The Clinton administration is relentlessly moving toward
an ill-informed decision this summer to deploy an untested and fundamentally
unworkable national missile defense (NMD) system. The administration claims
this technically flawed defense is needed to negate an unproven long-range
missile threat posed by "rogue" states.
The cost of this defense will not simply be measured
in dollars. It may include an end to further nuclear arms reductions with
Russia, an increased Chinese effort to expand its nuclear forces in response
to the defense, negative reactions from U.S. allies in Europe and East
Asia--who know that their security will also suffer from this ill-thought
out American initiative--and an eventual collapse of global arms control
and nonproliferation efforts.
The Clinton administration, already confronted by
strongly negative and adverse public reactions from Russia and China,
insists that this defense system would not upset global efforts to reduce
the dangers from existing nuclear arsenals and potential nuclear proliferants.
Instead, the administration sticks to its false
claim that the proposed system will be sharply limited, and that it will
not compromise Russia's retaliatory deterrent forces.
Although Iran and Iraq have been named
as targets of this defense, North Korea is the alleged serious and immediate
threat. But if the proposed national missile defense system is to be aimed
principally at North Korean missiles, why is the United States deploying
a radar that is ideally suited for gathering intelligence for such a system
on the northern tip of Norway, less than 40 miles from the Russian border?
Vardo radar, with inflatable dome (top of page) and after the dome
was blown off by a November storm.
[Norwegian Defense Forces photo]
On September 8 and 9 in Moscow, Deputy Secretary
of State Strobe Talbott presented Russia with a proposal to modify the
Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty to allow the United States to deploy a light
but rapidly expandable national missile defense system.
Talbott told the Russians that if they did not accept
the U.S. proposal, the United States would simply withdraw from the treaty
and proceed on its own.
Not surprisingly, the Russians viewed Talbott's
statements as a threat and an ultimatum rather than as a proposal for
serious and honest discussion about matters of fundamental importance
to both nations.
Talbott's heavy-handed approach to the Russians
was another notch in a perfectly consistent record of Clinton administration
actions that add up to a coherent pattern of hostility and deception toward
Russia. This record has created throughout the Russian political system
a deep distrust of and anger toward the United States.
In its seven-plus years, the Clinton administration
has piled blunder upon blunder in dealing with Russia. The administration's
initiative to expand NATO eastward has created a constant threat that
the United States and Russia will stumble into an unwanted crisis that
could easily escalate to nuclear alerts.
The administration's continued emphasis on maintaining
a hair-trigger nuclear strike force serves no constructive purpose and
endangers the United States, Russia, and the rest of the world by threatening
Russia's increasingly vulnerable nuclear forces.
And now the Russians have been presented with an
insulting pretense that the United States is vulnerable to long-range
missile attacks from the likes of North Korea, Iran, or Iraq.
The latter two countries have no substantive long-range
missile programs. Although North Korea does have a program, it is based
on primitive, scaled-up Scud technology.
The Russian Scud is based on the work of German
engineers captured by the Russians at the end of World War II. The Scuds
themselves consist of modest improvements over the German V-2 missile,
first flown by Nazi Germany in the early 1940s.
Despite the vast resources available in Nazi Germany,
and the dedicated and well-supported national effort in the Soviet Union
that followed, the first ICBM was not achieved until 1957. The United
States now tells the Russians that it has an urgent need for a national
missile defense to protect itself from an imminent ICBM attack from a
state that has a gross domestic product smaller than Delaware's.
Against a backdrop of years of misrepresentations
by the Clinton administration, the North Korean, Iranian, and Iraqi "threat"
is seen as a strawman by the Russians and Chinese.
The Russians and the Chinese also understand that
the administration's "limited" defense is in fact a system that is indistinguishable
from one aimed at them. They correctly understand the full technical implications
of the administration's proposed battle-management upgrades of early warning
radars at Fylingdales Moor, Britain; Thule, Greenland; Grand Forks, North
Dakota; and Clear, Alaska. These upgrades are exactly those that would
be needed for a national missile defense system aimed at Russia and China.
