National Missile Defense Questions


Richard L. Garwin

IBM Research Division
Thomas J. Watson Research Center
P.O. Box 218
Yorktown Heights, NY 10598
(914) 945-2555

Adjunct Professor of Physics,
Columbia University)

February 8-9, 1997

26th Pugwash Workshop on Nuclear Forces
"Nuclear Forces and the ABM Treaty"

The November 1995 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE 95-19) "Emerging Missile Threats to North America During the Next 15 Years" aroused much controversy and was attacked especially by advocates of deployment of a National Missile Defense. An Independent Panel appointed by Director of Central Intelligence Deutch reported at year-end 1996. The Panel included such experienced and broad-gauge individuals as Mr. Henry S. Rowen, former President of RAND Corporation; MGen Jasper Welch, former Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, and judged NIE 95-19 on the charges of Politicization, Process, and Presentation. Finding no hint of politicization, the Panel faulted the NIE on both process and presentation, arguing that a much better case could have been made AGAINST emerging ICBM threats to North America during the next 15 years than was indeed made in the NIE. The present paper for the Pugwash workshop reviews both the NIE and the Independent Panel review, and judges also that a National Missile Defense would not provide significant protection against small emerging nuclear forces which, rather than rely on ICBM-range ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads, are far more likely to employ ship-launched ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, or even harbor-sited nuclear weapons.
W023NMDQ                      012397NMDQ DRAFT 7                  01/31/97

Table of Contents

National Missile Defense Questions

  • Abstract.
  • Introduction.
  • National Intelligence Estimate on "Emerging Missile Threats... (NIE 95-19).
  • Recent Independent Panel Review of NIE 95-19.
  • Whether to deploy a National Missile Defense (NMD) of the U.S.
  • The Clinton Administration "3+3" Deployment Readiness Program.
  • The effectiveness of NMD systems.
  • Some remarks on Theater Missile Defense (TMD).
  • Even an effective NMD could not solve the rogue-state problem.
  • The ABM Treaty provides increased security at a lower level of potential destruction.
  • U.S.-Russian cooperative Missile Defense Systems?
  • A problem with sea-based boost-phase intercept?
  • Conclusions and recommendations.
  • DCI National Intelligence Estimate, President's Summary

  • NIE 95-19: Independent Panel Review of "Emerging Missile Threats to North America During the Next 15 Years"


    Ever since the 1991 Gulf War, there has been a strong emphasis in the United States on Theater Missile Defense (TMD) to counter the widespread availability of short-range ballistic missiles that might be used against U.S. forces engaged abroad, allied military powers, and population in allied countries. The U.S. Navy is also concerned about the vulnerability of its ships and wishes not only to improve its short-range defenses against cruise missiles and ballistic missiles, but to use its capability to provide defense to those identified elements on shore, to the extent that it can do so.

    It will be no surprise to the readers of this paper that the performance of the U.S. Patriot missile in Saudia Arabia and Israel was initially stated by then-President George Bush to be essentially perfect, but is now generally agreed to have been physically ineffective, if politically perhaps useful. But the stated performance of Patriot in 1991 without a valid logical connection and with invalid primary data, was taken to indicate both the vulnerability of U.S. territory to long-range missile attack and also to indicate the feasibility of effective defense against ballistic missiles carrying not only high-explosive but also nuclear, chemical, or biological warheads.

    This was quite an extrapolation and a leap of faith, which has been challenged on the technical side by Ted Postol and his colleagues, and which has led to significant controversy in the United States about the deployment of such national missile defenses (NMD). Arguments against NMD involve the high cost of such a system, the enthusiasm of proponents having been reduced, for instance, by a report of the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) of the U.S. Congress, indicating that such a system would cost $31-$60 billion to acquire, and also concern for the effectiveness of such a system, especially one that has as its task protecting all U.S. territory, including Hawaii and Alaska.

    Unusually for me, this will not be a technical discussion but rather one addressed to the question as to whether an NMD for the United States is necessary or desirable right now, and whether the approach adopted by the Clinton Administration-- to be three years away from a decision to deploy a system in another three years-- is a reasonable one.

    In my opinion, the demand by some proponents for NMD is interfering both with the acquisition of reasonable TMD capabilities and with the nuclear arms reduction process.

    Recent Independent Panel Review of NIE 95-19.

    National Intelligence Estimate on "Emerging Missile Threats... (NIE 95-19).

