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The Arms Control Association is an "exceptional organization that effectively addresses pressing national and international challenges with an impact that is disproportionate to its small size." 

– John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation
January 19, 2011
Missile Testing

Missile Testing

Bush Puts N. Korea Negotiations On Hold, Stresses Verification

Alex Wagner

Adopting a harder line toward North Korea than that of his predecessor, President George W. Bush said March 7 that his administration would not immediately resume missile negotiations with Pyongyang left unfinished by the Clinton administration. The announcement differed from previous statements by Secretary of State Colin Powell, who had indicated that the administration planned to pursue what appears to have been a nearly complete deal by the Clinton administration to end North Korea's missile development and exports.

Bush, who made his remarks during a joint press conference with visiting South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, expressed "skepticism" about North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and said that he has concerns about the ability to verify any agreement with a closed society like North Korea. Bush said he "look[s] forward to, at some point in the future, having a dialogue with the North Koreans, but that any potential negotiation would require complete verification of the terms of a potential agreement."

During the press conference, Bush also said that the United States is "not certain as to whether or not [the North Koreans] are keeping all terms of all agreements." The statement sparked some confusion because the United States has only one agreement with North Korea: the 1994 Agreed Framework, which ended Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program. In a briefing following the conference, a senior administration official explained that, despite his phrasing, the president was referring to the potential verifiability of a future missile deal with North Korea. The official said that there are no indications North Korea is violating the Agreed Framework.

Bush's decision to put off negotiations contrasted with statements Powell had previously made on the administration's approach to North Korea. On March 6, Powell told reporters that "we do plan to engage with North Korea and pick up where President Clinton and his administration left off." Powell went on to say that "some promising elements were left on the table" and that the United States has "a lot to offer that regime if they will act in ways that we think are constructive."

However, emerging from the March 7 meeting between Bush and Kim, Powell shifted gears, emphasizing that there is "no hurry" to engage Pyongyang. He said that the administration is conducting a comprehensive review of U.S. policy toward North Korea and that it would, "in due course, decide at what pace and when we engage." Amending his remarks from March 6, Powell said that if "there was some suggestion that imminent negotiations are about to begin—that is not the case."

According to a former senior U.S. official, North Korea had been prepared at the end of the Clinton administration to stop its missile development and missile exports in exchange for international satellite launch services and nonmonetary compensation, respectively. Writing in The New York Times March 7, Ambassador Wendy Sherman, Clinton's special adviser on North Korea, characterized such an agreement as "tantalizingly close."

The former senior official noted, however, that the problem of how to verify and monitor an agreement, in addition to the status of Pyongyang's current missile inventory, had remained unresolved. Powell indicated this was one reason the Bush administration was reviewing its options before proceeding. "What was missing in what had been done was how one would put in place any kind of monitoring or verification regime. And the North Koreans had not engaged on that in any serious way in the period of the Clinton administration," he said in March 8 testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Powell also said that the administration would consider issues beyond missile negotiations in its policy review, including whether the conventional military balance on the Korean Peninsula should be considered simultaneously with missile talks—a course the Clinton administration had avoided. "There's a huge army poised on the demilitarized zone, pointing south, that is probably as great a threat to South Korea and Seoul and regional stability as are weapons of mass destruction. Should that be included in a negotiation with the North Koreans?" Powell asked.

In what may have been a reaction to Bush's comments, on March 13 Pyongyang canceled cabinet-level discussions with Seoul hours before they were set to begin. On March 15, North Korea threatened to "take thousand-fold revenge" on the United States "and its black-hearted intention to torpedo the dialogue between North and South [Korea]." The statement, issued by the state-run Korean Central News Agency, called Washington's new policies "hostile" and noted that Pyongyang remains "fully prepared for both dialogue and war."

 

Congress Reacts

Following Bush's demand for verification in dealings with North Korea, Republican leaders in the House and Senate urged the administration to reconsider the terms of the Agreed Framework, under which North Korea is to be provided with two light-water reactors.

