Published on Friday, May 19, 2000 in the Los Angeles Times
Secret U.S. Report Says Missile Defense Plan Poses Global Peril
by Bob Drogin and Tyler Marshall
The new National Intelligence Estimate will sketch an unsettling series of political and military ripple effects from the proposed U.S. deployment that would include a sharp buildup of strategic and medium-range nuclear missiles by China, India and Pakistan and the further spread of missile technology in the Middle East.
A supplement to the highly classified report will also note that the threat of attack from North Korea has eased since last fall, when Pyongyang effectively froze its ballistic-missile testing program in response to U.S. overtures.
Outside critics have long argued that the proposed national missile defense could backfire and actually diminish national security and global stability. But the CIA-led analysis and updated threat assessment are the first official evaluation of how the system could generate new threats.
The administration has pledged to decide this fall whether to proceed with an initial base of 100 "interceptor" missiles in Alaska, backed by ground-based phased radar stations and satellite-based infrared sensors, in a system designed to shield the continental United States from a limited missile attack.
Proponents of the system argue that North Korea, Iran or Iraq may threaten U.S. territory with intercontinental ballistic missiles someday. Critics argue that the threat is exaggerated, that the antimissile technology is unproved and that deployment would undermine crucial arms control and nonproliferation regimes.
CIA analysts believe that Russia would accept U.S. arguments that no system could protect against the number of missiles Moscow could launch and that its deterrent thus would be preserved. But China has only 20 CSS-4 intercontinental ballistic missiles in vulnerable silos, and the analysts say that, after a U.S. deployment, Beijing would conclude that it had lost its deterrent force--and act accordingly.
"We can tell the Russians that [the missile defense] won't affect the viability of their deterrent force," the intelligence official said. "I don't know how we can say that to the Chinese with a straight face."
If the U.S. system is built, the CIA believes, China would install multiple independent nuclear warheads on its missiles for the first time in an effort to overwhelm any missile shield. Beijing has possessed the technology for more than a decade but has not used it so far.
In addition, Beijing is deemed likely to build several dozen mobile truck-based DF-31 missiles, which it first tested last year, to create a more survivable force. It also is likely to add such countermeasures as booster fragmentation, low-power jammers, chaff and simple decoys to confuse or evade U.S. interceptors.
The intelligence official said that Russia and China both would increase proliferation, including "selling countermeasures for sure" to such nations as North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Syria.
Moreover, the official said, India is deemed likely to increase its nuclear missile force if it detects a sharp buildup by China, its neighbor and longtime rival. That, in turn, likely would spur Pakistan, India's archenemy, to increase its own nuclear strike force, the official said.
Former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft called such a scenario "plausible" and expressed concern about its possible implications.
"We ought to think whether we want the Chinese to change their very
minimalist strategy," he said in a telephone interview. "I'm not sure
what the answer is, but this is certainly one of the possible
consequences that, in a sense, is more serious than the Russian reaction
The Likelihood of a Domino Effect
Other specialists said that, while it is likely China would move to increase its intercontinental ballistic missile arsenal--now thought to be about 20 strong--it is questionable whether India and Pakistan would follow suit.
"China has had a strategic capability for a long time relative to India, and India has hardly gone on a missile arms race to counter it," noted John E. Peters, an arms control specialist at Rand Corp., a Santa Monica-based think tank.
Michael O'Hanlin, who tracks the missile defense issue at the Brookings Institution, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, argued that, however dramatic it may sound, a domino-style nuclear arms buildup would be a lesser threat to the United States than China's potential willingness to develop and sell missile defense countermeasures to countries like North Korea. Arms control specialists have expressed strong concern that the missile defense system as designed would be incapable of overcoming relatively cheap and easy-to-deploy countermeasures, such as clusters of decoys.
"If they do that, it could defeat the entire purpose of the national missile defense," O'Hanlin said. "That is the scenario that's very important."
Further afield, the intelligence official who outlined the report
said, America's allies in Europe and the North Atlantic Treaty
Organization could be angered if the United States is seen to be walling
itself off from its allies with an antimissile shield.
N. Korea's Test Program Frozen
The updated threat assessment notes that North Korea has frozen its program to test an intercontinental ballistic missile--the Taepo-Dong 2--since the administration proposed relaxing economic and diplomatic sanctions last year.
The missile still could be tested on short notice, the official said, and related tests of the system's electronics, pumps, tanks and other equipment are still going on.
CIA analysts, who warned last year that Iran may try to test an intercontinental ballistic missile by 2010, have detected little progress in Tehran's program. "We're not seeing some of the things we expected," the official said. "We're not seeing the threat advance."
The White House requested the intelligence estimate as part of its decision-making review.
The analysis, to be delivered next month, presents two different scenarios of how other nations are likely to react to a U.S. deployment.
The first is based on the premise that Russia agrees to U.S. demands to amend the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty of 1972 to allow a missile shield. The second assesses the effect if Russia refuses and Washington simply abandons the arms control process, as many Republicans have demanded.
At the moment, Russia and China are the only potential adversaries capable of hitting the United States with nuclear missiles. Russia has about 1,000 strategic missiles and 4,500 warheads.
The report pointedly declines to describe North Korea and other hostile states as "rogue" nations, since the argot suggests that their leaders are irrational.
"The term rogue state almost predisposes you in favor of" the missile defense system, the intelligence official said.
Moreover, the report warns that the missile defense shield would not protect Americans against what the official called "more accurate, more reliable and much cheaper" ways of delivering chemical, biological or nuclear weapons. These include ship-launched missiles, suitcase bombs and other covert means.
"The joke here is, if you want to bring a nuclear weapon into the United States, just hide it in some drugs," the official said.
Copyright 2000 Los Angeles Times