    In November 1995 a National Intelligence Estimate of the Director of Central Intelligence has (unusually) apparently been fully published and of this "NIE" the "President's Summary" is attached. This was obtained from the Internet (1) and is titled "Emerging Missile Threats to North America During the Next 15 Years (PS/NIE 95-19)". The report is dated November 1995 and has been much addressed in the newspapers.

    For our purposes I quote here some of the conclusions:

    Recent Independent Panel Review of NIE 95-19.

    A review of that National Intelligence Estimate has just appeared. (2) It was mandated by Congress that a review be carried out by an independent, non-governmental panel of individuals with appropriate expertise and experience. The Panel was convened by then Director of Central Intelligence (DCI) John M. Deutch and was chaired by former DCI Robert M. Gates. Among the members were Mr. Henry S. Rowen, former President of the RAND Corporation; MGen Jasper Welch, USAF (Ret.) previously Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development, and Acquisition USAF, and also Defense Policy Coordinator, National Research Council Staff.

    The Panel first addressed the question of "politicization of the NIE 95-19 and "found no evidence of politicization and is completely satisfied that the analysts' reviews were based on the evidence before them and their substantive analysis."

    As to process, the panel concluded that "Far from politicizing this Estimate, senior Intelligence Community managers failed adequately to alert analysts to the sensitivity of this Estimate, the uses to which it might be put in the policy debate, and thus the need to err on the side of comprehensiveness-- and the need to draft the Estimate with great care. ... not a politicized Estimate, but one that was politically naive."

    The Panel also criticized the NIE process for the uncertainty in setting the scope of the estimate. The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO-- successor to the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO))

    The Panel reveals that "After months of delay and slow work on the terms of reference, the loss of the original drafter, and the need to re-work an initially unsatisfactory first draft, final drafting of the Estimate was done in haste in the Fall of 1995 ..."

    As to Presentation, the experienced people on the Panel judged that a much stronger evidentiary and technical case underlies the Intelligence Community's conclusions with respect to the intercontinental ballistic missile threat than was presented in the Estimate:

    Both the Independent Panel Review and the President's Summary of NIE 95-19 are appended.

    Whether to deploy a National Missile Defense (NMD) of the U.S.

    I believe that support for the deployment of a National Missile Defense for the United States is of four types: In addition, there is a residue of the Reagan years' push to commit all possible funds so that they would not be available for social spending.

    The Clinton Administration "3+3" Deployment Readiness Program.
    In a letter (3) of June 5, 1996 to Cong. John Spratt, Deputy Secretary of Defense John P. White details the Deployment Readiness Program that will complete development and integrated system test in the year 1999, and with a deployment decision in year 2000 could be deployed by 2003. This would be a system nominally compliant with the ABM Treaty, with missiles based at a single site in North Dakota, with 100 hit-to-kill ("kinetic energy") interceptors. According to White, when complete "the system is projected to be able to defend all 50 states against a limited attack by a rogue nation." But "The system is not designed to protect against an unauthorized launch which might contain a large number of warheads (e.g., a full load of warheads from a Russian SSBN)."

    The deployment cost of this system would be some $7.5 B, following the $2.5 B already committed for development.

    The effectiveness of NMD systems.

    Even against one or a few nuclear-armed ICBMs, an NMD system relying on atmospheric discrimination would be vastly expensive, since it would need to be everywhere.

    Systems relying on mid-course intercept, using hit-to-kill interceptors, are readily defeated by large enclosing balloons, and it is incredible to assert that a nation can master ICBM and nuclear weapon technologies and be unable to provide an enclosing balloon for free fall in the vastness of space. Indeed, the John P. White letter notes that if the "complexity of the threats increases then the basic system is likely to provide poor protection of the United States."

    On the other hand, boost-phase intercept is relatively easy, if only one has physical access to the boost phase. It could be done by hit-to-kill interceptors launched from ground, sea, or air, or even from space. It would be possible, too, to use high-powered lasers from space if the booster were not adequately shielded, and if the weapon deployed in space were not destroyed by antisatellite warfare (ASAT).

