then emerging from centuries 
of feudalism.  Today, says Wolfowitz, China presents “the obvious and 
disturbing analogy.”(13) 

Other defense hawks go further, arguing that a U.S.-China clash is 
almost inevitable.  “China is building up its military with high-tech 
weapons that can threaten neighbors and the United States,” warns 
Arthur Waldron, director of Asian studies at the American Enterprise 
Institute.(14) “China’s territorial claims would likely lead to 
regional war if they were consistently enforced.”  Such a war, he 
fears, could start as much by miscalculation as by design. 

Several years ago, Samuel P. Huntington offered a broader vision in 
his article and book, The Clash of Civilizations. “The fault lines 
between civilizations will be the battle lines of the future,” he 
says, noting in particular what he calls the “Confucian-Islamic 
alliance” he sees forming against the West.(15) 

Former Secretary of the Navy James Webb is one of several who still 
echo this view. Webb warned nearly two years ago that “China has been 
developing a strategic axis with the Muslim world . . . evidenced most 
clearly by its continuing military assistance to Iran and . . . 
Pakistan.”(16) 

Modern day arms control treaties, in this view, are worse than no 
treaties at all. They promote complacency, lulling America into a 
false sense of security.  Meanwhile, several non-Western nations 
(columnist Charles Krauthammer calls them “weapon states”) are busily 
acquiring and deploying nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and 
ballistic missiles. 

The West naively “promotes nonproliferation as a universal norm and 
nonproliferation treaties and inspections as means of realizing that 
norm,” says Huntington.  The non-Western nations, on the other hand, 
“assert their right to acquire and to deploy whatever weapons they 
think necessary for their security,” seeing weapons of mass 
destruction “as the potential equalizer of superior Western 
conventional power.” 

Worse still are multilateral arrangements.  These weaken America, like 
“Gulliver in the land of Lilliputians, stretched out, unable to move, 
because he has been tied down by a whole host of threads,” as Senator 
Jeff Sessions (R.-Al.) warned his colleagues during the debate over 
the Comprehensive Test Ban.(17)   The Senate defeat of the test ban 
crystallized the new attitude popular among conservatives:  mistrust 
treaties, increase defenses, assert American authority.

Many conservative experts believe that they can pick and chose among 
the treaties.  In reference to President Chirac’s statement cited 
above, they would see only the first item as one of concern and rate 
the others as progress (some, in fact, view India’s nuclear status as 
a welcome counter-weight to China).   START treaties are no longer 
necessary, in this view.  The United States, they say, does not 
negotiate with the British and the French on force levels, why should 
we with the Russians?  The nuclear test ban and ABM treaty should be 
jettisoned because they restrain US force options.  The Non-
Proliferation Treaty, on the other hand, can restrain others and 
should be kept as long as no one takes the Article IV commitment to 
eventual nuclear disarmament seriously.  Better still are export 
restraint agreements such as the Missile Technology Control Regime and 
the Australia Group, which are agreements among the weapon-states to 
keep technology out of the hands of states of concern. 

THE CHINA SYNDROME

Conservative concerns about China are central to the drive to deploy 
missile defense systems.  These concerns reached a fevered pitch in 
mid-1999.  That spring hundreds of news stories, led by an aggressive 
series of The New York Times investigative reports, trumpeted the 
alleged transfer of U.S. nuclear secrets to China by a traitorous 
scientist at Los Alamos National Laboratory.  In May, a Congressional 
report concluded that China was using stolen U.S. data to modernize 
its nuclear arsenal. 

