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January 19, 2011
Missile Proliferation

U.S. Shows More Flexibility in North Korea Talks

Paul Kerr

With another round of six-party talks concerning the North Korean nuclear crisis likely to take place, the Bush administration has signaled new flexibility in its bargaining position. Although U.S. policy is still far from fully formed, the biggest change appears to be that the United States will not insist that North Korea completely dismantle its nuclear facilities before Washington addresses some of North Korea’s concerns. Instead, Department of State officials say, they are looking at a step-by-step approach to reduce tensions.

Secretary of State Colin Powell said Sept. 22 that future multilateral discussions are likely, and officials from South Korea, Japan, Russia, and China—the other participants in the recent talks held in Beijing—have all expressed support for another round.

North Korea, however, has been ambivalent. An Aug. 30 statement from the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) indicated that Pyongyang was uninterested in further six-party talks. But a Sept. 2 agency statement reaffirmed Pyongyang’s “will to peacefully settle the nuclear issue…through dialogue.”

Subsequent North Korean statements have argued that future six-party talks will not be useful unless Washington changes its “hostile policy” of threatening a military attack and economic strangulation. Pyongyang officials have repeatedly demanded that the two countries conclude a non-aggression treaty before Pyongyang destroys its nuclear weapons program.

Pyongyang’s ambivalence toward future talks stems from its aversion to U.S. demands that North Korea dismantle its nuclear program before addressing any of North Korea’s concerns. Indeed, the United States has repeatedly insisted that North Korea dismantle its nuclear program as a necessary—although not necessarily sufficient—condition for improved bilateral relations.

North Korea contends that the United States continued to articulate this position during the Beijing talks. (See ACT, September 2003). However, a senior State Department official insisted during a Sept. 4 press briefing that the U.S. delegation actually displayed more flexibility than the North Koreans claim and that Pyongyang’s statements seemed “pre-scripted” rather than responsive to the actual discussions.

The official said the U.S. presentations were “different in tone and in content” from those made during talks with North Korea in Oct. 2002 and this past April. The official added that the U.S. delegation “made clear that we are not seeking to strangle North Korea…we can sincerely discuss security concerns in the context of nuclear dismantlement, and...we are willing to discuss a sequence of denuclearization measures with corresponding measures on both sides.” The United States did not specify what measures it would take, the official said.

This account of the U.S. position is somewhat consistent with Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s Aug. 29 statement that all parties had reached a “consensus” to solve the nuclear crisis “through synchronous and parallel implementation.” However, a Sept. 1 statement from the South Korean government said there were “sharp differences” between the two sides, and Wang told reporters the same day that—despite his earlier comments—Washington’s policy is the “main problem” preventing diplomatic progress.

Pyongyang’s Proposal

During the talks, North Korea reiterated and elaborated on its solution for resolving the standoff. According to an Aug. 29 KCNA statement, North Korea proposed a step-by-step solution, calling for the United States to conclude a “non-aggression treaty,” normalize bilateral diplomatic relations, refrain from hindering North Korea’s “economic cooperation” with other countries, complete the reactors promised under the 1994 Agreed Framework, resume suspended fuel oil shipments, and increase food aid. In return, North Korea would dismantle its “nuclear facility,” as well as end missile testing and export of missiles and related components.

North Korea made a similar proposal during a round of trilateral talks held in Beijing in April. A Sept. 10 KCNA statement also said that Pyongyang would discuss verification measures for any agreement “only after the U.S. drops its hostile policy.”

“Nuclear facility” appears to refer to its plutonium-based nuclear reactor frozen under the Agreed Framework—the agreement that defused the first North Korean nuclear crisis by providing North Korea with heavy fuel oil and two proliferation-resistant light water reactors in exchange for freezing its plutonium-based nuclear facilities. An August KCNA statement denied U.S. charges, first made during a bilateral meeting in Oct. 2002, that North Korea possesses a uranium-enrichment program—another method for producing fuel for nuclear weapons.

A Compromise?

Following meetings with Bush and Powell in early September, South Korean Foreign Affairs-Trade Minister Yoon Young-kwan said in a statement that the United States would probably go to the next round of talks with a proposal that would likely address North Korea’s security concerns. Powell said in August that the United States could support some form of written security assurance to North Korea, although he ruled out a nonaggression treaty.

Although State Department spokesman Richard Boucher Sept. 5 said the United States is not “going to grant inducements to North Korea to change its behavior,” a State Department official interviewed by ACT Sept. 24 said Washington is “looking at a sequence of steps” toward North Korean dismantlement. The senior State Department official stated Sept. 4 said North Korea would not “have to do everything before they would hear anything.”

Still, U.S. policy is clearly in flux. For example, the senior State Department official said Washington has not “completely decided” on procedures for verifying any North Korean agreement. And although Bush said in May that the United States “will not tolerate” a nuclear-armed North Korea, the administration has not said how it will respond to North Korea’s producing nuclear weapons. Powell stated during a Sept. 22 interview with Business Week that the United States will say “Gee, that was interesting” if North Korea test nuclear weapons, contending that North Korea would only conduct such a test to “scare the international community.”

State Department Spokesman J. Peter Ereli said Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly is to meet his counterparts from South Korea and Japan Sept. 29-30 to coordinate their North Korea policies.

A Nuclear Doctrine?

North Korea articulated the circumstances under which it would use nuclear weapons in a Sept. 1 KCNA statement, which describes Pyongyang’s “nuclear deterrent” as “defensive,” adding that its weapons will “remain unused” unless another country “provokes” it. North Korea does not intend to sell its nuclear weapons or provide them to terrorists, the statement adds.

North Korea told the U.S. delegation during the April talks that it had nuclear weapons and made a veiled reference to testing them. According to the senior State Department official, during the August talks the North Korean delegation threatened to test nuclear weapons or “demonstrate the means that they would have to deliver” them—an apparent reference to their missiles. The Sept. 2 statement warned that North Korea “will have no option but to increase its nuclear deterrent force” if the United States does not change its policy.

KEDO’s Future

Meanwhile, Bush agreed Sept. 14 to waive the restrictions on funding to the Korean Peninsula Development Organization (KEDO), the U.S.-led consortium that is building the reactors under the Agreed Framework. Congress had prohibited funding KEDO unless Bush determined “that it is vital to the national security interests of the United States.” Bush’s decision provided “up to” $3.72 million for KEDO’s administrative expenses—not for the actual reactors, which the United States has never funded.

U.S. allies have opposed scrapping the reactor project. Minister Yoon said Seoul favors a “temporary suspension” of the project, as opposed to terminating it, according to a September press release.
Decisions about the reactor project’s future would be made at a KEDO Executive Board meeting, but no meeting has been scheduled, a KEDO official said during a Sept. 24 interview.

A North Korean Proposal

The following is the keynote speech given by Kim Yong II, North Korea’s vice minister of foreign affairs, at the six-party talks in Beijing Aug. 27. It is the most detailed account to date of what the North Koreans proposed, and appeared in an article published by KCNA, the state-run news agency:

For a package solution, the U.S. should conclude a non-aggression treaty with the D.P.R.K., establish diplomatic relations with it, and guarantee the economic cooperation between the D.P.R.K. and Japan and between the north and the south of Korea. And it should also compensate for the loss of electricity caused by the delayed provision of light-water reactors [LWRs] and complete their construction.

For this, the D.P.R.K. should not make nuclear weapons and allow the nuclear inspection, finally dismantle its nuclear facility, put on ice the missile test fire, and stop its export.

According to the order of simultaneous actions, the U.S. should resume the supply of heavy-fuel oil and sharply increase the humanitarian food aid while the DPRK should declare its will to scrap its nuclear program.

According to this order, we will allow the refreeze of our nuclear facility and nuclear substance and monitoring and inspection of them from the time the U.S. has concluded a nonaggression treaty with the DPRK and compensated for the loss of electricity.

We will settle the missile issue when diplomatic relations are opened between the DPRK and the U.S. and between the DPRK and Japan. And we will dismantle our nuclear facility from the time the LWRs are completed.

First, the DPRK and the U.S. should make clear their will to clear up bilateral concerns.
The DPRK will clarify its will to dismantle its nuclear program if the U.S. makes clear its will to give up its hostile policy toward the DPRK.

Second, all the countries participating in the six-way talks should agree on the principle to implement the measures for solving the nuclear issue between the DPRK and the U.S. through simultaneous actions.

If our reasonable proposal is turned aside at the talks, we will judge that the U.S. does not intend to give up its attempt to stifle the DPRK by force at an appropriate time while persistently insisting the DPRK “scrap its nuclear program first” to waste time.

In this case, the DPRK cannot dismantle its nuclear deterrent force but will have no option but to increase it. Whether the nuclear issue will be settled or not depends on the U.S. attitude.

In His Own Words

The following are excerpts from the first public comments made by Charles L. “Jack” Pritchard, former special envoy for negotiations with North Korea, since he resigned from the State Department in late August (prior to the Beijing talks) over the Bush administration’s approach toward North Korea. The comments were made during a Sept. 8 press briefing at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.:
“I’ll start off by saying…the prospects for success, unless the format is slightly altered, are very grim. [T]he six-party formulation is in fact the right one. Multiparty internationalization of the issue, particularly on the nuclear issue, is the right track to take…The change that has to occur is putting in the component of a true bilateral engagement between the United States and North Korea....
“What is required is a sustained involvement by the United States with North Korea. Does that mean that we’re going to resolve the problem bilaterally? No. We’re going to lay the ground work that will put it back into the six-party format….But it cannot occur without a sustained and serious dialogue between the United States and North Korea. You cannot get to the point where you understand who your opponent is at the negotiating table unless you have had continuous contact with them over a period of time….
“[I]t’s going to be very difficult to trust any arrangements that are made with the North Koreans. But the alternative is not acceptable. Allowing the North Koreans to become a declared nuclear weapons state, testing the nuclear weapons, and potentially having the ability to transfer the technology or the weapons is not acceptable. Nor is not negotiating acceptable….
“Rather than the drive-by meetings that occur, where we roll down the window and we kind of wave to the North Koreans and then move on, we’ve got to have a full-time negotiator who can do the coordination with North Korea, do the coordination of our policies with our allies Japan and South Korea on a continuous basis, and touch base with the Chinese and the Russians….”






