Testimony by Project Director Joseph Cirincione before the Subcommittee on International Security, Proliferation and Federal Services; Committee on Governmental Affairs; United States Senate. February 9, 2000
- Documents Referred to in the Testimony
- Appendix on Countries Possessing Ballistic Missiles
- Article by Joseph Cirincione, published in the Non-Proliferation Review, March 2000.
Thank you for the privilege of testifying before the Subcommittee. I respect the work that the Subcommittee Chairman, members and staff have done to document the most serious threat to the national security of the United States: the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. It is an honor to discuss these issues with you today.
By way of background, I served for nine years on the professional staff of the House Armed Services Committee and the Government Operations Committee, beginning in 1985. My duties included tracking and analyzing developments in nuclear and ballistic missile programs and efforts to develop ballistic missile defenses. I continued this analytical work during four years as a senior associate at the Henry L. Stimson Center in Washington and now for two years in my current position at the Carnegie Endowment.
I have carefully reviewed 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 9 September and can comment on the version available to the public.1
The unclassified summary of the NIE (hereafter referred to as the NIE) presents a careful view of some of the ballistic missile threats to the United States. However, I have identified some potentially significant shortcomings in the report.
First, the 1999 NIE portrays known missile programs in developing countries as more immediate threats than have previous assessments. While there have been several significant tests of medium-range ballistic missiles in the past two years, these new findings are more a function of lowered evaluative criteria than of major changes in long-range missile capabilities. The change from previously established intelligence agency criteria should be more clearly defined so that policy-makers may better understand why this NIE differs from all previous estimates.
Second, by assessing "projected possible and likely missile developments by 2015 independent of significant political and economic changes," (emphasis added) the NIE may overestimate potential ballistic missile threats from Iraq, Iran and North Korea, underestimate the dangers from existing insecure arsenals in Russia, and poorly prepare policy-makers for the sharply deteriorated international security environment that would emerge should the non-proliferation regime weaken or collapse.
Third, by focusing on developments in a small number of missile programs in developing nations, the NIE neglects the dramatic declines in global ballistic missile arsenals. The missile threat is certainly changing, and is increasing by some criteria. But by several other important criteria, the ballistic missile threat to the United States is significantly smaller than it was in the mid-1980s.
Fourth, due to limitations in the scope of the report, the 1999 NIE may not fully represent the range of threats to the United States from weapons of mass destruction. The estimate does, however, contain critical findings that may be overlooked or misused if the report is viewed solely as a justification for a decision to deploy a national missile defense system. Two of the most important findings are found at the end of the assessment:
- Any country that could flight test an ICBM will be able to develop "numerous countermeasures" to penetrate a missile defense system.
- There are several other means to deliver weapons of mass destruction to the United States that would be more reliable, less expensive and more accurate than potential new intercontinental ballistic missiles over the next 15 years.
These two observations imply that, to the extent the missile threat is increasing, a national missile defense system may still not provide an effective defense of the United States.
I. Over-Estimating ICBM Threats from Developing Nations
Ever since the 1998 report from the Rumsfeld Commission asserted, somewhat hysterically, that a new nation could plausibly field an ICBM "with little or no warning," analysts have struggled to cover all possibilities, while still preserving some predictive net assessment. 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:
- 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,
- 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 of 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 in Alaska). It essentially means that an intermediate-range ballistic missile, such as the Taepodong-1, could be considered the same threat as an intercontinental-range missile. The Taepodong-1 tested on August 31, 1998, impacted 1320 kilometers from its launch point, and tried but failed to put a small satellite into orbit. This missile does not have the range to strike any part of the United States with a large payload (for example, a nuclear warhead), though it might be able to strike the western most parts of Alaska and Hawaii with a very small payload. The Taepodong-2 is theoretically judged to have a range of 4,000 to 6000 kilometers, allowing it to strike parts of Alaska and Hawaii. A three-stage Taepodong-2 could have a longer range.
The timeline shift represents a difference of five years (what previous estimates said was the difference between first test and likely deployment). "With shorter flight test programs—perhaps only one test—and potentially simple deployment schemes, the NIE concludes, the time between the initial flight test and the availability of a missile for military use is likely to be shortened." The Indian experience with the Agni missile provides some indication that the original standard may be the more accurate. The Agni program began in the mid-1980s. An Agni-1 missile was flight tested in February 1994 and a medium-range, 2,000 -km version, the Agni-2, was tested in April 1999. Despite Indian declarations of intent to deploy and substantial financial and scientific resources devoted to the program, the missile has yet to enter production.