In the weeks after the publication of the Times stories, the press 
depicted Los Alamos scientist Dr. Wen Ho Lee as a Chinese superspy, 
responsible for the “transfer of huge amounts of secret data from a 
computer system at a Government laboratory, compromising virtually 
every nuclear weapon in the United States arsenal…”(18) 
Conservatives claimed that U.S. nuclear labs were riddled with spies. 
Senator Richard C. Shelby (R – Al.) stood at the gates of Los Alamos 
in April and demanded that something be done about the “hemorrhaging” 
of U.S. nuclear secrets to foreign countries.(19)  Conservatives 
proclaimed that stolen secrets from Los Alamos represented, in the 
words of Senator Don Nickles (R – OK.) “the most serious case of 
espionage”(20) in U.S. history and “could advance Chinese nuclear 
weapons programs by decades.”(21) Department of Energy official Notra 
Trulock (the main source for the Times stories) went on NBC’s “Meet 
the Press” in May and compared the possible loss of nuclear secrets 
at Los Alamos to “the Rosenbergs -Fuchs compromise of the Manhattan 
Project information” at the end of World War II.(22)  A Justice 
Department spokesman said “what Lee stole was the crown jewels.”(23) 
A report issued by Sen. Arlen Specter said “it would be hard, 
realistically impossible, to pose more severe risks to U.S. national 
security.”(24)  Specter’s report noted that at Lee’s December 13 bail 
hearing, Assistant Laboratory Director for Nuclear Weapons Dr. 
Stephen Younger said the Lee data “combined with someone that knew 
how to use them, could, in my opinion, in the wrong hands, change the 
global strategic balance.”

Conservatives also used the case to attack the Clinton 
administration, charging that it had long overlooked glaring evidence 
of Chinese spy activities at the nuclear labs to pursue a policy of 
engagement with Beijing.  Columnist William Safire’s charged: “During 
President Clinton’s watch, America’s most vital nuclear secrets – 
guarded intensely for five decades – have been allowed to spill out 
all over the world.”(25)  Republican presidential candidates Pat 
Buchanan and Steve Forbes called for the resignation of National 
Security Advisor Sandy Berger. 

The Cox Committee report on “U.S. National Security and 
Military/Commercial concerns with the People’s Republic of China” 
seemed to validate these serious charges.  Prepared in just over three 
weeks and after the questioning of only three witnesses (primarily 
Notra Trulock), the report (named for chairman Christopher Cox (R-
Ca.)) claimed to detaile widespread Chinese theft and implementation 
of U.S. nuclear weapons designs. The report charged that Chinese spy 
activities in the U.S. had “helped the PRC to fabricate and 
successfully test modern strategic thermonuclear weapons.” House 
Majority Leader Dick Armey said “It’s very scary, and basically what 
it says is the Chinese now have the capability of threatening us with 
our own nuclear technology.”

Lost in the hyperbole, was that, as Committee member Norm Dicks (D- 
Wa.) admitted afterwards, the report represented a “worst case 
assessment.”  Indeed, just a few weeks before the publication of the 
Cox report (and with little fanfare) the Senate Select Committee on 
Intelligence released its own report on the topic.  The Senate report 
criticized the Clinton administration but did not conclude that China 
was close to altering strategic nuclear balance.   Furthermore, an 
interagency “Damage Assessment” team created at the behest of the Cox 
Committee to report on the implications of Chinese nuclear espionage 
concluded that “significant deficiencies remain in the Chinese weapons 
program to date, the aggressive Chinese collection effort has not 
resulted in any apparent modernization of their deployed strategic 
force or any nuclear weapons deployment.” China’s 20 ICBMs remain 
dwarfed by the 12,000  weapons in the U.S. nuclear triad. 

A year later, there is no evidence that Wen Ho Lee actually passed 
information to China.  In an opinion released August 31, 2000, New 
Mexico District Court Judge James Parker wrote that, while he 
“remain(ed) seriously concerned about evidence of several deceptions 
as to which innocuous explanations have not yet been provided”(26) the 
prosecution “has never presented direct evidence that Dr. Lee intended 
to harm the United States or secure an advantage for a foreign nation” 
Furthermore, new evidence presented by the defense indicated that the 
alleged stolen data “is in large part available in the ‘open’ 
literature in the public domain and that many of the individual files 
Dr. Lee took are unclassified.”   Although he faced 59 counts 
regarding the mishandling of classified information, Lee was never 
charged with acts of espionage and is now a free man. 

But conservatives continue to raise the specter of a Chinese military 
gearing up to challenge the conventional and strategic superiority of 
the American armed forces.

