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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 65, July - August 2002

News Review

US Prepares to Shake Off ABM Treaty

Pentagon officials are eagerly anticipating formal US release from the bounds of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty on June 13, the expiration of the six-month notice to withdraw given by President Bush on December 13 last year. In an interview with the Associated Press on May 14, Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, Director of the Defense Department's Missile Defense Agency (MDA), revealed that work on constructing underground silos, intended to house interceptor-missile systems, would begin at Fort Greely in Alaska on June 14. The MDA hopes to begin operation of a 'test bed' facility at the site by 2004. In late July, Kadish added, a ship-borne Aegis radar system - "specifically prohibited by the treaty" - will be deployed in a missile-intercept test. In the Director's assessment, the new freedom to test, develop and deploy is urgently required. Referring to the likelihood of a limited attack on the United States with ballistic missiles, possibly armed with WMD, Kadish stated: "It's only a matter of time, from my point of view, that we'll be facing this threat, up close and personal, I'm afraid. The last thing I want is to have the equivalent of a September 11 with a missile delivery of some sort, because that means we weren't able to meet our timelines. ... Missile defense technology is tough. We talk about hitting a bullet with a bullet. In reality, you're hitting something much faster - three, four, five times faster than a bullet. ... What's unique about this period is that we're at a crossroads. The technologies we've invested in are coming to the point where they can be useful in putting together effective defenses. ... We're three, four, five, six years away from having these kinds of defenses against long-range missiles. The only question is whether or not we'll be threatened before we have them in place. I worry about that a lot." Kadish also laid stress on the importance, "over the next five to seven years", of testing and developing space-based lasers and missile-interceptor systems.

Writing in the May edition of Arms Control Today, Philip Coyle, a senior adviser at the Center for Defense Information and from 1994-2001 the Pentagon's Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, warned that the US was highly likely to miss its own deadline for the entry into service of systems capable of defending against long-range ballistic missile attack: "[A] lot has happened in missile defense in the first years or so of the Bush administration. But have these actions brought the United States any closer to realizing its missile defense goals, especially deployment of a national missile defense? And what elements, if any, of a national missile defense capability might it be possible for the United States to deploy by 2008, as called for in the Nuclear Posture Review?"

Coyle answers his questions: "[T]he only system likely to be ready by 2008 is a ground-based theater missile defense intended to counter short-range targets - i.e., a system to defend troops in the field. Before Bush leaves office, the only system that could conceivably be ready to defend the United States itself is the ground-based midcourse system [as envisaged in Alaska] pursued by the Clinton administration. None of the other elements mentioned in the Nuclear Posture Review as possible defenses against strategic ballistic missiles is likely to be ready by 2008." In Coyle's summary, these "other elements" are: "an air-based laser to shoot down missiles of all ranges during their boost phase", "a sea-based system with rudimentary midcourse capability against short- and medium-range threats", "terminal defenses against long-range ICBMs capable of reaching the United States", and "a system of satellites to track enemy missiles and distinguish re-entry vehicles [warheads] from decoys". Of the basis of a detailed, system-by-system analysis, Coyle concludes that "the Bush administration should not base its foreign policy on the assumption that during its tenure it will be able to deploy defenses to protect the United States from strategic missiles."

Reports: Rhetoric or reality? Missile defense under Bush, by Philip Coyle, Arms Control Today, May 2002; National missile defense unlikely by 2008, expert says, Global Security Newswire, May 6; Quotes from missile program chief, Associated Press, May 14; Missile defense chief - work on missile interceptor silos in Alaska will begin on day US withdraws from treaty, Associated Press, May 14; Pentagon on track for key missile defense tests, Reuters, May 14; Alaska work to begin in June, Associated Press, May 15.

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© 2002 The Acronym Institute.