These three changes account for almost all of the differences between the 1999 NIE and earlier estimates. Thus, the new estimate, rather than representing some new, dramatic development in the ballistic missile threat, represents a lowering of the standards for judging the threat. This NIE may lead some observers to conclude that there has been a significant technological leap forward in Third World missile systems, when, in fact there has been only incremental development in programs well known to analysts for years.
For example, the 1993 NIE ("Prospects for the Worldwide Development of Ballistic Missile Threats to the Continental United States," NIE 93-17) said:
"Only China and the CIS [Commonwealth of Independent States] 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."2
The 1995 NIE ("Emerging Missile Threats to North America during the Next 15 Years," NIE 95-19), as summarized 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."3
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. They agreed that 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."4
With the three altered measurement standards and in the wake of the Rumsfeld Commission report, the new 1999 NIE finds that over the next 15 years the United States,
"…most 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."5
The NIE does a real service by making the analysis so specific. 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 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. On September 17, 1999, the US administration announced it would ease sanctions against the North in response to a pledge by Pyongyang to halt further testing of long-range missiles. If North Korea does not flight-test the Taepo Dong-2, 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.
Recent talks between the United States and North Korea indicate some possible progress towards that goal. In his October 1999 report, "Review of United States Policy Toward North Korea," former Secretary of Defense William Perry recommended that the United States, together with South Korea and Japan, seek "complete and verifiable" assurances that North Korea had ended its nuclear weapons program and ceased the testing, production, deployment and export of medium and longer-range missiles.
If North Korea were taken out of the equation there would be very little left to this threat estimate. No mention was made in the report of these diplomatic efforts (whose outline was known at the time) or their potential significance.
Under some other plausible scenarios, North Korea may collapse; democratizing trends in Iran could alter the direction of that nation’s program; or a post-Saddam Iraq could restore friendly relations with the West. These, of course, are political risk assessments, not the kind of technology estimates this 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.
II. Under-Estimating the Threat from Russia’s 5200 Warheads
By not including political and economic conditions in the evaluation of the threat from Russia and China, the NIE underestimates possible missile developments in those nations.
The assessment assumes that China and Russia will follow essentially status quo paths. According to the NIE, the Russian threat will continue to be "the most robust and lethal, considerably more so than that posed by China, and orders of magnitude more than that posed by the other three [states explicitly named as potential threats]."6 The report notes that budget constraints will force the Russian government to reduce the number of deployed missiles and concludes that an unauthorized or accidental launch "is highly unlikely so long as current technical and procedural safeguards are in place."7
However, there is considerable evidence of major problems with Russian command and control systems. The continuing Russian decline could severely weaken current safeguards, increasing the risk of launches in error or missile sales to third countries. After it made a similar assessment of the low risk of accidental or unauthorized launch, the 1995 NIE cautioned:
"We are less confident about the future, in view of the fluid political situation in both countries [Russia or China]. If there were a severe political crisis in either country, control of the nuclear command structure could become less certain, increasing the possibility of an unauthorized launch."8
The NIE also finds that China will only field a few tens of ICBMs (which is its current "minimum deterrent" plan). That, too, could change dramatically if the U.S. and Japan deploy missile defenses in East Asia. China might well believe it must preserve its nuclear deterrent by increasing the number and sophistication of its missiles. Because Russia and, to a lesser extent, China still pose the greatest potential missile threats to the United States, it is important to consider whether a limited NMD would truly be effective against potential missile launches from those countries. Instead of providing defense, a deployed NMD system could provoke responses from Russia and China that would actually exacerbate the threat.
The Worst-Case Scenario. Whether more nations acquire more and longer-range missiles also depends fundamentally on the perceived vitality of the international non-proliferation regime. If, for example, the Senate does not reconsider its refusal to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, the treaty cannot enter into force. With the treaty’s future highly uncertain, India is unlikely to sign the treaty and without India, Pakistan will not. Russian and Chinese ratification of the treaty also becomes unlikely. Over the next two years it is highly probable that one or all of these nations would then resume testing of nuclear weapons. Faced with a weakened international regime, uncertain U.S. adherence to international commitments and the emergence of new nuclear nations, Japanese leaders may believe that they have no choice but to develop their own nuclear deterrent, fundamentally altering the global strategic landscape.