And now comes the most recent addition to the array
of misrepresentations to the Russians--installation of a state-of-the-art,
NMD-capable radar in Vardo, virtually on the Russian border.
The administration claims that the radar's purpose
is tracking space debris in earth orbit. It is obvious to any technically
informed person that this claim is simply another misrepresentation.
A poke in the eye
The certain principal use of this X-band radar, along
with a second one planned for Eareckson Air Station on Shemya Island,
some 1,500 miles south west of Anchorage, will be to collect detailed
intelligence data on Russia's long-range ballistic missiles.
This data will cover the entire trajectory of the
missiles, including their powered flight, "bus" maneuvers, deployment
of warheads and countermeasures, and reentry into the Pacific near the
The data collected by these radars will be of primal
value to a U.S. national missile defense system. The information will
be fed into the NMD data base, which will increase the discrimination
capabilities of the proposed system against Russia's ballistic missiles.
It is not clear that the Vardo radar, code-named
HAVE STARE, is a formal violation of the Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty.
But it is clear that the radar could be added to an NMD sensor system
in a way that would unmistakably violate the intent if not the letter
of the treaty.
It is also clear, both to Washington and Moscow,
that the basic infrastructure of the proposed limited national missile
defense system could be rapidly scaled up to become an overtly anti-Russian
The Vardo radar may be "treaty compliant." But it
is also one more threatening and insulting poke in the eye of the Russian
The HAVE STARE radar was developed in the early 1990s
by Raytheon, under the direction of the Electronic Systems Center, the
air force's lead organization for the development and acquisition of command-and-control
systems. According to the Defense Department, HAVE STARE is "a high-resolution
X-band tracking and imaging radar with a 27-meter mechanical dish antenna."
It became operational at Vandenberg Air Force Base on California's coast
in 1995, where it was used in early developmental tests of the national
missile defense program.
In late 1998, HAVE STARE was quietly dismantled
and sent to Norway, where it is being jointly reassembled by the United
States and Norway under the Norwegian project name "Globus II." It is
located at a Norwegian military intelligence facility and its mission,
according to the U.S. and Norwegian governments, is to track and catalog
space junk in high earth orbit.
Space junk is no trivial matter. There are many
thousands of manmade objects orbiting earth, ranging in size from paint
flecks and nuts and bolts to booster rockets. But the new location of
the HAVE STARE radar, publicly revealed in April 1998 by Inge Sellevag,
a Norwegian newspaper reporter, is nearly the last place on earth one
would choose for a radar with the purpose of tracking space debris. Because
many objects of concern are in orbits that can never be seen from a far
north location, a space tracking installation is in fact best placed much
closer to the equator.
But the location of the radar is ideal for collecting
very precise data on Russian missile tests. The Vardo machine is--at least
for now--the most advanced tracking and imaging radar in the world.
The HAVE STARE radar potentially has a resolution
of roughly 10 to 15 centimeters, which means it could provide detailed
radar images of Russian warheads and decoys. In contrast, U.S. early warning
radars have a resolution of--at best--5 to 10 meters.
When a pulse from the Vardo X-band radar illuminates
a target, reflections are generated mostly by the numerous edges, surfaces,
and other geometric details of the target. These distinct reflections
are, in effect, a radar-fingerprint of the object.
Because the radar-fingerprint of an object varies
with the frequency of the radar, it is especially important that the Vardo
radar operate in the X-band, the same frequency range of the NMD X-band
In addition, the radar signal will not simply be
a complex mix of the many individual reflections. The signal will fluctuate
in time as the targets of interest rotate and precess, providing yet additional
fingerprint data that could be exploited by the NMD X-band radars.
In short, the Vardo radar can provide critical information
for a national missile defense system aimed specifically at Russia.
