Subj: Joey Read this — 800 destroyed by this defense initiative no matter costs???
Date: 10/02/1999 11:56:21 AM Eastern Daylight Time
From: Pegabytes
To:, Owensf, Pegabytes

96-441 F

Updated June 7, 1996
National Missile Defense:
The Current Debate
Steven A. Hildreth

Specialist in National Defense
Foreign Affairs and National Defense Division


We do not have the capability to destroy long-range ballistic missiles launched against this country. In spite of unanimous agreement on this point, officials and analysts have spent more than 30 years debating whether and how the United States should defend itself against such threats. This debate has neither been simply academic nor inexpensive. Since President Reagan’s 1983 vision of a global defense shield, Congress has appropriated almost $40 billion directly to the BMD (ballistic missile defense) program in the hopes of fielding systems capable of countering ballistic missiles armed with mass destruction warheads. Many more billions of defense dollars have contributed indirectly to the BMD effort; no one sees an end to such spending.

The current debate is a milestone. In March 1996, the House and Senate Republican leadership introduced the Defend America Act of 1996. The outcome of this legislation may well set the course for BMD for a half decade or more. A change in the White House in November might alter this calculus. This short report examines the current national missile defense (NMD) debate, describes the two major competing visions of how NMD should be pursued, and explores the key substantive differences between those visions.


The vote over NMD largely may well hinge on ideological and partisan grounds. The debate itself, with considerable discussion over substantive issues, is likely to be of secondary importance. For the most part, conservatives and some moderates view the deployment of ballistic missile defenses to defend the United States as a singular, defining difference between the two major political parties. Such a difference, it is argued, demonstrates the degree to which the parties will commit scarce budget resources to a key national security concern. Many conservatives point out that most Americans believe they are defended against ballistic missile attack, and when told otherwise, the public expresses support for NMD because rogue states may be able to attack the nation with ballistic missiles. In contrast, liberals and other moderates note that NMD is not needed now because the United States faces no long-range. ballistic missile threats. Because NMD demonstrates a key difference between the parties, many conservatives believe the outcome of the current debate will play an important role in this year’s presidential and congressional races. The White House doubts this prospectus.

Another aspect of this ideological debate is the degree to which decision makers and analysts stress NMD in an overall national strategy to counter the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction. This overall strategy includes a broad range of arms control agreements and negotiations, export control laws, and military deterrence. More often than not, the strongest NMD advocates place less emphasis or value on these other “counter proliferation” tools. Others, including the Clinton Administration, seek a balance including an ABM Treaty compliant BMD development coupled with strong advocacy of each of these tools.


This section summarizes the Act’s purpose and some of its principal findings, outlines the NAM system envisioned, and describes the Act’s position vis-a-vis the ABM Treaty.

The stated purpose of the Defend America Act of 1996 (H.R. 3144 and S. 1635) is to seek to establish a U.S. policy for the deployment of an NMD system. Among other findings, the bills assert that the threat of ballistic missile proliferation to the United States is significant and growing. Both assert that deployment of an effective NMD system will reduce the incentives of countries to develop or otherwise acquire intercontinental ballistic missiles, thus serving to inhibit and counter the proliferation of missiles and weapons of mass destruction. Both bills also find it in the interest of all nations to pursue a form of strategic deterrence based on defensive capabilities and strategies, rather than deterrence based on offensive means.

The Act would establish as U.S. policy the deployment of an NMD system with an Initial Operational Capability (IOC) by the end of 2003 as a transition step away from an offense-only form of deterrence. The Act would require that this NMD system be capable of providing a highly-effective defense of the territory of the United States against limited, unauthorized, or accidental ballistic missile attacks. The NMD system would also have to be augmented over time to provide a layered defense against larger and more sophisticated threats as they emerge. The Act requires that the NMD interceptor system provide defensive coverage of the entire United States, and include one or more of the following: ground-based interceptors, sea-based interceptors, space-based kinetic energy interceptors, and space-based directed energy weapons. The overall system would include fixed ground-based radars, space-based sensors (including the Space and Missile Tracking System), and battle management, command, control, and communications elements.

The Act would urge the President to reach an agreement with Russia to amend the ABM Treaty [ 1 ] to allow the deployment of an NMD system envisioned in the Act. If agreement is reached, the Act requires the President to submit the agreement to the Senate for its advice and consent. Absent such agreement within one year after enactment of the Act, the Act calls for the President and Congress to consider exercising the option of withdrawing from the ABM Treaty in accordance with the provisions of Article XV of that treaty.