The NIE does not deal with Japan, nor have previous unclassified NIE reports. This is not because Japan is not capable of developing an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead. In fact, Japan could develop an ICBM in a very short time. Indeed, as NIE-95-19 stated:
"Three countries not hostile to the United States—India, Israel and Japan—could develop ICBMs within as few as five years if they were motivated, but we judge that they are unlikely to make the necessary investments during the period of this estimate."9
That is, military capabilities in these countries are evaluated in light of political and economic considerations. Thus, while these countries could develop ICBMs, the intelligence agencies concluded that, in their political judgment, they would not. However, if the international moratorium on nuclear testing ends, the negotiated nuclear reduction process with Russia collapses, funding is slashed for cooperative threat reduction programs in Russia, missile defenses are deployed in large numbers, or the Non-Proliferation Treaty appears to be an empty promise, India, Israel, Japan, and other nations would likely have strong motivation for developing or accelerating the development of indigenous nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles.
The catastrophic collapse of the non-proliferation regime would have a far more profound influence on the spread of nuclear weapons and advanced long-range missile technology than would the test of an intermediate-range missile in North Korea, even one with the theoretical capability of reaching the continental United States with a small payload. However, the latter is analyzed in the NIE, the former is not. This results in an incomplete and distorted picture of the influences and constraints on national missile programs.
III. Is the Missile Threat Actually Increasing?
The NIE refers to the "evolving ballistic missile threat." This is a more accurate term than the commonly used "increasing ballistic missile threat." It has 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 criteria. But by several other important criteria, the ballistic missile threat to the United States is significantly smaller than it was in the mid-1980s.
Decreasing ICBM Arsenals. The number of intercontinental ballistic missiles (with ranges over 5,500 kilometers) 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.10 Currently, Russia has fewer than 5,200 missile warheads deployed on approximately 1,100 missiles. This represents a 52 percent decrease in the number of missiles capable of striking the territory of the United States and a 45 percent decrease in the number of nuclear warheads on these missiles.
These decreases will certainly continue over the next ten years. With or without the implementation of the START treaties, Russia is expected to field fewer than 2,000 nuclear warheads on missiles and bombers by 2010¾ perhaps no more than several hundred, depending on political and economic factors. Two thousand warheads would represent an 80 percent decrease from the mid-1980s; 500 warheads would be a 94 percent decrease.
During this period, China has maintained a force of some 20 DF-5 intercontinental ballistic missiles. The NIE projects that this force will remain roughly the same size, although, as noted, military and political developments could result in significant increases.
Eliminating IRBM Arsenals. The number of deployed intermediate-range ballistic missiles (with ranges of 3,000 to 5,500 km) has also decreased dramatically over the same period. President Ronald Reagan negotiated and implemented the Intermediate-Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, eliminating this entire class of missiles from U.S. and Soviet arsenals. The Soviet Union destroyed 1,846 missiles in this range and the United States destroyed 846 ballistic and cruise missiles. China has some 20 DF-4 missiles in this range, with the first deployed in 1981. No other nation has developed intermediate-range ballistic missiles, though the launch of a two-stage Taepo Dong-2 would add a few missiles to this category. There has thus been close to a 100 percent decrease (98.9 percent) in the threat from IRBMs from the mid-1980s to 2000.
Increasing Number of 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 longer-range "Surya" missile of up to 3,500-km range. 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. There are some speculative reports that Pakistan is working on a "Shaheen II" missile of 2,400-km range and Pakistan has tested engines for a Ghauri III, which Pakistani officials claim would have a range of 2,700-3,000 kilometers. Saudi Arabia is believed to have a number of DF-3 missiles (2,600-km range) purchased from China before that nation agreed to abide by MTCR restrictions.
Aging Scud Inventories. Almost all the other nations that possess ballistic missiles have only short-range ballistic missiles (as detailed in the attached appendix, Countries Possessing Ballistic Missiles). For most of these countries (22), their best missiles are aging Scuds bought or inherited from the former Soviet Union and now declining in military utility over time.