Further, the Vardo radar and the planned radar for
Shemya Island at the western end of the Aleutians could, operating together,
collect precision radar signature data on virtually every phase of Russian
tests of missiles and decoys, within minutes of launch from the Plesetsk
test range, about 150 miles south of the White Sea, to splashdown 4,000
miles away, near Kamchatka.
Of particular importance, HAVE STARE will be able
to obtain precision signature data at X-band frequencies and in mid-course--the
critical point at which warheads and decoys separate from the "bus." Previous
U.S. radars at Vardo and Shemya have lacked the ability to perform such
measurements at X-band frequencies.
Even though both the United States and the Soviet
Union (and now Russia) have long been capable of defeating missile defense
systems by deploying decoys and other devices along with warheads, this
well-focused intelligence-gathering activity understandably appears to
the Russians as a determined and planned step towards a U.S. National
missile defense capability aimed at Russia. The existence of this radar
at this location further adds to Russian perceptions that the Clinton
administration is again being deceptive about its true intentions.
What is "real time"?
U.S. officials have said little about the export
of the HAVE STARE radar to Norway, leaving Norwegian officials to explain
its uses. Sellevag,
a reporter with Bergens Tidende in Bergen, Norway, stirred the
pot in the spring of 1998 with stories revealing that HAVE STARE was moving
to Norway and that it had a potential national missile defense capability.
In response, Dag Jostein Fjarvoll, Norway's secretary
of defense, assured parliament that the Globus II radar (HAVE STARE) was
"under full Norwegian control." At best, that was misleading. Norwegian
personnel may man the system but the radar will be directly linked, according
to a viewgraph prepared by the air force's Electronics Systems Center,
to "Cheyenne Mountain and NMD." (The nerve center of the proposed national
missile defense system will be buried deeply within Colorado's Cheyenne
This information clearly indicates that Fjarvoll's
assertions that the radar could not "contribute to any eventual American
defense" were false. Indeed, they seemed deliberately crafted to mislead
the Norwegian parliament.
The minister added that "only Norwegian personnel
have access to data in so-called real time." His use of "real time" was
repeated, perhaps for emphasis. "In other words, there was no connection
between Globus II and the U.S. Air Force in real time. . . . The radar
can therefore not contribute to any eventual American missile defense."
To those not familiar with how acquisition and tracking
systems work--and members of the Norwegian parliament surely fit that
category--the no-real-time argument might seem compelling. From a commonsense
point of view, if a sensor system does not supply data in real time, it
is useless for missile defense.
In fact, none of the existing U.S. early warning
and tracking systems, or those projected for the national missile defense
system, operate in "real time"--as the defense minister seems to define
They are not real-time systems because they collect
vast amounts of data that are not sent directly to the Cheyenne Mountain
Complex. All of these systems--in place and projected--extract critical
information from the mass of data after short processing delays. Once
the data are extracted, only then is it sent to operational command centers.
Each Defense Support Program satellite, for instance,
collects about 170 million bits of information per second. These data
are then sorted by a vastly powerful signal processing system on the satellite.
By the time the data sorting is completed, only one million bits per second
are actually transmitted to the ground.
Once on the ground, the data are further processed.
That processing takes place in 10-second batches, creating a vastly simplified
but supremely accurate surveillance "picture" of the earth below. In turn,
that information is updated and further processed every 10 seconds.
In cases where there is very clear data indicating
a missile launch, it takes 20 to 40 seconds before the system can "initiate"
tracking of the launch. The operators of the system would not see this
information for 30 to 90 seconds, depending on specific circumstances.
Hence, the Defense Support Program satellites in
high earth orbit, currently the heart of the U.S. early warning array,
do not comprise a "real time" system according to the definition implied
by the statements of Norway's defense minister.