With another round of six-party talks concerning the North Korean nuclear crisis likely to take place, the Bush administration has signaled new flexibility in its bargaining position. 

The Independence-Dependence Paradox: Stability Dilemmas in South

Feroz Hassan Khan

Has a new era of détente and stability emerged in South Asia five years after India and Pakistan first openly tested nuclear weapons? In the process, have India and Pakistan effectively demonstrated the value of nuclear weapons in deterring war? Deterrence optimists claim that fear of the ultimate weapon has restrained the otherwise rough actors who have been at each others’ throats more often than any other nuclear neighbors in the nuclear age. Empirical evidence also suggests that the region has been spared from major wars, despite recurrent crises during the past two decades.

Deterrence pessimists, however, dispute that nuclear weapons have had a stabilizing impact in the region. Indeed, the advent of nuclear weapons has witnessed increased tensions, a growing arms race, and a half-dozen crises nearing war. The region has come close to full blows at least twice since the open 1998 nuclear weapons tests—in 1999 and 2001-2002—and thrice earlier in the covert nuclear period—in 1984, 1986-1987, and 1989-1990. In fact, the three most recent crises—in 1990, 1999, and 2001-2002—only avoided escalating into a full-scale war because of intense U.S. diplomacy.

In fact, it could be argued that the deterrence equation in South Asia now implicitly depends on U.S. intervention. In essence, India’s and Pakistan’s nuclear policies involve what might be called the “independence-dependence paradox.” These two proud countries have attempted to wean themselves from outside support by using nuclear weapons. But this strategy has ironically served to make them more dependent on other powers who are forced to mitigate the consequences of this arms race. No other country has played a more crucial role than the United States.

In many ways, this paradox does more to explain the difficulty in constraining conflicts that threaten to involve the two countries’ nuclear arsenals than the much ballyhooed “stability-instability” paradox. That term originated during the Cold War when analysts such as Glenn Snyder and Robert Jervis sought to explain why, in the first nuclear age, the superpowers managed to avoid conventional armed conflicts that could have precipitated into nuclear exchange, instead using proxy wars to gain advantage over the other.1 In recent years, many theorists have sought to apply the Cold War term to the standoff between India and Pakistan.2 But that has only highlighted the crucial differences between the Cold War and the new, complex realities in South Asia.

In the case of India and Pakistan, nuclear weapons are entangled with bitter regional disputes, exacerbating the instability half of the original stability-instability paradox. Yet, the other half—stability—is still evolving and has yet to mature.3 Because the issues concerned are critical to India’s and Pakistan’s core national identities, the two states have exercised force and coerced each other several times, pushing crises to the brink. De-escalation has, more often than not, required successful, outside (read, U.S.) intervention. Having achieved requisite nuclear deterrence, neither side is prepared to concede to the other, each testing the vulnerability of the other in a game of “chicken.” This brinkmanship strategy has placed the region into a delicate balance whose repeated crises have only made it more dependent on the United States.

Yet, even as India and Pakistan count on U.S. intervention to restrain its adversary and ensure stability, paradoxically they are adamant about their professed independence in nuclear matters. Historically, the two South Asian states developed their nuclear arsenals much against the will and nonproliferation efforts of the West. Even today, India and Pakistan take little heed of outside powers as they develop and possibly deploy strategic weapons. That attitude has constrained the ability of the United States to promote stability, especially in the early phases of a crisis or a potential war.4

Nuclear Weapons as a Means of Achieving Strategic Independence

Underlying India’s and Pakistan’s development of nuclear weapons was their quest for genuine independence, which began in the wake of painful experiences with outside powers: first, under British rule and, later, under the umbrella of Soviet and U.S.-led alliances in 1960 and the early 1970s. In particular, the South Asian states pursued the nuclear option after repeated defeats on the conventional battlefield and perceived abandonment by outside allies. For India, its loss to China in a 1962 border conflict proved decisive; for Pakistan, its twin losses to India in 1965 and 1971 pushed it down the nuclear path. Nuclear weapons were intended to replace outside dependence and were seen as a source of security and political independence. Stephen Cohen has likened Pakistan’s strategic decisions to those of Israel: “Both [Israel and Pakistan] sought an entangling alliance with various outside powers (at various times, Britain, France, China and the U.S.), both ultimately concluded that outsiders could not be trusted in a moment of extreme crisis, and this led them to develop nuclear weapons.”5

Soon after embarking on its nuclear program, Pakistan formally bid farewell to the U.S.-led Southeast Asia Treaty Organization and Central Treaty Organization alliances and joined India as a member of the Non-aligned Movement. Pakistan nevertheless slowed down open development of nuclear weapons owing to its need to ensure a reliable delivery system for nuclear weapons as well as maintaining good relations with the United States. This was formally crystallized in 1985 through a U.S. law known as the Pressler amendment, after its sponsor, Senator Larry Pressler (R-S.D.). That law effectively tied Pakistan’s purchase of F-16 fighter jets to a presidential certification that Pakistan was not developing nuclear weapons.6 That meant Pakistan had to calibrate its strategic policy carefully, keeping its nuclear weapons development discreet and a short screwdriver’s turn away from operation.

India likewise continued its nuclear weapons development in secret although, after conducting a “peaceful nuclear explosion” in 1974, India publicly denied that it was proceeding to develop a nuclear- weapon capability. Until the 1998 nuclear tests, both countries remained ambiguous about the status of their nuclear weapons programs. In rhetorical terms, both sides frequently used phrases such as “peaceful nuclear program” and “keeping open the nuclear option,” implying commitment to “not only [retaining] freedom of action in the narrow nuclear-strategic realm but also the wider principle of state sovereignty in international relations.”7 In the context of the larger strategic policy, a nuclear deterrent was said to fulfill various objectives: dissuade the adversary from contemplating aggression; deter potential enemies; increase bargaining leverage; reduce dependence on allies; and acquire military independence by reducing dependence on external sources of military hardware.8

Threatening Instability and Engaging the United States

Before the introduction of nuclear weapons to South Asia, the United States had lesser stakes in resolving the Indo-Pakistani rivalry. The last serious and proactive attempt made by the United States was in 1962 when President John F. Kennedy sent Ambassador Averell Harriman as special envoy to the region on a fact-finding mission. South Asia then had come into U.S. focus primarily due to several developments in the region that related to Cold War dynamics, including the 1960 shooting of a U-2 spy plane that had departed from its base in Peshawar, Pakistan, and the growing Indo-Chinese problems that eventually led to the India-China war in October 1962.

In regard to the Indo-Pakistani dispute, Harriman concluded that the Kashmir problem was too intractable.9 After Kennedy’s assassination, and especially during the Johnson administration, other issues and events lessened U.S. interest in the region.10 From then until about the end of the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union managed to keep the standoff within bounds. But as the superpower conflict was winding down, both India and Pakistan were moving apace with their nuclear programs. As their capabilities increased, they began testing each others’ limits. An examination of the five South Asian crises over the past two decades reveals that India and Pakistan managed earlier crises without overt outside intervention, but as their capabilities increased, the level of crises also worsened. In fact, each crisis was more severe than the previous one, and the United States incrementally became more involved.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration quietly urged India and Pakistan to back down over crises, such as India’s 1984 occupation of the Siachin glacier and India’s 1986-1987 attempt to revive plans for a “preventive war” in the garb of a military exercise, known as Brasstacks.11 But the regional leaders themselves made the overt gestures, such as President Zia ul- Haq’s famous cricket diplomacy during the 1986-1987 crisis. In the three crises during the 1990s, on the other hand, the United States has been directly engaged, from Deputy National Security Adviser Robert Gates in 1990-1991 to Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot in 1999 and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage in 2001-2002.

The last few years following India’s and Pakistan’s overt nuclear tests show that nuclear deterrence has not prevented crisis. This fact was evident most notably in the 1999 Kargil crisis and in the crises of 2001-2002. In 1999 the Kargil crisis came under the clear shadow of demonstrated nuclear capability and a much-trumpeted bilateral meeting in the spring of that year at Lahore. Pakistan sponsored an attack across the Line of Control and captured an area in the vicinity of Kargil that threatened a strategic highway in northern parts of disputed Kashmir, which triggered the crisis. From Pakistan’s perspective, this was a continuum of the Kashmir dynamics that was dragging on regardless of other developments in the region.

For the rest of the world, there was a new reality in South Asia. After demonstrating their nuclear capabilities, India and Pakistan were required to manage their neighborly relations differently. In the view of some analysts, Pakistan might have overestimated the value of its nuclear deterrence by hoping that India’s response to the Kargil crisis would be tempered because it feared nuclear escalation.12 Although Pakistan’s official version of the event is ambiguous and muted on some questions, from hindsight and available published reports it can be concluded that Pakistan’s military assessment grossly underestimated India’s response as well as the diplomatic fallout. The Kargil episode illustrated the limits of nuclear dependence. Nuclear deterrence might assure security from an ultimate aggression but does not free the state to pursue a course of causing “deliberate instability” at a lower level.

The other major crisis since the 1998 tests began with the 2001 terrorist attack against the Indian parliament. On December 13, 2001,terrorists attacked the Indian parliament. India accused Pakistan of complicity and mobilized conventional forces and demanded that Islamabad cease support to insurgents in Kashmir and hand over leading militants—essentially coercing Islamabad to throw in the towel. By deploying troops along the Pakistan border and posing a physical threat to Pakistan, India compelled the United States to view the Kashmir insurgency on a par with terrorism in Afghanistan and elsewhere. In turn, Pakistan matched India with a reciprocal deployment. By mid-May 2002, another crisis erupted when terrorists attacked an Indian army camp in Kashmir. This time, the crisis reached the brink of war, a situation unprecedented since the 1971 war. Islamabad then further fueled the crisis by conducting three missile tests in late May 2002. Simultaneously, Pakistan threatened to withdraw forces that were deployed on its western border in support of U.S. operations in Afghanistan and hinted at requesting the withdrawal of the U.S. base at Jacobabad in Pakistan if war with India broke out.13

These moves not only sent a message to India but also affected the United States and other Western countries, kindling fear that the countries might pass the nuclear threshold if conventional war broke out. But Islamabad also sought to avoid panic and thus offered peaceful reassurance to both India and the United States.14 The United States acted to calm the crisis through phone calls from President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell to the leaders of India and Pakistan and then by sending Armitage and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to the region. These actions were largely responsible for preventing escalation.

Cold War wisdom suggests that, when two states have the capability to assure each others’ destruction, the cost of war and the risk of inadvertent escalation must outweigh any potential gains either state could countenance.15 India and Pakistan, however, have paid some costs; but it remains unclear if either side has learned the lessons, if any, and what costs are at stake. India believes that, in 2001-2002, it successfully compelled the United States to act and extract a public commitment from Pakistan to end support for militants in Kashmir. Yet, India continues to believe it has space to wage a limited conventional war that it can win. Pakistan believes that its policy of reciprocal deployment and deterrent signaling, such as testing missiles, prevented India from going any further and that the risk of nuclear escalation checkmates any conventional adventure India might contemplate. It nevertheless took 10 months of mobilization and force deployment for India finally to conclude that the risks and potential cost of a general conflict “trumped any desire to resolve the Kashmir dispute by force.”16

Still, as both sides fell back to their respective positions, they repeated their familiar pattern: India alleged that Pakistan supported militant infiltration into India, then Pakistan denied this, and so India refused to start a dialogue. Once again it fell to the United States to goad both sides into some sort of thaw.17 Finally on April 17, 2003, after procrastinating for several months, Indian Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee held out a hand of friendship. Since then, both sides have shown flexibility and cautiously crawled back to the basics of state-to-state relations: exchanging envoys, resuming bus service, easing some visa issues, and other small steps. But so far, they have shied away from tackling major issues, especially the core issue of Kashmir, which both states believe belongs rightfully to them. Although the recent efforts are positive, the fear remains that terrorists in the region might strike and blow away the fledgling peace steps at any moment. But there is still hope that more comprehensive bilateral talks might begin at some point.

A Strategy of Brinkmanship

In the final analysis, the nuclear reality and the overall political and strategic framework make a war infeasible for both countries. India has assured asymmetric destruction—both conventional and nuclear—in its favor. India’s aim is to crush the insurgency in Kashmir, keep the limited conventional war option open, and hold Pakistan under threat of massive nuclear retaliation in the event Pakistan contemplates the threat or use of the nuclear card. This concept assumes that India could design a war with limited scope, retain escalation control, and thereby erode Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent against conventional aggression by calling its nuclear bluff.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s strategy is to deny India space for waging a conventional war and to be prepared to expand any war, retain the nuclear use option, and make costs exceed any benefits that India might calculate—basically, to deny India victory on the cheap. Even if Pakistan risks survival in a prolonged all-out war due to structural asymmetries with India, Islamabad keeps close to its chest a repertoire of strategies to offset and “design around” India’s numerical conventional force advantage and its own geophysical vulnerabilities. In such a deterrence construct, both sides seek room to elbow each other out, engage in brinkmanship, and test the others’ resolve.

Professor Robert Powell from the University of California at Berkeley has explained the conundrum of nuclear deterrence stability within the dynamics of brinkmanship.18 States might seek to exert coercive pressure on each other by raising the risk that events will spiral out of control. How much risk they are willing to bear will be limited by the relative value each state places on the issues at stake relative to the risks involved. This logic implies that brinkmanship is not reckless behavior but a means to test the resolve of an opponent and run risks to outbid the other, especially in situations where all-out wars are prohibitively costly. Powell also asserts that brinkmanship crises only occur if the balance of resolve is uncertain. When each state believes that it is likely to be more resolute than the other state, then each might escalate in the expectation that the other will back down.19

This logic is vividly applicable in the case of South Asia. Both countries hurl themselves into crises that deepen, escalate, and reach a point of spiraling out of control, only to unwind with outside intervention—notably by the United States. One author has suggested that “India and Pakistan brinkmanship is not wild-eyed but designed to meet policy objectives…. Pakistan ratchets up tensions to garner external (mainly U.S.) pressure on India to come to [the] bargaining table, India uses coercive diplomacy to bring pressure on Pakistan to halt support for militants…. In using brinkmanship both India and Pakistan want ultimately [to be] held back while having the United States push their interests forward.” 20 But this strategy leaves the region in a dangerous limbo because the decision is left to the United States to determine whether it intervenes or not.21

The South Asian protagonists have thus become more dependent than ever on the United States. Yet, much to the chagrin of the region, the United States has neither the time nor the patience to accord priority to the region, which President Bill Clinton once described as the “most dangerous place.”22 Consequently, a dangerous pattern has set in: India and Pakistan push a crisis to the brink, anticipating U.S. intervention, and the United States might take its time in the belief that South Asian crises are manageable through “firefighting diplomacy” and that there is no urgency to launch a proactive process of conflict resolution. The brinkmanship is not aimed to fight a war but to win the crisis, and both hope that the U.S. intervention would be helpful. One scholar has noted, “Each has misread its closer ties to the United States as evidence that Washington has embraced its perspective. Each has treated the intense engagement and military presence of the United States as insurance against escalation to war.”23

The outcome of the latest crisis, in fact, offers a cautionary tale for the future and a new twist on the stability-instability paradox. India believed that ensuring nuclear stability provided space to consider a limited war and coerce a nuclear neighbor. But a semblance of instability—through missile signaling (dubbed as missile antics by India)—worked to deter the adversary as well as induce diplomacy. War was prevented, but this set a dangerous precedent. India might believe that conventional force mobilization did not prove sufficiently credible in this crisis; the next time it would test the resolve by seeking a higher threat that might include waging a war that would certainly spiral out of control.

The U.S. Role

The United States faces several challenges in the region. First, it must balance its interests regarding India and Pakistan with its global responsibilities. U.S. interests are different, less intense, and more sporadic than those of local actors, which serve to limit U.S. influence even though U.S. clout in the region has never been as influential as it is now, especially with India. The second challenge for the United States is to manage the tension between its twin objectives of war prevention and nonproliferation. The larger U.S. objective is to prevent nuclear states from going to war and prevent war-prone states from going nuclear. Efforts to solve regional problems, such as technical assistance for nuclear command, control, and communication in South Asia, might create undesirable precedents. Third, the United States faces a dilemma in how to balance between India and Pakistan, best exemplified by the difficulties it faces in providing military aid. U.S. efforts to increase one country’s security might increase the other side’s insecurity, such as providing F-16s to Pakistan to redress her air force deficiency or missile defenses to India to protect against Pakistan’s potent missile force.24

Clearly, the United States is preoccupied with other global issues, so it is mostly up to India and Pakistan to resolve their problems and reduce their dependence on outside powers. Both sides must initiate nuclear risk reduction measures; expand the existing links to include links with respective nuclear command authorities; revive the spirit of the existing confidence-building measures and initiate new ones; and expand economic ties to create more local incentives for cooperation.

Meanwhile, the United States can play its part by engaging now rather than waiting to take part in crisis management. The next South Asia crisis is likely to test the “uncertainty of resolve”25 of both India and Pakistan, and the threshold and time of crises is likely to be compressed, leaving no time for scheduling a crisis management visit to the region. At a minimum, the United States should appoint a high-level ambassador to the region, as Kennedy did with Harriman in 1962, along with a strong team of U.S. experts on the region. The diplomacy process should start at two levels. At the first level, the United States must not only encourage India and Pakistan to proceed on bilateral substantive talks on a wide range of political and strategic issues, including risk reduction measures and economic links, but also monitor and record the substance of the work in progress. At another level, U.S. experts should produce a fact-finding report that the United States would use to prepare a “road map” and methodology for engaging the region that must include not just India and Pakistan but the dynamics emerging from the Afghanistan situation. A constructive, broad-based engagement by the United States— including political resolution to the conflict, strategic restraints on conventional and nuclear forces, and harnessing trade—would enable the region to maintain a path of stability and also calibrate their self-imposed paradoxes.





1. Glenn Snyder, “The Balance of Power and the Balance of Terror,” in The Balance of Power, ed. Paul Seabury (San Francisco: Chandler, 1965). Robert Jervis, The Meaning of the Nuclear Revolution: Statecraft and the Prospect of Armageddon (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1989).

2. Michael Krepon “Nuclear Risk Reduction: Is Cold War Experience Applicable to Southern Asia?” in The Stability-Instability Paradox: Nuclear Weapons and Brinksmanship in South Asia, eds. Michael Krepon and Chris Gagne, Henry L. Stimson Center paper no. 38, June 2001.

3. Feroz Hassan Khan, “Challenges to Nuclear Stability in South Asia,” Nonproliferation Review, vol. 10, no. 1 (Spring 2003) pp. 59-73.

4. Peter Lavoy and Feroz Hassan Khan, Presentation made to the Fifth Nuclear Stability Round Table Seminar on “Strategic Stability in a Turbulent World” at Science Applications International Corp., McLean, Virginia, April 28-29, 2003.

5. Stephen Cohen, India: Emerging Power (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2001), p. 204.

6. The Pressler amendment required the U.S. president to certify each year to Congress that Pakistan was not developing nuclear weapons.

7. Devin Hagerty, “Preventing Nuclear Proliferation in South Asia,” Asia Society (New York, 1995).

8. Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, “Nuclear Developments in Pakistan: Future Directions,” in Nuclear Non-Proliferation in India and Pakistan: South Asia Perspectives, eds. PR Chari, Pervaiz Iqbal Cheema, Iftikharuzzaman, Regional Center for Strategic Studies, Colombo (New Delhi: Manohar Publications, 1996), pp. 131-132.

9. U.S. Department of State, “Report of the Harriman Commission,” pp. 5-8, S/S Files. South Asia, DSR, NA, cited by Dennis Kux, The United States and Pakistan 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies (Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 2001) p. 135.

10. Dennis Kux, The United States and Pakistan 1947-2000: Disenchanted Allies

11. Scott D. Sagan, “The Perils of Proliferation in South Asia,” in South Asia in 2020: Future Strategic Balances and Alliances, ed. Michael Chambers (Carlisle Barracks Pennsylvania: Strategic Studies Institute, Army War College, 2002), pp. 197-199.

12. Lee Feinstein, “Avoiding Another Close Call in South Asia,” Arms Control Today, July/August 2002, pp. 3-4.

13. “The Delicate Balance in South Asia,” in Strategic Survey 2002/2003 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, Oxford University Press), p. 210.