Below is an extensive quote from Representaive Dan Burton, a 
Republican congressman from California and chairman of the Government 
Oversight and Reform Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. 
At a September 8, 2000 hearing on the technical prospects for national 
missile defense, Rep. Burton made clear that his interest in missile 
defense was directly linked to his view of China.

“One of the things that’s concerned me, as chairman of the committee 
and as a member of Congress — and, I think, my colleagues as well — 
has been the theft of nuclear secrets at Los Alamos and Livermore. 
And a lot of people have said that the theft of those secrets could 
be analogous to what happened with the Rosenbergs back in the ’50s. 
I mean, it’s a major, major problem”.

“As I understand it, the W-88 warhead technology is now in the 
possession of the Chinese Communist government, and they also have 
other technology, through their connections with Loral and Hughes and 
other companies, regarding their space satellite technology.  They 
now have the ability to build an ICBM, and they also have the ability 
to put multiple warheads on one missile, and they also have the 
technology to put that on a mobile launch vehicle that could be 
hidden in woods or someplace else, which would be very difficult for 
our spy satellites to pick up.

“And the question I have is that how long will it be before they have 
a mobile-launched ICBM or a permanently-fixed ICBM in silos with 
multiple warheads such as the W-88 warhead, where they could put 
eight to 10 on one missile?  And what does that mean for the United 
States security?  And do we have any way — right now, or in the 
foreseeable future–to intercept and shoot down the multiple warhead 
missile if it’s launched at the United States?

“Once it’s perfected, if they launch it at the United States, do we 
have any defense for it?  And also, because of the MIRV-ing, because 
they’ve got up to as many as 10 warheads on it, once those split 
apart in the outer atmosphere, could we shoot down all 10 of those 
smaller missiles with the W-88 warhead, or would we just lose a bunch 
of cities in the United States?”

THE DANGERS AHEAD

The arms control a la carte approach now favored by many conservatives 
echoes the embryonic U.S. strategy of the 1950s, where a few nations 
thought they could stop the spread of weapons of mass destruction by 
forming supplier groups to contain key technologies, while developing 
nuclear, biological, chemical and missile arsenals for themselves.  It 
was precisely the failure of this piece-meal method that brought about 
the current non-proliferation regime. 

The regime only works as an integrated whole.  Without the test ban 
treaty and serous reduction in U.S and Russian arsenals, the Non-
Proliferation Treaty will lose credibility, suffering a death by 
disinterest if not outright defection.  Proliferation of missile 
defenses could weaken the Missile Technology Control Regime, encourage 
the proliferation of missiles and defense counter-measures.  For those 
without nuclear production capabilities, chemical and biological 
weapons will hold new appeal.  As legal, diplomatic and political 
deterrents weaken, it becomes easier for a nation to shatter the 
barriers, triggering a global crisis. 

This is not an abstract debate. If the United States disassembles 
diplomatic restraints, shatters carefully crafted threat reduction 
arrangements and moves from builder to destroyer of the non-
proliferation regime, there will be little to prevent new nations from 
concluding that their national security requires nuclear arms. Nor 
will it be just a matter of diplomatic emergency meetings.  Nuclear 
insecurities and regional tensions could freeze foreign investments, 
strangling economic growth both regionally and globally.

The two years after the U.S. presidential election will be critical to 
determining which side in this debate will dominate U.S. policy. 

