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Center for Strategic and International Studies Statesmen’s Forum
Remarks of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Walter B. Slocombe, , Friday, November 05, 1999

I appreciate the opportunity that CSIS has given to discuss the issue of national missile defense. This issue, which has been debated intensively in various contexts almost since the initial deployment of long-range ballistic missiles, now arises in the new post-Cold War context. In this new context, the mission, the threat, the technology, and arms control factors are all different from those of the Cold War. In the new context, new perspectives need be applied.

Let me begin by summarizing what I have to say. For several years we have been working at the Department of Defense to be in a position technologically to make a decision by the year 2000 to deploy an effective national missile defense system capable of defending the territory of all of the 50 United States against limited ballistic missile attacks from rogue states, if the development of the threat makes such a deployment appropriate.

There are three broad variables that shape our planning for an NMD system -- the state of the threat, our technological capability and the affordability of a proposed deployment, and arms control.

The threat is growing rapidly. At the same time our national missile defense development program is proceeding successfully, especially considering the accelerated timetable we are on.

The President has not made a decision on whether to proceed with the deployment of a national missile defense. He will make that decision next summer at the earliest. But meanwhile he has made decisions -- for planning purposes -- as to the basic architecture and we are taking prudent steps both in technology and in diplomacy to facilitate deployment in the event that next year the President does decide to proceed.   

The NMD issue proceeds against the backdrop of the ABM Treaty. This Administration, like all of its predecessors since President Nixon signed the treaty in 1972, is committed by both law and policy to the Treaty as a critical element in sustaining strategic stability. It is our policy, our desire, and our expectation that our limited NMD program can proceed without destroying the ABM Treaty, and we have begun discussions with the Russian government to that end.   

Nevertheless we will not permit any other country to have a veto on actions that may be needed for the defense of our nation.   

Let me address each factor in turn in a bit more detail.  

Rogue State Ballistic Missile Threat

We have long geared our NMD program to the emerging danger posed by rogue states such as North Korea and Iran which are likely to be able to field intercontinental range missiles that could deliver chemical, biological, or nuclear weapons against the territory of the United States.

The purpose of our program is to defend against limited attack that rogue states may to mount in the coming years. The vastly larger task of defending against an attack by a major nuclear power, like Russia or even China, raise wholly different policy, technology, and arms control issues. Whatever one’s view on these issues, which were the focus of earlier debates, those are not the issues today.

With respect to these emerging rogue state threats, the new NIE, released in September, has reached the following judgment: "We project that during the next 15 years the United States most likely will face ICBM threats from…North Korea, probably from Iran, and possibly from Iraq…."

North Korea:

On August 31, 1998, North Korea attempted to launch a satellite on a Taepo Dong (TD) 1 missile. That launch made it clear that North Korea has made considerable progress in developing long-range missile capabilities, including some important aspects of ICBM development, such as multiple stage separation. While the U.S. Intelligence Community expected a TD-1 launch for some time, it did not anticipate that the missile would have a third stage, or that it would be used to attempt to place a satellite in orbit.

Over the past year, the Administration has sustained a major diplomatic effort to prevent the test of a follow-on system, the Taepo Dong-2, which would pose a still greater threat to the United States. North Korea has agreed to a moratorium on flight tests of long range missiles during further discussions. However, that action, while welcome, does not mean a halt to the North Korean program (which continues to progress through steps other than flight tests), much less an end to the potential threat from North Korea. Accordingly, we continue to base our NMD efforts on the assessment, reflected in the NIE, that North Korea probably could test the TD-2 this year, or any point thereafter.


The situation with regard to Iranian ICBM development also warrants careful scrutiny. Iran has tested the Shahab 3 with a range of more than 1,000 kilometers and, Iran could test an ICBM that could deliver a several hundred kilogram payload to parts of the U.S. in the latter half of the next decade, using Russian or other foreign technology and assistance. Iran could also pursue an indigenous program to build TD-type ICBM patterned after the TD-1 or TD-2, possibly with North Korean assistance, in the next few years.


Lastly, the NIE judges that Iraq, if freed from sanctions and coalition action against full revival of its WMD programs, could test an ICBM that could deliver a several-hundred kilogram payload to the United States by the end of the next decade, depending on the level of foreign assistance. If Iraq could buy a TD-2 from North Korea, it could have a launch capability within months of the purchase, once the North Korean development and production process is complete.

U.S. Response:

Active defense can play a role, but a national missile defense is only a part of the effort to protect ourselves from these and other ballistic missile threats. The United States seeks to prevent and reduce the threat through a whole range of means: export control measures, such as the missile technology control regime; arms reduction agreements such as START I and II; international non-proliferation arrangements such as a the nonproliferation treaty; and cooperative nonproliferation efforts such as the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. We also maintain an active program of bilateral and multilateral diplomacy to discourage the transfer and indeed the acquisition of missiles and capabilities that would threaten the United States or key allies.

We also deter the threat by maintaining powerful nuclear and conventional forces. Those who would threaten America or its allies should have no doubt any attack on us would meet an overwhelming response. There is no contradiction between defenses and deterrence. At the core of deterrence is convincing an adversary that the assured negative consequences of an action greatly outweigh any potential positive results of that action.   

There are thus two sides to deterrence. The threat of retaliation drives home that the negative consequences would be huge. But it is also valuable for deterrence to reduce the chance that an attack would succeed in the first place -- that is, to reduce the prospect of positive results. And missile defenses can do that.

Missile defenses further complement deterrence by enhancing the United States' ability to fulfill its global security commitments to allies and friends. This is because defenses render less credible any possible attempts by a rogue state adversary to use ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction to coerce the United States into holding back from supporting a friend or ally that the rogue state threatens with attack. Defenses from such attacks can therefore reinforce the commitment of the United States to support our allies and friends from NATO to Israel, to the Persian Gulf, to Northeast Asia in the event they face a direct military threat from a rogue state.

NMD Program:

There has, of course, been a BMD program in the Department of Defense for decades. Our top priority at the beginning of the Clinton Administration was defense against theater ballistic missiles – an already existing threat of great importance to our deployed forces. But we also maintained a technology program for defense against long range ballistic missile attack. Since 1993, we have spent almost $7 billion on national missile defense.

In 1996, in recognition of the growing potential for the rogue state threat, our policy at the Defense Department shifted from pursuit of a technology readiness program, whose goal was to develop the technology of NMD system elements, to a deployment readiness program that has sought to aggressively develop the components for an integrated missile defense system that could be deployed a few years into the next decade. In so doing, we deliberately set the stage to make an NMD deployment decision in the year 2000.

Our initial intent was to be able to deploy a system as early as 2003 if the threat warranted.  In January of this year, however, Secretary Cohen as part of the regular assessment of the pace of the development program, reached the conclusion, on the basis of the recommendations from the technical experts in BMDO and elsewhere in the Department, that the plan to have an initial NMD deployment in place by 2003 was simply too aggressive and too excessively risky to succeed.  Secretary Cohen did not want to "rush to failure," a phrase coined in a recent defense science board study of our programs. He therefore put the program on a still-aggressive, but a much more feasible pace to reach initial operational capability in 2005.

It bears emphasis that, from a technology and development standpoint, our NMD development program is still very ambitious. The technological challenges remain significant. But the goal should be attainable. The technological experts at the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) and in the Department of Defense generally have a sound basis for thinking that this accelerated timetable is achievable.  No new technology is required for the proposed system. The NMD program has a very mature technology base – derived from prior investments, including during the SDI era – from which to build an operationally effective system.   

The task we face is to take technologies that we have already developed, integrate them into a system, and demonstrate their ability to perform the mission. That is no simple task, but our technology experts believe it an achievable one.

With respect to funding, the guidance from Secretary Cohen and Secretary Perry before him, has been that the pace of the NMD development should be limited only by what is technologically practical, not by money. In January of this year the president approved the addition of $6.6 billion for BMDO’s six- year budget. This has the effect of raising funding levels for NMD to $10.5 billion through fiscal year 2005. If in the coming five-year plan, from FY '01 through '05, adjustments are necessary to ensure that the funding is available to deploy the initial architecture, the budget for the year 2001 and the out-years will be adjusted accordingly. It is our policy in the Department of Defense to ensure that full funding is available, should a deployment decision be made.   

With regard to the program itself, over the past year-and-a-half, there have been a number of major decisions and the passage of a number significant milestones.

    • In April of 1998, BMDO selected Boeing as the NMD lead system integrator.
    • Potential interceptor deployment locations in Alaska and North Dakota have been selected. We are proceeding with the environmental impact process, and in addition we are engaged in site surveys, facility design efforts, and planning for construction and site activation.   
    • We are developing and testing the upgrades required for the existing early warning radars that would support an NMD system and we are testing a prototype X-Band radar that would be a key element in the system.   
    • Further, SPACECOM is developing a concept of operations for the NMD system that follows existing missile warning command relationships and defines effective rules of engagement.

One of the most challenging technological hurdles to be overcome is perfecting the Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle (EKV). And as I noted earlier, the first intercept flight test, a major success involving a hit to kill, body to body impact, took place last month. There will be further tests, including an integrated system test of all NMD components scheduled for next spring.   

Early next summer, the Department of Defense will conduct a deployment readiness review to examine the technological status of the NMD program and its costs. After receiving the results of that review, and making his own judgment about the relevant policy issues, the Secretary of Defense will make a recommendation to the President, on which of course he will consult with the relevant commanders and with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, regarding whether or not to deploy the NMD system.  How well we are able through the scheduled tests to establish the technical readiness for NMD deployment, will of course be a major factor in that recommendation and in the President's deployment decision next summer. That decision will also take into account the status of the threat to the United States, but quite frankly we have no reason to believe the threat will diminish from what we assess it to be now. It will also consider the status of arms reduction efforts and negotiations with Russia.   

Architectural Design:

As I said earlier, no deployment decision has yet been made. That will depend on the review I have just described. The President has, however, based on the recommendation of his national security team, decided on an NMD architecture to be used for planning and negotiating purposes now. The deployment, if approved, would proceed in phases. The immediate goal is to meet early threats, and so we would deploy by 2005 an initial NMD system that would be optimized for the most immediate threat, that from North Korea. It would be capable of defending all parts of all 50 states against the launch of a few tens of North Korean warheads, accompanied by basic penetration aids.  This initial system would also provide a 50 state defense against limited attack of a few warheads launched from the Middle East.

For planning purposes, this initial NMD architecture includes:

    • 100 ground-based interceptors based in Alaska.
    • An X-Band radar – that is, a radar capable of guiding the interceptors – at Shemya Island in Alaska.
    • Upgrades to the five existing ballistic missile early warning radars.
    • It would use, for purposes of initial detection of missile launches aimed at the United States, the SBIRS-High system, which will be deployed to supplement and eventually replace the existing defense support program satellite system.   

In order to achieve an initial operating capability in 2005, construction of this system would need to begin in 2001, following a decision to proceed during the summer of next year.   

The President also identified beyond this initial architecture a longer-term goal to deploy, possibly in further sub-phases, by the 2010 to 2011 timeframe a limited NMD system with the capability to negate a more developed threat – up to a few tens of ICBM warheads with complex penetration aids launched from either North Korea or the various countries in the Middle East which might constitute a threat.  That further development of the system architecture would include an additional interceptor site, additional interceptors, several more X-Band radars and SBIRS-Low satellite constellation to provide an important tool in distinguishing real warheads from sophisticated penetration aids.  

This, then, is the national missile defense program and the threat that it addresses.

Engaging Russia on NMD Deployment:

Our work on this subject must take into account the broader political and strategic context. We do not want in the course of dealing with rogue threats, to create new problems with Russia that we can reasonably avoid or undermine strategic stability in general. For this reason, President Clinton and this Administration are committed both to protecting the American people from rogue state ballistic missile threats and to maintaining the ABM Treaty as a cornerstone of strategic stability.

Our NMD development program has been and will continue to be carried out in compliance with the ABM Treaty. That compliance in the development phase has not slowed or curtailed the effort. The technical experts who have directed this program have concluded that this architecture that I have described is the best suited to the quickest possible deployment of an effective national missile defense.

It is, however, clear that deployment – as distinct from development – of the NMD, will require Treaty modifications, and we have made clear to Russia that we will seek to negotiate such modifications, proceeding in good faith.   

The goal of both preserving the Treaty and having the option to deploy an effective limited defense is a wholly reasonable one. There is no substantive reason we should find ourselves in the position of having to choose between having the capability to defend our people against rogue state ballistic missile attack, on the one hand, and jeopardizing our interest in strategic stability, a sound relationship with Russia, and further reductions in American and Russian strategic offensive arms on the other.   

There are several reasons why we should not have to face that choice.

First, and most important, the system we would deploy would not in any way threaten Russia's deterrent. Whatever the merits of the prior SDI plans for a massive defense against a deliberate Soviet attack, the fact is that the system we would deploy is completely different from a large-scale territorial defense against each other that greatly concerned the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War.   

Second, the ABM Treaty already allows a limited ballistic missile defense system, though to be sure, not a nationwide one. Indeed, the ABM Treaty from its inception in 1972 has permitted such deployment, and Russia has long maintained such an ABM system around Moscow.  Russia continues to test the elements of that system. 

Third, the ABM Treaty, even when modified to permit deployment of a limited defense system, will remain fully viable and a key element in our broad strategy to reduce further the nuclear threat.  This is so because the limited defense system we have in mind is fully compatible with the fundamental purpose of the ABM Treaty. That purpose is not to ban defenses altogether -- since it does not do that -- but to ensure that each party's strategic deterrent is not threatened by the missile defenses of the other party. We believe that the Treaty can be modified to permit deployment of the limited national missile defense while preserving that fundamental purpose.   

Indeed, the real threat to the viability of the Treaty in contemporary conditions comes not from efforts to modify it to reflect current reality -- namely the threat from rogue missiles, or, in the Treaty’s own terms, the "strategic situation" -- but from a fixed refusal to modify it to permit the United States -- and for that matter, Russia, which potentially faces the same problem -- to build effective defenses against those threats.  Neither the ABM Treaty nor any other international treaty can remain viable if it fails to reflect contemporary reality -- in this case, the problem of rogue state ballistic missile proliferation.   

Over the past years, we have kept Russia fully informed of our NMD policy, and of our progress on work toward an NMD system, such as our initiation earlier this year of the analysis of the environmental impact of an interceptor deployment in Alaska.  More recently we have begun detailed discussion with the Russians about our deployment architecture and the necessity of adapting the ABM Treaty to permit it. 

Specifically in June, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agreed to begin discussions that will address both updating the ABM Treaty in light of U.S. NMD plans, and further reductions in strategic offensive arms.

Since late August we have been talking in detail with Russia at senior levels about the system we have in mind and its implications for the Treaty.

And over the past several months, we have closely consulted with allies regarding both our policy and our approach to Russia.   

We are now seeking Russia's agreement to those changes to the ABM Treaty required to permit us to meet our initial goal. We have judged it right to leave to President Clinton's successor and to the successor of President Yeltsin the longer-term issue of follow-on negotiations on further changes to the Treaty required to permit deployment to meet larger, more complex threats.  But we have made clear that we expect such negotiations would be needed ad would need to begin in 2001, in order to ensure that the United States could begin the necessary construction of additional components, possibly including foreign-based ABM radars, so those components would be ready to provide a defense against a more sophisticated threat, which may emerge later in the next decade.   

Central to this issue is that both the United States and Russia face the potential of rogue state ballistic missile threats. The President has told President Yeltsin, and Secretary of Defense Cohen has told Russian Minister of Defense Sergeyev on his recent visit to Moscow that we want to work cooperatively with Russia on these matters. In this regard we have recently proposed a number of specific projects for cooperation to the Russian government.  These measures, which could include cooperative operation of satellite systems and cooperative modernization of troubled Russian missile attack warning radars, would be designed to serve two goals. They would both help Russia and the United States move together to meet a common rogue state threat, and also provide tangible assurance that the U.S. system is not aimed at Russian deterrence. Naturally, such cooperation would need to have Congressional support if U.S. funds were involved and would have to address difficult issues of security, command and control, and basic policy. However, if these difficulties could be resolved, through such cooperative programs, both the United States and Russia would be able to require tangible benefits to their security that would help both nations demonstrate that a cooperative approach on ballistic missile defense is in our common interest.   

As has been clear so far from Russian public statements, the Russian government reaction has so far been negative. That said, however, the Russians agree that it is important to discuss this matter. As to the prospects of eventual Russian agreement to the necessary modifications to the treaty, Secretary Cohen has said: "We will negotiate with the Russians and try to persuade them it is in our interest and their interest to remain within the framework of modifying the treaty…. I believe that we can persuade them that we are serious about holding on to the structure of the ABM Treaty, but that it needs to be modified to give us this protection for our own country."

If in the end we are unsuccessful in these negotiations, the President would have to decide whether to withdraw from the ABM Treaty under the supreme national interest clause. That right of withdrawal is expressly provided for in the Treaty, and it always remains an option We will, however, make every effort to secure what we think to be the right outcome in our national interest and that of Russia and the rest of the world, which is modification of the ABM Treaty so that our planned NMD system can go forward, while preserving the treaty as a key component of strategic stability for the future.  

In summary, our planning and our development, our technological work for an NMD system is well advanced. It seeks to anticipate future rogue state threats and to develop systems that can defend against such threats, which I have to say appear very close on the horizon. Our NMD program remains on a highly accelerated track to ensure that we are positioned to respond in a timely fashion.   And we continue to work with Russia to pursue negotiated changes to the ABM Treaty so that the Treaty can be preserved while we maintain our option to deploy a national missile defense system.