On March 9, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Jesse Helms (R-NC), along with Senators Mike DeWine (R-OH) and Bob Smith (R-NH), sent a letter to Bush calling for the administration to abandon the reactor project in favor of "several clean-burning, coal-fired power plants to meet North Korea's civilian energy needs." The letter called into question Pyongyang's "track record" and said that "North Korea's regime hardly can be trusted with [light-water reactor] technology, or with fissile material."

In a March 13 speech to the American Enterprise Institute, Henry Hyde (R-IL), chairman of the House International Relations Committee, also championed replacing the light-water reactors with conventional power plants while stressing the need for comprehensive verification in light of past actions by North Korea.

Congressional Democrats urged Bush to continue to pursue a negotiated solution to U.S. concerns over Pyongyang's nuclear and missile capabilities. In a March 6 letter to Bush before his meeting with Kim, the Democratic leadership of the House and Senate, as well as the ranking members of the International Relations and Foreign Relations committees, encouraged the president to work with South Korea to address North Korea's nuclear and missile programs and said that, if he does so, they "stand ready to support" him.

EU to Send Delegation to Korean Peninsula

Following President George W. Bush's decision to put off missile negotiations with North Korea, the European Union (EU) announced it would send a high-level delegation to the Korean Peninsula.

Speaking at the EU summit in Stockholm, President of the European Council and Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson said March 24 that he, EU Secretary-General Javier Solana, and EU External Affairs Commissioner Christopher Patten hope to visit Seoul and Pyongyang before the end of May. Persson said he planned to broach "a broad agenda" with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il, including discussions on missiles. Sweden currently holds the six-month rotating presidency of the EU and has had diplomatic relations with Pyongyang for the past 26 years.

According to a senior Swedish official, the EU discussion is intended to be "complementary" to both the North-South peace process and any further U.S.-North Korean security negotiations. The official stressed that it is "important that the U.S.-North Korean discussions resume" and said that the dialogue on missile negotiations "cannot and should not" be taken up without the United States.

However, in a March 24 interview on Swedish television, Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh reportedly stated that the unanimous decision by the 15 EU leaders to send the delegation came about because "it's becoming clear that the new U.S. administration wants to take a more hard-line approach toward North Korea." Lindh went on to say that such a policy "means that Europe must step in to help reduce tension between the two Koreas, not least because the outside world is so worried about North Korean missiles." —A.W.

Preserving the North Korean Threat

Spurgeon M. Keeny, Jr.

In deciding not to continue the Clinton administration's efforts to curb the North Korean ballistic missile program, President George W. Bush has gratuitously rejected a promising opportunity to improve U.S. security. In fact, the decision is so irrationally contrary to U.S. security interests that it is widely perceived internationally as intended to preserve, and even enhance, the North Korean ballistic missile threat so that it can serve as the rationale for early deployment of a national missile defense (NMD). This devastating assessment of U.S. motivation will only be refuted if the Bush administration's promised review of its North Korea policy leads to a prompt resumption of the deferred negotiations to stop Pyongyang's development and export of ballistic missiles.

The decision was apparently taken with little or no consultation with South Korea or Japan, the front-line states with the most at stake in U.S. missile policy toward North Korea. This latest example of disregard for the concerns of allies on the ballistic missile issue was underscored by the choice of the meeting with South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, the principal architect of South Korea's policy of reconciliation with North Korea, as the venue for the short shrift of a diplomatic resolution of the North Korean ballistic missile issue. Kim was clearly very embarrassed politically at being blindsided and used as the backdrop for Bush's deferral decision.