The blurring of short- and intercontinental-ranges for the world’s missiles results in the misinterpretation of the oft-quoted assessment that over 25 nations possess ballistic missiles. This is true, but 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. This confusion is perpetuated 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 again merges threats from very short-range missiles, of which there are many, with long-range missiles, of which there are few.
The more accurate way to summarize existing global ballistic missile capabilities is that, apart from the five recognized nuclear-weapon states, there are 33 nations with ballistic missiles, but the vast majority, or 27 nations, have only short-range missiles under 1,000 km. In fact, 22 of the 33 nations only have Scuds or similar short-range missiles of 300-km range or less (Iraq officially has only short-range Scuds but may have assemblies for extended-range Scuds hidden in the country). Only six nations have medium-range missiles over a 1000-km range (Israel, Saudi Arabia, India, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran). Only four of these nations have active programs for developing intermediate-range missiles of over 3,000 kilometers in the next 10 years (India, Pakistan, North Korea and Iran).
Fewer, Poorer Programs. The number of countries trying or threatening to develop long-range ballistic missile has not changed greatly in 15 years, and by some indications may be considered 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.
We now worry 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 consider a threat to the United States nor a likely exporter of missile technology.
Little Chance of Global Thermonuclear War. Fifteen years ago, the ballistic missile threat confronting the United States was many times greater than it is today. I disagree with the NIE assessment that:
"…the probability that a WMD-armed missile will be used against US forces or interests is higher today than during most of the Cold War."11
Many times in the past 40 years, the citizens of the United States were deeply fearful that a global thermonuclear exchange would be triggered through deliberate confrontation, miscalculation or accident. Such an exchange would have destroyed the planet, not just the nation. While the possibility of an accidental or unauthorized launch of a Russian ballistic missile is increasing as economic and technological conditions deteriorate, the possibility of an all-out nuclear war is remote. While the threats we face are serious, they are orders of magnitude removed from the threats we confronted and thankfully escaped during the Cold War.
The NIE points out that the accurate, survivable and reliable missiles the former Soviet Union deployed in large numbers threatened "catastrophic, national-killing damage." By contrast, the new missile threats, says the NIE, involve states with "considerably fewer missiles with less accuracy, yield, survivability, reliability and rang-payload capability than the hostile strategic forces we have faced for 30 years."
Different, but not Unique. Finally, I disagree with the NIE statement that:
"acquiring long-range ballistic missiles armed with WMD will enable weaker countries to do three things that they otherwise might not be able to do: deter, constrain, and harm the United States."12
This confuses weapons of mass destruction with delivery vehicles. A nation that announced it had placed a nuclear weapon in downtown Washington, D.C. would be just as able to deter, constrain and harm the United States as a nation that announced it had an ICBM with a nuclear warhead—perhaps more so. Nor would the existence of a missile defense system fundamentally alter this situation. No defense system currently envisioned would give military commanders the confidence they would need to assure the President that a missile launched at the United States would definitely be intercepted.
In short, the ballistic missile threat is confined, limited and changing relatively slowly.
The Decreasing Global Ballistic Missile Threat
Status (1985 vs. 2000)
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
Potentially hostile nations with ballistic missile programs
Potential damage to the United States from a missile attack
IV. Countering and Negating Missile Defenses
Countermeasures. The 1999 NIE provides the most elaborate unclassified intelligence description to-date on the steps nations are likely to take in response to deployment of U.S. theater and national missile defenses.
First, it notes:
"We assess that countries developing ballistic missiles would also develop various responses to US theater and national defenses. Russia and China each have developed numerous countermeasures and probably are willing to sell the requisite technologies."13
This possibility should not be lightly dismissed. Over the decades the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France and China have all developed and deployed sophisticated countermeasures to overcome the defensive systems erected by their adversaries.
The inability to discriminate among decoys and overcome other likely counter-measures remains the Achilles’ heel of all currently envisioned ballistic missile defense systems. This is not a hypothetical contest. This is the experience of the existing nuclear arsenals when confronted by defensive systems.
For example, in March 1987 Lawrence Woodruff, then deputy undersecretary of defense for strategic and theater nuclear forces, described the contest between the offense and the defense to the House Armed Services Committee this way:
"The Soviets have been developing their Moscow [ABM] defenses for over ten years at a cost of billions of dollars. For much less expense we believe we can still penetrate these defenses with a small number of Minuteman missiles equipped with highly effective chaff and decoys. And if the Soviet should deploy more advanced or proliferated defenses, we have new penetration aids as counters under development…We are developing a new maneuvering re-entry vehicle that could evade interceptor missiles."14
For these reasons, the Joints Chiefs of Staff were always supremely confident of our ability to overwhelm and penetrate the Moscow anti-ballistic missile systems.