What is the purpose of the HAVE STARE radar
at Vardo, which the Norwegians call Globus II? Its purpose is clear to
the Russian civilian and military analysts I have talked to. It is an
intelligence-gathering system optimized to collect data on Russian ballistic
missiles that can be directly used by a U.S. National missile defense
system aimed at Russia.
The technical information on HAVE STARE released
by the U.S. Air Force and the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization indicates
that it is a very capable tracking and imaging radar. Testimony given
in Congress and statements made elsewhere further confirm this. On June
18, 1996, for instance, Rear Adm. Richard D. West, then acting director
of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, testified before the House
National Security Committee about the NMD program.
In his testimony, he described plans to upgrade
existing early warning radars "for inclusion in the NMD architecture."
He added, "If needed, other existing forward-based radars (such as Cobra
Dane or HAVE STARE) could also be used to support the NMD system."
More recently, Sellevag has tracked references to
HAVE STARE's potential usefulness to the NMD program. A mid-1990s air
force environmental impact statement provided by the U.S. Air Force Atmospheric
Interceptor Technology Program, noted:
"Two existing U.S. Air Force radar systems have
high potential for NMD application. The upgraded Precision Acquisition
Vehicle Energy-Phased Array Warning System (PAVE PAWS) radar located
at Beale Air Force Base (AFB), California is a wide-looking potential
target detection element of a future NMD system. The HAVE STARE tracking
radar located at Vandenberg AFB, California represents a candidate design
to perform the narrow-looking, target tracking radar role in a future
"To fully understand the utility of these radar
systems in an NMD role, the [air force] plans to integrate and test these
systems using realistic threat scenarios. California is the only location
where these radars are close enough to be tested together. The PAVE PAWS
radar initially detects an incoming target and hands over specific target
tracking to the HAVE STARE."
The tests were carried out. Two Minuteman III launches
were picked up by the Defense Support Program's early warning satellites;
in turn, that data cued PAVE PAWS and HAVE STARE, which tracked the missiles.
Sellevag documents that HAVE STARE was later involved
in two test flights in the NMD program. In June 1997, a Minuteman II lifted
off from Vandenberg with dummy warheads and balloon decoys--targets for
sensor payloads aboard Boeing's Exoatmospheric Kill Vehicle, launched
from Kwajalein. A similar test of Raytheon's entry into the Exoatmospheric
Kill Vehicle sweep stakes took place in January 1998. (Both tests were
of the sensors; no intercept of the target was attempted.)
Occasional air force and Ballistic Missile Defense
Organization briefing viewgraphs and slides allude, directly or indirectly,
to HAVE STARE in future NMD architecture. One
December 1999 slide produced by the Strategic and Nuclear Deterrence
Command-and-Control Program Office shows HAVE STARE clustered with a host
of "Global Awareness" sensors, all of which are linked to Cheyenne Mountain
Could HAVE STARE act as an early warning and tracking
radar if a national missile defense system is deployed? Yes--but only
as a backup to other sensors closer to home or parked in safe orbits.
The U.S. Air Force would have to assume that in
the event of an intentional missile attack by Russia, Vardo would be immediately
destroyed. (According to Sellevag, the idea that the Vardo radar might
put northern Norway at the top of Russia's nuclear target list has unsettled
at least a few members of the Norwegian parliament.)
But the real value of the Vardo radar and of the
not-yet-built Shemya radar is that they can do critical advance work for
the national missile defense system. They can collect radar signatures--"fingerprints"--from
a host of Russian missiles, warheads, decoys, and other devices as they
are tested in east-west flight high above the Russian hinterland.
These fingerprints constitute vital information
for any system designed to counter the Russian missile "threat," which
must function perfectly within minutes of the need to do so. A system
that cannot quickly separate warheads from everything else is fatally
If the purpose of a national missile defense system
is to protect the United States from North Korean missiles, why is the
world's most advanced tracking and imaging radar about to go online at
the northern tip of Norway instead of northern Japan?