Despite half a century of extremely difficult relations with North Korea, experience does not support Bush's hesitation in pursuing diplomacy with Pyongyang. At a time of extreme tension, the United States was able to negotiate the 1994 Agreed Framework, which froze the North Korean nuclear weapons program and provided for the phased elimination of the facilities that had been shut down. Without this arrangement, the world would today face a North Korea armed with several tens of nuclear weapons and could look forward shortly to a North Korean nuclear arsenal numbering in the hundreds. Building on this experience, the United States sought a similar arrangement curbing the North Korean ballistic missile program. By the end of the Clinton administration, negotiations had progressed to the point—characterized by U.S. Ambassador Wendy Sherman as "tantalizingly close"—to allow Clinton to contemplate going to Pyongyang to close the deal. Although time ran out on the immediate negotiation, the makings of a deal remain on the table. But this window of opportunity may well close because, in announcing its moratorium on missile testing, North Korea declared that its ban would last only as long as negotiations continued.

In rejecting Secretary of State Colin Powell's proposal, made the day before, that the Bush administration should take up the negotiations with North Korea where the Clinton administration left off, Bush suggested that it was not possible to negotiate with Pyongyang on the issue since an agreement required "complete verification" and Pyongyang may not be honoring existing agreements. Actually, Pyongyang has kept its side of the bargain in the Agreed Framework on its nuclear program as well as the United States has. As to verification, U.S. national technical means alone can monitor the critical elements of a ballistic missile agreement bearing most significantly on U.S. security. The tests required for the development of long-range missiles are easily detectable, and the export of North Korean ballistic missiles on a scale that would affect U.S. security would also soon be apparent.

If an agreement included a ban on all missile production and the elimination of existing missiles, additional verification measures would indeed be necessary. But, as desirable as these constraints would be, they need not be absolutely comprehensive to provide high confidence that the North Korean missile program had in fact been adequately constrained. Indeed, working out a mutually acceptable balance of obligations and verification measures is what negotiations are all about.

Whatever one may think about the need for a national missile defense, the United States will be far better off preventing the further development and unlimited production of North Korean ballistic missiles for the next decade before the enhanced NMD, which Bush apparently advocates, can possibly become operational. President Bush should therefore promptly revisit his decision to defer resumption of ballistic missile talks with North Korea and follow Powell's wise advice to resume the negotiations with the objective of reaching an early, adequately verified agreement. The United States cannot afford to be perceived as being prepared to sacrifice the opportunity to eliminate the North Korean missile program diplomatically in order to preserve the threat of a growing North Korean missile capability as a rationale for undertaking a major national missile defense.

India Tests Agni-2 Ballistic Missile

India conducted its second flight test of the Agni-2 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) on January 17. In a statement released shortly after the launch, the Indian Defense Ministry noted that the missile was tested in its "final operational configuration" and that "mission objectives were met satisfactorily."

The road-mobile, two-stage, solid-fueled Agni-2 is New Delhi's most advanced missile system. It can deliver a 1,000-kilogram payload more than 2,000 kilometers, reaching targets throughout Pakistan and much of western China and Southeast Asia. The Indian defense minister's scientific adviser, V.K. Aatre, told reporters January 25 that the nuclear-capable missile will be inducted into the Indian arsenal sometime this year.

India tested the IRBM at the Interim Test Range at Chandipur, in the eastern state of Orissa. According to the Indian Foreign Ministry, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Pakistan, and Japan were notified in advance of the impending test in accordance with an agreement signed in Lahore in 1999.

India first tested the Agni-2 in April 1999, approximately one year after its 1998 nuclear tests. At that time, Pakistan responded quickly with missile tests of its own.

This year, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry reacted with a statement characterizing India's nuclear and missile programs as "ambitious" and saying they posed "a direct threat to Pakistan's security." The ministry also reiterated Islamabad's October 1998 proposal to develop a "Strategic Restraint Regime to promote nuclear and conventional stabilization and to strengthen peace and stability in South Asia."