Countries attempting to develop medium-or long-range missiles would not, however, have to rely on the purchase or transfer of counter-measure technology. The NIE lists eight distinct currently available technologies that such countries could employ:
"Many countries, such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq probably would rely initially on readily available technology—including separating RVs, spin-stabilized RVs, RV reorientation, radar absorbing material, booster fragmentation, low-power jammers, chaff, and simple (balloon) decoys—to develop penetration aids and countermeasures."15
The NIE further concludes that these countries could develop these countermeasures "by the time they flight test their missiles." Moreover, foreign espionage and other collection efforts are likely to increase, says the NIE, increasing the likelihood that adversary nations could use critical information about U.S. defenses to improve their ability to overcome such defenses.
These "readily available technologies" could present severe problems for any missile interceptor. Again, these are not new technologies. An analysis prepared by the Office of Technology Assessment in 1988 confirmed that:
- "There are plausible decoy designs that would be very difficult to counter merely with passive infrared sensors in conjunction with radar."
- "It appears possible that chaff, if properly deployed with decoys, could be used to deny RV [re-entry vehicle] detection and more easily, deny RF [radio frequency] discrimination to the radar elements of a defense."
- "Whereas chaff would deny information to radar, aerosols would mask RVs and decoys from infrared sensors."16
In a review of sensor systems under consideration in 1987, including the ground-launched Probe system and the satellite-based Space Surveillance and Tracking System (SSTS), (the predecessor of the Space-Based Infrared System now planned), the Defense Science Board also noted:
"Serious questions remain unanswered about the ability of the passive IR [infrared] sensors on Probe and SSTS to carry out discrimination against anything but the most primitive decoys and debris. In addition, the presence of cooled RVs would greatly reduce the range of proposed sensors."17
These serious questions remain today. Some may believe that the United States has recently solved the discrimination problem. The first intercept test of a proposed national missile defense interceptor on October 2, 1999 contained a test element where the interceptor was to distinguish between the target and a decoy object. The interceptor vehicle, using "hit to kill" technology, successfully collided with and destroyed the target. In briefings before the test, however, Ballistic Missile Defense officials provided important qualifying details of the test. In particular, there were four critical test enhancements that made the test conditions not entirely realistic:
- The target followed a pre-programmed flight path to a designated position.
- The interceptor missile also flew to a pre-programmed position.
- 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 uploaded to a computer in the kill vehicle.
- 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.
- Incorrect star maps loaded into the kill-vehicle’s computer prevented the vehicle from ascertaining its position once it had separated from the booster.
- Back-up inertial guidance systems led to inaccuracies in pointing the sensors used to locate the target.
- The sensors finally saw the large, bright balloon decoy, re-oriented, continued searching, and only by virtue of the proximity of the decoy to the target did they locate the cooler warhead that the kill vehicle had been programmed to recognize as the correct target.
Subsequent reports have made clear other problematic aspects of the test:
The interceptor failed to hit its target in the second intercept test, on January 18, 2000. Initial reports blamed the failure on faulty sensors. The test again had to rely on the GPS transponder for tracking information. The latest analysis is that a leak in the gas lines used to cool the sensors may have caused the failure. This raises the obvious question: If a hand-built, meticulously prepared interceptor fails from leaky tubing, how well are assembly-line production models likely to perform after sitting for years in the frozen Alaskan tundra?
For test purposes, there is nothing wrong with minimizing the number of variables in order to test key elements of the weapon system. It is vital, however, that test officials provide full disclosure of test limitations to policymakers 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. Until interceptor tests are conducted under real-world conditions in the presence of realistic decoys and countermeasures and independently assessed by objective evaluators, it will be impossible to ascertain the effectiveness of proposed ballistic missile defense systems.
