Missile Controversies

Jan. 1, 1999

Do rogue nations now pose a “no-warning” ballistic missile threat to the United States? The question shapes up as one of the critical security issues of 1999 for the Clinton Administration, Congress, and the armed services.

How it is answered could determine whether the US gives a hard push to a multibillion-dollar homeland defense effort anytime soon.

The controversy flared in July when a blue-ribbon commission led by former Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld warned that North Korea, Iran, and Iraq are developing long-range missiles faster than expected and in ways US intelligence might not detect. Panel members said the rogues import technology from Russia and China and avoid long US-style development and test cycles-factors that greatly compress acquisition times and increase secrecy.

The panel’s bleak outlook clashed with that of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose Chairman, Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, expressed deep skepticism of the report on nearly every key point. In addition, he indicated that the Chiefs saw no need to accelerate the current measured US missile defense program.

The Central Intelligence Agency, for the moment, continued to maintain that such a threat probably won’t emerge for a decade and that it would be able to provide adequate warning. However, the CIA’s missile specialist, Robert D. Walpole, said the agency is preparing a new National Intelligence Estimate on the matter. The classified document is to be completed in early 1999.

The intensified political debate on rogue missiles and missile defense will be shaped to a large extent by the positions staked out by various officials and agencies in a recent series of public hearings, reports, and speeches.

Rumsfeld Commission Final Report

(Released July 15, 1998)

• “Concerted efforts by a number of overtly or potentially hostile nations to acquire ballistic missiles with biological or nuclear payloads pose a growing threat to the United States, its deployed forces, and its friends and allies. These newer, developing threats in North Korea, Iran, and Iraq are in addition to those still posed by the existing ballistic missile arsenals of Russia and China, nations with which we are not now in conflict but which remain in uncertain transitions. The newer ballistic missile­equipped nations’ capabilities will not match those of US systems for accuracy or reliability. However, they would be able to inflict major destruction on the US within about five years of a decision to acquire such a capability (10 years in the case of Iraq). During several of those years, the US might not be aware that such a decision had been made.”

• “The threat to the US posed by these emerging capabilities is broader, more mature, and evolving more rapidly than has been reported in estimates and reports by the [American] Intelligence Community.”

• “The Intelligence Community’s ability to provide timely and accurate estimates of ballistic missile threats to the US is eroding. This erosion has roots both within and beyond the intelligence process itself. The community’s capabilities in this area need to be strengthened.”

• “The warning times the US can expect of new, threatening ballistic missile deployments are being reduced. Under some plausible scenarios-including re-basing or transfer of operational missiles, sea- and air-launch options, shortened development programs that might include testing in a third country, or some combination of these-the US might well have little or no warning before operational deployment.”

Army Gen. Hugh Shelton, Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff

(Aug. 24, 1998, letter to Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla.)

• “After carefully considering the [Rumsfeld] report, we [the Joint Chiefs of Staff] 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.”

• “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 regard this as an unlikely development.”

• “These rogue nations currently pose a threat to the United States, including a threat by weapons of mass destruction, [only] through unconventional, terrorist-style delivery means.”

• “The current [Clinton Administration] National Missile Defense policy and development readiness program … is a prudent commitment to provide absolutely the best technology when a threat warrants deployment.”

• “Under current conditions, continued adherence to [the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty] is still consistent with our national interests. The treaty contributes to our strategic stability with Russia. … For the immediate future, [the ABM Treaty] does not hinder our development program. We currently intend and project integrated system testing that will be both fully effective and treaty compliant.”

• “The Chiefs and I believe all [the] threats must be addressed consistent with a balanced judgment of risks and resources.”

Robert D. Walpole, CIA

(Sept. 17, 1998, speech in Washington, D.C.)

• “We do not expect countries to follow any specific pattern for missile development. In fact, the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China all took different approaches. … Just because the United States, Russia, or China was able to accomplish certain feats certain ways in a specific period of time–short or long–does not mean another country will.”

• “We recognize that foreign countries can hide many activities from us. These countries are generally increasing their security measures and are learning from each other and from open reporting of our capabilities.”

• “Theater-range missiles already in hostile hands pose an immediate threat to US interests, military forces, and allies. The threat is increasing. More countries are acquiring ballistic missiles with ranges up to 1,000 kilometers and, more importantly, with ranges between 1,000 kilometers and 3,000 kilometers. … This is not a hypothetical threat. It is a reality that has to be dealt with now.”

• “Foreign assistance is fundamental to the growing theater missile threat. … Iran received important foreign assistance in developing its Shahab 3 [Medium-Range Ballistic Missile]. Moreover, countries are seeking the capability to build these missiles independently of foreign suppliers. The growth in the sharing of technology among the aspiring missile powers is also of concern.”

• “We judge that an unauthorized or accidental launch of a Russian or Chinese strategic missile is highly unlikely, as long as current security procedures and systems are in place. Russia employs an extensive array of technical and procedural safeguards and China keeps its missiles unfueled and without warheads mated.”

