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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 30, September 1998

Missile Defence Developments

On 9 September, legislation in the US Senate urging the deployment of a National Missile Defence (NMD) system in the United States as soon technologically feasible narrowly failed to be put to a final vote. A motion calling for such a vote to be taken was supported by 59 Senators - all 55 Republican Senators, plus Democratic Senators Inouye (Alaska), Akaka (Hawaii), Hollings (South Carolina) and Lieberman (Connecticut). Although only 41 Senators opposed the move, 60 votes were required to enable the measure to proceed. Similar legislation last year was defeated at the same stage, by the same margin.

On 2 September, Air Force General Lester Lyles, the Director of the Defense Department's Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), spoke candidly to reporters about the financial costs likely to be involved in the development and deployment of any NMD system:

"The one key thing we are focusing on is affordability. ... When we started all these missile programs they were done from a valid sense of urgency, but one thing that was not really factored into them was how to try and control cost up front. ... [N]ow we are beginning to see that we are going to have a huge, huge bill in the future for missile defense and [some systems] may not be affordable."

The programme to develop feasible NMD systems is also encountering consistent and severe technical difficulties - in particular, the thus far ill-fated Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system being developed for the Army by Lockheed-Martin. The system has so far suffered five out of five test-failures, and Lockheed-Martin has agreed to pay $75 million if three out of the next five tests also fail (see last issue). The Financial Year 1999 Defence Authorization Act, agreed by Congress on 1 October (see below), strongly backs THAAD, and allocates $527.4 million to it. $29.6 million of this allocation is to back any decision by the Defense department to bring a second developing company into the programme. Congressional backing for such a move will be required, however, and under the terms of the Authorization Act the Defense Secretary will have to report to Congress on the situation before 15 February 1999.

During his 2 September press conference, General Lyles revealed that further test-flights of THAAD were being delayed for between 18 months and 2 years to allow for the construction of replacement missiles. According to Lyles: "there are quality-control problems [with THAAD], and these have to do with the current set of missiles... The missile is the only thing that's been a problem with the program." The announcement greatly alarming many members of Congress, among them Representative Curt Weldon (Republican - Pennsylvania), the Chair of the House National Security Committee Research & Development Subcommittee, who stated (3 September): "I am extremely concerned by the potential for further delay in the 2006 deployment date for THAAD... [W]e cannot afford a two-year hiatus in the development of this system." The Clinton Administration has set 2006 as the date at which decisions on deployment of NMD systems will begin to be made.

US-Japan Cooperation

On 20 September, a meeting of the so-called US-Japan '2+2 Security Council' - composed of US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Defense Secretary William Cohen, and Japanese Foreign Minister, Masahiko Komura, and Director-General of the Defence Agency, Fukushiro Nukaga - agreed to intensify the cooperation between the two States on ballistic missile defence matters. According to reports, the focus of the intensified effort will be research into a 'Navy Theater of War Defense,' envisaging the deployment of interceptor-missiles, to be fired from Japanese naval vessels, destroying incoming ballistic missiles at high altitudes. Reports also specified the division-of-labour between the two States: Japanese research will concentrate on systems to detect incoming missiles, while the US will concentrate on the interceptor-missiles. Japan is set to spend $148 million (20 billion yen) on missile-defence over the next five years.

The 20 September agreement was reported in the 27 September edition of the Asahi Shimbun newspaper as a Memorandum of Understanding; the paper quoted Kurt Campbell, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Defense for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, as using that term in Congressional testimony on 24 September. However, on 28 September Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka stated: "There is no such memorandum. The Foreign Ministry made inquiries to the US about it and they denied it." The agreement "was not the Government's formal decision," he added, but an agreement on broad policy objectives and commitments.

US-Israel Cooperation

On 21 September, a US-Israeli Interparliamentary Commission, meeting in Washington, issued a statement urging greater cooperation between their two Governments on ballistic missile defence issues. Specifically, according to Defense Daily, a statement issued by the Commission read:

"The missile threat from hostile States is grave, immediate and growing more serious over time. It is in the interests of both countries to deploy effective defenses against this threat. ...

The gap between the maturity of theater missile threats and the maturity of defense systems subjects our countries to serious risk. Arrow [the Arrow-2 anti-missile system currently being jointly developed] is helping to narrow the gap, but unless higher priority and greater urgency attach to our missile defense efforts generally, the gap is more likely to widen than close."

It would be valuable for our two countries to intensify efforts - jointly or separately - to develop the capability to intercept missiles in the boost phase."

Reports: US missile defense cost will be 'huge' - General, Reuters, 2 September; Missiles blamed in test failures, Associated Press, 3 September; BMDO may delay THAAD flights for two years, Defense Daily, 4 September; BMDO chief seeking affordable missile systems, Defense Daily, 7 September; Congressional Report, United States Information Service, 9 September; Senate fails to approve legislation supporting missile defense system, Chicago Tribune, 10 September; US to help Israel with defense, Associated Press, 15 September; US, Japan mull missile defense plan, Associated Press, 20 September; US, Japan to study missile defense, Associated Press, 20 September; US-Israeli panel seeks more cooperation on missile defenses, Defense Daily, 21 September; Saying THAAD a high priority, conferees fund second source, Defense Daily, 24 September; Govt denies Japan, US signed note on TMD research, Kyodo, 28 September; Japan takes step toward missile defense, Nikkei, 28 September.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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