14. Bruce Blair, “Alerting in Crisis and Conventional War,” in Managing Nuclear Operations, eds. Ashton Carter et al. (Washington DC: Brookings, 1987), p. 76. Around the first week of June 2002, Pakistani President General Pervez Musharraf made reconciliatory statements that nuclear-weapon use was unthinkable and no sane person could think of using nuclear weapons.

15. Michael Krepon, “The Stability-Instability Paradox, Misperception, and Escalation Control in South Asia,” Henry L. Stimson Center paper, May 2003.

16. “The Delicate Balance in South Asia,” p. 206.

17. After the de-escalation, the U.S. Department of State applied considerable pressure on both sides to start a dialogue. Assistant Secretary Christina Rocca and Director of Policy Planning Richard Haass made several visits to the region to urge both sides, especially India, to commence a dialogue. Despite the thaw, at the time of this writing, there are hints but no official commitment to start a comprehensive dialogue.

18. Robert Powell, “Nuclear Deterrence Theory, Nuclear Proliferation, and National Missile Defense,” International Security, vol. 7, no. 4 (Spring 2003), pp. 86-118.

19. Ibid, p. 93.

20. Satu Limaye, “Mediating Kashmir: A Bridge Too Far,” The Washington Quarterly, vol. 26, no. 1 (Winter 2002-2003), p. 159.

21. For example, in the 2002 crisis, it took two weeks for Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage to schedule a visit to the region when war was imminent and could have broken out under sheer momentum of the dynamics of mobilizations and deployments.

22. Judith Miller and James Risen, “The United States is Worried About an Increased Threat of Nuclear Conflict Over Kashmir,” The New York Times, August 8, 2000.

23. Polly Nayak, “Reducing Collateral Damage to Indo-Pakistani Relations from the War on Terrorism,” Policy Brief no. 107 (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, September 2002), p. 2.

24. Conclusions presented by Peter Lavoy in the Fifth Nuclear Stability Round Table Seminar on “Strategic Stability in a Turbulent World” at Science Applications International Corp., McLean, Virginia, April 28-29, 2003.

25. Powell, “Nuclear Deterrence Theory, Nuclear Proliferation, and National Missile Defense,” pp. 91-100.


Brigadier General Feroz Hassan Khan is the former director of arms control and disarmament affairs in the Strategic Plans Division of the Joint Services Headquarters of Pakistan. He is currently a visiting faculty member at the Naval Post Graduate School in Monterey, California.



Countries Meet to Present Progress in Ballistic Missile Reduction

More than 100 countries aim to share information on their ballistic missile programs by the end of September, but it is uncertain whether some countries, including the United States, will present their reports by that time.

Meeting June 24-25 in Vienna for the first time since last November’s establishment of the International Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation, the 106 participating countries in the voluntary initiative set September 30 as the target date for the first of what are to be annual reports on their ballistic missile programs. Thereafter, the nonbinding reporting goal will be July 31.

A State Department official interviewed at the end of July said the United States might not meet this year’s September date, explaining that it was not a deadline.

In the annual reports, countries are to detail their ballistic missile and space launch vehicle policies, as well as provide information on any types of ballistic missiles or space launch vehicles fired or tested during the preceding year. Countries are still working out some of the specifics on what the reports will cover, such as whether the minimum range of a ballistic missile to be reported on should be 300 or 500 kilometers, according to one diplomat. The reports will not be made public.

The code also calls upon participating countries to provide advance notice of their ballistic missile or space launch vehicle launches and test flights. A pre-launch notification system has yet to be established.

Development of the system is on hold until a U.S.-Russian pre-launch notification process is up and running. The U.S.-Russian project is to serve as the foundation and model for the broader code system. Washington and Moscow agreed in 2000 to exchange information on pending launches, but actual implementation of the agreement has been delayed because the Kremlin wants the United States to pay taxes and assume liability for the notification system’s setup and operation in Russia—a demand the United States rejects.

The next meeting of countries subscribing to the code is scheduled for October in New York, at which it is expected that the status of the annual reports and pre-launch notification system will be discussed. How to expand participation in the code to countries not currently involved, such as China, India, and Pakistan, will also likely be on the agenda.





More than 100 countries aim to share information on their ballistic missile programs by the end of September, but it is uncertain whether some countries, including the United States, will present their reports by that time. (Continue)

Russia Acquires Soviet-Era Missiles from Ukraine

Ukraine has transferred Soviet-made SS-19 missiles to Russia, Interfax-Military news service reported July 25, but it is unclear exactly when the transfer occurred or how many missiles were involved. Each SS-19 missile can carry up to six nuclear warheads.

The Ukrainian government had approved the sale in October 2002. The missiles had remained in Ukraine after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union. Experts estimate that Ukraine had possessed around 32 SS-19 missiles, but the governments refused to specify whether Ukraine transferred all of the missiles.

Previously, the United States and Ukraine had agreed to destroy the missiles under the Cooperative Threat Reduction program; it is unclear whether Russia will maintain or eventually dismantle the missiles. According to numbers reported under START I, Russia possessed 150 SS-19 missiles prior to the transfer of the Ukrainian missiles.

Ukraine has transferred Soviet-made SS-19 missiles to Russia, Interfax-Military news service reported July 25, but it is unclear exactly when the...

Russian Sub Patrols Sink to Zero in 2002

Russia did not send any ballistic submarine patrols out to sea in 2002 but restarted the patrols in 2003, according to the U.S. Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI), which monitors Russian fleet movements.

According to documents procured under the Freedom of Information Act by Joshua Handler and Hans Kristensen, consultants to the Natural Resources Defense Council, first reported in the July/August issue of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, the number of patrols declined from 37 in 1991 to zero in 2002. Russian ballistic submarine patrols resumed in 2003, however, but an unnamed source from ONI said in a July 5 Washington Post article that only “a very small number” have been made so far.

The gradual deterioration of Russia’s ballistic nuclear submarine fleet due to financial constraints and the advanced age of the ships contributed to the absence of Russian patrols last year. Highlighting these problems, a decommissioned Russian nuclear submarine sank August 30 while being towed. Yet, despite these difficulties, Russia remains committed to extending the life of its ballistic submarine program. Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov announced July 25 that in 2006 the Russian navy would receive the Yuri Dolgoruky, the next-generation submarine currently under development. Although the hull was laid in 1996, the program’s financial difficulties postponed the boat’s completion from the original 2002 delivery date.

Russia hopes to launch two more submarines soon thereafter, Jane’s Defence Weekly reported August 13. Col. Gen. Alexei Moskovsky, Russian deputy defense minister, indicated that, with sufficient funding, the two additional boats will be in service by 2010. Moskovsky told the weekly that the three new submarines will carry Bulava ballistic missiles, which closely resemble the SS-27 Topol-M. Moskovsky warned, however, that “underfunding may result in postponing the deadlines by one-and-a-half to two years.”

Three Asian Countries to Get U.S. Missiles

The U.S. government has approved the delivery of advanced air combat missiles to Taiwan, Thailand, and Singapore after agreeing to sell the missiles to the three countries a few years ago. When the missiles will actually be transferred is confidential.

The Clinton administration announced plans to sell AIM-120C Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles (AMRAAMs) to Taiwan and Singapore in September 2000. Thailand reportedly made a similar deal, but no public record of it exists because the value of the possible sale did not cross the $14 million threshold required for the Pentagon publicly to inform Congress of the proposed transaction.

In all three cases, the United States conditioned the delivery of the AMRAAMs, which independently home in on a target beyond the distance that a pilot can see, on neighboring countries in Asia acquiring a comparable missile. U.S. policy holds that the United States will not be the first to introduce advanced beyond-visual-range missiles into a region.

In its annual report on Chinese military power released July 28, the Pentagon reported that China now possesses the Russian-made AA-12 Adder missile, which is comparable to the AMRAAM. The report marked the first public acknowledgement of a finding the United States made last year. The determination set in motion this past spring the delivery of the AMRAAMs to Taiwan, Thailand, and Singapore.

Thailand and Singapore are not considered to be within the same region where China is thought to have deployed its AA-12 missiles. But the Bush administration told Congress earlier this year that Beijing’s ability to relocate the missiles and Russian offers to sell Adders to Malaysia create an imminent threat justifying AMRAAM deliveries to Thailand and Singapore.

Taiwan could receive up to 200 AMRAAMs and Singapore as many as 100. Thailand is believed to have purchased less than 10 missiles. Japan and South Korea, which are classified as being in a different region than the three above countries, have previously purchased and received AMRAAMs.

Countries Meet to Discuss N. Korean Nuclear Stand-off

Paul Kerr

The United States and North Korea participated in multilateral talks August 27-29 in Beijing to discuss issues surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. The discussions, which also included China, South Korea, Russia, and Japan, marked the first time the two countries have met officially since April, when they participated in trilateral talks with China in Beijing.

The talks did not appear to achieve any significant breakthroughs. Although participants in the talks appeared optimistic that there would be another round of talks, North Korea cast some doubt on this shortly after the meetings ended. One of the chief reasons behind the impasse is a fundamental difference over timing: the United States insists that North Korea dismantle its nuclear arsenal before discussing security guarantees to Pyongyang or other issues; Pyongyang demands that the United States sign a nonaggression pact and take other steps before it eliminates its nuclear facilities.

Nonetheless, Chinese Vice Foreign Minister Wang Yi said in an August 29 press conference that the participants now “share a consensus” on several items: a “peaceful settlement” of the crisis through dialogue, the need to address North Korea’s security concerns, the continuation of dialogue and the six-party talks, the need to avoid actions that would escalate the situation, and a plan to solve the nuclear issue “through synchronous and parallel implementation.”

State Department spokeswoman Jo-Anne Prokopowicz said August 29 that Washington is “pleased” at the participants’ endorsement of the multilateral process, according to Agence France-Presse.

Despite positive comments from China and the United States, however, an August 30 statement from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) expressed Pyongyang’s dissatisfaction with the U.S. position at the recent talks, adding that Pyongyang has no “interest or expectation for the talks as they are not beneficial” to North Korea. The U.S. delegation reiterated its demand that North Korea dismantle its nuclear weapons program before addressing other North Korean concerns, according to the statement.

