"Asia-Pacific Space and Missile Security Issues" Conference at the Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies, February 15-17, 2000, Honolulu, Hawaii

Four Key Points:

1. The medium-range and long-range missile threat is advancing incrementally and confined to a small number of technologically challenged states.

2. Missile defense technologies are still primitive and developing incrementally. Nine years after the Gulf war we still lack a system that can reliably intercept even short-range Scuds.

3. Missile defenses are unlikely to provide military commanders reliable and effective defenses anytime in the next decade. All available evidence, including the performance of the Patriot in the Gulf War, missile defense tests to-date, and current deployment schedules, support this conclusion.

4. Defense planners would be wise to lower expectations, consider more realistic schedules for missile defenses, and reallocate funding to more pressing defense needs.

Current Threat Assessments

The unclassified summary of the1999 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), "Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015," presents a careful view of some of the ballistic missile threats to the United States. However, there are some significant methodological 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.

Reversed Priorities

The more urgent need is for effective short-range and theater-range ballistic missile defense. President Clinton re-oriented the existing missile defense program in 1993 to giver much greater emphasise to theater defenses. The FY2001 budget fir the first time in the Clinton Administration provides more funds for national missile defense systems ($1.9 billion) than for theater systems ($1.7 billion).

Under current plans, national missile defense systems will be fielded years sooner that advanced theater defense systems (FY 2005 for NMD vs. FY 2007 for THAAD or Navy Upper Tier). This reverses the priorities established by the Joints Chiefs of Staff as recently as 1998 (see attached Letter from the Joint Chiefs to Senator Inhoffe.)


1) The Decreasing Global Ballistic Missile Threat Threat (Table)
2) Letter from Henry H. Shelton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Honorable James M. Inhofe


The Decreasing 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
(8 in mid-1980s, 7 today)


Potentially hostile nations with ballistic missile programs

(3 in mid-1980s, 5 today)


Potential damage to the United States from a missile attack

Vastly decreased




WASHINGTON, D.C. 20318-8999

24 August 1998 The Honorable James M. Inhofe

United States Senate
Washington. D.C. 20510-3603

Dear Senator Inhofe,

Thank you for the opportunity to provide my views, together with those of the Joint Chiefs, on the Rumsfeld Commission Report and its relation to national missile defense. We welcome the contributions of this distinguished panel to our understanding of ballistic missile threat assessments. While we have had the opportunity to review only the Commission's pre-publication report, we can provide answers to your questions subject to review of the final report.

While the Chiefs and I, along with the Intelligence Community, agree with many of the Commission s findings, we have some different perspectives on likely developmental timelines and associated warning times. After carefully considering the portions of the report available to us, we remain confident that the Intelligence Community can provide the necessary warning of the indigenous development and deployment by a rogue state of an ICBM threat to the United States. For example. we believe that North Korea continues moving closer to the initiation of a Taepo Dong I Medium Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) testing program. That program has been predicted and considered in the current examination.

The Commission points out that through unconventional, high-risk development programs and foreign assistance, rogue nations could acquire an ICBM capability in a short time, and that the Intelligence Community may not detect it. We view this as an unlikely development. I would also point out that these rogue nations currently pose a threat to the United States, including a threat by weapons of mass destruction, through unconventional, terrorist-style delivery means. The Chiefs and I believe all these threats must be addressed consistent with a balanced judgment of risks and resources. (emphasis added)

Based on these considerations, we reaffirm our support for the current NMD policy and deployment readiness program. Our program represents an unprecedented level of effort to address the likely emergence of a rogue ICBM threat. It compresses what is normally a 6-12 year development program into 3 years with some additional development concurrent with a 3-year deployment. This emphasis is indicative of our commitment to this vital national security objective. The tremendous effort devoted to this program is a prudent commitment to provide absolutely the best technology when a threat warrants deployment.

Given the present threat projections and the potential requirement to deploy an effective limited defense, we continue to support the "three-plus-three" program. It is our view that the development program should proceed through the integrated system testing scheduled to begin in late 1999, before the subsequent deployment decision consideration in the year 2000. While previous plus-ups have reduced the technical risk associated with this program, the risk remains high. Additional funding would not buy back any time in our already fast-paced schedule.

As to the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, the Chiefs and I believe that under current conditions continued adherence is still consistent with our national security interests. The Treaty contributes to our strategic stability with Russia and. For the immediate future, does not hinder our development program. Consistent with US policy that NMD development be consistent with the ABM Treaty, the Department has an ongoing process to review NMD tests for compliance. The integrated testing that will precede a deployment decision has not yet gone through compliance review. Although a final determination has not been made, we currently intend and project integrated system testing that will be both fully effective and treaty compliant. A deployment decision may well require treaty modification which would involve a variety of factors including the emerging ballistic missile threat to the United States (both capability and intent), and the technology to support an effective national missile defense.

Again, the Chiefs and I appreciate the opportunity to offer our views on the assessment of emerging ballistic missile threats and their relation to national missile defense.



Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff