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Strategic Missile Defense

Congressional Budget Office Projects Missile Defense Costs

Wade Boese

Fulfilling a research request made by senior Senate Democrats last year, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released a report January 31 estimating that separate ground-, sea-, and space-based missile defenses would each cost tens of billions of dollars to complete.

The nonpartisan CBO reported that deploying a ground-based defense would total $23-64 billion between 2002 and 2015, depending on the number of missile interceptors involved. A stand-alone sea-based system would run $43-55 billion to reach operational capability by 2015, and an independent space-based laser system would cost approximately $56-68 billion between 2002 and 2025. The $7-9 billion already appropriated for the ground- and sea-based systems between 1996 and 2001 was not included in the CBO numbers.

Once the systems are deployed, CBO predicted that the annual cost for operating a ground-based defense of 100 missile interceptors after 2015 would be about $600 million, while upkeep of such a system numbering 375 missile interceptors would be around $1.4 billion. Maintaining a sea-based system after 2015 would cost about $1 billion per year, and keeping a space-based laser system functioning after it was deployed by 2025 would require an estimated $300 million each year.

The Bush administration is seeking to deploy layered missile defenses that might include all of these systems in order to maximize the chances of shooting down a ballistic missile during its entire flight. CBO warned against adding the separate figures together to arrive at an overall price tag for a layered system because, if deployed together, the systems could share some components, sensors, and research and development, thereby cutting costs.

CBO also expressed difficulty with calculating missile defense costs in general, claiming there was “substantial uncertainty” between existing programs and what the Bush administration might ultimately deploy. In addition, the report stated that “no detailed deployment plans or schedules exist” for most of the systems that CBO was asked to assess.

CBO offered no cost estimates for two systems, a sea-based boost-phase system and a revived “Brilliant Pebbles” system. CBO explained that it could not make a “credible” estimate on the sea-based boost-phase system because it was still in a “conceptual stage,” and it reported that the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization claimed in June 2001 that there were no plans to “reconstitute” the Brilliant Pebbles program, an initiative proposed by the first Bush administration that called for deploying 500-1,000 missile interceptors in space. But the CBO report also noted that the current administration is researching space-based interceptors and wants to conduct a space-based test around 2005 or 2006.

Responding to the report on January 31, Senators Tom Daschle (D-SD), Kent Conrad (D-ND), and Carl Levin (D-MI) called on the Bush administration to provide “detailed information on its missile defense plans” so Congress could compare missile defense costs with other defense programs. The senators worried that pursuit of such “costly” systems could divert funds away from programs aimed at countering threats they said are more likely and urgent than a ballistic missile attack.

Pentagon Cancels Sea-Based Missile Defense Program

Wade Boese

Citing poor performance, projected cost overruns, and schedule delays, on December 14 the Pentagon cancelled a sea-based missile defense system designed to protect against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles during their final stage of flight, although Pentagon officials said they were not abandoning the effort to build a defense for that mission.

Undersecretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Edward Aldridge announced the cancellation of the Navy Area Theater Ballistic Missile Defense system after program acquisition costs soared more than 57 percent.

Under current law, if the cost increase of a Pentagon program exceeds 25 percent, the secretary of defense, in order to keep funding the program, must certify that it is “essential to national security,” that there are no cheaper alternatives to accomplish the same mission, that the cost increase is “reasonable,” and that the program is run to manage or control the cost increases. Aldridge told reporters December 21 that he could not certify that costs were under control or that a management structure was in place to prevent further cost increases, resulting in the cancellation of the program, which has cost a little more than $2.3 billion to date.

The cancellation came unexpectedly. Earlier this year, the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, which oversees U.S. missile defense efforts, recommended transferring the program to the Navy to manage because it was judged mature enough to be run by a service. The Bush administration had also requested $388 million to fund the program during fiscal year 2002, of which $100 million will now be used for program termination costs.

Aldridge assured reporters December 21 that the Pentagon “will develop a new Navy terminal system.” The new missile system’s interceptor will be built around “hit-to-kill” technology, which means that the system will destroy incoming warheads through force of collision rather than through an explosion. Other U.S. missile interceptors under development employ hit-to-kill technology, but the Navy Area system was designed to carry a blast-fragmentation warhead.

The Pentagon issued the cancellation notice only one day after President George W. Bush announced the United States would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in six months so that the Pentagon would have a free hand to develop all kinds of missile defenses. (See Bush Announces U.S. Intent to Withdraw From ABM Treaty.) A major complaint by missile defense advocates over the past few years has been that the treaty prohibited development of sea-based defenses against strategic ballistic missiles, but because the Navy Area defense was to be a theater system, its testing was permitted by the treaty.

Although geared toward defending against slower theater ballistic missiles, the Navy Area defense and the Navy Theater Wide system, which is also designed to counter short- and medium-range missiles, were viewed by some missile defense proponents as possible stepping stones to a sea-based strategic defense. Neither system, however, has attempted an intercept at sea, and Pentagon reports state that the theater systems’ radars are incapable of detecting and tracking long-range ballistic missiles.

Philip Coyle, the former director of the Pentagon’s office of operational test and evaluation during the Clinton administration, described the Navy Area system in his last annual report as being “technically solid.” Now a senior adviser with the independent Center for Defense Information, Coyle said in a January 7 interview that the cancellation of the program, which was tasked with defending a relatively small area when compared with the responsibility of a strategic defense, shows how difficult it is to build missile defenses.

December Missile Defense Tests Yield One Success, One Failure

Wade Boese

The Pentagon conducted two missile defense tests in December, including a successful intercept attempt by the ground-based midcourse system and a failed test of the system’s prototype booster, which ended abruptly when the rocket went off course and had to be destroyed roughly 30 seconds after launch. Both tests were repeats of successful tests this past summer.

Following two test postponements caused by poor weather at the target launch site of Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, the Pentagon successfully hit a target warhead December 3 with an exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) carried into space by a booster fired from the Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands. The EKV and target collided at a combined speed of approximately 26,000 kilometers per hour about 240 kilometers above the Pacific Ocean.

The intercept was the second in a row for the ground-based midcourse system and the third hit in five total attempts since October 1999. Accompanied by a large balloon decoy, the mock warhead flew the same trajectory as in the previous four intercept tests.

Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, who oversees U.S. missile defense programs as head of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), told reporters November 30 that the test was structured to mimic previous ones so that the Pentagon could build confidence in the system and work out any problems before moving to harder tests.

Kadish acknowledged that the test involved some “artificialities” that BMDO intends to eliminate eventually in later testing. For example, as a substitute for radars required for an operational system, the mock warhead is equipped with both a C-band transponder and a global positioning system (GPS) beacon, which provide information on where the target is.

This information is used as “truth data” to verify that the missile defense system’s tracking of the warhead is correct and to formulate the initial weapons task plan, which is used to guide the interceptor to a general area where the intercept is projected to take place and where the EKV separates from its booster. Once the EKV separates, it is not supposed to use data from the transponder or GPS beacon but is supposed to rely on information provided by a prototype radar based at Kwajalein and then, in the final seconds before intercept, use its own infrared sensors to collide with the target. A post-test Pentagon press release stated “only system-generated data was used for the intercept after the EKV separated from its booster rocket.”

The booster used in the test, however, is only a surrogate for the actual booster that is to be part of an operational system. Although initial BMDO plans called for including the actual booster with the EKV in this latest intercept test, booster development is far behind schedule.

On December 13, the booster that will eventually be used in the midcourse system flew in its second flight test, which testers aborted shortly after launch when the booster flew off course and had to be destroyed for safety reasons. The test failure came only hours after President George W. Bush announced the United States would withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty because it hinders U.S. missile defense testing. (See DOD Mulls Missile Defense Test Site; Plan Could Violate ABM Treaty.)

In its first flight test on August 31, which was originally scheduled for February 2000, the booster stayed on course despite a problem with its vehicle roll control, which helps stabilize the missile in flight. A BMDO spokesman stated December 17 that it is unknown why the booster strayed in the latest test.

During his November 30 briefing, Kadish projected the actual booster would not be used in an intercept attempt for at least another five to eight intercept tries. This estimate may be further delayed because of the December 13 failure.

The next booster flight test is currently not scheduled. Boeing, which is the lead contractor for the ground-based midcourse missile defense system, is slated to pick a second company in January to develop an alternative booster in case the current one is scrapped.

Until the actual booster is completed, BMDO will continue intercept attempts using a surrogate booster, which accelerates much slower than the one planned for a final system.

The next intercept attempt is tentatively set for February or March. Kadish ventured it may be made more challenging than previous tests by employing additional or more realistic decoys, although that remains undecided.

Nearly $500 Million Cut From Bush Missile Defense Request

Wade Boese

Congress trimmed roughly $500 million from President George W. Bush’s nearly $8.3 billion request for U.S. missile defense efforts in the fiscal year 2002 defense appropriations act, which it passed overwhelmingly December 20. Bush signed the bill January 10, appropriating $317 billion for the Pentagon, excluding emergency supplemental funding.

Congress allocated $100 million for terminating the Navy Area Theater Ballistic Missile Defense program (see p. 32) and parceled out the rest of the administration’s requested $388 million for the system to other programs. The Pentagon’s other sea-based program, Navy Theater Wide, now known as the sea-based midcourse segment, saw its requested $596 million budget reduced by $120 million.

The Pentagon’s funding requests for two laser programs aimed at intercepting missiles shortly after their launch shared different fates. Congress added $73.5 million to the Airborne Laser, raising its funding to $483.5 million, but cut $120 million from the Space Based Laser, leaving it with $50 million.

Congress also treated differently the Pentagon’s proposed budgets for two ground-based systems designed to intercept short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. The Theater High-Altitude Area Defense had its funding request shaved by $50 million to $872 million, while the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) system received an additional $105 million, increasing its total to $866 million for procurement and research and development.

The Space-Based Infrared System-low (SBIRS-low), a planned system of about 24 satellites for tracking ballistic missile flights, barely escaped cancellation. Of the Pentagon’s $385 million request, Congress did not explicitly allocate any funds for the system, but it approved $250 million for satellite sensor technologies and gave the secretary of defense the discretion to use it for SBIRS-low. Last November, the House Committee on Appropriations recommended completely denying the program funding, saying it has “markedly negative trends in cost, schedule, and performance estimates.”

Pentagon plans call for SBIRS-low to be complemented by another system called SBIRS-high, which will feature four satellites that provide early warning of ballistic missile launches. Congress also found fault with this system, cutting nearly $94 million dedicated for program procurement activities but adding $40 million to a $405 million request for research and development.

Congress left intact more than $3.2 billion in requested funding for the strategic ground-based midcourse defense, including development of a new missile defense “test bed,” which the Pentagon will build by adding a new test site in Alaska. (See ACT, July/August 2001.) The Pentagon aims to have the test bed ready for testing as early as 2004.

Pentagon Puts Off Missile Defense Testing, Citing ABM Treaty

Wade Boese

Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld announced October 25 that the Pentagon had decided against carrying out October and November missile defense testing activities that he said could be viewed as violating the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.

According to Rumsfeld, the Pentagon “decided not to go forward” with plans to use Aegis ship-based radars to track the target and interceptor in an October 24 test of the midcourse strategic missile defense system or to track a rocket being used to launch a satellite November 14. The secretary said a plan to use a radar at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California to track the target missile in the October 24 intercept test had also been dropped.

The ABM Treaty bans development, testing, and deployment of sea-based components and systems for strategic ballistic missile defenses. The same prohibitions apply to air-, space-, and mobile land-based systems as well. The accord also limits radars that can be used in testing strategic defenses to those that have been solely designated for such a role, which the California-based radar is not.

The intercept test and the satellite launch will still take place; they will simply be conducted without inclusion of the ship-based and California-based radars, which were added to the test program sometime after the main tests had been scheduled. It is uncertain when Pentagon planners requested using the radars to track targets—Pentagon and White House spokespersons either did not respond to inquiries or said that they did not know.

It is also unclear why Rumsfeld announced the delay of the October 24 test the day after it was supposed to have taken place—particularly since the Pentagon had already announced a few weeks earlier that the October 24 intercept would not take place until late November or early December. That delay had been caused by pre-test inspections and preparations, not anything treaty-related, according to a spokesman for the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), which oversees U.S. missile defense programs.

When asked by a reporter October 29 whether his announcement had been “somewhat incomplete” for failing to mention that the test had already been delayed for technical reasons, Rumsfeld replied, “Well, if it was, I’m sorry.” The secretary, however, went on to say that “the important thing is that we are not using one radar on [the test]” because of treaty concerns.

However, it is unclear what purpose in the test the Aegis radar, which is not part of the strategic midcourse missile defense system, would have served. A Pentagon report released last March stated the Aegis radar is “not capable of supporting [strategic]-class engagements due to its limited detection and tracking range.” The BMDO spokesman explained that Pentagon testers simply wanted to “see what the radar can do.”

The timing of Rumsfeld’s announcement, sandwiched between the October 21 meeting of President George W. Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin and the two leaders’ upcoming mid-November summit, appeared designed to serve two purposes.

The test cancellations seemed to be a goodwill gesture toward Russia that Washington would hold off on any potential treaty-busting tests while discussing with Moscow what to do about the ABM Treaty. At the same time, the move suggested time was running short to reach an agreement on the treaty’s future because the accord is already hobbling the Pentagon’s missile defense testing that it claims is necessary.

That the Bush administration’s proposed testing program would raise treaty compliance issues was not unexpected. Missile defense planners were told to ignore ABM compliance concerns, according to two senior defense officials in a July 11 background briefing, and foreign governments were told by the United States in July that there is “no intent to design tests to conform to, or stay within the confines of the [ABM] Treaty.”

In fact, in July 17 Senate testimony, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz volunteered that adding a ship-based radar to a strategic missile defense test could conflict with the treaty, though he assured attending senators that the United States would not violate the treaty.

In his October 25 briefing, after noting that the Pentagon had been telling Congress and Russia “for some time now” that the U.S. missile defense program would “bump up against” the treaty, Rumsfeld declared, “That has now happened.” He asserted that this “reality” should serve as an “impetus” for the two presidents’ three-day discussion, which begins November 13 and is expected to focus on missile defenses, the ABM Treaty, and strategic nuclear cuts.

Since early this summer, Bush and other top administration officials have been trying to persuade the Kremlin to abandon the ABM Treaty so the United States can freely test and build national or strategic missile defenses. If unsuccessful, Bush has said the United States would unilaterally withdraw from the accord, which requires a six-month notice. For his part, Putin has rejected scrapping the treaty but has hinted that Russia would be open to amending it.

Two other possible missile defense activities identified by Wolfowitz in his testimony could also soon run afoul of the ABM Treaty. The first involves a missile intercept test next February that would involve both ABM and air defense radars operating concurrently, and the second is the start of construction next spring of a new Alaska-based missile defense test site, including five new missile interceptor silos. These activities have not been postponed or cancelled, and Rumsfeld did not say whether any final determination has been made about whether they would violate the treaty or not.

PAC-3 Ready for Action

On September 26, the Army declared that a “limited number” of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles were available for deployment. The PAC-3, which is designed to destroy short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and aircraft by colliding with them, is the first hit-to-kill anti-missile system ready for operational use.

The PAC-3 system has been under development for several years. The announcement that the missiles were available for deployment had been scheduled in advance for some time and was not connected with the events of September 11.

Army spokeswoman Captain Amy Hannah would not comment on how many PAC-3 missiles were available or when and where they could be deployed. Hannah said Lockheed Martin, the company that produces the PAC-3, recently transferred the missiles to the Army.

A Lockheed Martin spokesman declined to discuss the issue, citing a letter sent October 2 by Edward Aldridge, undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology, and logistics, to private contractors. The letter asked companies to exercise “discretion” when speaking publicly about “statistical, production, contracting and delivery information” because such information could be useful to foreign intelligence collectors.

On October 19, the PAC-3 successfully completed its final intercept test in the developmental stage of its testing, which works out hardware and software bugs and refines a weapon system. During the developmental tests, the PAC-3 missed only once, hitting nine out of 10 targets. Now the PAC-3 will move forward to operational testing and evaluation, which is more representative of actual tactical conditions. For example, real soldiers, not testing personnel, operate the weapon during operational testing.

Currently, the PAC-3 is in low-rate production, but a decision is set to be made in September 2002 whether it should be moved to full-rate production. It is standard practice to keep a weapon system in low-rate production while testing is still being conducted.

The Continuing Impact of the Nuclear Revolution

Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky

The advent of nuclear weapons with their tremendous increase in destructive force decisively shifted the balance between offensive and defensive forces. This change has profound implications in judging the wisdom of any plans to deploy defenses against ballistic missiles carrying nuclear warheads.

The history of warfare is replete with competition between offense and defense, from the sword and the shield to the struggle between assault troops and fortifications. World War II provides lessons on the relative effectiveness of offense and defense. The French attempted to erect an impenetrable defense in the form of the Maginot Line against Germany, only to have Adolf Hitler’s mobile armored forces circumvent the defenses by taking a more northerly route. An innovative offense defeated a static defense. In the Battle of Britain, Hitler’s Luftwaffe carried out repeated massive attacks against Britain. However, each mission suffered losses on the order of 10 percent, inflicted by the Royal Air Force, which was assisted by radar, a newly introduced technology, and cryptography, which together yielded warning of such attacks. As a consequence, the attacking forces were reduced by a third for each 10 sorties flown, a level of attrition that proved unacceptable. History contains many such examples of both successes and failures of defenses against conventional attacks.

Nuclear weapons, however, profoundly changed the relationship between offense and defense because they increased the explosive power of a payload of a given weight and size by a factor of one million—a very profound change indeed. The demands on the performance and reliability of defenses against an attack by even a single missile carrying a nuclear weapon must therefore be extremely high for the defense to be considered effective. When the Germans attacked Britain during World War II with primitive ballistic missiles, none were intercepted, but the damage was limited because the missiles carried conventional explosives. Had they carried nuclear warheads, a single missile would have devastated London. Defense against ballistic missiles is therefore a totally different problem depending on whether such missiles carry conventional or nuclear payloads.

Against this background, national missile defense has re-entered the national and international political agenda. The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, signed in 1972, explicitly forbids deployments of defenses that protect the entire territory of signatory nations against strategic ballistic missiles. The basis of this treaty was the mutual recognition during the Cold War that the United States and the Soviet Union had attained a strategic balance based on deterrence: neither side could launch a nuclear attack against the other without incurring the risk of a retaliatory strike that would produce unacceptable damage. To appreciate the extent of the potential destruction, it should be remembered that the combined yield of the two nuclear weapons that killed 250,000 people in Hiroshima and Nagasaki would equal only about one-tenth the yield of a single nuclear weapon in today’s arsenal.

At the height of the Cold War, the United States and Soviet Union deployed more than 60,000 nuclear weapons in aggregate. Today the number of nuclear weapons in the world has shrunk by about one-half, with the overwhelming majority in the hands of Russia and the United States. At the same time, the so-called rogue states still have no nuclear weapons, although North Korea may have enough plutonium for one or two.

Nuclear weapons can be delivered to the U.S. homeland in many ways, of which the intercontinental ballistic missile is only one and the one requiring the most technological prowess. Nuclear weapons can be dropped from airplanes of almost any size, delivered by cruise missiles traveling in the earth’s atmosphere, detonated on ships in US harbors, or even smuggled across land borders. The United States has no significant homeland air defense, and its borders are notoriously porous, as witnessed by the largely ineffective “war on drugs.” Thus, a ballistic missile defense, even if it succeeded, would address only one avenue for the delivery of nuclear weapons. Moreover, rogue states are unlikely to adopt long-range missiles as their choice for nuclear weapons delivery because of cost and because the origin of the missiles is unambiguously traceable.

This was the situation during the Cold War, and this is the situation that remains today. The argument that deployment of a national missile defense could decrease US security is not a “relic of the Cold War” and does not reflect “Cold War thinking.” The United States’ vulnerability to delivery of nuclear explosives remains a fact that is difficult, if not impossible, to remedy by technical measures as long as nuclear weapons remain in the arsenals of the world.

The debate over missile defenses is complicated by the fact that ballistic missiles vary in range and can be used to attack military facilities and troop concentrations with conventional warheads. Theater missile defense (TMD), intended to defend smaller areas against short- to medium-range missile attacks, could be useful in defending US troops or military facilities against conventional attacks, whose impact could be significantly blunted by even partially effective defenses. This situation contrasts sharply with the use of defenses against nuclear warheads, where leakage of even a single nuclear warhead would have disastrous effects.

The ABM Treaty does not deal with TMD because the treaty’s intention is to preserve strategic stability, and it is expected that TMD would be used chiefly in battlefield situations against missiles armed with conventional warheads. (The situation is complicated by the fact that in the case of defense of small nations, such as Taiwan, Israel, or even Japan, TMD could be perceived as providing a defense for the entire territory.) In 1997 the United States and Russia negotiated a demarcation agreement that defined the boundary between permitted and forbidden anti-missile deployments as measured by the character of the interceptor and the speed of the target to be intercepted. The demarcation agreement, however, has not as yet been formally submitted to the Senate for ratification, and it remains mired in congressional politics around the future of the ABM Treaty.

Clearly, the demands on the performance of missile defenses against nuclear weapons are extremely high. The question therefore becomes, do we have the technology needed to achieve this level of effectiveness? The table below illustrates the alternative means by which interceptors can destroy ballistic missiles. Each one of these approaches has its strengths and weaknesses. The table is divided into columns that delineate when the intercept of the incoming ICBM is to occur: during the boost phase, the time during which the missile booster is still burning; in midcourse, when the attacking missile is traveling outside the atmosphere; and after re-entry, once the offensive missile is approaching its target within the atmosphere.

In addition to the different locations of intercept, missile defenses can employ a variety of technologies. The interceptor can be guided by sensors employing radar or using infrared detectors registering thermal emissions from the target warheads. Sensors can be based on land, placed on aircraft, or deployed on orbiting satellites. The interceptor can destroy the incoming ICBM in a number of ways: by direct impact (hit-to-kill), by fragmentation of an explosive warhead, or through a nuclear detonation.

Boost Phase

Boost-phase intercept defenses have never been developed but are now apparently under serious consideration. During the boost phase, an ascending missile emits extremely intense infrared radiation, and therefore no decoy other than another booster can simulate a missile during this period of its trajectory. However the boost phase is very short, no longer than three minutes, and takes place near the launch site. A boost-phase interceptor must therefore be forward-based on a ship or aircraft or on friendly territory. Alternatively, coverage could be provided from space, but a large number of satellites would be required for such coverage to be continuous.

Boost-phase intercept faces several problems. A decision to intercept on receipt of a putative signal indicating an ICBM launch has to be made in an exceedingly short time and may be subject to error. Additionally, the forward-basing requirement means that either the ships or aircraft that launch the interceptor are vulnerable to attack themselves. Moreover, most potential inland launch sites cannot be covered at all from sea or air. This disadvantage could, of course, be considered an advantage if the United States wanted to signal that the ABM system is intended solely to neutralize a rogue state, like North Korea, and is not capable of defending against inland launch from either Russia or China. Because boost-phase defenses intercept the ICBM before it can disperse a fragmented payload, they would also be effective against a missile that carried small multiple payloads, such as “bomblets,” which, although too small for nuclear weapons, might carry biological warfare agents.

Midcourse Intercept

Intercept while an enemy’s ICBM travels in the vacuum of outer space permits more decision time to commit an interceptor. However, its weakness is that, because light and heavy objects follow identical trajectories in the vacuum of outer space, the offensive ICBM could employ a number of techniques to deceive the intercept vehicle. For example, a substantial number of lightweight decoys could be deployed in parallel with the real warhead, making it difficult for the interceptor to discriminate between them. Such lightweight decoys can be designed to simulate the thermal emissions from the real warhead and even the fluctuation in such emissions or variations in reflected light caused by the warhead’s motion. Alternatively, the offense could employ “anti-simulation” countermeasures, in which the real warhead is enclosed in a light balloon, making it indistinguishable from a number of accompanying decoy balloons. Also, should the offense employ many small bomblets, the defense would have to attack each of the bomblets, which in practice would be impossible.

Terminal, or Reentry, Defense

Once the offensive missile’s payload is re-entering the atmosphere, it faces drag, which would distinguish lightweight decoys from the heavy warhead. Thus, the principal countermeasure available to the entering warhead would be to maneuver, hoping that the interceptor cannot keep up with such motions. However, terminal defense can only defend a limited area, and it would be ineffective against bomblets that could result in a very large number of identical entering targets.

The Clinton administration pursued plans for midcourse intercepts with the interceptors initially based at a single location. The initial ICBM trajectory was to be tracked by infrared sensors placed on orbiting satellites, followed by tracking by ground-based radars. Final hit-to-kill guidance was to be provided by infrared seekers located on the intercept vehicle itself. Ideally, the Clinton defense sought to cover the entire United States but would have left US allies unprotected. During the presidential campaign, the Clinton defense was opposed—and rightfully so—because of its vulnerability to decoys and fragmented warheads.

Moreover, since the Clinton defense was designed to defend only the United States, US allies heavily criticized the plans because they would have been left exposed as potential hostages to enemy attack and because they were concerned with the anticipated highly negative reaction of Russia and China. President Bill Clinton decided not to deploy the system after determining that, of his four criteria for deployment—technical readiness, a demonstrated threat, cost, and impact on relations with other states—neither adequate technical readiness nor acceptance by other nations had been achieved.

President George W. Bush reaffirmed his campaign commitment to the concept of a national missile defense in his speech on May 1, but he remained silent on how this goal is to be accomplished technically. The words the administration often uses are “multilayered defense,” meaning that the system would combine several of the basic options given in the table on the previous page, with emphasis given to boost-phase intercept. The cost of a multilayered defense would be much larger than the estimated $60 billion the Clinton defense would have cost. Accepted designs for the architecture of such a defense do not exist, and the wisdom of going forward with such a defense hopefully will be critically examined during the strategic review that the administration is now conducting.

Research and development on missile defenses has been pursued for decades at an accumulated cost of some $100 billion in today’s dollars. Nevertheless, the technical status of such defenses is such that the plans outlined by the president in his speech could not become reality during the next two presidential terms.
All ballistic missile defenses against nuclear weapons delivery result in an unfavorable exchange ratio relative to the offense. In other words, should the United States decide to deploy such defenses to reduce the vulnerability of this country, an adversary could increase or modify its offensive forces at a drastically lower cost and in a way that would leave the United States just as vulnerable. Thus, deployment of a US national missile defense, should a capable adversary nation such as China or Russia decide to respond by enhancing its strategic nuclear force, would simply escalate arms competition to higher levels of potential violence without actually protecting the United States.

Such an unfavorable exchange ratio may not be a sufficient argument against deploying missile defenses against rogue states, such as North Korea, which might not be able to afford to counteract such defenses even at moderate cost. It has therefore been difficult for some national leaders to reject proposals to defend their countries against possible threats from potential adversaries “of concern” or from unintended releases of a small number of nuclear-tipped missiles from any country.

For instance, under congressional pressure, President Lyndon Johnson proposed the Sentinel system to defend US cities against then-rogue-state China. But President Richard Nixon, recognizing the escalatory nature of the Sentinel system and a comparable Soviet system, negotiated the ABM Treaty and converted the Sentinel hardware to the terminal defense of US Minuteman missile sites. This system, called Safeguard, was eventually deployed at one site as permitted by the ABM Treaty, but operation was discontinued after less than one year once its limited effectiveness in relation to its operational cost was recognized.

The Clinton defense was designed to “walk the tightrope” by defending the nation against the ballistic missiles from today’s rogue states—North Korea, Iran, and Iraq—and stopping accidental launches from Russia and China, while ostensibly not being sufficiently robust to blunt the deterrent forces of Moscow and Beijing. But China, Russia, and US allies did not find this limited objective credible.

In view of all the basic facts, the financial, political, and strategic costs outweigh the benefits of the limited protection a national missile defense could offer. An honest acknowledgment by the US leadership that technical means to prevent hostile nuclear detonation on US soil do not exist and are not in the offing would go a long way toward providing a realistic and honest basis for discussion on a national missile defense.

All the technical and economic facts concerning ballistic missile defense, combined with the availability of delivering nuclear weapons by means other than ballistic missiles, lead to an inescapable conclusion: In the nuclear weapons age, the world is condemned to live in an offense-dominated condition. That means that defenses cannot protect the United States from nuclear weapons. That goal has to be attained by dissuasion, where dissuasion means a combination of diplomacy and deterrence. Diplomacy must convince a potential adversary that its security will decrease rather than increase by acquisition and delivery of nuclear weapons, while deterrence implies that the US response would be unacceptable to the adversary if it crossed the nuclear threshold by actually using such weapons. Dissuasion has been effective for 55 years—notwithstanding the eruption of roughly 100 armed conflicts in that time, a tradition of “non-use” of nuclear weapons has prevailed since they were first employed against Japan.

Should this administration now decide to deploy missile defenses to protect the United States? Today there is nothing to deploy, and no system can be in place before the Bush administration leaves office. Thus, the current debate over missile defenses is a house of cards built on a nonexistent technical foundation. Other nations should not immediately feel militarily threatened by a deployment decision, but such a decision would de facto abrogate the ABM Treaty and would place the entire arms control structure in jeopardy. Such a decision would profoundly and negatively affect political relations with Russia and China, as well as with NATO and the rest of the world. In particular, should China respond to US deployment plans by augmenting its now limited long-range missile force, both qualitatively and quantitatively, first India and then Pakistan are likely to respond in kind. US security would be diminished.

The revolution in warfare caused by the advent of nuclear weapons cannot be reversed. Scientific and technical facts cannot be coerced by policy. Defense of the nation, however well-intentioned, cannot be achieved by scientifically unsound means. President Bush should reconsider his approach to national missile defense and await the outcome of a balanced and thorough analysis of the fundamental issues.

Intercept Options
Stage at which ICBM is intercepted
Boost Phase
Very difficult
Easy decoys
Maneuvering target
Interceptor launch location
Forward presence or space
Flexible, depends on range
Near defended area
Vulnerability of interceptor launcher
Generally large
Generally small
Decision time to commit to intercept
Less than three minutes
15-30 minutes
About 30 minutes
Effectiveness against fragmenting warhead
Very limited

Economic exchange ratio of defense if ICBM carries nuclear warhead


Wolfgang K. H. Panofsky is director emeritus of the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center in California.

Pentagon Report Highlights Hurdles for Missile Defenses

Wade Boese

In its latest annual report, released March 2, the Defense Department's office of operational test and evaluation expressed strong concerns about the testing program for the U.S. national missile defense (NMD) system and highlighted several technical challenges confronting U.S. theater missile defenses. The review office also disputed the contention that a sea-based theater missile defense currently under development could be simply or quickly modified to defend against strategic ballistic missile attacks.

As part of its annual assessment of all Pentagon weapons testing programs, the office of operational test and evaluation reviewed the Pentagon's several ballistic missile defense programs, all of which are still proceeding under the Bush administration. The completed evaluations buttressed Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish's common cautionary refrain about the difficulties of building missile defenses, that "this is rocket science." Kadish is director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), which oversees U.S. missile defense programs.

Designed to protect all 50 U.S. states from strategic ballistic missile attacks by intercepting warheads as they cruise through space, NMD is the most high profile of the missile defense programs. The system will initially consist of 20 ground-based missile interceptors deployed in Alaska supported by advanced radars and eventually two new satellite constellations.

In its evaluation of the NMD program, the review office noted that the system represented only a "limited functional representation of the objective system" because only prototype and surrogate NMD elements were being tested. For example, none of the five flight tests to date, three of which have been intercept attempts, have employed the system's planned actual booster, which is still under development.

Earlier this year, BMDO projected the booster's first flight test, previously scheduled for early last year, could happen as soon as March, but a BMDO spokesperson said March 23 that the test will not take place before August because of additional design and material changes to the booster. The number of solo flight tests of the booster scheduled before it is used in an actual intercept attempt has also been trimmed from three to two.

The NMD test program, according to the Pentagon review office, is "not aggressive enough to match the

pace of acquisition to support deployment and the test content does not yet address important operational questions." Specifically, the office did not feel that the flight testing is realistic enough with regard to intercept altitudes and closing velocities. It also asserted that the decoys planned for deployment with the targets in future testing are too simple and noted that established nuclear powers already use countermeasures that are more sophisticated. BMDO responded that it was exploring options to make the testing more stressful.

Aside from flight tests, the review office pointed out that a key tool for running simulations of intercept scenarios that cannot be flight-tested was delivered late and not fully developed, thereby preventing it from being used in any "significant" way. In addition, the office faulted integrated ground tests of NMD system elements as being "unrealistic" because of simplification and the low number of objects used in testing scenarios.

The report recommended that, when assessing system performance, more weight should be given to the discrimination capabilities of the system's radars and the exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV), which is designed to seek out and collide with an incoming warhead in space. Ultimately, the EKV's ability to discriminate will be the "biggest challenge" for the NMD system to work properly, according to the evaluation. All other NMD tasks appear to be technologically possible, the report stated.

The review office declared that any successful intercept would be a "significant achievement" but cautioned the success would need to be viewed within the context of the testing program's limitations. Of the three NMD intercept tests, the first resulted in an intercept while the last two failed.

Theater Missile Defenses

In addition to the proposed NMD system, the United States is also developing defenses to protect deployed U.S. forces from attack by slower and shorter-range theater ballistic missiles. Not counting laser-based and cooperative defenses, the Pentagon is working on four different theater missile defense systems: Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD); Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3); Navy Area Theater Ballistic Missile Defense (NATBMD); and Navy Theater Wide (NTW).

A mobile ground-based system intended to intercept incoming theater ballistic missiles inside and outside the atmosphere during their mid-course and early terminal phases, the THAAD system experienced six straight intercept failures, starting in December 1995, before achieving two successive hits in 1999. While characterizing the THAAD program as having made "significant progress," the office of operational test and evaluation noted that the two intercepts demonstrated only a "limited integrated system performance."

The THAAD missile is now undergoing a redesign to address problems identified in the earlier flight tests. The missile's "reliability, testability, producibility, and affordability" must be increased, according to the Pentagon review office, and the entire system should be exposed to "extreme operating environments" to validate that it will work wherever deployed. The Defense Department is calling for five successful intercepts with the redesigned missile before moving further with the program.

Whereas THAAD is targeted at upper-tier threats, the PAC-3 system will be focused on lower-tier threats, such as cruise missiles, aircraft, and tactical ballistic missiles in their terminal stage. PAC-3 has achieved six intercepts in six attempts, but due to delays in software development and unexpected hardware problems, only one flight test involved what the review office deemed a "production representative" PAC-3 missile. Five of the successful intercepts were also conducted against what the review office described as "limited threat representative targets."

Moreover, other tests of the PAC-3 ground system revealed a number of "reliability" and "high priority" problems concerning difficulty in identifying, classifying, discriminating, and tracking targets. These problems must be fixed before the PAC-3 ground system is fielded, the report stated.

Largely built upon upgrades to existing weapons systems—mainly the Aegis combat system, which can track more than 100 targets simultaneously, and the Standard Missile, which is used for air defense—the NATBMD is a "technically solid" program, according to the review office. But the Navy has not conducted a live test to prove the system can acquire, track, and intercept a theater ballistic missile. The NATBMD system will be ship-based and is envisioned as protecting coastal cities and amphibious forces against short- to medium-range ballistic missiles.

While tests have shown that the Aegis system can track a ballistic missile, the review office cautioned that the system could have difficulty in simultaneously defending against ballistic missiles and performing its anti-air-war function. In addition, the complexity of upgrading the Aegis' Weapons System computer program may have been "underestimated" the report stated.

The proposed Navy Theater Wide system, which will be tasked with intercepting medium- and long-range theater ballistic missiles from the late ascent phase through the early descent phase, rests upon more substantial upgrades to the Aegis system and the Standard Missile. The review office expressed concern about the Aegis system's autonomous ability to perform the required detection and tracking functions, particularly its ability to locate a smaller target (when compared with airplanes, as the system was originally designed to track) at a much greater distance. Other potential problems are whether the infrared seeker on the NTW's warhead will be able to adequately discriminate between the target and debris and whether it could be blinded by its own propellant plume.

Although geared toward countering theater ballistic missiles, some missile defense advocates have suggested that NTW could be adapted or upgraded relatively easily to permit it to intercept strategic ballistic missiles in their boost phase, when the rocket engines are still burning. However, the review office asserted such a change in mission would require "major upgrades."

Citing the Aegis system's limited detection and tracking range for strategic ballistic missiles, the review office concluded the Aegis' radar is "not capable of supporting NMD-class engagements." The planned NTW Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), which just completed its first successful flight test involving all of its three stages in January, lacks the velocity needed for ascent-phase or mid-course intercepts and would need "major propulsion upgrades," according to the report. In fact, the SM-3's burnout velocity is less than half of what is needed to engage strategic ballistic missiles in mid-course trajectory. The review office also assessed the NTW kill vehicle's detection and divert velocity capabilities as being inadequate for "NMD endgame performance" and noted that the NTW warhead does not meet the NMD mission requirement of being "nuclear hardened."

Taken together, these "major shortcomings," according to the review office, led it to conclude that neither NTW nor even a five-year upgrade of the NTW system could be considered a "viable sea-based NMD option." The Defense Department is currently conducting a review of its ballistic missile defense options.

Bush Administration Blunts International Opposition to NMD

Wade Boese

Two months into its term, the Bush administration's continued efforts to build foreign acceptance of, if not support for, U.S. deployment of a national missile defense (NMD) appear to be paying some small dividends. In mid-March, a top Chinese official, while still vehemently objecting to U.S. plans, welcomed talks with Washington on the issue. Meanwhile, Germany has edged away from its past opposition to NMD, and France has publicly quieted its criticism, although neither country has embraced the idea.

Unlike the Clinton administration, which largely neglected Asia on U.S. NMD plans and upset U.S. allies by focusing first on winning Russian acquiescence while taking their support for granted, the Bush administration from the outset has promised to consult fully with all interested countries. At the same time, Bush officials have emphasized they will not be dissuaded from their objective and have expressed confidence in their ability to persuade others to eventually accept a U.S. defense.

Starting a March 14 speech by noting, "It is no news that China is opposed to the U.S. NMD program," Chinese Ambassador Sha Zukang declared that he wanted to "make it clear that…we are ready to have a dialogue and discussion with Americans [on NMD]." The head of the Chinese Foreign Ministry's arms control and disarmament department, Sha pointed out that only through consultations could the two sides "enhance mutual understanding and narrow down the differences." Sha, who in his speech equated NMD with "drinking poison to quench thirst," said Washington and Beijing need to talk "no matter how serious [the] issue."

While declaring that China does not want a confrontation with the United States over missile defenses, the ambassador warned that China will "not allow its legitimate means of self-defense to be weakened" and that Beijing wants to preserve "existing mutual deterrence" between China and the United States. Currently, China, which possesses roughly 20 ICBMs capable of reaching the United States, fears a U.S. national missile defense, no matter how limited, could negate its small arsenal, making China vulnerable to a U.S. first strike or eliminating its ability to deter the United States from intervening militarily in Asia, particularly with regard to Taiwan.

Like the Clinton administration did, Bush officials have declared that the system will not be directed at China, but at other states, such as North Korea and Iran, that are pursuing long-range ballistic missiles. Sha rejected this assurance, saying the United States has "over-exaggerated" such threats. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has said that only those who would threaten the United States or its friends and allies should be concerned about a U.S. defense.

Sha repeated long-standing Chinese charges that a U.S. missile defense could start another arms race, including one extending into outer space, and could possibly spur increased missile proliferation. Sha said that for those reasons China, which is already known to be modernizing its strategic forces, hoped Washington would abandon its plans. He added that China "should have reason to be confident that we can deal with it" if there is a U.S. deployment.

The ambassador further said that China does not oppose theater ballistic missile defenses (TMD) "utilized to protect a country's troops and for air defense purpose[s]," and he applauded the Russian proposal for a European TMD. But Sha warned against any U.S. transfer of TMD to Taiwan and against any system that could play a role in or serve as a "front" for a wider missile defense.

A week after Sha's speech, Chinese Vice Premier Qian Qichen raised the missile defense issue with both President George W. Bush and Secretary of State Colin Powell in Washington. A senior administration official told reporters March 22 that at the meeting Bush reiterated that a defense would not be a threat to China. When asked whether there was now a better understanding between the two countries on the issue, the official replied "I wouldn't go that far…you'd have to ask his side if they felt that."

Visiting Washington a week later on March 29, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder expressed interest in Germany playing a future part in U.S. missile defenses if they were deployed. "Certainly, when it comes to the involvement and also participation in terms of industrial policy, certainly we'll be interested," Schroeder answered when asked by a reporter whether Germany would be willing to participate in a system.

However, Schroeder noted there were many issues that needed to be looked into, such as whether a missile defense will work, who will be covered, and how it will impact global disarmament and relations with Russia and China. Bush described himself as "grateful" that Schroeder was interested in the U.S. point of view, and the chancellor, who has been a leading European voice expressing reservations about U.S. missile defense plans, said he was "very pleased" that the president was open to discussion about the questions he had posed.

Quite vocal about its missile defense concerns last year, France has quieted its public protests following the Bush administration's promise to hold consultations with allies. A French official explained that France still has the same concerns it expressed in the past about the "potential negative effects" of missile defense but that it will raise those issues in private. Like Berlin, Paris seems to be reserving judgment on U.S. plans until it has had an opportunity to discuss them with Washington.

Russia has continued to voice its opposition to U.S. plans, and on March 6, Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, a critic of missile defenses, noted after a meeting with Powell that she had not changed her position. Lindh also said that the European Union presidency, which Sweden currently occupies, does not want to see the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty threatened.

South Korea Clarifies Position on NMD

After South Korean President Kim Dae Jung signed a February 27 joint statement with Russian President Vladimir Putin that called for the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to be "preserved and strengthened," Seoul rushed to explain that it is not opposed to a U.S. national missile defense (NMD).

Kim's signature of the statement was widely reported as evidence that South Korea was siding with Russia against U.S. missile defense plans, but Seoul announced the next day that it was "engaged in a serious review of the NMD issue" and that reports characterizing South Korea as opposing or indirectly criticizing missile defenses "have no factual ground." Seoul further pointed out that the controversial statement was a direct quotation of other statements that Washington has signed over the past year, including one that was issued by the nuclear-weapon states at the 2000 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference.

After meeting President George W. Bush at their March 7 summit in Washington, Kim reiterated to reporters that the joint South Korean-Russian statement "in no way reflects our position on NMD issues" and added that he "regretted the misunderstanding." In a joint U.S.-South Korean statement issued that day, the two leaders recognized that there were new threats in the world and that countering them would require a "variety of measures, including active non-proliferation diplomacy, defensive systems, and other pertinent measures."

A March 23 South Korean press report later quoted Seoul's foreign minister, Lee Joung-binn, as saying that the United States had requested a statement of support for NMD at the summit but that South Korea had declined. Lee subsequently retracted his remark, but on March 26 he and 10 other cabinet ministers and senior presidential secretaries were replaced by Kim in a move interpreted as an attempt to better relations with Washington. —W.B.

The Need For Strategic Reassurance in the 21st Century

Banning Garrett

The end of the Cold War eliminated the intense competition between two fundamentally opposed systems that had dominated the strategic landscape for more than four decades. However, the hopes and aspirations of the early post-Cold War years for growing harmony among the major powers have not materialized—a failure that was dramatically illustrated by the impact of the 1999 U.S.-NATO airstrikes against Yugoslavia and the mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. Those events greatly exacerbated Russian and Chinese suspicions of U.S. strategic intentions, and two years later deep mistrust of the United States remains largely unabated. U.S. mistrust of Chinese and Russian strategic intentions has similarly deepened in recent years.

The post-Cold War problem of persisting strategic suspicions has been further highlighted by U.S. plans for building a national missile defense (NMD) system. Not only Russia and China but also many other countries, including U.S. friends and allies, suspect that the real goal of the NMD program is to strengthen the United States' already vast military superiority to enable it to pursue a unilateralist global strategy and to "bully" other countries with impunity. They warn that the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty and the entire edifice of painstakingly negotiated arms control and non-proliferation agreements could come tumbling down, leading to unbridled proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the end of any sort of global strategic balance.

The Bush administration (and the Clinton administration before it) has responded to this "apocalypse now" scenario with protestations that the United States has no such hegemonic aims but rather is only seeking to build a limited NMD system with the modest objective of defending against a handful of nuclear-armed missiles from "rogue" nations or an accidental launch by Russia or one of the other members of the nuclear club. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld publicly insists that NMD "threatens no one."

There is, therefore, a significant disconnect between international and U.S. perceptions of the strategic and political implications of NMD. No doubt U.S. officials feel deep frustration with the inability of others to understand the purportedly benign intentions behind NMD, a problem complicated by the ardent supporters of a full-blown NMD system capable of neutralizing Russia's and China's nuclear deterrent force.

Secretary of State Colin Powell seemed to acknowledge the problem posed by mistrust when he promised that the United States would not move forward on NMD without "consultations," not only with U.S. allies but also with Russia and China. The United States is unlikely to persuade others of the wisdom of its NMD plans, however, if it does not address the fundamental issue of how others perceive U.S. strategic intentions and then take steps to address those concerns.


The Need for Strategic Reassurance

Strategic mistrust can exacerbate problems that might have been more easily resolved had they been dealt with on their own merits. It can also increase the chance of misperceptions and the likelihood that those misperceptions will do real damage to relations. In order for two states wary of each other to solve policy problems, they may need to first struggle to demonstrate that, despite differences over specific issues, their long-term intentions toward each other are benign—in other words, they may need to engage in strategic reassurance.

Strategic mistrust is frequently based on misunderstandings or worst-case assessments, and although nations may have different or even conflicting interests, there is frequently a basis for significantly reducing strategic mistrust. States that have mutual suspicions often also have a wide range of common economic, political, and security interests. This is certainly true of the relationships that the United States has with Russia and China.

"Strategic reassurance measures" (SRMs) seek to address the deeper causes of mistrust among nations, especially suspicions about the perceived long-term political, military, and economic objectives—that is, strategic intentions—of other powers. SRMs may both enhance the prospects for nations agreeing to arms control measures—including revision of arms control agreements like the ABM Treaty, in the case of NMD—and also be advanced by arms control steps that serve to ease suspicions of strategic intentions. For the Bush administration, strategic reassurance may be a prerequisite to proceeding with a decision on deployment of a limited NMD system without incurring unacceptable political and strategic costs.

Strategic trust and mistrust should not be viewed as absolutes in international politics but rather as relative—probably every international relationship has elements of both. Even bitter enemies have some limit to strategic mistrust, as was the case between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War, and even close allies, such as the United States and Israel, may harbor some suspicions about each other's intentions. Thus, it might be useful to think of international relationships as being on a sliding scale, with strategic mistrust at one end, strategic trust at the other, and most relations somewhere in the middle, especially in the post-Cold War world. An extreme of strategic mistrust would be fear of imminent military aggression while total strategic trust might be found only in a "borderless" world. The gradation of trust or mistrust is significant, however, as is the way states' perceptions of each other can shift one way or the other.


Causes of Strategic Mistrust

Mistrust of another nation's long-term political, military, and economic objectives can have many sources, both real and imagined. One nation may fear that another has ambitions to acquire its territory or resources or to exploit or dominate it in some other way. Such suspicions can be based on a history of aggression or conquest, including colonialism, or there can be more diffuse misgivings based on the sheer size and proximity of states as well as on religious, ethnic, cultural, or racial differences. Ideological factors such as fear of communist or authoritarian regimes can be a source of strategic mistrust. Two nations may have been historic rivals for regional power, such as Iran and Iraq, Japan and China, or France and Germany. Once aroused, strategic mistrust may be sustained in collective memory, such as the continuing suspicion in Asia that Japan may once again embark on military aggression based on its actions from the World War II era for which it is perceived as having never fully atoned.

Strategic mistrust can be exacerbated by the rise and fall of nations due to shifts in the balance of comprehensive national power—that is, a country's overall strength as measured by its economic, military, political, social, and technological capabilities. A sense in one nation of its pervasive relative decline can create perceptions of a growing security threat from more successful states and a need to find new means of leverage over potential adversaries. That is, even if the other states' strategic intentions have not changed, declining or failing states may nevertheless perceive new dangers. Conversely, a sense of relative strengthening of comprehensive national power may generate suspicions among other states that the rising power will use its enhanced power for aggressive purposes.1

The last decade has seen dramatic changes in the relative standing of nations. On the surface, the main cause of this rapid shift has been the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, which changed the fortunes not only of Russia and the other former Soviet republics, but also reverberated throughout the world, particularly in Asia, where the fortunes of North Korea, China, India, and other countries have shifted significantly. However, these recent changes in comprehensive national power also reflect the impact of longer-term and broader global trends, especially the rising importance of economic performance and technological prowess in determining a nation's overall power and international status. A key factor has been how well nations adapt to the process of globalization, which is creating new winners and losers at an unprecedented rate in a worldwide struggle to implement the free-market formula for economic success.2 A few examples of recent developments:



Despite a vast and rich resource base and a well-educated and skilled population, Russia has experienced a near collapse of its economic system, while the once-mighty Russian military is in near disarray. This extraordinary decline in fortunes has exacerbated Russia's suspicions that the outside world—especially the United States and NATO countries—no longer recognizes it as a great power, does not take into account Russian security interests, and may perhaps be trying to further diminish its international influence as well as thwart its re-emergence as a great power.


While Russia has declined from a global to a regional power with little more than its nuclear weapons to sustain its claim to big power status, China's growing comprehensive national power suggests that China may be the world's second most important nation in the 21st century. However, China's increasing economic strength and its military modernization program have heightened concerns among China's neighbors and the United States about Beijing's long-term intentions once it is in a stronger position to assert its interests.


Japan's decade of economic stagnation contrasts sharply with the unparalleled growth of the Chinese economy and China's emergence as a great power. This asymmetrical economic growth has dramatically shifted Japanese perceptions of the Sino-Japanese balance of power and has exacerbated suspicions in Japan about China's strategic intentions while increasing concern that China will pose a growing threat to Japan's national security.


Despite growing demands for international recognition as a great power, India has seen its position eclipsed by its long-standing rival, China, which, in the last two decades, has experienced far faster economic development and has had a significantly greater impact on international events as well as on the global economy. Acquisition of nuclear weapons was viewed in New Delhi in part as a means to strengthen India's claim to international recognition as a great power and to narrow, if not close, the gap between India and China in the balance of comprehensive national power.

The United States:

The United States continues to be a rising power, belying premature notices of its decline in the 1980s. The technology boom of the "New Economy," despite its recent lumps, has fueled an unprecedented expansion of the U.S. economy underpinned by extraordinary productivity growth that has kept down both inflation and unemployment as the United States has led the world economy. At the same time, the U.S. lead in military technology as well as military power continues to grow. Rising U.S. power has fueled suspicions of U.S. strategic intentions, especially in China and Russia but also among U.S. allies that fear a U.S. tendency toward increasing unilateralism.

Whatever its root cause, strategic mistrust may be exacerbated by the specific policy decisions of governments, which may not bespeak evil long-term designs but may nevertheless be perceived as such. For example, in September 1997, the United States and its NATO partners conducted a military exercise in Kazakhstan that the Chinese perceived as part of a broader U.S. containment strategy against China. In fact, the planners of the exercise had simply failed to consider China's reaction to the military exercise in a nation on China's border. Similarly, when the United States engaged in air strikes against Yugoslavia, it based its actions on concerns about European security and human rights and not on assertion of a new global strategy, but China perceived the action as demonstrating a willingness to interfere unilaterally in its internal affairs and a first step toward possible U.S.-NATO military intervention in Xinjiang or Tibet.

National missile defense has the potential to be another policy decision that has dramatic ramifications for other nations' strategic mistrust of the United States even when it is not the intention of the United States to pose a new threat to their strategic interests. Indeed, it may be the most pressing issue of strategic mistrust for the Bush administration in its relations with U.S. allies as well as with Russia and China. If the United States proceeds with NMD without easing strategic suspicions of Russia, China, and the allies that it is trying to enhance what is already its overwhelming preponderance of military power, it could find itself facing several challenges to U.S. strategic and political interests.

Suspicions could deepen that the United States harbors hostile strategic intentions and will seek to use its military superiority and potential impunity to nuclear retaliation to bully Beijing and Moscow and even militarily interfere in their internal affairs or to the detriment of their vital security interests. A national missile defense could fan the flames of nationalism that were intensified by the 1999 U.S.-NATO attack on Yugoslavia and the mistaken bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade as well as lead to military countermeasures.

Russia and China would also be likely to pull closer together in international opposition to U.S. interests and in military and military-technology collaboration, especially regarding measures to counter ballistic missile defenses. Both Russia and China could be expected to be less cooperative in efforts to halt proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and some Russians and Chinese may even advocate seeking to divert U.S. pressure on them by exacerbating U.S. problems with the "rogue" states. The Chinese leadership might not only be less cooperative regarding efforts to maintain peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, but might also come under increased pressure from the People's Liberation Army to resolve the Taiwan problem with force before the U.S. has an NMD system on line. Moreover, China has the resources and capability to greatly expand its current modest nuclear arsenal of about 20 nuclear-armed ICBMs capable of hitting the United States to hundreds of nuclear warheads on advanced systems to ensure that it could penetrate any NMD system.

U.S. NMD plans could lead to the weakening of the international arms control and non-proliferation regime, especially if Russia followed through on its threats to withdraw from various bilateral arms control agreements. Many countries in the world may view the U.S. unilateral action, including abrogation of the ABM Treaty, as tantamount to the United States seeking to extend its military advantage over the rest of the world while seeking to keep other states from enhancing their military capabilities through the restrictions that various arms control and non-proliferation agreements impose on them but not on the United States.

The United States could also wind up straining its strategic ties with Europe. Senior members of the Bush national security team apparently came to power believing that the Europeans would abandon or at least significantly quiet their concerns about the U.S. NMD program if the Bush administration presented it as a fait accompli. But the criticism of NMD heard by Defense Secretary Rumsfeld during his first meeting with NATO ministers in February suggests that the administration may underestimate not only the public relations task on NMD that it faces, but also the need to actually address European strategic concerns about the U.S. missile defense program. Failure to do so could at the least exacerbate the already-evident trend in Europe to pull away from NATO toward increasing reliance on all-European rapid reaction force and the European Security and Defense Policy.

At present, none of the major powers are implacable enemies, although they may have significant conflicts of interest. But if strategic mistrust based on each other's strategic intentions deepens, this could change, especially between China and the United States and perhaps between Russia and the United States as well. Growing mistrust could also exacerbate the difficulty of solving or managing specific problems that might have been much easier to manage had they been dealt with on their own merits. Greater strategic trust, in contrast, while not eliminating real conflicts of interest, may prevent specific disputes from being perceived as indicative of malevolent intentions or even from leading to intractable enmity—and may facilitate the management or resolution of difficult issues.


The Nature of SRMs

Strategic mistrust in the post-Cold War era creates the need for measures to reduce suspicions between and among states about their long-term political, military, and economic objectives—that is, their strategic intentions. Broadly speaking then, strategic reassurance measures are steps that one nation takes to address the concerns of other nations that are suspicious of its broad, long-run intentions. The defining characteristic of an SRM is thus its function or purpose—that is, to further strategic reassurance between and among states—and not the particular form or measure in itself.

Strategic reassurance measures are intended to go beyond the traditional objectives of their more focused cousins, confidence-building measures (CBMs) and arms control agreements. Historically, CBMs such as hot lines, pre-notification of military maneuvers, and incidents-at-sea agreements have been tactical measures aimed primarily at preventing accidental war or providing a means to prevent escalation should military conflict occur. They were not designed, however, to address the core values and strategic interests of nations.3 Bilateral nuclear arms control agreements between the United States and the Soviet Union, for example, were not aimed at overcoming strategic suspicions of adversaries but rather at regulating and capping the arms race as well as maintaining strategic stability.

Although the architects of CBMs during the Cold War may have hoped that implementation of confidence-building measures in Europe or between the United States and the Soviet Union would eventually ease mutual suspicions—especially suspicion that the other side was preparing for aggressive war—both the United States and the Soviet Union continued to see themselves engaged in a protracted competition of systems with one likely to prevail over the other in the long run, whether through war or other means. In other words, the strategic intentions of the two competitors were not changed by CBMs and arms control agreements, which served to stabilize the military standoff and prevent accidental war but not to eliminate the fundamental strategic mistrust between the two sides.

This leads to a rather important point: if a state really does harbor aggressive intentions, it may not be possible (or desirable) to reassure others that they do not. In other words, strategic suspicions between nations may be based on an accurate assessment of hostile intentions of another power. For example, Kuwait certainly would have been correct in harboring strategic mistrust of Baghdad before Iraq's August 1990 invasion, just as most of Europe and Russia would have been wise to assess Hitler's intentions in 1939 in the most malevolent terms. In other words, strategic reassurance may not be possible without changes in actual strategic intentions.

In the post-Cold War world, however, the major powers are no longer adversaries in a zero-sum game. Rather, despite many differences on bilateral and international issues, they have an enduring common interest in cooperation on a wide range of economic, political, and security issues. Yet, in many cases, there remain deep suspicions of each other's strategic intentions—suspicions that are often deeper and more widely held by publics and politicians than by government officials and national leaders—that could be alleviated by the application of strategic reassurance measures.

A key aspect of developing and implementing meaningful SRMs is an effort to understand the sources of mistrust between nations and thus to determine what measures to increase trust would be necessary and feasible. Through strategic dialogue or other means, the leadership of each state should try to determine the basis of the other side's strategic mistrust and which of its policies and actions are perceived as especially threatening, as well as what new steps could be taken to reassure the other side.

For example, while Japan's renunciation of war in its constitution and its decision to forego development of nuclear weapons have provided some strategic reassurance to neighboring countries that Japan has peaceful intentions, Japan's perceived failure to sufficiently account for its World War II crimes has contributed to lingering doubts in China and other Asian nations about Japan's long-term aims. Thus, a statement by a prominent Japanese politician about Japan's role in World War II that seeks to play down or deny Tokyo's war crimes, can create a new rift in Sino-Japanese ties by reinforcing Chinese suspicions about Japanese strategic intentions and hamper, if not undermine, efforts to resolve other outstanding bilateral issues.

Of course, it may become evident at any given time that taking the steps necessary to build strategic trust is not feasible, or at least that preliminary measures must be taken before the most crucial SRMs can be implemented. Under these circumstances, tactical CBMs intended to prevent conflict may be the best that can be achieved in the near term. But in such cases, policy-makers and the broader foreign policy elite should give serious thought to how strategic reassurance might be established and what near-term steps might start the process. Simply seeking to understand the basis of strategic mistrust on both sides might be in itself an SRM, though it might only be the beginning of a long, tortuous process.

It is also important to recognize that, as desirable as strategic reassurance may be, SRMs to enhance the security of one nation or a group of nations may also enhance the sense of strategic insecurity and suspicion of another state or group of states. NATO expansion may have strategically reassured Poland, Slovakia, and Hungary, but it may have undermined previous efforts to reassure the Russian people about U.S.-NATO strategic intentions toward Russia. Similarly, the strengthening of the U.S.-Japanese alliance with the revised Defense Guidelines issued in September 1997 may have reassured Japan about its security vis-à-vis North Korea, but Beijing's suspicions of U.S. and Japanese intentions toward China and Taiwan were deepened, creating new obstacles in the path of Sino-American relations.

If the Bush administration is determined to proceed with NMD deployment, which seems likely at this point, it could take steps to minimize the suspicion that Russia, China, U.S. allies, and others nations have of Washington's strategic intentions because of its NMD plans. Secretary Powell's vague promise of "consultations" (which could simply mean advanced notification of U.S. decisions) suggests that the new secretary recognizes that the United States faces a problem of suspicions about the strategic intentions that underlie its desire to acquire missile defense when it already has overwhelming military superiority and no true strategic competitor.

Strategic reassurance measures on missile defense would seek first and foremost to address the concerns—if addressing those concerns is indeed possible—of the various powers whose suspicions of the United States have been deepened by the U.S. NMD program. Perhaps the one concern that is shared by all these states is the potential negative impact of NMD on existing arms control and non-proliferation agreements and the prospects for proliferation of WMD in the future. To help allay such concerns, the Bush administration could push for ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and reconfirm U.S. commitments to other arms control and non-proliferation agreements.

To reassure the nuclear powers that their deterrents are secure, the administration should make a determined effort to reach an agreement with Russia on revision of the ABM Treaty. The Russians have so far resisted making a deal, but it is in their interest to deter the United States from abrogating the ABM Treaty altogether and instead place limits on the U.S. NMD program. ABM Treaty revision rather than abrogation would not only mitigate Russia's strategic concerns but would also signal to other states that the United States was drawing the line at a limited NMD system rather than taking the first step toward a more capable system that would threaten to neutralize the nuclear deterrent of Russia as well as of all other nuclear powers.

The administration should also make a determination that it is not seeking to neutralize China's small nuclear deterrent and that it is willing to engage in strategic stability talks with Beijing aimed at finding an accommodation to each other's strategic interests. Such an accommodation could include an understanding based on technical exchanges—requiring transparency from China about its long-term nuclear modernization plans as well as from the United States about the capabilities and limitations of its planned NMD system. These exchanges would leave the Chinese confident that, by the time of U.S. NMD deployment, their nuclear forces would be sufficient to maintain a minimum deterrent, while the U.S. would be assured that China's force modernization would be limited in scope as well. Moreover, President George W. Bush could provide strategic reassurance to China by publicly asserting that the United States expects to maintain a mutual deterrent relationship with China indefinitely.4

Finally, the administration also should engage in an intense dialogue with its NATO allies to harmonize its NMD plans and policies toward arms control and Russia with their concerns about strategic stability, arms control, intra-European relations with Russia, European security vis-à-vis potential ballistic missile attack, and coupling of U.S. and European security.

There is no certainty that the United States can proceed with deployment of a limited NMD system and also reassure Russia, China, U.S. allies, and other states that it has benign strategic intentions in doing so. All, some, or none of the above may be reassured or reassured to some extent. But it does seem clear that NMD is now exacerbating suspicions of U.S. strategic intentions with nations whose response to NMD is of great importance to U.S. national security and strategic interests. Consequently, it also seems clear that it is in the U.S. interest to grasp the strategic-suspicions dimension of the NMD problem and to pursue policies aimed at strategic reassurance regarding NMD, especially in relations with Russia, China, and U.S. allies. Otherwise, the United States may have to pay a high, up-front price in increased strategic mistrust for NMD deployment that could be counterproductive for achieving other U.S. strategic objectives.



Overcoming unwarranted strategic suspicions and averting trends toward seeing each other as enemies in U.S. bilateral relations with key countries, especially China and Russia, will thus require conscious efforts by political leaders and government officials to foster mutual reassurance of strategic intentions. For policy-makers, strategic reassurance of other nations will require a comprehensive policy perspective that includes efforts


  • to understand the strategic perspective and concerns of other powers;
  • to design and implement specific SRMs to address those concerns and ameliorate suspicions, which may require concrete policy steps as well as verbal assurances;
  • to harmonize the range of bilateral economic, political, military, and security policies with the aim of strategic reassurance; and
  • to avoid inadvertent policy steps in other areas that might undermine bilateral steps aimed at strategic reassurance.
  • Successfully pursuing such a comprehensive policy aimed at strategic reassurance will no doubt face daunting obstacles, especially domestic politics in the United States. But even limited steps in this direction—especially government-to-government strategic dialogue—may help ease suspicions in critical relationships, establishing the basis for increased cooperation on a wide range of issues of mutual concern.

    If the Bush administration simply pushes forward with its plans for a missile defense while dismissing other states' concerns on the grounds that they will in the end accept the U.S. position, the United States could wind up less secure than before it built the system. By contrast, if the United States undertakes strategic reassurance measures to dispel the notion that it is seeking hegemony—and, more specifically, the ability to meddle militarily in the internal affairs of Russia and China—it may be able to get what it wants without the strategic fallout that now seems likely.

    The focus of this article has been on the need for the United States to understand the basis of mistrust of U.S. strategic intentions in its relations with other states and to design and pursue strategic reassurance measures to ameliorate suspicions and build strategic trust. The need for strategic reassurance is a very much a two-way street, however, and other nations, including Russia and China, need to seek to understand the basis of the strategic mistrust that their policies and actions engender in the United States and other countries and to adopt strategic reassurance measures themselves to address those suspicions and concerns. In addition, the approach outlined here is intended to provide a paradigm for consideration of the problem of strategic mistrust and the process of strategic reassurance among other nations, and, perhaps, among some subnational groups as well.



    1. For the classic treatment of power transitions and conflict, see Robert Gilpin, War and Change in World Politics (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983).

    2. See Thomas L. Friedman, The Lexus and the Olive Tree: Understanding Globalization (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999), chapters 2 and 3.

    3. This is based on the notion of CBMs as originally conceived. Over the years, there has been a broadening of the definition of CBMs to include non-military measures such as political dialogues to enhance mutual understanding and limited trust among states harboring mutual suspicions. For an overview of the broadening definition of CBMs as well as a critique of this trend, see Marie-France Desjardins, "Rethinking Confidence-Building Measures," Adelphi Paper no. 307 (London: International Institute for Strategic Studies, 1996). See also Michael Krepon, ed., A Handbook of Confidence-Building Measures for Regional Security, 3rd edition (Washington, D.C.: The Henry L. Stimson Center, March 1998).

    4. For a more extensive discussion of China's concerns about U.S. NMD plans and the prospects for Sino-American accommodation on the issue, see Banning Garrett, "Facing the China Factor," Arms Control Today, October 2000.

    Banning Garrett is a consultant to the U.S. government on Asian security affairs and a senior associate with the Center for Strategic and International Studies.



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