The Pentagon’s NMD Deployment Readiness Program is referred to as the “3 plus 3” plan. In essence, it seeks to develop a treaty compliant NMD deployment option over the next 3 years, assess the ballistic missile threat at that time, and then examine the deployment requirement on a year-by-year basis starting in 2000. This would allow for an NMD system to be deployed by 2003. If such a system were not required, continued advancement in NMD technologies could proceed, the ballistic missile threat monitored regularly, and deployment withheld until required.

A critical issue, and major source of controversy in pursuing this plan is the Intelligence Community (IC) consensus that concludes that no new ballistic missile threats to the United States will emerge over the next 15 years. If the IC is wrong and a threat emerges, certain crisis contingencies are being explored. One is a very early deployment concept designed to counter a specific threat from a rogue nation armed with a limited number of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Minuteman III silos could be converted for a yet-to-be developed ground-based interceptor missile.

Another key element in the Administration’s plan is to finalize outstanding ABM Treaty understandings, such as formalizing the political commitment the United States and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) have made to the ABM Treaty. In October 1992, the Commonwealth states signed an agreement at Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, wherein the parties agreed as a collective body to assume all the rights and obligations of the ABM Treaty. Although the United States and the key Commonwealth states agree on the formal need to multilateralize the ABM Treaty (i.e., expand its membership), a final and detailed agreement has proven elusive. When signed, the rights and obligations of the Treaty will be assumed by the collective, whomever that might be. Those who do not sign, will not be bound by the agreement. The U.S. position, therefore, is to ensure as extensive participation in the Treaty as possible.


This section seeks to identify the major substantive differences between supporters of the Defend America Act and the Administration’s plan. It should be pointed out, however, that some lawmakers and analysts do not support either approach. Even so, many of the central disagreements revolve around the estimates of ballistic missile threats, the role of deterrence and the ABM Treaty, and various cost issues. These are explored below.

The Ballistic Missile Threat

A significant chasm exists in the NMD debate over estimates of the ballistic missile threat to the United States. In general, this has focused on a recent National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), which represents the government’s most authoritative projection of future developments on a particular subject. In a consensus document, whose key findings are described as free of contention, the IC testified this spring that it does not believe it is likely the United States will face a new long-range ballistic missile threat to the continental United States within the next 15 years. It further stated that the North Korean Taepo Dong II, which might have the range to reach western Hawaii or parts of Alaska, will not be operational within the next 5 years. This largely parallels a 1993 CIA report. Some point to recent Chinese threats to launch missiles against Los Angeles if the United States interfered in any Chinese-Taiwan conflict as evidence of current threats to the United States. Administration officials dismiss such threats as rhetoric and note that China is not a new threat. The United States has long included China as a focus of its nuclear deterrent strategies.

The NIE energized the BMD debate. To the Administration, the assessment rendered their “3 plus 3” NMD plan prudent. But critics pointed to serious flaws. Given the length of this report, these can only be discussed briefly. The first is that the NIE was simply wrong; rogue states have the means and the desire to develop and field ballistic missiles that could threaten the United States. The IC response is that such efforts among rogue states are too technologically challenging and any efforts would be detected many years before deployment. Others add that efforts on the part of rogue states to acquire ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction capabilities derive from regional rivalries, rather than to threaten the United States. A second charge made is that the NIE focused primarily on indigenous capability and failed to analyze closely the strong likelihood of ballistic missile sales or technology transfers. The IC stated it allowed for the acquisition of some foreign technology and also concluded that no country with intercontinental missiles would sell them. A third charge made was that the NIE did not account for the possibility of a catastrophic failure of intelligence or analysis. Some analysts have said we can never know the capabilities of rogue states, citing intelligence failures before and after World War II and Iraq’s ballistic missile and weapons of mass destruction programs as examples. The IC said it recognizes this possibility, but found it not likely in this area because intercontinental missile programs progress slowly, and the technological base and economic resources of hostile states are limited. Others add that strategic technological surprise (e.g., intercontinental ballistic missile programs) is very difficult to achieve; tactical or small-scale technological surprise is more likely. Nonetheless, as a precaution, the Administration is exploring crisis or emergency NMD concepts that could be deployed much sooner than the 3 plus 3 plan. Finally, some have charged that the NIE was politicized, that its outcome was skewed to favor the Administration’s NMD plan. This charge has been hotly denied by senior Administration and IC officials.