The fate of the regime is at stake.
———————–
(1)  The Report of the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile 
Threat to the United States, July 15, 1998.  The panel, known as the 
Rumsfeld Commission after its chairman, former secretary of defense 
Donald Rumsfeld, was appointed by the Congress to provide an 
independent assessment of the ballistic missile threat.
(2)  Presentation of Admiral Dennis Blair to the Carnegie 
International Non-Proliferation Conference, March 16, 2000.  See 
Proliferation Brief, “Pacific Command Chief Assesses Asian Security 
at Carnegie Conference,”  March 23, 200 at  www.ceip.org/npp.
(3)  In February 1981, Aviation Week and Space Technology reported, 
based on briefings by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory 
scientists Lowell Wood and Edward Teller, “X-ray lasers based on the 
successful Dauphin test are so small that a single payload bay on the 
space shuttle could carry to orbit a number sufficient to stop a 
Soviet nuclear weapons attack.” (cited by William Broad in Teller’s 
War, p. 92, (New York:  Simon & Schuster, 1992).
(4) United States General Accounting Office, “Strategic Defense 
Initiative:  Some Claims Overstated for Early Flight Tests of 
Interceptors,” September 1992, GAO/NSIAD-92-282.
(5) Congressional Budget Office, “Costs of Alternative Approaches to 
SDI,” May 1992, p. 20.
(6) Ibid.
(7)  United States General Accounting Office, Report to the Chairman, 
“Strategic Defense Initiative:  Changing Design and Technological 
Uncertainties Create Significant Risk,”  February 1992 (GAO/IMTEC-92-
18).
 (8)  See Hearings before the Legislation and National Security 
Subcommittee of the Committee on Government Operations, House of 
Representatives, 102nd Congress, Second Session, “Performance of the 
Patriot Missile in the Gulf War.” April 7, 1992, summarized in 
Activities of the House Committee on Government Operations, 102nd 
Congress, First and Second Sessions, 1991-1992, December 31, 1992, pp. 
179-185.
(9)  Robert M. Stein, “Correspondence:  Patriot Experience in the 
Gulf War,”  International Security, Summer 1992, at p. 199.
(10)  The four hits were by the Homing Overlay Experiment (HOE) in 
1984, the Exoatmospheric Reentry-Vehicle Interceptor Subsystem (ERIS) 
in 1991, the National Missile Defense system interceptor in 1999 and 
one of the two THAAD intercepts which can be considered outside the 
atmosphere in June 1999 (THAAD hit two out of eight targets flying at 
various altitudes).
(11)  United States General Accounting Office, “National Missile 
Defense: Schedule and Technical Risks Represent Significant 
Development Challenges,” December 12, 1997 , GAO/NSIAD-98-28.
(12)  (“L’Action de La France:  Ma rise des armements, disarmement et 
non-proliferation,   La Documentation Francaise, Paris, 2000)
(13)  Paul Wolfowitz, “Bridging Centuries: Fin de Siecle All Over 
Again,” National Interest, Spring 1997. 
(14)  Arthur Waldron, “Why China Could Be Dangerous,” American 
Enterprise, July/August 1998, p.40. 
(15)  Samuel P. Huntington, “The Clash of Civilizations?,” Foreign 
Affairs, vol. 72 (Summer 1993), p. 22.
(16)  James Webb, “Warily Watching China,” New York Times, February 
23, 1999, p. A23.
(17)  “Out Maneuvered, Out Gunned, and Out of View,”  Stephen 
Schwartz, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, January/February 
2000, p. 31
(18) Risen, James and Jeff Garth.  “U.S. Says Suspect Put Code in 
Bombs in Unsecure Files.” New York Times 28 April 1999: A1.
(19)  Brooke, James.  “Senator Tells Nuclear Bomb Labs to End Foreign 
Scientist’s Visits.” New York Times 13 April 1999: A14.
(20)  Mesler, Bill.  “The Spy Who Wasn’t.” The Nation 9 August 1999. 
(21)  Pincus, Walter and Vernon Loeb “U.S. Bungled Spy Probes, 
Senators Say.” Washington Post 6 May 1999: A2.
(22)  Pincus, Walter and Vernon Loeb “Espionage Whistleblower 
Resigns.” Washington Post 24 August 1999: A1.
(23)  Broad, William J. “Files in Question in Los Alamos Were 
Reclassified.”  15 April 2000: A1.
(24)  Specter, Arlen.  “Report on the Investigation of Espionage 
Allegations Against Dr. Wen Ho Lee” Available at: 
http://www.senate.gov/~specter/reportp.htm
(25)  Safire, William.  “The Deadliest Download.” New York Times 29 
April 1999: A29.
(26)  Parker, Hon. James “Memorandum Opinion.” 31 August 2000. 
Available at: http://www.cnn.com/2000/LAW/09/04/scientistsecrets.ap/index.html


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