    So-called "preboost-phase" intercept is especially effective against newly created ICBM forces, since the ICBMs will have been tested, take considerable time to ready for launch, and are especially vulnerable to modern conventional weapons in the process. No nation with a nascent ICBM force and nuclear weapons should be confident that they will not be destroyed long in advance by one or more nations of the world; the U.S. "Counterproliferation Initiative would include such options. For this purpose NMD is both unnecessary and peculiarly ineffective, unless boost-phase intercept can be implemented, as would be the case against North Korea, given access from the sea. This is likely to be of more interest for Theater Missile Defense, which we now discuss briefly.

    Some remarks on Theater Missile Defense (TMD).

    As emphasized by Moshe Ahrens and other Israeli government statesmen, Patriot killed few, if any, SCUD missiles launched against Israel by Iraq. That is not to say that Patriot is a poor anti-aircraft system or even that it is a poor anti-missile system, when properly modified. It does show some of the serious problems of achieving operational effectiveness with a non-nuclear interceptor.

    All of the SCUD payloads launched Israel and Saudi Arabia in 1991 were "unitary" high explosive-- that is, a single high explosive charge carried on the SCUD warhead to detonate on impact. Such warheads in the future, directed against military installations, could be handled by defensive systems of very short range. Countering their use against cities is a more difficult problem, but still one for which systems like Patriot upgrade should be reasonably effective in the terminal area.

    But even TMD systems are often advocated with the promise to counter missiles carrying chemical or biological payloads, and they problem there is that military effectiveness alone pushes the offense toward bomblets which could conveniently be made to re-enter independently, having been dispensed from the ballistic missile very early in flight.

    To the extent that one is concerned about chemical or biological attack with ballistic missiles, one wants to push the universalization of the BW Convention and the CW Convention, and commit the nations of the Earth to retaliate against any military use or possession of BW or CW.

    Paradoxically, it is the relatively ineffective unitary high explosive warhead and the highly effective nuclear warheads that might be individually intercepted in the terminal area. But the standard of performance required of a defense that has the responsibility of countering a nuclear warheads is very high, and there, too, the first line of defense is to prevent the acquisition of nuclear weapon capability. Still, both terminal-area TBM against missiles of short range and boost-phase intercept capability are feasible and desirable. The first need not interact with the ABM Treaty of 1972, while the second poses some problems for SLBMs, but not, perhaps, for ICBMs.

    Even an effective NMD could not solve the rogue-state problem.

    As a technical person, I would find it far easier to attack cities in Hawaii, Alaska, or in the continental United States with a nuclear weapon carried by a short-range ballistic missile launched from a cargo container on the deck of a ship, rather than an ICBM. And it would be even simpler to detonate that weapon within its container or in the hold of a ship, as it was entering the harbor. As for biological agents, it seems far more effective to distribute them at ground level from an appropriate dispenser, letting the wind carry the agent to the target, than to send it in a unitary BW package. We have already discussed that a system that dispensed hundreds of bomblets early in flight would not be vulnerable to mid-course or terminal intercept, and an ABM system would have no capability at all to prevent dissemination of BW from the ground.

    The ABM Treaty provides increased security at a lower level of potential destruction.

    One does not need to rehearse in Pugwash the analysis of the 1960s that took account of the enormous destructiveness of a strategic nuclear weapon in contrast with the fallibility of those systems proposed to defend against ballistic missiles. Even in the 1990s, and especially with the non-nuclear-armed interceptors, I believe no system has been proposed for NMD that would satisfy the Nitze criteria (4) that it be effective, survivable, and "cost-effective at the margin." This last means that at an acceptable level of protection, it must cost more to overcome the defense than to enhance it.

    The fact that Russia is not racing to rebuild its strategic missile forces, is no guide to what would happen if the United States apparently or actually undertook to deploy defenses while still retaining nuclear strike forces. Russia could not believe that her own defenses would work, and the United States should not believe that U.S. defenses would work either. Nevertheless, it is not precluded that the overall effectiveness of the systems will be much exaggerated in order to justify the funds required. We all remember President Bush at the Raytheon plant describing the sterling performance of the Patriot system-- 41 SCUDs; 41 kills (would you believe four, or one, or zero?).

    U.S.-Russian cooperative Missile Defense Systems?

    Since the ABM Treaty is a bilateral U.S.-Soviet agreement of 1972 (now involving also the other successor republics to the Soviet Union, but on a relatively minor scale), there is no doubt that the ABM Treaty could legally be amended by the U.S. and its Treaty partners. But that would happen only if both sides found it in their interest to do so. Until that time, the ABM Treaty will continue to ban mobile land-based ABM, and ABM that is air-based, sea-based, or space-based.

    It would be entirely possible, however, for the U.S. and Russia to agree that certain specified systems are excluded from the constraints of the ABM Treaty-- for instance, systems of multiple unguided rockets that might have an effective range of 1 km or so for silo defense against nuclear attack.

    Alternatively, some boost-phase intercept systems inherently capable of attacking strategic ballistic missiles if the interceptors were in the launch region, could be agreed by Russia and the U.S. to be irrelevant and exempt from ABM Treaty constraints, because the U.S. and Russian ICBMs are sufficiently far in the interior of the nations that they would not be vulnerable to any such boost-phase intercept located outside the national territory. This would open the way for deploying such system on ships.

    Recent Independent Panel Review of NIE 95-19.

    A problem with sea-based boost-phase intercept?
    One of the reasons for maintaining large patrol areas for SLBMs is to avoid a vulnerability to sea-based intercept. For many decades there has been a low-level concern that the other side would deploy in the patrol areas ships loaded with nuclear-armed interceptors that could detect and destroy the highly visible SLBMs as they are launched. Unlike U.S. and Russian ICBM launch facilities, all SLBM patrol areas are in international waters, so that there is no legal bar to such interceptor ships, except for the ABM Treaty.

    In the short run, a cooperative BPI system could even so be built and deployed if Russians were present to observe (and prevent) unauthorized positioning or use of the sea-based BPI capability present on U.S. ships, and U.S. personnel were present on Russian ships. While this seems feasible in the short run, a worsening of relations between the two countries could lead to the severing of such cooperation. On the other hand, the United States appears to be confident that its submarines could patrol anywhere and for the most part would be out of range of such sea-based BPI capabilities. Whether the Russians have such confidence in the freedom and undetectability of their submarines is not known.

    Conclusions and recommendations.

    For Theater Missile threats carrying militarily efficient chemical or biological payloads (i.e., those in hundreds of bomblets dispersed at the end of the missile boost phase), proposed TMD are irrelevant and ineffective-- no better than protective charms. Nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles would be protected against hit-to-kill exoatmospheric intercept like that planned for the "3+3" Deployment Readiness Program if they were enclosed in large balloons at the end of boost phase, so that an intercept would punch a hole in the balloon but not strike the warhead. Furthermore, an ICBM-range threat to the United States from emerging nuclear powers is at least 15 years away and would give very visible warning in time to take countermeasures-- the least important of which is probably a National Missile Defense.

    Truly urgent actions that should be taken by the United States and the vast majority of other nations should implement and universalize the Chemical Weapon Convention and the Biological Weapon Convention, ratify and bring into force the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty of 1996, and preserve the ABM Treaty of 1972. The community of nations must prepare plans and policy to enforce adherence to the CWC and BWC, which measures would be good preparation for similar actions in support of a Nuclear Weapons Convention if that can be brought into force. As for the nuclear weapons themselves, measures should be taken by Russia and the United States to reduce the alert status of strategic nuclear forces, to adopt a no-first-use policy for nuclear weapons and to resume with urgency negotiations to ban antisatellite weapons (ASAT) and the stationing in space of weapons of any kind.

    PS/NIE 95-19 Emerging Missile Threats to North America During the Next 15 Years

    DCI National Intelligence Estimate
    President's Summary

    Emerging Missile Threats to North America During the Next 15 Years

    Secret NOFORN Rel CAN (As published in The Washington TImes May 14, 1996)
    PS/NIE 95-19
    November 1995

    No country, other than the major declared nuclear powers, will develop or otherwise acquire a ballistic missile in the next 15 years that could threaten the contiguous 48 states and Canada.

    Ballistic missile programs of other countries are focused on regional security concerns and are not expected to evolve into threats to North America during the period of this estimate.

    We are likely to detect any indigenous long-range ballistic missile program many years before deployment.

    We expect countries that currently have ICBMs will not sell them. Each of the countries either is a Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) member or has agreed to abide by its terms and recognizes that transfer of an intercontinental range missile would show blatant disregard for the regime. Also, countries probably would be concerned that any missiles sold might some day be turned against them.

    Similarly, we do not believe any country with space launch vehicles will sell them. Furthermore, if a country were to purchase an SLV, converting it to an ICBM would involve technological obstacles roughly as challenging as those involved in an indigenous ICBM program.

    We see no indications, and think it unlikely, that any potentially hostile nation will develop submarine-launched ballistic missiles over the period of this estimate.[1] Launching ballistic missiles from surface vessels or aircraft is so technically challenging as to be a highly unlikely approach.

    Cruise Missiles

    By 2005, several countries, including some hostile toward the United States, probably will acquire land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs) with ranges of hundreds kilometers. A cruise missile attack on North America by a Third World country, using ships (or possibly aircraft) off the coast as launch platforms, would be technically feasible. However, we think such an act is unlikely because of the perceived difficulty of ensuring mission success. It is extremely unlikely any Third World country would acquire submarine-launched LACMs and use them against North America because of the technological sophistication required and the difficulty of deploying submarines far from home port.

    Because of the size and nature of cruise missile systems, as well as the hard-to-detect signatures associated with flight testing, LACM development programs can be easily hidden, thus limiting our confidence in early detection.

    Export Controls

    The MTCR significantly limits the availability of missiles, components, and related technology. We project it will continue to serve as a substantial barrier to countries interested in acquiring ballistic missiles, but some leakage of components and critical technologies will likely continue. Because of their relatively greater dual-use nature, technology and components applicable to LACMs will proliferate more widely than those for ballistic missiles.

    Unauthorized or Accidental Launch

    We conclude that the current threat to North America from unauthorized or accidental launch of Russian or Chinese strategic missiles remains remote and has not changed significantly from that of the past decade. However, we are less confident about the future, in view of the fluid political situations in both countries. If there were a severe political crisis in either country control of the nuclear command structure could become less certain, increasing the possibility of an unauthorized launch. Nevertheless the possibility would remain quite low.

    Prepared under the auspices of David J. Osias, national intelligence officer for strategic programs and nuclear proliferation. Inquiries may be directed to the NIO on ___.

    Footnote 1: India is planning submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM) with a 300-km range for deployment by 2010.

    Gates Panel on NIE 95-19

    Central Intelligence Agency Washington. D C. 20505

    OCA 96-1908
    23 December 1996

    The Honorable Arlen Specter
    Select Committee on Intelligence
    United States Senate
    Washington, D.C. 20510

    Dear Mr. Chairman:

    The Intelligence Community has completed its classification review of the Independent Panel's report on NIE 95-19: "Emerging Missile Threats to North America During the Next 15 Years." Enclosed is the unclassified version of the panel's report. The Chairman of the ' panel, former DCI Robert Gates, testified on the judgments of the report before Senate Select Committee on Intelligence in a public hearing on 4 December 1996.

    Please feel free to contact me if you have any further questions on this matter.


    John H. Moseman
    Director of Congressional Affairs



    Congress directed the Director of Central Intelligence to review the underlying assumptions and conclusions of National Intelligence Estimate 95-19, "Emerging Missile Threats to North America During the Next 15 Years." The legislation required that this review be carried out by an independent, non-governmental panel of individuals with appropriate expertise and experience. To comply with the legislation, DCI Deutch asked former Director of Central Intelligence Robert M. Gates to chair the Panel. The other members included Ambassador Richard Armitage, now engaged in a range of worldwide business and policy endeavors. Past experiences include service as Coordinator for Emergency Humanitarian Assistance to the former Soviet Union in 1992, Presidential Special Negotiator for the Philippines Base Agreement in 1989, and Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs in 1983; Dr. Sidney Drell, Professor and Deputy Director, Stanford Linear Accelerator Center, Member, President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, past Chairman, SSCI Technology Review Panel, and HASC Panel on Nuclear Weapons Safety; Dr. Arnold Kanter, a Senior Associate at the Forum for International Policy in Washington, DC He has served as Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Special Assistant to the President for Defense Policy and Arms Control at the National Security Council, and in private industry he directed the national security strategies program at the Rand Corporation. Dr. Janne E. Nolan, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, Adjunct Professor at Georgetown University, past senior designee to the Senate Armed Services Committee, and member of the President Clinton National Security Transition Team; Mr. Henry S. Rowen, Professor Emeritus with the Graduate School of Business Administration at Stanford University, past President of the Rand Corporation, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, and Chairman of the National Intelligence Council; and Major General Jasper Welch, USAF (Ret), a private consultant to government and industry; he previously served as Assistant Deputy Chief of Staff for Research, Development, and Acquisition, Assistant Chief of Staff for Studies and Analysis, Headquarters, USAF, and Defense Policy Coordinator, National Security Council Staff. The conclusions of the panel are organized under three issues: politicization, process, and presentation. These have the unanimous support of the panel members.


    Certain Members of Congress alleged that NIE 95-19 had been "politicized," implying that Intelligence Community analysts' views had been influenced by policymakers or individual policy preferences seeking to downplay an emerging missile threat. The Panel found no evidence of politicization and is completely satisfied that the analysts' views were based on the evidence before them and their substantive analysis. There was no breach of the integrity of the intelligence process. Beyond this, the Panel believes that unsubstantiated allegations challenging the integrity of Intelligence Community analysts by those who simply disagree with their conclusions, including Members of Congress, are irresponsible. Intelligence forecasts do not represent "revealed truth," and it should be possible to disagree with them without attacking the character and integrity of those who prepared them--or the integrity of the intelligence process itself.


    1. While the conclusions of a National Intelligence Estimate must not be influenced by policy debates or views, Estimates cannot be prepared in a political vacuum--at least if they are to be relevant. Particularly when controversial issues are involved, it is the task of senior Intelligence Community officials to ensure that an Estimate addresses its subject matter in such a way as to anticipate questions and potential criticisms while fully protecting the integrity of the intelligence process. It also is the job of senior Intelligence Community officials to ensure that the outcome of an Estimate is not predetermined by the way in which the policy requester asks the question. While an Estimate must answer and give a best estimate in response to the question asked, senior intelligence officials must make certain that the Estimate addresses the issue in a comprehensive manner that provides both perspective and context. When the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) and Space Command quite legitimately request an Estimate on future missile threats, senior intelligence officials must recognize that the Estimate is likely to be a political football. They should take special steps to ensure that an Estimate with conclusions which may be unwelcome to a policy requester--or which alters previous judgments--provides unusually comprehensive analysis, clearly states the reasons for any change in previous judgments, explores alternative scenarios, and is candid about uncertainties and shortcomings in evidence. In the case of NIE 95-19 far from politicizing this Estimate, senior Intelligence Community managers failed adequately to alert analysts to the sensitivity of this Estimate, the uses to which it might be put in the policy debate, and thus the need to err on the side of comprehensiveness--and the need to draft the Estimate with great care. There was too much of a hands-off approach by senior management in the preparation of this Estimate. The result was not a politicized Estimate but one that was politically naive.

    2. There were continuing changes in the title of the Estimate. This may have been due simply to editorial changes from original request to final draft, but also may have reflected uncertainty about the scope of the Estimate. At minimum, what were seemingly minor changes narrowed the scope of the Estimate and opened the way for embarrassing criticism. BMDO asked for an Estimate on the foreign missile threat to the United States. Space Command asked for an Estimate on the ballistic missile and cruise missile threat to North America and to theater deployed forces and allies. The Estimate ultimately focused only on North America, devoted inadequate attention to the cruise missile problem, and did not address the missile threat to theater and allied forces at all (as requested by Space Command). The failure to more fully consider Alaska and Hawaii (where, everyone knows, an attack provoked American entry into World War II] was foolish from every possible perspective. In sum, the failure to get the scope of the Estimate framed correctly set the stage for future problems.

    3. After months of delay and slow work on the terms of reference, the loss of the original drafter, and the need to rework an initially unsatisfactory first draft, final drafting of the Estimate was done in haste in the fall of 1995. A likely controversial Estimate, as the Senior Review Panel warned in November 1995, that should have been drafted with unusual care and thorough analysis, was rushed to completion. This haste led to many of the presentational and analytical problems our Panel identified.


    The Panel identified a number of problems in this Estimate-- problems we elaborate below. But, based on our investigation and study of relevant documents, perhaps the most serious deficiency is that the Intelligence Community's conclusions in the NIE with respect to the intercontinental ballistic missile threat to the United States are based on a stronger evidentiary and technical case than was presented in the Estimate. The Vice Chairman for Estimates of the National Intelligence Council on October 12, 1995, and the Senior Review Panel on November 28, 1995, both warned in so many words that the analysis was too thin for such an important Estimate. While there may have been some effort to be responsive to these cautions, it was clearly superficial and inadequate. (U)

    There was much that could have been added to the main text of the Estimate that would have strengthened the analysts' case with respect to the future timing of an intercontinental ballistic missile threat to the United States:

    1. A review of successful ballistic missile programs in other countries such as China, India and even the Soviet Union and the United States would have shown the lengthy time required to develop and test a ballistic missile with intercontinental range (even to Hawaii). For these countries, with vastly larger resources than North Korea, their very different paths to development took many years and numerous flight tests. For example, China took more than 20 years to develop its CSS-3 ICBM. India's Polar Satellite Launch

    Vehicle took more than 15 years to develop.

    2. The Estimate failed to point out that development of a ballistic missile that could threaten the US ' involves two separate challenges: acquisition of the hardware and system integration. Community analysts make a strong case that even if foreign countries were clandestinely to acquire critical technologies and hardware, integrating that hardware into their missiles would be a major and time-consuming challenge, even with foreign engineering help. In addition, the difficulty of developing an effective WMD warhead capable of surviving missile launch and reentry, and integrating it onto a multi-stage intercontinental ballistic missile poses additional challenges.

    3. The text of the Estimate should have presented more information on the technical obstacles to development of an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the United States. Some of this is in the Estimate, but much more-relating to propulsion, re-entry vehicles, guidance, staging, the technical challenges in moving from a SCUD missile derivative to an ICBM, and more--is in the back-up materials for the Estimate.

    4. The Estimate did not highlight at the outset where the Intelligence Community's analysis had changed since the last Estimate and, with specificity, why it had changed. Some years ago, the annual Estimate on Soviet strategic forces began with a summarized version of what was new and what had changed from the year before. This helps the reader know what has happened and what to look for in the detailed analysis.

    5. The Estimate does not highlight what elements of a strategic range ballistic missile program must be done in the open, where they can be observed with some confidence; what elements of a program the Intelligence Community believes it will know about with confidence; and what elements we may well not know about and how critical they are.

    6. The Estimate was not as categorical as it could have been that there would have to be a flight test of any missile actually intended to hit the United States. No country in the world has developed a long-range ballistic missile with multiple stages without testing it, if for only demonstration purposes. (Moreover, the Panel cannot imagine any country placing a biological or nuclear warhead--using perhaps most of a rogue state's fissile material--on an untested missile and lighting it off. The risk of unsuccessful delivery or launch failure with potentially severe local consequences would be very high.) Further, virtually every flight test program for a new missile has lasted several years--no matter which country has developed it. In short, if any country is developing a ballistic missile that could reach the United States -- any of the fifty states--they will test it. The Community also would help policymakers by providing information on how long a time passed in China, India and elsewhere between the first flight test and initial operating capability (and for that matter, between the first successful flight test and initial operating capability).

    7. The Estimate should have pointed out that missile development programs and weapons of mass destruction programs in other countries represent one of the highest priority issues for US intelligence agencies. As such, both collection and analysis--and estimating--will be ongoing, with regular reports to the Executive and Legislative Branches of government. Policymakers can have high confidence that any development of interest in this arena will be reported promptly. In this light, the Estimate should have provided to policymakers what analysts will be looking for as evidence of progress in such missile programs. It also should provide an estimate of minimum likely times from observation of such new development to the IOC of a deployed threat.

    Although the Panel was impressed by the technical analysis and broad agreement across the Intelligence Community, and we found the Community view on ballistic missile programs quite persuasive (more so than the Estimate), there were nonetheless some very important weaknesses and deficiencies in the analytical approach:

    a. Perhaps most important among the deficiencies was the failure to address adequately the motives and objectives of the governments developing missile programs, and how they affect technology needs. The brief discussion of motive focuses entirely on deterrence and prestige.

    Intelligence Community estimates on weapons programs and strategic capabilities traditionally have been prepared by technical analysts. In the days of the Soviet Union, strategic forces estimates for years tended to avoid questions of doctrine and purpose, in no small part because there were no clear answers, and the issues were so violently disputed. Given the size of Soviet forces, capability was considered all-important and most policymakers did not object to the technical focus of those estimates.

    With the ballistic missile programs we are seeing now, however, motive matters a great deal, and can significantly affect technology. What is required technically for a crude terror weapon is very different than what is required for a weapon that is militarily useful. Placing the issue in recent historical context, what is required in terms of guidance and control from a missile launched from Iraq and targeted simply on the city of Tehran is quite different than what is needed to hit a specific military base or target in or near Tehran. Indeed it is conceivable to the Panel that a country might assemble a missile that appears to have intercontinental range but never test it, in order to intimidate the US or other countries from taking action.

