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Protecting the Nation Through Ballistic Missile Defense
Prepared Remarks Defense Secretary William J. Perry, George Washington University, Washington, Thursday, April 18, 1996

Defense Issues: Volume 11, Number 37-- Protecting the Nation Through Ballistic Missile Defense The U.S. program starts with a sober, clear-eyed look at the threat and makes a balanced response that emphasizes the current threat and stays well ahead of future ones.


Volume 11, Number 37

Protecting the Nation Through Ballistic Missile Defense

Prepared Remarks of Defense Secretary William J. Perry at George Washington University, Washington, April 25, 1996.

This past January, I did something that previous secretaries of defense could only dream of doing. I stood on a windswept field at the Pervomaysk nuclear missile facility in Ukraine with the Russian and Ukrainian ministers of defense. The three of us joined together to turn a special launch control key that instead of launching a missile, ignited explosives that blew up the silo. The Pervomaysk missile field was once the crown jewel of the Soviet nuclear missile arsenal. It had 80 intercontinental ballistic missiles and 700 nuclear warheads, all aimed at targets in the United States. By this June, every last missile and warhead will be gone from Pervomaysk -- and that missile field will be converted to a wheat field.

My generation spent nearly all of our adult lives with the threat of nuclear holocaust hanging over our heads like a dark cloud, threatening the extinction of all mankind. The most fearsome weapon in the nuclear arsenal was the intercontinental ballistic missile. For decades, both the U.S. and the Soviet Union sought to build ICBMs that were bigger, more powerful, more accurate and more survivable -- each believing at various times that they faced a "missile gap." With the end of the Cold War, the missile race has ended, and all the world breathes easier. We are now pursuing a strategy with Russia based not on competition and buildup of weapons, but on cooperation and builddown.

But while the Cold War is over, the missile threat has not gone away. Indeed, another missile threat is emerging. It is the threat of missile technology in the hands of rogue nations hostile to the United States or our allies. The real danger is that those missiles can be coupled with nuclear, biological or chemical weapons and that they will be used to attack our troops in battle theaters, to attack or terrorize our allies or even in the future to threaten our country.

To protect our nation, our troops and our allies from the threat of missiles of mass destruction today, we maintain three basic lines of defense. Our first line of defense is to prevent the spread of weapons and missile technology through a range of arms control and nonproliferation treaties, export controls and sanctions. Our second line of defense is to deter the use of these weapons by maintaining strong conventional and nuclear forces and the willingness to retaliate. But we must also have a third line of defense -- a program to deploy systems to defeat the threat by shooting down missiles of mass destruction.

I want to focus today on that third line of defense -- ballistic missile defense -- because there is great debate over this issue, and I want to clarify what the debate is about -- and what it is not about.

The Defense Department spends almost $3 billion a year to research, develop and build systems that can seek out, target and shoot down ballistic missiles. Our ballistic missile defense program starts with a sober and clear-eyed look at the missile threat, and it responds with a balanced program that emphasizes the current threat and stays well ahead of future threats.

So what is the threat? First, there is the here-and-now threat from short-range theater ballistic missiles -- Scud-type missiles. Second, there is an emerging threat from longer-range theater missiles. And third, there is a future threat that undeterrable rogue states will obtain ICBMs that can reach the United States. Each threat is different, so our response to each threat is different.

The first threat we are concerned about is that Scud-type missiles will be used to attack our troops deployed overseas in battle theaters, or to terrorize our allies. This is not a hypothetical threat -- it is real. Desert Storm was a wake-up call. [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein had Scuds, and he used them against our forces. He also used them in a terrorist mode, by firing Scuds at population centers in Israel, which was not even a participant in the war.

We do not know what Saddam would have done if his nuclear program had succeeded in producing nuclear weapons by then. We do know that he had chemical and biological warheads for the Scuds, but chose not to use them. Certainly, he had very strong warning of the retaliation he would suffer if he did use chemical weapons.

Today, about 30 nations have Scud missiles. Some of these nations also currently have chemical and biological weapons. Defending our troops against these theater missiles of mass destruction is a high priority of our military commanders. It is a high priority of the president, and it is a high priority of Congress. Indeed, Congress fully supports our defense program against this threat.

We already have theater missile defense systems deployed to a number of hot spots, such as the Middle East and the Korean Peninsula. These defenses include upgraded Patriot missiles. But this technology is not good enough. Therefore, we have shifted additional funds to building and fielding better theater missile defense systems.

For the '97 fiscal year, one-third of our overall budget for ballistic missile defenses is focused on defenses against this here-and-now missile threat. A new generation of more advanced Patriots and Navy missile defenses will soon be tested, and they are scheduled for delivery to Army units and Navy ships beginning in 1999. These new systems will seek and hit incoming missiles with more deadly aim, and they will have a much more effective kill mechanism that will minimize the dispersal of nuclear, chemical or biological agents on the ground.

But as we improve our defenses against the here-and-now missile threat, we must also gear up to defend against the second missile threat that is emerging on the horizon. Rogue nations evidently are beginning to develop more advanced theater ballistic missiles, which will pose a greater threat to our troops and allies than Scud-type missiles.

North Korea, for example, is developing a ballistic missile for its own military and for export markets such as the Middle East and North Africa. With a range of 1,000 kilometers, this missile will be able to fly farther than the Scud. It would allow North Korea, for example, to strike Tokyo. It would also allow Libya to strike our allies in Europe. By the time these longer-range theater ballistic missiles hit the global market, more nations may have biological and chemical weapons -- and some may have nuclear weapons. This threat is not here and now, but it is emerging, and we view it seriously.

Our response to this emerging threat is to develop the next generation of theater ballistic missile defenses. These systems will be able to protect areas over 10 times larger than the theater missile defenses we are building now, allowing us to protect an entire Army division or a metropolitan area.

As we develop these systems, however, there are two sets of decisions we are going to need to grapple with. The first decision involves priorities -- how much and how fast. Some in Congress want us to speed up and spend more on defenses against future missile threats. In a world where financial priorities must be set, we believe the highest priority should be given to developing and deploying defenses against the missile threat that is here today.

The second set of decisions we need to grapple with as we develop broader theater missile defenses involves the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty between the United States and Russia. The ABM treaty prohibits each of us from building anti-ballistic missile systems to shield our nations from each other's nuclear arsenals. Through the years, this treaty has maintained stability by discouraging a race to build larger and better nuclear arsenals to overcome each other's defenses. In fact, the treaty has encouraged reductions in our nuclear arsenals.

The ABM treaty does not prohibit America and Russia from building defenses to shield our troops from theater missiles. But the language of the treaty is not explicit about what is permitted. Therefore, we are working closely with Russia on an agreement to more clearly differentiate between theater missile defenses and those missile defenses prohibited by the ABM treaty.

But our bottom line is, we will not give up the right to defend our troops or our allies from attack by theater ballistic missiles.

As we field better systems to protect our troops and allies against theater ballistic missile attack, we must also prepare to protect our nation from the third missile threat. It is the prospect that rogue states will someday obtain strategic ballistic missiles -- ICBMs -- that can reach our shores. To defend our nation against this potential threat, we need to be ready to deploy a national missile defense. Today, we do not need a national missile defense system, because our nation is not now threatened by missiles of mass destruction. No rogue nation has ICBMs.

Only the established nuclear powers have ICBMs. And if these powers should ever pose a threat, our ability to retaliate with an overwhelming nuclear response will serve as a deterrent. Deterrence has protected us from the established nuclear arsenals for decades, and it will continue to protect us.

But while the United States is safe today from strategic missile attack, this picture could change in two ways -- first, if rogue nations were to develop their own ICBMs. According to the U.S. intelligence community, this threat is more than a decade away. However, it could come sooner if rogue nations get help from other nations in developing ICBMs. No nation seems so inclined, and we will continue to discourage such help -- but we must be alert to this possibility. The second scenario is if an unauthorized or accidental launch of an ICBM occurs in Russia or China. Our intelligence considers this probability remote, and we are working to make it more remote through arms control and diplomacy.

Because of these two scenarios, we have a hedge strategy: to develop a national missile defense system that we could deploy if an ICBM threat to our country were to appear on the horizon. This national missile defense system under development would not be comparable to the system that was under development in the Strategic Defense Initiative -- that is, it would not be capable of defending against thousands of warheads being launched at the United States. On the other hand, our system would be quite capable of defending against the much smaller and relatively unsophisticated ICBM threat that a rogue nation or a terrorist could mount any time in the foreseeable future. And it would be capable of shooting down an unauthorized or accidentally launched missile.

The system we are developing would include sensors in space to identify and track incoming missiles, and interceptor missiles and radars on the ground. Our plan is to develop elements of this system over the next three years. Then, at that point, if we were to see a rogue threat emerging, we could construct this system and have it on site in another three years -- that is, by the year 2003. If, as we expect, we see no such threat emerging, we will continue developing and improving the technologies, all the while retaining the capability to have the system up and running within three years of a decision to deploy. That way, we will be ready and able to field the most advanced system possible to counter missile threats to our nation as fast as they can emerge.

How we defend the nation from ballistic missiles was the subject of great debate during the Cold War. The debate has begun again today. Critics of our program in Congress are supporting a bill sponsored by Senate Majority Leader [Robert] Dole and House [of Representatives] Speaker [Newt] Gingrich. The Dole-Gingrich bill would replace our national missile defense plan with a plan of its own.

In many critical areas, our two plans see eye-to-eye. Both recognize the need to be capable of defending our nation against a potential rogue missile threat. And both would make it possible to deploy a system by 2003. The critical difference between our plans is timing.

The Dole-Gingrich bill says we must choose a system now and begin deploying it in three years, independent of how our threat assessment evolves. Our plan says, let's develop a system, assess the threat in three years and make our deployment decision accordingly. Our choice between these two plans could be quite significant. Everyone should know what is at stake in the choice.

The first issue at stake is the chance to further reduce Cold War nuclear arsenals. Committing now to deploy a national missile defense system, as called for in the Dole-Gingrich bill, would almost certainly put at risk Russia's full implementation of the START [Strategic Arms Reductions Talks] I treaty, and ratification and implementation of the START II treaty. In other words, the Dole-Gingrich bill could jeopardize the elimination of an additional 3,200 former Soviet nuclear warheads. No ballistic missile defense offers our country better protection than the elimination of 3,200 nuclear warheads. In this case, the choice is between defending against a threat that does not exist vs. eliminating a threat that does exist.

Additionally, committing right now to deploy a system could require the United States to amend or abrogate the ABM treaty with Russia. This is unnecessary without a real threat on the horizon. Only if and when we decide to deploy a national missile defense would we need to decide whether we need amendments to the ABM treaty.

The second issue at stake is the effectiveness of the national defense system we deploy. Choosing a system now will limit our options to build a better system that is better matched to the threat. In this case, the choice is between building an advanced system to defeat an actual threat vs. a less capable system to defeat a hypothetical threat.

Think of this problem in terms of buying a personal computer for college. If you ordered your computer as a high school sophomore, it would have been obsolete by the time you started college, it would lack the capabilities you now need and would be impossible or prohibitively expensive to upgrade. On the other hand, if you ordered your computer just before you started college, you would have gotten the latest technology, and it would more closely match what you actually needed for school.

In the world of Pentium computers, we don't want to be stuck with a 286. In the world of national missile defense, we want the latest technology, closely matched to what we actually need to defend our country.

The choices we make in missile defense have far-reaching implications. I believe this administration has made the right choices to protect us in the post-Cold War nuclear age. We work to prevent threats from endangering us. We maintain strong forces and the strong will to use force, to deter attack.

We maintain missile defenses that can defeat a missile attack against our deployed troops. We are focused on getting better theater missile defenses into the field as soon as possible. And we have a robust and flexible program to develop a national missile defense against a rogue ICBM threat to our nation, if such a threat emerges in the future. Overall, our ballistic missile defense program strikes the right balance, with an emphasis on the threat that is here and now.

[Former British Prime Minister] Winston Churchill once said about Americans: "The bigger the idea, the more wholeheartedly and obstinately do they throw themselves into making it a success. That is an admirable characteristic -- provided the idea is good." As our country throws itself wholeheartedly and obstinately into our ballistic missile defense program, we have an obligation to our troops, to our allies, to our taxpayers and to our children to make sure that it is the right program.




Published for internal information use by the American Forces Information Service, a field activity of the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs), Washington, D.C. Parenthetical entries are speaker/author notes; bracketed entries are editorial notes. This material is in the public domain and may be reprinted without permission. Defense Issues is available on the Internet via the World Wide Web at