D.P.R.K. Threatens to End Missile Moratorium, Nuclear Cooperation

Alex Wagner

Pyongyang threatened on February 22 to abandon its missile testing moratorium and its participation in the Agreed Framework if the Bush administration followed a "different" North Korea policy from that of the Clinton administration. North Korea also criticized the Bush team for what it termed an "aggressive and brigandish" approach to future relations that would obstruct movement in the "direction of reconciliation, cooperation and improved ties."

The remarks were made in a Foreign Ministry statement carried by the Korean Central News Agency, the official government press organ. The statement claimed that the Bush administration "is not posed to seriously study" progress made by the Clinton administration toward ending Pyongyang's indigenous missile program and missile exports.

The statement reaffirmed that, while North Korea would not test long-range missiles during negotiations, a pledge originally made in September 1999, if dialogue were discontinued, the moratorium could not be maintained "indefinitely." Pyongyang also accused Washington of "not sincerely" implementing the Agreed Framework and emphasized that, should Washington continue to delay implementation, there would be "no need" to be "bound to it any longer."

The framework, signed in 1994, froze North Korea's nuclear program in exchange for two light-water commercial nuclear power reactors and for heavy fuel oil shipments during the reactors' construction. Since the framework's signing, the reactors' construction has suffered from setbacks, prompting North Korean protests.

The statement also denounced past U.S. characterizations of North Korea as a "rogue state" and U.S. national missile defense efforts.

At a February 22 press conference, White House national security adviser Condoleezza Rice characterized Pyongyang's threat to resume missile tests as "counterproductive." Rice told reporters, "It's not helpful for the North Koreans to threaten to have missile tests in order to get [the United States] to do something to give up missile defense." Rice also said that the new administration is still reviewing its North Korea policy, which it is closely coordinating with South Korea and Japan.

However, earlier that same day, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher expressed the administration's willingness to continue the progress made to date on security issues, saying, "We will continue to use that as we form an overall policy." Boucher added that the United States expects Pyongyang to respect its pledge on ballistic missile testing and that the Bush administration would honor its commitments under the Agreed Framework "as long as North Korea does the same."

North Korea appears to have issued its statement in response to what it perceives as a more "hardline stance" by the new Bush administration. At his January 17 confirmation hearing, Secretary of State Colin Powell indicated that he plans to move carefully when engaging North Korea on missile issues. Powell told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, "The Bush administration will come in and work with North Korea and with our allies in the region…in a very, very cautious way."

While Powell stated that the United States should "encourage" the opening up of North Korea, he stressed that North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il should be viewed with "clear-eyed realism." Powell emphasized that, even if Pyongyang agreed to end its indigenous missile program and missile exports, "we'd still be left with a situation of a dictatorial regime that has a very large army poised on the border between North and South Korea."

Powell also said that the new administration would only continue to engage North Korea through reciprocity and that it would measure progress by Pyongyang meeting tangible benchmarks. Any North Korea policy would have to be implemented "in a very, very realistic way" that does not "give them anything unless we get something in return, something that is really valuable to us, something that moves them in an entirely different direction."

Richard Armitage, a key foreign policy adviser to the Bush campaign who has advocated taking a tougher negotiating posture with Pyongyang, has been nominated to become Powell's deputy. In a 1999 paper for the National Defense University, Armitage called for regaining the "diplomatic initiative" with North Korea and moving toward "full normalization of relations" if Pyongyang satisfies U.S. concerns. However, should diplomacy fail, Armitage suggested that the United States would be faced with either living with and deterring a "nuclear North Korea armed with delivery systems" or "preemption, with the attendant uncertainties."

Agreement to End INF Inspections Signed

Meeting at the 26th session of the Special Verification Commission (SVC), representatives of the United States, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan signed an agreement December 14 that regulates completion of inspections under the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. The SVC is a forum for discussing INF Treaty-related issues.

While the INF Treaty is of unlimited duration, the agreement will facilitate the completion of "continuous portal monitoring," which allowed the parties to keep tabs on what entered and exited U.S. and Russian intermediate-range missile assembly plants, according to the State Department. Those plants are located in Magna, Utah, and Votkinsk, Russia. Monitoring will cease at midnight May 31, 2001, as called for by the treaty.

According to a U.S. government official, while the monitoring regime will end, countries will be able to continue to verify compliance through "national technical means" (satellite surveillance, for example) and other "data collection" methods. Furthermore, while INF inspections will cease, monitoring will continue at Votkinsk under the START I agreement. No START monitoring is conducted at Magna.

The INF Treaty, which entered into force June 1, 1988, banned all ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500-5,500 kilometers. The treaty was negotiated by the United States and Soviet Union. After the latter's dissolution, the United States informed the 12 successor states to the Soviet Union that it considered them all bound by the provisions of the treaty. Four of those states—Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan—and the United States actively participate in regular meetings of the SVC.

In related news, Russia has complained in recent sessions of the SVC that the U.S. "Hera" missile violates the INF Treaty. The missile, composed of the two upper stages from a defunct three-stage Minuteman II missile, is used as a target for U.S. theater missile defense testing. According to U.S. government officials, Washington was initially "puzzled" by the Russian complaint, but Russian officials have persisted in raising it during the past year. Ambassador Steven Steiner, U.S. representative to the SVC, said that the United States feels use of the Hera booster system is in full compliance with its obligations under the INF Treaty.

Agreement to End INF Inspections Signed

Russia Deploys Six Topol-M Long-Range Missiles

On December 26, Russia deployed six Topol-M missiles, four fewer than had been expected. Russia fielded 10 Topol-Ms in both 1998 and 1999, but its deployments have fallen well short of the goals set forth in an ambitious plan announced in 1998 by Vladimir Yakovlev, head of the Strategic Rocket Forces. Under the plan, Russia was to field 20-30 Topol-Ms each year for three years and 30-40 in each of the subsequent three years.

While funding shortfalls have likely contributed to the low number of deployed missiles, some analysts have suggested that this year's smaller than usual contingent indicates a policy shift toward favoring conventional over nuclear weapons. In August, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly decided that Russia would reduce its deployed nuclear arsenal and shift funds to conventional forces after a contentious Security Council meeting that had considered budget priorities. (See ACT, September 2000.)

The Topol-M, designated the SS-27 by NATO, is a three-stage, solid-fueled missile with a reported range in excess of 10,000 kilometers. It is designed to be deployed in either a silo-based or road-mobile variant. To date, only silo-based versions have been fielded. The missile carries a single warhead with an estimated yield of 550 kilotons but, according to Russian officials, can be modified to carry at least three warheads. (See ACT, June 2000.)

The Topol-M is intended to replace all of Russia's land-based strategic missiles. Once it enters into force, START II will require destruction of the SS-18 missiles that form the core of Russia's current arsenal and will ban multiple-warhead ICBMs (although some can be "downloaded" to carry only single warhead). As its sea- and bomber-based forces deteriorate and its land-based missiles reach and exceed their service lives, Russia's ability to deploy a strategic nuclear arsenal will increasingly depend on deployment of Topol-M missiles.

Russia Deploys Six Topol-M Long-Range Missiles

U.S., Russia Sign Missile- and Space-Launch Notification Deal

January/February 2001

By Philipp C. Bleek

Aiming to reduce the risk of inadvertent nuclear war, the United States and Russia approved an agreement December 16 that is intended to decrease the possibility of false warning of a strategic missile attack by having Washington and Moscow inform each other of planned missile and space launches.

The accord is designed to facilitate the provision of early-warning information to the Joint Data Exchange Center in Moscow, at which the United States and Russia will exchange and jointly monitor missile-launch data in "near-real time." (See ACT, July/August 2000.) The agreement must be implemented within one year of its signing, a date timed to coincide with the deadline for the new center's opening.

Formally titled the "Memorandum of Understanding on Missile Launch Notifications," the new agreement was signed in Brussels by Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and is expected to be made public in the coming weeks. It covers both pre- and post-launch notification and incorporates legally binding obligations as well as voluntary commitments that substantially exceed those contained in existing agreements.

A U.S. official involved with the agreement's negotiation indicated that for ballistic missile launches with a range greater than or maximum altitude higher than 500 kilometers, the agreement obligates notification, although combat launches can be exempted. For space launches, the official stated that the agreement "establishes a norm but allows exceptions," for example due to national security concerns. Finally, the agreement calls for voluntary notification of satellites forced from orbit and geophysical experiments "that could adversely affect the operation of early-warning radars," according to the State Department.

The two sides have repeatedly emphasized their intention to open the agreement to any other interested countries after it is implemented bilaterally. According to the official, the U.S. government considers the agreement as "laying the groundwork for a multilateral system."

The agreement extends beyond existing accords, providing for the notification of a far broader range of activities. Prior agreements date back to 1971, when the United States and the Soviet Union required notification of ballistic missile launches extending beyond their national territories and directed toward the other party. A range of subsequent agreements incorporated overlapping pre-launch notification requirements. The most far-reaching of these are the START I and Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces pacts, which only govern specific missile systems.

According to a Pentagon official, one of the primary motivations for the new notification agreement's negotiation was a widely reported January 1995 incident in which Russia identified a U.S.-Norwegian scientific rocket launched from Norway's coast as a potential U.S. attack. In response, then-President Boris Yeltsin reportedly activated his nuclear briefcase to prepare for a retaliatory strike, only de-escalating after early-warning radar operators calculated that the missile would not impact on Russian soil.

The accord was negotiated in the context of ongoing U.S.-Russian "strategic stability" talks, which were originally intended to negotiate a START III agreement. Since the START process stalled, those talks have focused on a variety of second-tier arms control-related issues like early warning and fissile material disposition.

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov met November 29-30 in Washington for what appears to be the final session of the talks under the Clinton administration, although the State Department declined to characterize the talks as a "final round."

U.S., Russia Sign Missile- and Space-Launch Notification Deal

THEL Destroys Two Airborne Targets in Tests

October 2000

In recent tests against two targets fired within seconds of each other, the joint U.S.-Israeli Tactical High Energy Laser (THEL) succeeded in destroying both targets in September 22 and 25 tests after failing to do so on September 11. Additional tests against multiple targets are planned.

Program managers at the New Mexico test site conducted two separate tests each involving two Katyusha rockets on September 11. In both tests, THEL shot down the first rocket and only aimed at the second rocket. Preliminary information suggested the high-energy chemical laser lacked sufficient radar tracking information to fire at the second rockets. In the two subsequent tests, THEL Program Manager Gerald Wilson said that "the radar system worked and therefore the Tactical High Energy Laser Demonstrator was provided the opportunity to engage the second target."

An August 28 test marked the first time the laser, which has been under development since 1996, knocked out two rockets in flight at the same time. A U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command spokesperson described the time separating the two rocket launches in the August test as a "matter of seconds." In the September tests, the spokesperson said the rockets were fired "at nearly the same time." All of the September tests had the same interval between rocket launches.

Designed with the goal of protecting northern Israeli cities from short-range rocket attacks, the laser was to be handed over to Israel by this October, but continued testing will likely push the transfer off until at least next year. Though some Israeli military officials have reportedly expressed doubts about how effective the system will be, an Israeli official in a September 19 interview said THEL is considered a "very important project." The Israeli government has contributed $67.5 million to fund development of the estimated $250 million system, the performance of which can be affected by rain, snow, wind and, fog.

THEL Destroys Two Airborne Targets in Tests

Iran Claims Successful Test of Shahab-3 Variant

October 2000

Fueling concerns that Iran is making rapid advancements in its ballistic missile program, Iran's state-run Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported September 21 that Iran had "successfully tested" a Shahab-3D ballistic missile—its second Shahab test in just over two months. U.S. officials would not confirm that a test had taken place, but a Pentagon official said, "We know that Iran will continue to test the Shahab missiles [and that] they will continue to develop a longer-range missile capability."

The announcement of the Shahab-3D test unveils a previously unknown variant of the liquid-fueled, road-mobile Shahab-3. At present, the range and payload of the 3D version are unknown; however, the September 21 IRNA report specified that the Shahab-3D employs a combination of solid-liquid propellant, which would make the missile Iran's first to incorporate solid-fuel technology. The Shahab-3 is a 53 foot-long, 1,300 kilometer-range ballistic missile that was first tested in 1998 and again this July. (See ACT, September 2000.)

Iranian government radio maintained that the September 21 test was for nonmilitary purposes to allow Iran to begin "design and production" of "satellite guidance systems." However, such claims have done little to ease U.S. threat assessments because the technology required to launch satellites is similar to that for a ballistic missile system.

In a September 21 subcommittee hearing of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, Robert Walpole, the National Intelligence Council's officer for strategic and nuclear programs, warned that despite the Iranian government's contention, the intelligence community considers the Shahab-3D "a missile, not a space-launch vehicle." Walpole testified that Tehran has a "very active" program that could test a missile capable of carrying a biological or chemical weapon to the United States "in the next few years."

The September 21 test occurred on the first day of Holy Defense Week, a yearly commemoration of the beginning of the Iran-Iraq War in 1980. To commemorate the war's anniversary, both the Iranian regular military and the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have traditionally held war games, conducted maneuvers, and staged parades showcasing their military hardware.

Iran Claims Successful Test of Shahab-3 Variant

Iran Tests

Alex Wagner

Iran announced July 15 that it had successfully conducted its second test of the Shahab-3 medium-range ballistic missile, demonstrating Tehran's continued interest and progress in missile development. The test comes amid continuing debate in the United States over the need to deploy a national missile defense.

Defense Secretary William Cohen stated in a July 17 press conference that the launch did "not come as a surprise" to the United States but rather confirmed the Pentagon's "anticipation" of continued progress in Iran's ballistic missile capabilities. In a 1999 report to Congress, the CIA had noted that Iran probably already had the capability to deploy a "limited number of the Shahab-3 prototype missiles in an operational mode."

While the Pentagon remains uncertain how many tests Iran would need to completely develop confidence in the Shahab-3, on July 18 spokesman Kenneth Bacon told reporters that for Iran the test was "clearly…a success" that moves it closer to having the confidence necessary for full deployment.

In early July, Iran announced the creation of five ballistic missile units under the command of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC)—an elite military organization that is responsible for the country's strategic military programs. Any deployment of the Shahab-3 would be administrated by the IRGC, which is directly controlled by Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Shahab-3 is a 53-foot long, liquid-fueled, road-mobile missile derived from both the North Korean Scud-C and No Dong-1 and constructed with significant Russian technological and material assistance. With an estimated range of 1,300 kilometers and payload of 700 kilograms, it is the pre-eminent missile in the Iranian arsenal, capable of targeting all of Israel and U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia, in addition to portions of Russia and Turkey.

The first test, conducted on July 22, 1998, was shown on Iranian state-run television and exploded 100 seconds after launch. Although Iran claimed it was a success, both U.S. government officials and regional analysts maintain that the 1998 test was a failure.

The latest test comes as the Clinton administration nears a decision on whether to proceed with the deployment of a limited national missile defense system. The development of advanced, long-range missiles by "states of concern," including Iran, has been used as the primary rationale for the system.

In February 1999, Iran's defense minister, Admiral Ali Shamkhani, announced that Iran was in the process of testing and developing motors for a Shahab-4 missile with a space-launch-vehicle capability. Derived largely from the Russian SS-4, the Shahab-4 is expected to have a range of approximately 2,000 kilometers. Cohen emphasized that he expects Iran will "continue to develop a longer-range missile range capability."

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