Deterrence and ABM Treaty

The issue of offensive nuclear deterrence remains central to the impasse over BMD. To some of the supporters of the Defend America Act of 1996, the 1972 ABM Treaty embodies much of the immorality of guaranteeing the vulnerability of the U.S. population in the strategic relationship (called MAD -Mutual Assured Destruction) that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War. Most supporters believe that the ABM Treaty is an archaic relic that not only stands in the way of deploying effective ballistic missile defenses, but perhaps more importantly, stands in the way of moving toward strategic stability based on defensive (and arguably moral) deterrence. The bills and their supporters assert that effective BMD systems would serve to deter others from acquiring ballistic missiles armed with mass destruction warheads. These arguments, which began in earnest with the advent of Reagan’s “Star War’s” vision, have moved but not proved totally persuasive on Capitol Hill.

Others, however, believe that offensive deterrence remains valid and critical to the strategic relationship between the United States and former Soviet Union. It is because the proposed Act threatens this relationship and the ABM Treaty that the White House is said to be likely to veto it. For example, the Act requires an initial NMD deployment to be augmented over time to provide a layered defense against larger and more sophisticated threats. Second, the Act makes it U.S. policy to seek a cooperative transition away from an offense-only form of deterrence as the basis for strategic stability. Third, the Act directs the Secretary of Defense to deploy an NMD that includes one or more of four ABM interceptor options, three of which would violate the ABM Treaty. The one treaty compliant option is basically the Administration plan. Administration officials point out that supporters of the Act generally believe that a ground-based only system is a mistake and that they have argued for years the need to place weapons and interceptors in space. Finally, the Act requires amendment of the ABM Treaty within one year or formal withdrawal should be considered. Administration officials have said this would be seen by Russia as tantamount to an “anticipatory breach” of the Treaty and that it would put the strategic nuclear arms reduction treaties, START I and START II at risk. To the Administration, these elements of the Act are viewed negatively as Reagan Star Wars ideology that reflects disdain of the ABM Treaty and the “foundation of strategic stability” between the United States and Russia.

Cost Issues

Major disagreements over NMD also include three related cost issues. The first concerns aggregate NMD system costs. In this short report, it is not possible to examine these figures critically or comparatively. It is largely unknown whether these include only development and procurement costs, or represent life cycle costs, for example. Nonetheless, they are noted here because they are being used by key players in the current debate.

Some key committee staff supporters believe that it would cost about $3 to $7 billion (depending on which of the four interceptor options were pursued) to field an NMD system that meets the immediate requirements of the Act. They also point out that this money is part of the Republican balanced budget, and is not new money. The Missile Defense Study Team at the Heritage Foundation maintains that a sea-based ABM system could be achieved by employing AEGIS cruisers and their infrastructure. This system would cost $4 to $5 billion and could be deployed within 4 to 6 years. Gen. Malcolm O’Neill, Director, BMD Organization stated that a single ground-based treaty compliant system might cost about $5 billion; more recently, he estimated the cost at $7 to $8 billion. Representative Livingston, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee gave a figure of $13 to $16 billion for an NMD deployment under the Act earlier this year. Robert Bell, Senior Director, National Security Council, cites a figure of $20 billion for a two-site, land-based ABM system; money that is not in the Future Year Defense Budget or the Service’s outyear budgets. The Congressional Budget Office estimates the cost to develop and deploy a layered NMD system at $31 to $60 billion. It would include both ground- and space-based weapons. Finally, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments argues that while limited NMD deployments are likely to cost as little as $5 billion, effective, layered NMD deployments envisioned in the Act could cost more than $50 billion (and those costs could be underestimated by 20 to 40 percent).

Secondly, the Administration maintains that its NMD plan will produce cost savings if the ballistic missile threat does not appear sooner than expected (i.e., in less than 15 years). The NMD program, therefore, could advance indefinitely at relatively low funding levels until it was necessary to deploy a system, thus saving large sums of money that would be used to build and deploy a near-term NMD required under the Defend America Act. Supporters of the Act admit that less money might be spent over the near term, but raise the question of how much risk should we as a nation assume. This leads to the third issue. A significant difference exists between NMD supporters who want to deploy an NMD system as soon as possible and others who believe it can wait. The former believe that the risk simply is too great. Cost considerations should not be the determining factor; they are therefore willing to pay a higher insurance premium to insure against the risk of a ballistic missile attack on the United States. In contrast, opponents of this crash NMD deployment effort are satisfied with paying a lower insurance premium and believing there will be sufficient time to deploy a system when required, thus saving money and allowing NMD technology to continue to mature in the meantime.

1 The 1972 ABM Treaty limits the development, testing, and deployment of defensive systems capable of intercepting strategic ballistic missiles. The Treaty and its 1974 Protocol limit the sides to a system of no more than 100 ground-based interceptors deployed at a single site. Many consider this to be the “foundation of strategic stability” between the United States and the former Soviet Union because it ensures retaliatory capability without an offensive nuclear arms race.