Why Norway? is an especially intriguing question
in the context of the threats made last September by Strobe Talbott to
the Russians, when he said that the United States was considering unilateral
withdrawal from the ABM Treaty
Meanwhile, the administration may soon make a decision
to deploy a national missile defense that could well end whatever momentum
is left in the U.S.-Russian strategic arms reduction process.
The truth is that domestic politics in the United
States has led to false claims about the promise of missile defense technology--as
well as fantastic claims about "emerging threats."
Both the Republicans and the Democrats have been
involved in a charade trying to make each look less concerned about national
defense while they together drive the United States toward a disaster
of historic proportions.
If the administration decides this summer to deploy
the national missile defense system, it should at least be honest about
it. The Pentagon still defines the principal missile threat as Russia,
not North Korea. That is why HAVE STARE is in northern Norway instead
of northern Japan.
A new arms race?
In his visit to Russia last September, Talbott assured
the Russians that the proposed system would only be capable of handling
"tens of missiles." Apparently Talbott thought that would reassure the
Russians and not alarm the Chinese.
But the Chinese have, according to the CIA, only
20 missiles capable of reaching the United States. The Chinese have long
said that the proposed "limited" system has an anti-Chinese face. And
the Russians clearly believe that a system that could be rapidly expanded
and upgraded looks like an anti-Russian system.
Talbott's words got an immediate response from Russia
and China. When I was in Moscow in October, only a few weeks after Talbott's
visit, I was told by several government officials about a meeting in Beijing,
from which they had just returned.
The meeting was sponsored by the foreign ministries
of Russia and China. However, most of the participants were from the Russian
and Chinese ministries of defense. The purpose of the meeting was to begin
Russian and Chinese political and technical cooperation to deal with the
threat of a U.S. National missile defense system.
George N. Lewis, John Pike, and I published an article
in the August 1999 issue of Scientific American, which attempted
to show that the proposed U.S. National missile defense system could be
defeated by the simplest of countermeasures. I personally know missile
experts in Russia and China, and they agree.
A U.S. decision to deploy will nevertheless result
in a strong negative, coordinated, and unequivocal reaction from Russia
and China. This is because there will be constant concerns that the United
States may eventually expand and modify the defense with nuclear-armed
interceptors instead of the pitiful hit-to-kill interceptors now planned
for the system.
A modified and expanded nuclear system could also
be readily defeated, but the Russians and Chinese would have to dedicate
more resources to the task. Most important: They might want to expand
their offensive capability, following the Nuclear Age dictum that a good
offense beats any defense.
The Russians and Chinese also will not want to agree
to a cutoff in the production of fissile materials for nuclear weapons.
After all, they may need these materials to expand their nuclear arsenals
in response to upgrades in U.S. missile defenses.
They will want to reserve the option of nuclear
testing, so that new nuclear weapons designs--hardened to the effects
of U.S. nuclear interceptors--can be tested.
And they will certainly not be interested in engaging
in further arms reductions. Instead, they may need to expand their forces
in response to changes in the U.S. National missile defense system.
While this game is going on between the United States,
Russia, and China, the non-weapon state signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation
Treaty will be watching their security erode along with that of the three
great competing powers. Some states may choose to withdraw from the treaty
while others may choose to stay.
However, some of the states that withdraw may create
pressures on neighboring states to also withdraw, especially if there
are traditional tensions between these states.
Thus, a decade after the end of the Cold War, the
Clinton administration has put us on the path to a new arms race and a
breakdown of the entire international regime of treaties that has been
built over the past 30 years.
It is bad enough if the administration simply does
not understand what it is doing.
It is even worse if it does.
Theodore A. Postol is a professor of science, technology, and national
security policy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He has worked
as a scientist at Argonne National Laboratory and on missile-related issues
at the Congressional Office of Technology Assessment, and the Office of
the Chief of Naval Operations. He has done extensive work on the Patriot
anti-missile system's performance during the 1991 Gulf War.
©2000 The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists