I have tracked ballistic missile programs for over 16 years, beginning in 1985 as a member of the professional staff of the Committee on Armed Services in the U.S. House of Representatives. Over the years, I have seen a dozen different systems proposed, funded, tested, and debated. There has been a long line of officials who have appeared before congressional committees to swear that their technology was ready to go, that the threat was urgent, that this was our highest national security priority. They just needed a little more money, a little more time. "Ready to go," they promised, but in sixteen years, nothing has been ready to go.
Overall, U.S. officials and scientist have spent over $120 billion over the past 40 years trying to develop an effective counter to ballistic missiles. Despite generous budgets, technology after technology was tried and failed. This was not in any way due to treaty restraints. Although the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty limits the testing and deployment of certain national missile defense systems, it does not block research on such systems. All the proposed weapons proved unfeasible in this basic research phase, including all the systems President Ronald Reagan tried out in the Strategic Defense Initiative: space-based X-ray lasers, chemical lasers, particle-beam weapons, and kinetic kill vehicles, and ground-based free-electron lasers and interceptors. President George Bush scaled down the program in January 1991, when he and Secretary of Defense Richard Cheney proposed the "Global Protection Against Limited Strikes," or GPALS, with space-, sea- and land-based systems to target from 10 to 200 warheads "delivered by ballistic missiles launched from anywhere in the world to attack areas anywhere else in the world."
Many in the current administration were involved in this campaign, and are still bitter that President Bill Clinton abandoned their scheme. Clinton shifted funds instead to theater missile defense systems against shorter-range threats like Scuds, shifting back late in his term to a plan to deploy new radars and long-range interceptors in Alaska. Now, the Bush administration proposes to resurrect the GPALS systems and vision.
Four Changes in the Debate
In the first six months of this administration, we have seen four major changes in the missile defense debate. First, there has come the recognition that the technology is not there to support the deployment of a National Missile Defense. Officials who came into office promising to immediately deploy a system on Aegis destroyers and cruisers that would shoot down ballistic missile in their "boost phase," now talk about a robust research and development program "to find out what will work," as Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says. They plan to test at little, deploy a little, and then test and deploy some more. This strategy may or may not make sense, but it is very different from the immediate deployment of a fully functioning system officials had promised on the campaign trail.
The second big shift is the European reaction. No one should underestimate the impact on U.S. policy of European opinion. Europe does not want to say 'No' to the United States but it certainly does not want to say 'Yes.' As it turns out, not saying 'Yes' may be enough to slow, if not stop, the administration's plans. The administration is now hesitating, changing, adapting its plans, to accommodate European opinion, to try to win European support.
The third big shift is the new administration's policy towards Russia. This is very new, having just shifted with the surprisingly warm U.S.-Russian summit this week. Russia went from being part of the problem to a potential partner. The United States, in my opinion, is now committed to a consultation and negotiation process with Russia and to pursuing a cooperative deployment of any missile defense system. This will take time. All three of these shifts have slowed down the momentum for missile defense.
The final and perhaps most important shift occurred just two weeks ago as the U.S. Senate switched from Republican to Democratic control. Majority Leader Tom Daschle, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Senator Carl Levin, and Senate Foreign Committee Chairman Senator Joseph Biden are all extremely skeptical about the feasibility and consequences of National Missile Defense. Senator Levin has vowed not to fund activities that would violate the ABM Treaty and he will not let the United States deploy a system that does not work. In a speech this May at the National Defense University, he said:
"If we simply walk away from the ABM Treaty with no alternative framework for mutual understanding and strategic stability in place, we could find ourselves in a more dangerous, rather than a less dangerous world."
"We should not rush any NMD system to deployment before it is ready and has demonstrated through repeated and realistic testing that it is reliable and operationally effective."
European opinion echoes very powerfully in the halls of the Senate. Europeans should not conclude that simply because their counterparts in the U.S. administration brush off their concerns, that their voices are not being heard. The United States is a big country with many sets of ears. We hear what Europe is saying. The Senate is listening.
Three Myths about Missile Defense
The first myth is that there is a growing consensus for National Missile Defense. There is no consensus. French President Jacques Chirac, said in a major speech June 8th: "We do not refute the dangers of ballistic proliferation—while our analysis differs as to the extent of the threat and possible evolution over time." The president points out that many people agree that there is a ballistic missile threat. However, they differ on just what it is and how it is developing. In the United States, similarly, many agree that we should have a missile defense. I support a missile defense. It depends, however, what the definition of "missile defense" is. Many senators support a short-range missile defense; they what to move forward aggressively with "SCUD busters" to do what we can against the existing short-range missile threats. When they talk about national missile defense, they are talking about research and development, not a program that would break the ABM treaty, or at least not come up against treaty limits soon.
