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In the wake of 11 September, where does missile defence fit in security spending priorities?



Keith B. Payne is president of the National Institute for Public Policy, chairman of the Deterrence Concepts Advisory Group of the Office of the Secretary of Defense and adjunct professor at Georgetown University.

Joseph Cirincione is Director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

immediate, serious and growing threat to US forces, interests and allies, and has significantly altered the strategic balances in the Middle East and Asia”. The fact that some of those countries pursuing missile pro- grammes are also building nuclear, biological and chemical (NBC) weapons and sponsor/harbour terror- ists brings this emerging threat into perspective.

Even if the broader missile threat is between five and 15 years away, we are unlikely to have a mature defence when that threat is clear and immedi- ate, unless we have a robust pro- gramme now. To await the blatant emergence of a North Korean, Iranian and/or Iraqi NBC-armed ICBM before making missile defence a high priority would be to risk an extended period of unprece- dented vulnerability.

The current proliferation threat generally involves missiles of less- than-ICBM range. This does not sug- gest, however, that defence against long-range missiles should be a low priority. To the contrary, the bipartisan Rumsfeld Commission concluded in August 1998 that emerging ballistic- missile powers could acquire an ICBM capability within about five years of a decision to do so and, for several of those years, we could be unaware that such a decision had been made. We have been duly warned of the potential for the rapid emergence of additional ICBM threats. In some cases, such as North Korea, the clock already appears to be ticking and a leisurely response would be unwise.

In addition, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has now stated publicly that a “rogue” state has test fired a ballistic missile at less than intercontinental range from a ship at sea. Consequently, it is a mistake to suggest that the missile threat to the United States is limited to ICBMs.

The fact that rogue missiles may be relatively unsophisticated is of no comfort. Accuracy is not required to threaten or to attack cities. Nor can any credibility be ascribed to the fre- quent, confident assertion that the chances of a rogue NBC missile attack are low. No one knows the probability of such an event. What

Dear Joseph,

A bipartisan consensus in Washington supports the proposition that missile defence should be a US defence spending priority, and the American public strongly favours missile-defence deployment, as it has for many years. Indeed, approximate- ly two-thirds of the American people believe they already are protected by missile defence. When the truth is revealed, most are not amused.

The most basic reason for making missile defence a priority is the emerging multifaceted ballistic mis- sile threat. The September 1999 pub- lic report from the National Intelligence Council, Foreign Missile Developments and the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States Through 2015, projected that: “During the next 15 years the United States most likely will face ICBM [intercontinental ballistic missile] threats from Russia, China and North Korea, probably from Iran, and possi- bly Iraq.” The report also noted that the proliferation of medium-range ballistic missiles “has created an

26 NATO review

Winter 2001/2002

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