Wang Yi appeared to confirm that the United States had taken a hard-line stance during the talks, telling reporters September 1 that the U.S. policy is “the main problem” in achieving diplomatic progress.

Press reports indicated that the North Korean delegates threatened to test nuclear weapons, but the nature of their statement is unclear. According to an August 29 KCNA statement, North Korea told the other parties that it would not “dismantle its nuclear deterrent force” and “will have no option but to increase it” if the United States does not react positively to its proposal. Hatsuhisa Takashima, press secretary for Japan’s Foreign Ministry, said August 29 that North Korea referenced nuclear weapons but said he would not characterize the delegation’s statement as a threat.

Prokopowicz said August 29, however, that the North Korean statement at the talks was “an explicit acknowledgement” that North Korea “has nuclear weapons, but the United States will not respond to threats.” U.S. officials have said that North Korea made a veiled reference to nuclear testing during the April talks.

Attempting to Defuse a Crisis

U.S. officials had warned that the talks were the beginning of a process and not likely to yield quick results. It appeared that Washington was taking a somewhat harder line going into the talks than its allies.

A State Department official interviewed August 26 said the U.S. delegation, led by Assistant Secretary of State James Kelly, was to “comment” on a North Korean proposal put forward during the April talks. That proposal, according to a South Korean official, offered to eliminate Pyongyang’s two nuclear programs and halt its missile exports in exchange for energy assistance, the completion of nuclear reactors promised under a 1994 accord called the Agreed Framework, normalization of bilateral relations, and an “assurance of non-aggression.”

The April talks in Beijing were an effort to defuse the most recent nuclear weapons crisis with Pyongyang, which began last October when U.S. officials announced that their North Korean counterparts had admitted to a clandestine uranium-enrichment program in violation of several arms control agreements. In the series of tit-for-tat actions and statements that followed the October meetings, North Korea responded to U.S. pressure with several steps: ejecting UN inspectors charged with monitoring the plutonium-based nuclear facilities frozen under the Agreed Framework, withdrawing from the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in January, and restarting its nuclear reactor.

Still, the exact status of North Korea’s nuclear program as the August talks began was unclear. U.S. officials said that North Korea told the United States during the April talks that it possesses nuclear weapons, threatened to transfer them to other countries, and referred to testing. Moreover, North Korean officials at the United Nations told the United States that North Korea has completed reprocessing the 8,000 spent fuel rods from its previously frozen plutonium reactor, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said July 15. Washington, however, cannot confirm these claims, Boucher added. During the April talks, North Korea claimed to have reprocessed the fuel rods, Secretary of State Colin Powell told Congress April 30.

Powell has said that reprocessing the fuel rods could yield enough plutonium for as many as six nuclear devices. But even if North Korea has extracted fissile material, it is unclear whether the country has used it to construct any nuclear weapons.

In addition, North Korea further muddied the waters August 29 when for the first time KCNA ran an explicit denial from Pyongyang to the U.S. charges that it had a uranium-enrichment program.

Bush said in a May joint statement with South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun that the two countries “will not tolerate” a North Korean nuclear weapon, but U.S. officials have not specified what the United States would do if North Korea produces such weapons anyway.

China Finds a Compromise

The talks came about after intense diplomatic efforts by China to find a workable format—an issue that has been a major impediment to their taking place. Before the April talks, Washington insisted on a multilateral setting while Pyongyang insisted on meeting only bilaterally. Washington says it has insisted on multilateral talks because they will place the maximum amount of pressure on North Korea to give up its nuclear program. North Korea has explained that bilateral commitments from the United States are the only way it can be sure that the United States will not threaten its security. (See ACT, May 2003.)

The April trilateral talks represented a compromise between these two positions. Afterward, the United States said it was willing to meet again but that it preferred multilateral talks expanded to include Japan and South Korea. Pyongyang responded that it would participate in such a format but wanted to first hold a bilateral meeting with Washington.

Aspects of the latest talks also represented a compromise. State Department spokesman Phillip Reeker stated August 27 that members of the U.S. and North Korean delegations met bilaterally on the sidelines during the first day of the Beijing talks. South Korean Foreign Ministry official Wie Sing-rak said that the U.S. officials “made comments about easing North Korea’s security concerns,” but he did not elaborate, according to an August 27 Associated Press article.

John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, said during a July 31 speech that, in addition to multilateral diplomacy, Washington is pursuing two other tracks to counter the North Korean threat. The first is the Proliferation Security Initiative—a broad effort to prevent proliferation by persuading other countries to interdict the transfer of weapons of mass destruction and related technologies. Bolton described the initiative as a vehicle for pressuring the North Korean regime, but countries involved in the initiative are still discussing its specifics, and they have not yet made final decisions regarding interdictions. Boucher said August 18 that the United States is scheduled to participate in interdiction exercises in Australia sometime in September.

Bolton also mentioned the U.S. effort to persuade the UN Security Council to adopt a statement condemning North Korea’s actions. Washington, however, has been unable to overcome Beijing’s opposition to such a measure. Bolton said August 1 that the United States would delay going to the United Nations if multilateral talks make progress.

U.S., North Korea Stake Out Positions

According to the August 29 KCNA statement, North Korea made a proposal at the talks, similar to that made at the April discussions, for settling the nuclear issue. North Korea insisted that the United States end its “hostile policy” toward Pyongyang by concluding a “non-aggression treaty,” normalizing bilateral diplomatic relations, refraining from hindering North Korea’s “economic cooperation” with other countries, completing the reactors promised under the Agreed Framework, resuming suspended fuel oil shipments, and increasing food aid.

North Korea has repeatedly cited Washington’s “hostile policy” as the justification for its nuclear program, expressing fear that the United States intends to attack it in the same manner that U.S.-led coalition forces attacked Iraq in March. It has also cited the U.S. policy of pre-emptively attacking states developing weapons of mass destruction—as described in the Bush administration’s September 2002 National Security Strategy.

The planned U.S. response going into the talks was somewhat difficult to discern. But U.S. officials appeared to expect Pyongyang to take the first step. A senior administration official in an August 22 briefing characterized the talks as the “beginning of a process” and added that the U.S. delegation would “urge” North Korea to comply with Washington’s oft-repeated demand that North Korea “commit to the complete, verifiable, and irreversible ending of its nuclear arms program.”

Whether the United States would offer North Korea incentives to comply was uncertain. In his July speech, Bolton condemned the idea of negotiating with Pyongyang, saying that “giving into [North Korean leader] Kim Jong-il’s extortionist demands would only encourage him and…other would-be tyrants around the world.” Washington has repeatedly ruled out offering North Korea quid pro quos for an end to its nuclear program, and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has dismissed North Korea’s April proposal as “blackmail.”

A senior Bush administration official said August 22, however, that North Korea’s compliance “could open the door to a very new kind of relationship” with the United States and other countries. This is an apparent reference to the administration’s previously proposed “bold approach,” which involves “economic and political steps” to help North Korea. The administration has repeatedly said that Pyongyang’s elimination of its nuclear program is necessary—although not necessarily sufficient—to reap the rewards of this policy, but the senior official indicated that he was not going to the talks “with some package of rewards in anticipations of progress.” Powell said August 1 that the administration would not “trade” economic incentives at the meeting for North Korean compliance.

Indeed, the administration has also insisted that issues such as human rights, missiles, and conventional forces be addressed before Washington would provide aid to North Korea. The senior official said August 22 that the talks were to be “primarily focused” on North Korea’s nuclear program, but some of these other issues could be discussed.

Washington did, however, indicate some flexibility. Powell said August 1 that the multilateral talks could provide some form of written security assurance to North Korea, although he ruled out a nonaggression treaty. In addition, the senior official said that the United States would not necessarily oppose other countries offering incentives to North Korea. Some of the other participants have indicated their intentions to so.

The agreement to solve the nuclear issue through “synchronous and parallel implementation” is perhaps another indication of U.S. flexibility on it previous position that North Korea had to dismantle its nuclear program before the United States would undertake actions of its own.

The two sides appeared to be far apart on two issues in particular. First, an August 20 KCNA statement emphasized that Washington and Pyongyang should take “simultaneous actions” to arrive at a solution, but Washington did not indicate that it planned to do so. For example, the senior administration official said August 22 that normalization of diplomatic relations was something that could occur “in the future, as progress is developed.” North Korea also has a sequence of steps it insists on following. For example, an August 20 KCNA statement said North Korea has insisted the United States must meet its demands before it could allow inspections of its nuclear facilities.

The second bone of contention is a nonaggression treaty. Although the United States said that it could provide North Korea with written security assurances that have less formal congressional backing, North Korea insisted on a treaty as a guarantee that the United States had reversed its “hostile policy.”

Administration officials have repeatedly said that the United States has no intention of attacking North Korea, and several joint statements, including the Agreed Framework, explicitly state this policy. North Korea, however, argues that the U.S. National Security Strategy—which explicitly mentions North Korea—and the 2002 Nuclear Posture Review indicate that the administration is preparing to attack it. A leaked version of the Bush administration’s January 2002 classified Nuclear Posture Review lists North Korea as a country against which the United States should be prepared to use nuclear weapons.

U.S. officials have offered conflicting statements in the last three months. In June, the administration emphasized pressuring North Korea by persuading other governments to interdict shipments of items such as weapons components and illegal drugs, which are sources of hard currency for North Korea. (See ACT, July/August 2003.) Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz argued in May that the Pyongyang regime was “teetering on the edge of economic collapse” and that this weakness was a “point of leverage” for the United States and its allies.

Powell said August 1, however, that he has no reason to believe that the regime is in danger of “imminent collapse” and that he plans to work with Pyongyang. He also acknowledged that North Korea’s neighbors do not support a policy of causing the regime’s collapse.


The United States and North Korea participated in multilateral talks August 27-29 in Beijing to discuss issues surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. 

Iran Touts Missile Capability

Wade Boese

In a July military ceremony broadcast on state-run television, Iran announced that the medium-range Shahab-3 ballistic missile is ready for service. If true, the missile, which has an estimated range of up to 1,300 kilometers, could target Israel.

Israel and the United States have long criticized and tried to stop Iran’s ballistic missile programs. Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli Embassy in Washington, described the latest development as an “extremely grave concern.”