    With respect to ballistic missiles of strategic range, motive and how that might affect technology is given short shrift in the Estimate because operational capability is judged so far into the future.

    b. By contrast, the Panel believes the Estimate did not give nearly enough attention to the potential for land-attack cruise missiles launched from within several hundred miles of US territory The Estimate acknowledges the technical feasibility of such an attack, but discounts the likelihood because of motive--the Community thinks there are better ways to deliver a weapon of mass destruction. In sum, there is an inconsistency in the Estimate in its treatment of ballistic and cruise missiles. The former is technologically infeasible now from North Korea or Iran (or others) and thus motive is unimportant. The latter is technologically feasible, but dismissed because the analysts don't know why anyone would want to do that. (The Panel discussed several possible reasons and scenarios.)

    c. This inconsistency brought us to another problem: on a challenge as important as the emerging missile threat to North America, the Estimate fails to ask a critical question: what if our potential adversaries pursue approaches--technical or otherwise- unexpected by the Intelligence Community? While in this specific Estimate the Community has a strong analytical case, the consequences of being wrong are very high. This problem cries out for an Intelligence Community commissioned Red Team, a group of technically innovative men and women challenged to explore alternative approaches that could lead to a missile threat-ballistic or cruise--to the US earlier than 2010. And to keep on doing it in order to assure there will be adequate time for appropriate US responses to any observation of a new potential threat.

    d. The Panel also believes that the possibility of a sea-based ballistic missile of less than intercontinental range warrants more attention than given in the Estimate. The' Estimate's assessment of the ballistic missile threat to North America concentrates almost exclusively on ballistic missiles with intercontinental range. Consideration of scenarios involving crude Sea-launched ballistic missiles (e.g., Scud-derived missiles launched from mobile launchers driven aboard transport ships) is limited. Since developing missiles with sufficient range was identified as one of the most difficult technical obstacles which would have to be overcome before North America would face an ICBM threat, the lack of serious attention to possible SLBM threats is all the more noteworthy.

    e. The Panel believes the Estimate places too much of a burden on the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) as a means of limiting the flow of missile technology to rogue states. In our view, actions by Russia and especially China to constrain ICBM missile technology transfers have a great deal more to do with evident self-interest than in international stigma. We acknowledge (and believe) that the MTCR has been a positive influence, especially in identifying key technologies, getting mutual agreement that transfer of those technologies should not be allowed, making such transfers a legitimate issue for diplomatic discussion, and imposing political costs for violators. However, compliance with MTCR is completely voluntary and each country makes its own decisions.

    f. With major forces of change still at play in Russia, the Panel believes the Estimate's discussion of unauthorized launch is superficial and may be overly sanguine. All agree that a launch unauthorized by the Russian political leadership is a remote possibility. But it would appear to be technically possible.

    g. In this connection, the Panel notes that deteriorating conditions inside Russia for the military, the military industrial complex, and for weapons design and engineering institutions all increase the danger of leakage of hardware and expertise that could fuel? governments aspiring to develop ballistic missiles, cruise missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

    h. In sum, the estimate too easily dismisses missile scenarios alternative to an indigenously developed and launched intercontinental ballistic missile by countries hostile to the US, such as, for example, a land attack cruise missile. It should have assured policymakers that this issue will receive continuing high priority, and that all possible technical alternatives will be investigated vigorously and time to respond can be provided. In international affairs, 15 years is a very long time. A decade ago, the notion that the Soviet Union would collapse add disappear within five years would have been regarded by most as ridiculous. The United States cannot rule out the possibility of a strategic change of direction or policy in Russia or China--or in other countries- over a fifteen-year span of time that might lead to the sale of a long-range missile system to a Third World country. Nor can the US rule out that potential adversaries will turn to missile threats other than ballistic missiles of intercontinental range. However, the Panel believes the Intelligence Community has a strong case that, for sound technical reasons, the United States is unlikely to face an indigenously developed and tested intercontinental ballistic missile threat from the Third World before 2010, even taking into account the acquisition of foreign hardware and technical assistance. That case is even stronger than presented in the NIE.


    (1) (maintained by John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists).

    (2) (also courtesy of John Pike).

    (3) Available at

    (4) (advanced by Paul H. Nitze at the height of the SDI enthusiasm)