The second big myth is that the current drive to deploy a system is unstoppable. There is nothing inevitable about missile defense. Those who are convinced that this administration will definitely deploy a system have not been paying attention to history. They probably also invested heavily in Internet stocks. This is going for the hype and not paying attention to the fundamentals. Every weapons system and every sound defense policy must be based on rational assessments of threat, performance, cost, schedule and risk. The fundamentals of missile defense are very weak and should lead to caution about projections of its eventual success or near-term deployment. For example, the technology does not yet exist for a reliable and effective missile defense. The systems have performed poorly even in the tests that are carefully choreographed for success. The cost estimates are exorbitant; forcing missile defense to compete with other, more pressing defense needs, as well as domestic priorities. The public and political consensus is not there; there is very little demand for this product. A recent poll showed that the American public rank missile defense dead last among their top thirteen priority issues, behind issues such as health care, social security, national energy policy, education, the environment and cutting taxes. So beware of the salesmen pitching this particular product. Like all investments, one should look carefully at the fundamentals before investing.
The final myth is that there is a growing threat of ballistic missile attack. There is considerable evidence that the threat from ballistic missiles is shrinking. We in the West are significantly less endangered by ballistic missiles now than we were just 15 years ago. This is not a conclusion that I come to lightly. In fact, it ran counter to my original hypothesis when I began to assess systematically the ballistic missile threat for testimony before the U.S. Senate last year. However, I believe that it is the logical conclusion that most analysts will develop if they perform a net assessment of the ballistic missile threat independent of political considerations. I have developed this in great detail in my Senate testimony and in papers available on the Carnegie Endowment web site at: www.ceip.org/npp. This includes a detailed table including each of the 34 nations possessing ballistic missiles over 100-km. range (23 of these nations have only short-range, Scud-type systems).
None of the information in my analysis is classified. The importance of classified information in this field is greatly over-rated. One doesn't need access to classified material to make a detailed assessment, just need access to your own brain. It is obvious, for example, that today, only China and Russia can hit the United States with nuclear warheads on land-based ballistic missiles (ICBMs), a fact which has not changed since China joined the Soviet Union in this capability in 1981. The threat posed to the U.S. by these ICBMs and intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) has decreased dramatically since the mid 1980's. Through the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaties a total of 3,100 ICBMs and IRBMs once capable of striking the U.S. territory have been destroyed. This represents a 56 percent reduction in ICBMs and a 99 percent reduction in IRBMs, making U.S. territory much less vulnerable to ballistic missile attack than at any point during the past 15 years.
Though short- and medium-range missiles pose a threat to forward-deployed troops and U.S. allies, this threat is orders of magnitude less than the previous threat of global thermonuclear war. Only six countries possess medium range missiles with the ability to reach over 1,000 km. These countries: Israel, Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran are not capable of hitting targets in the U.S. Their existence is a cause for concern, but only 15 years ago countries such as India, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt, South Africa, Iraq and Libya were all involved in programs to develop mid-range and long-range missiles. Today all but Iraq have terminated their programs. The nations pursuing development today are smaller, poorer, and less technologically advanced than were the nations with missile programs 15 years ago.
Overall, the missile threat is confined, changing relatively slowly and more amenable to diplomatic than military resolutions.
Fifteen years ago, the ballistic missile threat to Europe was real and massive. There were 45 mechanized divisions of the Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact ready to come through the Fulda Gap. They were backed up by 1,846 intermediate-range ballistic missile, enough to destroy Europe ten times over. That was a missile threat. A real threat. Now, the concern is said to be that Iran might develop a long-range ballistic missile over the next ten years. During this decade, Iran might also develop a nuclear warhead to put atop that missile. Finally, it is supposed that Iranian officials might be insane; that they would be willing to commit national suicide by launching that missile. It is difficult to graph the threat from fifteen years ago with the threat of today. The order of scale is be so far off that the two can not fit on the same chart.
Arms control treaties intercepted and destroyed those 1,846 intermediate-range Soviet ballistic missiles, plus 846 U.S. Pershings and cruise missiles. Over the past 15 years, arms control agreements have successfully intercepted and destroyed over 3,000 ballistic missiles. Missile defenses have not intercepted any. Arms control has been, is, and will remain the most effective missile defense system we have yet devised.
With U.S. assessments so distorted by politics and ideology, now is the time for European nations to make their own judgements on missile defense, to perform their own assessments. How serious are the threats? Certainly the short-range threats exist, but how likely are the long-range missile threats? What are the trends? How urgent are they? What will work best to counter the threats: military measures or diplomacy? Europeans can and should make their own judgments, perform their own independent assessments.
Europe can also play a key role in reducing the threats that do exist. People may have different opinions about the EU initiative with North Korea, but with just one trip the EU president netted a commitment form the North Korean government to continue the moratorium on ballistic missiles tests for another three years. There is certainly a great deal more to do, but the EU can help solve the problem. If Europeans are concerned about the American reaction to the threat, they should help solve the problem by opening up possible solutions with Iran and North Korea. The EU should have confidence in its own ability and courage in its convictions.
Finally, it is critical that Europe's leaders speak the truth. Too often they hesitate, hold back or seem afraid to say what they honestly think. Institute Director Nicole Gnesotto offers some excellent insights in her recent Newsletter article. "Why should not the Europeans be as confident in themselves as the Americans are in NMD?... Could it be, that we doubt ourselves?" I do not know. But, I do know that it is dangerous not to voice your differences. It is dangerous to let a policy that many believe will have tremendous negative consequences proceed over European silence. The European Union is strong; the Atlantic Alliance is strong. It can withstand honest debate. If not now, when? This is a time for all to speak the truth, to struggle through our differences, to forge a common future free of nuclear threats. Thank you.