Iran, which is also assessed by U.S. intelligence as pursuing nuclear weapons and exploring more powerful rockets than the Shahab-3, contends its ballistic missile programs are solely for defensive purposes.

The Shahab-3 is no surprise to Israel and the United States. In an April intelligence report on ballistic missile threats, the United States described the Shahab-3 as being in the “late stages” of development. Appearing July 11 on “John McLaughlin’s One on One,” Israeli Ambassador to the United States Daniel Ayalon said the Iranians “have not perfected the system yet, but they are working very hard on it.”

Beginning in July 1998, the Shahab-3 has reportedly accrued a mixed record in several flight tests, the last of which took place just weeks before the July 20 ceremony. Tehran described the last test as a success.

Much ambiguity still shrouds the missile. The Shahab-3 is modeled in part on North Korea’s Nodong missile, but U.S. government officials refused to comment on whether Iran could indigenously produce the missile. It is also not public how many Shahab-3s might be available for potential use. The Central Intelligence Agency reported in 1999 that Iran probably had a “limited number” of prototype Shahab-3s that could be deployed in an operational mode.

Israel says it is prepared to defend itself against an Iranian ballistic missile attack. Tel Aviv has deployed two batteries of Arrow anti-missile interceptors and is preparing to field another. Built in cooperation with the United States and designed to destroy short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, the Arrow has yet to be used in battle.




In a July military ceremony broadcast on state-run television, Iran announced that the medium-range Shahab-3 ballistic missile is ready for service...

Congressional Delegation Visits North Korea to Ease Tension

Jonathan Yang

A bipartisan delegation returned June 3 from a rare trip to North Korea convinced that a negotiated solution could be found to the current tension over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

The delegation considered its purpose to put “a human face on the U.S.” rather than to represent the administration, according to Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and the leader of the delegation. Representatives Solomon Ortiz (D-TX), Eliot Engel (D-NY), Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), Jeff Miller (R-FL), and Joe Wilson (R-SC) were also members of the delegation. Weldon added that the delegation’s trip was “extremely worthwhile” and “positive,” with discussions covering a variety of issues with North Korean officials, including allegations of drug trafficking, weapons of mass destruction, ballistic missile testing and sales, and Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons program.

Trying to gauge whether diplomacy could solve the current tensions with Pyongyang, Weldon presented a 10-point plan of action to Kim Gye Gwan, North Korean vice foreign minister and the appointed leader for negotiations on this issue, and received an encouraging response. In a June 25 speech at the 50th anniversary celebration of the U.S.-South Korean alliance, Weldon emphasized that the plan was not an attempt to negotiate, and the vice minister understood that the points were Weldon’s personal ideas and were not endorsed by the U.S. State Department. However, the vice minister’s extremely positive response provided encouragement that official negotiations could provide a solution—after hearing the plan, Kim “smiled and said that it was ‘exactly what we’re looking for,’” recalled Weldon.

In his June 25 speech, Weldon described his 10-point plan as a two-phase solution. Initially, the United States, its allies and North Korea would pursue five points of action. These included the United States entering into a one-year nonaggression pact with the North Korean government and officially recognizing that government. Pyongyang would “officially renounce its entire nuclear weapons and research programs” and rejoin the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). The United States and its allies would also provide an economic aid package to help North Korea’s economy and its citizens.

The second phase would occur at the end of one year or another agreed upon time period, contingent on the successful completion of the other points in phase one, including complete nuclear transparency and ratification of the NPT by North Korea. This phase proposes an additional five points of action. Pyongyang would join the Missile Technology Control Regime and agree to establish a plan for improving humanitarian rights in North Korea. The United States would enter into a permanent nonaggression pact and establish interparliamentary relationships to work with North Korea’s legislature on a variety of issues. Finally, a multinational threat reduction program would attempt to remove all nuclear weapons, materials, resources, and capabilities from North Korea within two years.

With the sense that a diplomatic solution exists, Weldon is now focused on encouraging Pyongyang to drop its opposition to multilateral talks. He plans to meet in New York City with North Korea’s UN ambassador, Song Ryol Han, to discuss this issue.


A bipartisan delegation returned June 3 from a rare trip to North Korea convinced that a negotiated solution could be found to the current tension over Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

Rumsfeld Reprise? The Missile Report That Foretold the Iraq Intelligence Controversy

Greg Thielmann

In recent weeks, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has come under fire for his part in the Bush administration’s misuse of U.S. intelligence to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But Rumsfeld’s tendency to hype selective portions of intelligence that support his policy goals was already familiar to intelligence professionals. They remember his chairmanship of a 1998 congressionally chartered commission charged with evaluating the nature and magnitude of the ballistic missile threat to the United States. As with Iraq, Rumsfeld’s work on ballistic missiles often ignored the carefully considered views of such professionals in favor of highly unlikely worst-case scenarios that posited an imminent threat to the United States and prompted a military, rather than diplomatic, response. Just as is likely to be the case with Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction (WMD), time has proven Rumsfeld’s predictions dead wrong.

The “Report of the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States,” chaired by Rumsfeld and released in July 1998, was one of the most influential congressionally mandated reports in recent memory. The presentation of the Rumsfeld Commission report and the unexpected attempt by North Korea to launch a satellite one month later combined to create a political tidal wave that ultimately engulfed one of the most successful arms control treaties in history, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The report also led to massive increases in spending on defenses against ICBMs rather than on domestic spending, other defense priorities, or more urgent defenses against short- and medium-range missiles. Because the Rumsfeld report had such a significant impact on U.S. foreign and defense policy, it is worth checking the report’s predictions against current realities.

To do so on the report’s fifth anniversary is particularly appropriate because of the report’s emphasis on how much the missile threat could grow during a five-year period. The report concluded that any nation with a well-developed, Scud-based missile infrastructure would be able to flight-test an ICBM within about five years of deciding to do so. It further asserted that North Korea and Iran were seeking this capability in order to deliver weapons of mass destruction. Yet, since the report’s release, none of the emerging missile states have flight-tested a missile with even half the range of an ICBM. The report that helped kill the ABM Treaty was spectacularly wrong about its principal premise. “Happy Anniversary” greetings are not in order.

The report’s central and most clarion warning is contained in the first paragraph of its unclassified Executive Summary :

The newer ballistic missile-equipped nations [North Korea, Iran, and Iraq]…would be able to inflict major destruction on the U.S. 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 U.S. might not be aware that such a decision had been made.1

The report further states that North Korea and Iran place “a high priority on threatening U.S. territory, and each is even now pursuing advanced ballistic missile capabilities to pose a direct threat to U.S. territory.” Such language created the strong impression that the five-year clocks of North Korea and Iran were already running. Moreover, the estimate of a five-year timeline from the development decision point to the initial ICBM capability was said to apply not just to the three countries that President George W. Bush would later label the “axis of evil,” but to any nation “with a well-developed, Scud-based ballistic missile infrastructure.”

The Rumsfeld Commission strongly implied that movement from single-stage, short-range ballistic missiles to multiple-staged ICBMs is a straight-line, relatively rapid, and predictable progression. This notion is both ahistorical and unrealistic. Missile development programs of even the most advanced industrialized states have advanced in fits and starts, encountering serious programmatic setbacks along the way. Even after the development secrets of long-range missiles have been unlocked by other states, it can take many years to move beyond the rudimentary short-range missiles represented by the Soviet Scud model. Those countries today that seek to build missiles that can deliver a sizeable payload on target to the other side of the globe must still overcome significant technological hurdles. These include, among others, the use of staging, developing, or acquiring sophisticated guidance systems and mastering high stress atmospheric re-entry. Moreover, emerging missile states also have to seek foreign help in an environment where most potential suppliers have pledged to withhold assistance.

The report also warned ominously about the scope, pace, and inscrutability of ballistic missile proliferation and, in a harbinger of Iraq, dismissed the ability of intelligence professionals to monitor developments. “The threat to the U.S.…is broader, more mature and evolving more rapidly than has been reported in estimates and reports by the Intelligence Community.” The report identified a new danger from “alternative ballistic missile launch modes,” such as sea-launched, short-range ballistic missiles and third-country basing schemes. Furthermore, the report concluded that the Intelligence Community could no longer be expected to provide ample warning of threatening developments. “The Intelligence Community’s ability to provide timely and accurate threats of ballistic missile threats to the U.S. is eroding.… The U.S. might have little or no warning before operational deployment.”

Reverent Attention From the Pundits

Such a unanimous conclusion about the future by nine prominent experts (Rumsfeld, Dr. Barry M. Blechman, General Lee Butler, Dr. Richard L. Garwin, Dr. William R. Graham, Dr. William Schneider Jr., General Larry Welch, Dr. Paul Wolfowitz, and The Honorable R. James Woolsey) was hard to challenge at the time, particularly after North Korea appeared to underscore their findings with the flight of a three-stage Taepo Dong-1 space launch vehicle on August 31, 1998. Commentators and pundits soberly intoned about the heightened peril. The new missile powers were declared more dangerous than the old. Their strategic ballistic missile potential was said to be emerging rapidly and their governments were presumed to have already taken the decision to develop ICBMs, leaving little time for remedial action. A typical example of the report’s uncritical reception was provided by Brookings Institution President Michael H. Armacost: “[T]he potential ballistic missile threat to the American homeland has increased as missile delivery system technology has proliferated, as noted in the Rumsfeld Commission report.”2 Most relevant to the actionable strategic policy issue of the day, many pundits concluded that the new threat could only be reliably addressed by deploying ballistic missile defenses outside of ABM Treaty limits.

The Intelligence Community Bends

The intelligence community had been judged harshly by elements of Congress for the alleged sanguinity of its past assessments of foreign ballistic missile developments. Yet, an attempt to get a more forward-leaning professional assessment on missiles by appointing a commission chaired by former CIA director Robert Gates did not succeed in fundamentally altering previous intelligence judgments. After passing a new law, which broke with the congressional tradition of naming commission members proportionately between the parties, the Republican majority did succeed in appointing a new commission under Rumsfeld and naming six of its nine members. In an apparent effort to mollify Republican congressional critics, the intelligence community adopted a more alarmist tone in its next full-blown National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the subject in 1999, “Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015.” This NIE lowered the threshold for identifying a new missile threat. The previous standard of “initial operating capability,” still used by the U.S. military, was discarded in favor of using the first flight test of either a missile or a space launch vehicle as the key milestone. This new milestone was inelegantly dubbed “initial threat availability,” but its exact meaning was elusive. Did it mean, for example, the first fully successful flight test? Would the proliferant state have confidence that the missile would work without a fully successful test or even after only one successful test? Not surprisingly, adoption of the new criterion meant that missile systems under development would now be considered “a threat” significantly earlier than before.

The impact of the definitional change was made dramatically clear in the NIE’s treatment of the August 1998 Taepo Dong-1 launch. The North Korea section of the unclassified summary’s Key Points began by assessing that “North Korea could convert its Taepo Dong-1 space launch vehicle [SLV] into an ICBM that could deliver a light payload…to the United States.” The tone implied that a quasi-ICBM threat already existed. One would have to read deeper into the document to learn that this system failed even to place its small satellite in orbit. If the system were to be converted from an SLV into an ICBM, the North Koreans would also have to learn how to construct a warhead that could be brought back through the atmosphere successfully, undamaged by the considerable heat and vibration of re-entry, and then could be directed to hit its target. These requirements each pose discrete engineering challenges — and mastering them is far from a foregone conclusion for a country that has no long-distance instrumented test range and no long-range missile development experience.

The NIE featured warnings of what “could” happen more prominently than projections of what was “likely to” happen. The result echoed that of the Rumsfeld Commission, heightening concerns about technically possible but wholly implausible scenarios. Thus before presenting what analysts judged were Iraq’s most likely capabilities, the NIE declared that “most analysts believe Iraq could test an ICBM that could deliver a lighter payload to the United States in a few years based on its failed SLV or the Taepo Dong-1,” which could be imported from North Korea. While readily absorbing the alarm inherent in the expression “in a few years,” readers were less likely to note that neither scenario made much sense, nor was anyone predicting that either would happen. A similar argument was advanced with Iran. In neither case did the report explicitly state what analysts well understood: a lighter payload would necessarily be a non-nuclear one and lack significant military impact. Buried toward the end of the report was the clarification that, when it came to larger payloads, analysts were divided between “likely before 2010” to “unlikely before 2015.”

The NIE did a better job than the Rumsfeld Commission of accurately describing the awesome but declining strength of Russian strategic forces and of describing the relative numerical insignificance and qualitative weaknesses of any ICBMs that might emerge from North Korea, Iran, or Iraq. It described the Russian ICBM threat as “considerably more robust and lethal than that posed by China, and orders of magnitude more than the threat posed by other nations.” The Rumsfeld report’s Executive Summary is focused almost exclusively on emerging ballistic missile threats to the United States although the commission was mandated by Congress to assess “existing and emerging” threats. In passing quickly over Russia, the Rumsfeld report’s summary acknowledged that the number of missiles in the inventory was “likely to decline further” but stated that intelligence estimates on Russia were “difficult to make.” According to the NIE, Russian strategic forces would “decrease dramatically.” The commission warned that “the risk of an accident or loss of control over Russian ballistic missile forces…which now appears small…could increase sharply and with little warning.” The NIE judged the chance of an unauthorized or accidental launch as “highly unlikely so long as current technical and procedural safeguards are in place.”

Still, the NIE conformed to the principal Rumsfeld Commission theme that the threat from newer ballistic missile-equipped nations was broader, more mature, and evolving more rapidly than previously reported by the intelligence community. Particularly in its presentational aspects, the NIE repeated the commission’s emphasis on ballistic missile threats from North Korea, Iran, and Iraq over those from Russia and China. The threat from emerging states was emphasized up front in the list of “Key Points” in the unclassified summary and the sections of the main body, relegating the much more potent Russian and Chinese missile arsenals and the dramatic decline of Russian strategic forces to a secondary position. A reader of the NIE’s Key Points learns that the United States will most likely face new ICBM threats from North Korea and Iran by 2015 and that a North Korean Taepo Dong-2 ICBM “could be tested at any time.” But the same reader would have to read between the lines of the Key Points or to perform an exegesis of the discussion section to realize that the net ballistic missile threat to the United States through 2015 was expected to fall by thousands of warheads.

Subsequent intelligence community proclamations and products maintained fealty to the broad thrust of the Rumsfeld Commission report. For example, CIA Deputy Director John E. McLaughlin told a space and missile conference in Huntsville, Alabama, on August 21, 2001, that:

[A] number of countries hostile to the United States are on a path that seems likely to expose America to an increased intercontinental [ballistic missile] threat…Some emerging missile states have already decided to go beyond medium-range weapons and develop intercontinental ballistic missiles.3

The only intelligence entity voicing public dissent on these themes was the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR). According to INR Acting Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary Tom Fingar, testifying in an open session of the Senate Select Intelligence Committee on February 7, 2001, “INR assesses that, among states seeking long-range missiles, only North Korea could potentially threaten the U.S. homeland with ballistic missiles in this decade, and only if it abandons its current moratorium on long-range missile flight testing.”

What Has Happened

Looking around in the summer of 2003, five years after the Rumsfeld Commission completed its report, one sees a very different world than the one predicted. There have been no ICBM flight tests by any of the newer ballistic missile-equipped nations. As of this writing, North Korea has still not flight-tested its Taepo Dong-2 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM)/ICBM, an event which the 1999 NIE predicted would probably take place that same year. In fact, none of the ballistic missiles flight-tested by the proliferant states have so far reached the 3,000-kilometer-range floor of the intermediate-range ballistic missile category. The total number of long-range ballistic missiles in the world, meanwhile, has fallen to roughly half of Cold War highs and the number of countries with active long-range programs has also declined. [See Chart 1.]

There is no doubt that ballistic missiles still hold attraction for a number of countries. The Rumsfeld Commission explained that “emerging powers…see ballistic missiles as highly effective deterrent weapons and as an effective means of coercing or intimidating adversaries, including the United States.” But the manifestation of this interest has primarily been seen in the category of short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. According to a 2002 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace reckoning, 22 of the 35 nations with ballistic missiles have missiles with ranges of 300 kilometers or less; only 11 have missiles with ranges of more than 1,000 kilometers.4 Five of these countries are nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) nuclear-weapon states; four more are either friendly or at least not hostile to the United States. The remaining two states, North Korea and Iran, have single-stage, 1,300-kilometer-range missiles—the North Korean Nodong and its Iranian derivative, the Shahab-3. Neither poses an imminent ballistic missile threat to population centers in the United States, thousands of kilometers away. [See Chart 2.]

This analysis does not dispute that the existing ballistic missiles of proliferant states can pose a threat to U.S. forces, interests, or allies, nor does it argue for indifference to ongoing development programs for longer-range missiles. But efforts to develop and deploy defenses against these threats were not limited by the ABM Treaty. The Rumsfeld Commission report was specifically charged with assessing another kind of ballistic missile threat: that posed by strategic ballistic missiles, on which the ABM Treaty did pose limits. The salient policy question was therefore supposed to be whether and how soon a new strategic ballistic missile threat would emerge.

There is a general consensus among U.S. government and academic experts that both North Korea and Iran have development programs for longer-range missiles and for nuclear weapons. There is no consensus on whether the longer-range ballistic missile programs are on an immutable track to deployment and, if so, what the timetable for testing and deployment would be. On the fifth anniversary of the Rumsfeld Commission report, however, we can reach the tentative conclusion that the commission was either wrong about the intent of emerging missile states to develop and deploy ICBMs or wrong about the speed with which they could do so. It is also possible the commission was wrong about both. Moreover, none of the “plausible scenarios” for other, non-ICBM ballistic missile threats to the United States identified by the commission have materialized.

So What?

For the Rumsfeld Commission to have erred in its principal warning is an important symptom of deeper problems, but it is hardly an impeachable offense in and of itself. Indeed, it is unreasonable to expect either congressional commissions or intelligence agencies to predict the future with complete accuracy. Excessive concern about avoiding mistakes in prognostication can turn clear, insightful analysis into overly qualified mush. Properly done, the commission’s report could have helped its consumers understand trends, put dangers in perspective, and revealed underlying truths. The shortcoming of the Rumsfeld Commission report was not so much its inability to foresee specific missile development timelines as it was its failure to educate Congress and the public about an important and complicated issue. Instead of elucidating a security concern, it sounded a false alarm. In the process, it fostered a polarization of the intelligence community on the warning function, emphasizing possible but highly unlikely outcomes. Moreover, the Executive Summary of the report blurred the distinction between a real, tactical ballistic missile threat to U.S. forces and interests and a hypothetical future threat to U.S. territory from “rogue state” strategic ballistic missiles, just as the administration recently blurred the distinction between Iraq and the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks. This morphing of the threat was later matched by the Bush administration’s morphing of the response to the threat. Under Rumsfeld, the rhetorical, programmatic, and budgeting distinction between ballistic and tactical missile systems has been virtually eliminated in the administration’s analysis.

WMD Payloads: Apples and Oranges

The Rumsfeld Commission report also exaggerated the threats that Iran and North Korea could pose to the United States by blurring crucial distinctions on the ability of each country’s missiles to carry different payloads—from nuclear to chemical and biological weapons. The report asserted baldly that “a successfully launched ballistic missile has a high probability of delivering its payload to its target compared to other means of delivery.” But it didn’t make clear that these countries were far from producing missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, far and away the most destructive payload, in terms of both the number of human victims and the amount of material damage. Because nuclear weapons require far more missile throw-weight than do chemical or biological weapons, developing a nuclear-tipped ICBM is an especially challenging way for North Korea or Iran to threaten the United States. The Rumsfeld report also did not explain that ballistic missiles are not an optimal means of delivering biological and chemical weapons. Biological weapons pose particular technical challenges in surviving the high temperatures of ICBM warhead re-entry. The deadly effects of chemical weapons are confined to the area of use, requiring more accuracy, and are critically weather dependent. Moreover, many types of chemical weapon agent are lethal for only a short period.