Forward-Based Threats. As previous NIEs have reported (in 1993 and 1995), any new nation seeking to develop an ICBM faces formidable technological obstacles, including, but not limited to: propulsion technology; guidance and RV technology; and warhead construction (production of fissile material, design, miniaturization and weaponization). The 1993 NIE also reported that Iran, Iraq or North Korea would "significantly shorten their indigenous development timelines through the acquisition of foreign equipment and help."18
Given the difficulties of ICBM development, it is important to consider other delivery systems that emerging proliferators might pursue instead. In this regard, the 1999 NIE does a significant service by discussing, in greater detail than previous unclassified assessments, the dangers posed by delivery vehicles other than ICBMs, including forward-based launchers (sea-based short- or medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and aircraft) and covert delivery by ship, plane or land.
The assessment notes that these delivery methods, while not as prestigious as an ICBMs, are " of significant concern," "might be the means of choice for terrorists," and offer many attractive advantages over the development of long-range missiles, including:
- Would be significantly less expensive;
- Could be covertly developed and deployed;
- Would be more reliable than ICBMs;
- Would be more accurate than ICBMs over the next 15 years;
- Would be more effective for disseminating a biological warfare agent than a ballistic missile; and,
- Would negate missile defenses.
V. Implications for Deployment of Missile Defense Systems and Recommendations
Policymakers should prudently conclude that, given current technological options and threat estimates, it appears very likely that deployment of a limited NMD system will result in other countries increasing the numbers of missiles they deploy and improving their countermeasure capabilities. In short, anti-missile deployments are likely to exacerbate the very problem that missile defense proponents hope to deter.
To ensure confidence in the reliability and effectiveness of any proposed ballistic missile defense, Congress should request an independent review of ABM technologies and tests, similar to a review conducted by the American Physical Society in 1984-85 on directed energy weapons.19 This would provide Congress with an objective assessment of available defense technologies, filtering out political agendas, contractor influences, and career considerations from this critical national security decision. The National Academy of Sciences and the American Physical Society are two organizations that could be considered for this role.
For the foreseeable future, the most reliable methods for preventing
ballistic missile threats to the United States remain agreements to prevent
and reduce the threat in the first place; strong conventional forces at the
ready to deter the use of weapons of mass destruction; and counterforce weapons
to destroy missiles and weapons before they can be launched. Finally, the most
reliable assessments for predicting the future development of the threat will
be those that are independently conducted free from political pressures and
in which technical assessments are fully integrated with the best available
economic and political analysis. A balanced and comprehensive assessment of
this kind would be unlikely to conclude that the overall missile threat to the
US homeland is increasing significantly.
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1. All the unclassified summaries of the National Intelligence Estimates and other documents and reports referenced in this testimony can be found on-line at the web site of the Carnegie Non-Proliferation Project at:
3. House National Security Committee, Hearings on Ballistic Missile Defense, Statement for the Record by Richard N. Cooper, Chairman, National Intelligence Council for Hearings of 28 February 1996, "Emerging Missile Threats to North America during the Next 15 Years."
10. Robert Norris and Thomas Cochran, Nuclear Weapons Databook, U.S.-USSR/Russian Strategic Offensive Nuclear Forces, 1945- 1996, Natural Resources Defense Council, January 1997, pp. 13 and 46. The latest Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and states of the former Soviet Union (July 1999) counts 6,390 warheads on ICBMs and SLBMs. Many of these warheads, while officially counted for the purposes of the START Treaty, are not operationally deployed. The Natural Resources Defense Council tally of Russian strategic nuclear forces at the end of 1998 counts 5,166 warheads on operational land- and sea-launched ballistic missiles.
19. Report to The American Physical Society of the study group on science and technology of directed energy weapons, Reviews of Modern Physics, Volume 59, Number 3, Part II, July 1987, (not available on-line).
- 1999 National Intelligence Estimate, "Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015"
- 1995 National Intelligence Estimate, "Emerging Missile Threats to North America During the Next 15 Years"
- 1993 National Intelligence Estimate, "Prospects for the Worldwide Development of Ballistic Missile Threats to the Continental United States"
- Rumsfield Commission Report, 1998
- "Review of United States Policy Toward North Korea," report by former Secretary of Defense William Perry, October 1999
- "Strategic Defense, Strategic Choices," Staff Report on the Strategic Defense Initiative, Democratic Caucus of the US House of Representatives, May 1988 (PDF format; requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
For more information on ballistic missile proliferation and ballistic missile defense, please visit our "Missile Proliferation" webpage.