• “Among those countries seeking longer-range missiles, we believe North Korea is the most advanced. Its Taepo Dong 2, which we judged will have a range between 4,000 and 6,000 kilometers, could reach mainland Alaska and the Hawaiian islands. … We judge it unlikely, despite the extensive transfer of theater missile technology, that other countries … will develop, produce, and deploy an ICBM capable of reaching any part of the United States over the next decade.”

• “We identified several alternative scenarios for a country to acquire an ICBM capable of reaching the United States sooner than 2010. These include buying an ICBM or SLV [Space Launch Vehicle] to convert into an ICBM, or buying a complete production facility for either. We judge that the current policies of Russia and China make these scenarios unlikely, given potential political repercussions, the creation of a self-inflicted threat, and China’s own military needs. Our report points out that we cannot be certain that this will remain true over the long term. Indeed, the further into the future we project the politico­economic environment, the less certain we would be that the ‘value’ of the sale would not outweigh these factors in foreign thinking.”

• “A number of countries have the technological wherewithal to develop the capability to launch … missiles from a forward-based platform, such as a surface ship. Forward-basing from dedicated vessels or from freighters could pose a new threat to the United States in the near term–well before 2010.”

• “We could provide five years’ warning before deployment that a potentially hostile country was trying to develop and deploy an ICBM capable of hitting the United States, unless that country purchased an ICBM or SLV; … had an indigenous SLV; or purchased a turnkey production facility. We could not count on providing much warning of either the sale of an ICBM or the sale and conversion of [an] SLV. (Conversion could occur in as little as two years.)”

• “The threat is real and growing. The MRBM threat to US interests in the world is already upon us. Missile forces of Russia and China pose a significant threat to the United States and this threat will continue to exist for the foreseeable future. Our reports also agree on North Korea’s capabilities.”

• “There are plausible scenarios that could result in an increased missile threat to the United States for which there would be little or no warning.”

• “We are in basic agreement with the commission on North Korea. … The commission considers Iraq to be behind North Korea and Iran relative to ballistic missile technology. We view Iraq as further along in some ways. Iraq was ahead of Iran before the Gulf War. They have not lost the technological expertise and creativity. If sanctions were lifted and they tried to develop indigenously a 9,000-kilometer-range ICBM to be able to reach the United States, it would take them several years. If they purchased an ICBM from North Korea or elsewhere, it would be quicker.”

• “The commission considers Iran to be as far along in its technological development efforts as North Korea. In our view, that is not the case. The recently tested Iranian Shahab 3 is based on the No Dong and followed North Korea’s test, even with foreign assistance, by several years. Iran will likely continue to seek longer range missiles and would need to develop a 10,000-kilometer-range ICBM to be able to reach the United States. If they follow a pattern similar to the Shahab 3 time frame, it would take them many years. On the other hand, if they purchased an ICBM from North Korea or elsewhere, it would be quicker.”

Donald Rumsfeld

(Sept. 24, 1998, Senate Armed Services Committee)

• “He [JCS Chairman Shelton] says we have had some different perspectives on likely development [of rogue nations’ missiles] and associated warning times. … We do. We differ from his assessment, which I understand from this letter is the [Joint] Chiefs’ assessment.”

• “It says, ‘After carefully considering the report, 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.’ We don’t disagree with that-that is to say, if there were such a thing as an indigenous development program, we probably would be able to track it and provide adequate warning. The problem with it is an indigenous development program doesn’t exist. What is stated here is an illogical premise. It can proceed perfectly logically to an illogical conclusion. That’s where that would take you.”

• “Next section … says, … ‘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 feel this is an unlikely development.’ We do not view it as unlikely. We view it as a fact. It’s all happened.”

• “First of all, an ‘unconventional development program’ is what all those countries are doing. It’s all unconventional. No country is going to do what we [the United States] did. We have totally different interests in accuracies and survivability. … Second, ‘high-risk development programs.’ They couldn’t care less about safety. Naturally, it’s high risk. To characterize it as high risk and imply that, therefore, it doesn’t exist or isn’t a threat, … well, they’re wrong. Next, it says ‘and foreign assistance.’ Of course there is foreign assistance. It’s going on. It’s happening every day. It’s happening as we sit here.”

• “[Shelton says] ‘rogue nations could acquire an ICBM capability.’ They ARE acquiring an ICBM capability. In our view, we do not view it as unlikely. We view it as a fact of life that’s happening all across the globe.”

• “Our report assessed North Korea as being capable of developing an ICBM to threaten the United States within five years of a decision to do so and that we might very well not know when that decision was made. It could have been made four years ago. … They [Joint Chiefs] point out that these rogue nations currently pose a threat by using weapons of mass destruction through unconventional terrorist-style delivery means. And of course, that’s true. But the fact that there are other threats … doesn’t diminish the ballistic missile threat.”