Rather than spelling out the relative dangers posed by the different weapons and evaluating the ability of Iran and North Korea to use ballistic missiles as delivery platforms, three categories of unconventional weapons were lumped together under the catchall label “weapons of mass destruction.” Such unqualified assertions mislead the non-expert reader about the basics of missile physics, contributing to the subsequent distortion of such events as North Korea’s unsuccessful Taepo Dong-1 space launch effort. In the latter case, the intelligence community was surprised by the addition of a small kick motor and satellite to the payload of the anticipated two-stage medium-range ballistic missile. Although North Korea failed to place the satellite in orbit, extrapolations of the system were made by strategic missile defense advocates to describe the Taepo Dong-1 as an intercontinental weapon, which could launch a “WMD”—meaning a chemical- or biological-weapon—warhead to the United States. Critics derided such a fantasy weapons payload as the “golf ball of death.”

If the Rumsfeld Commission had given a fair assessment of the dangers posed by ballistic missiles, far fewer of the foreign ballistic missiles projected by the commission to be a “serious threat” to the United States would have seemed so. Add to that the fact that the accuracy of rudimentary Iranian or North Korean ICBMs would be so poor as to prevent them even from reliably targeting cities and the report’s claims that such missiles have “a high probability of delivering its payload to its target compared to other means of delivery” would have come undone. Certainly, these nations would have been better off using simpler technologies to spread chemical or biological weapons even as the 1999 NIE pointed out. On the penultimate page of the unclassified summary’s discussion section, six advantages of nonmissile WMD delivery options for emerging ballistic missile states were listed, including less expense, greater accuracy, greater reliability, greater effectiveness for biological weapon dissemination, greater ability to avoid missile defenses, and greater ability to avoid retaliation by masking the source of attack.

Dulling Intelligence

The Rumsfeld Commission report, in addition to the U.S. intelligence community failures to provide tactical warning of the May 1998 Indian nuclear tests and the August 1998 North Korean missile launch, put intelligence agencies on the defensive. Intelligence officials were subsequently grilled during congressional hearings on previous ballistic missile threat assessments. The press criticized the failures of previous intelligence assessments to predict what happened. The intelligence community got the message and showed in subsequent ballistic missile assessments that it would not again be outdone in forecasting threats. But by making its projections more “worst case” and less qualified, these estimates became less useful for decision-makers, who have a greater need to know what is probable than what is theoretically possible. By making assessment criteria less precise, intelligence projections also became less useful for analysts and planners throughout government. The intelligence analysis, which predicts that “anything can happen,” may not be proven wrong, but neither will it be very useful. A similar dynamic emerged with intelligence assessments of Iraq. If a capability could not be disproven, it was assumed to exist. “Faith-based analysis” was characteristic of Rumsfeld in both cases.

Ignoring Deterrence

The Rumsfeld Commission report asserted that “emerging powers see ballistic missiles...as an effective means of coercing or intimidating adversaries, including the United States.” A number of U.S. officials, both in the Clinton and in the Bush administrations, have repeatedly claimed that the United States would not have come to Kuwait’s aid if Saddam Hussein had possessed nuclear weapons. (Such rhetoric would appear to have damaged U.S. deterrence much more effectively than any weapons developments occurring in the new missile states.) The report did not elaborate on why these states believed that strategic rather than shorter-range ballistic missiles were necessary to achieve this effect, but one can assume the authors were contending that only by credible threats to the American homeland would the United States be deterred from intervening in areas where its core interests were not engaged. Recent events, however, remind us that perceived threats to the American people can increase rather than discourage public support for U.S. military action abroad.

Logic would argue that any deterrent advantages for “rogue state” leaders of ballistic missiles with unconventional weapons could be achieved with shorter-range systems since the feared U.S. invasion force would likely be within range. For emerging missile powers to anticipate effectively intimidating the United States with threats of a direct missile attack against the American homeland is a dubious proposition. There is no empirical evidence that even the most erratic foreign leader would believe himself immune from such an attack. After all, the last time U.S. territory was attacked by a foreign state, the aggressor state was utterly defeated and then occupied, losing two cities to nuclear detonations in the process, and its ring-leaders were hanged. When a nonstate terrorist organization based in another country attacked America on September 11, 2001, the United States sent troops to the ends of the earth to overthrow that country’s government.

The problem with emerging missile powers using or threatening to use strategic ballistic missiles against the United States is that it cannot be done anonymously. There are no plausible scenarios for disguising the source of an ICBM attack on the United States. The sophistication of U.S. ballistic missile early-warning assets and the inability of emerging missile states to target those assets leaves little doubt that the origin of an ICBM attack would quickly become known. Devastating retaliation and the end of the attacker’s regime would have to be assumed.

Sabotaging Arms Control

The Clinton administration assumed that for it to win congressional approval for future reductions in U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear forces that it would need some kind of strategic missile defense. In 1996, the Clinton administration sought to demonstrate this support by designating National Missile Defense (NMD) as a acquisition program. Prior to the Rumsfeld Commission report, however, the president had not yet made a deployment decision and Congress had not mandated system deployment. The Rumsfeld report and the North Korean missile launch that summer provided a huge impetus to the effort to develop and deploy strategic missile defenses and a rationale for withdrawing from the ABM Treaty. The report’s dubious assertions that the new missile states could have ICBMs within five years of a deployment decision and that there would be little warning in advance of a flight test created a new sense of urgency. Although Clinton ultimately postponed the expected deployment decision in 2000, the die had been cast. It made little difference that the ABM Treaty did not preclude the deployment of defenses against the short- and medium-range missiles, which had experienced dynamic growth. Nor did it matter that there was a nearly universal desire internationally for retention of the ABM Treaty and that Russia had made START II implementation contingent on adherence to the ABM Treaty. Bush announced before the end of his first year in office that the United States would withdraw from the ABM Treaty, without even selecting a system architecture that would explain the necessity for withdrawal. Six months later, the treaty was gone, and with it, the START II agreement that would have verifiably halved the number of U.S. and Russian strategic weapons.

Bilateral strategic arms control was not the only victim. Withdrawing from the ABM Treaty was one of the first in a long series of major U.S. policy decisions flying in the face of world opinion—spending precious political capital and lowering the reservoir of international support needed in moments of crisis. The full-bore pursuit of strategic missile defenses will have cost the United States tens of billions of dollars in obligations over five fiscal years. It has diverted attention and resources from the greater threat posed by terrorist attack. It has even siphoned funds from the tactical ballistic missile defense programs that would address a real and present danger to U.S. forces.

The Rumsfeld Commission report also weakened the NPT regime by ignoring progress made over the previous decade in nonproliferation efforts and implicitly denigrating the potential effectiveness of existing international instruments. So fixated was it on the empty half of the glass that it became completely blind to the full half. Moreover, by emphasizing how dire it would be for the United States to face off against even one unreliable, inaccurate ICBM with a biological- or chemical-weapon warhead, the report gave heart to the missile program advocates in hostile states that their efforts would yield a great political dividend in deterrent value.

The end result of both the Rumsfeld Commission report and subsequent intelligence estimates was to distract their consumers from the most serious security threats to the nation, leading to misallocation of resources, America’s estrangement from its allies, and a weakening of the nation’s deterrent. With five years’ hindsight, it is apparent that the impact of the Rumsfeld report were policies that actually worsened the security problems facing the nation. Now, in the aftermath of a war propelled by dubious threat assessments from the Rumsfeld/Wolfowitz Pentagon, it is difficult to avoid being overcome by a powerful sense of déjà vu.

Ballistic Missiles: Who Has What?

China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States are the only countries that have deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) or intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs). The table below depicts the status of the missile programs other countries have. None of the countries listed below have ever flight-tested an IRBM or an ICBM.

Countries With IRBM or ICBM Programs
Countries With Deployed Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles
North Korea
North Korea
Saudi Arabia

1. Iran has flight-tested the Shahab-3 several times with mixed results. A handful of Shahab-3s with an estimated range of 1300 kilometers, are believed to be available if Iran decided to deployed them.

Sources: Arms Control Association and the Central Intelligence Agency


Missile Ranges
Short-range ballistic missile (<1,000 km)
Medium-range ballistic missile (1,000-3,000 km)
Intermediate-range ballistic missile (3,000-5,500 km)
Intercontinental ballistic missile (5,500+ km)

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Developments Since the Rumsfeld Commission Report

The Rumsfeld Commission contended that the ballistic missile programs of Iran and North Korea posed “a substantial and immediate danger to the U.S., its vital interests and its allies.” The commission’s report insinuated that both countries could possibly develop and flight-test an intercontinental ballistic missile within a five-year period of choosing to do so, particularly if they received foreign help. Below is the current status of the Iranian and North Korean ballistic missile programs.


Iran has flight-tested and is in the “late stages” of developing its medium-range Shahab-3 ballistic missile. It is estimated that the Shahab-3 could travel up to 1,300 kilometers.

Iran is working on the Shahab-4 and the Shahab-5, both of which are expected to have greater ranges than the Shahab-3. Neither has been flight-tested, and the Shahab-5 is reportedly in the very early stages of development.

North Korea

The longest-range missile North Korea has deployed is the Nodong-1, which has an estimated capability of delivering a payload of up to 1,300 kilometers.

North Korea has conducted one flight test of the Taepo Dong-1, which has an estimated range of up to 2,000 kilometers. That sole flight test occurred in August 1998 and was a failed effort to put a satellite into orbit.

North Korea is working on a Taepo Dong-2, which, if successfully built, is estimated to have the capability to strike the continental United States. The missile has not been flight-tested.

North Korea declared a missile flight test moratorium in September 1999 and has reiterated that pledge several times since, the last at a September 2002 North Korean-Japanese summit. Pyongyang flight-tested short-range missiles earlier this year, but the White House said the tests were not covered by the moratorium, which Washington has always interpreted as applying to long-range ballistic missiles.

Sources: Arms Control Association and the Central Intelligence Agency

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1. The report’s executive summary is available at www.armscontrol.org.

2. James M. Lindsay and Michael O’Hanlon, Defending America: The Case for Limited National Missile Defense (Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, 2001), p. vii.

3. John E. McLaughlin, “Watch for More and More Medium- and Long-Range Missiles,” International Herald Tribune, August 29, 2001.

4. Joseph Cirincione, Jon B. Wolfsthal, and Miriam Rajkumar, Deadly Arsenals: Tracking Weapons of Mass Destruction (Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2002), p. 73.

Greg Thielmann retired in 2002 as director of the Strategic, Proliferation, and Military Affairs Office in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research.




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