Copyright 2001 Council on Foreign Relations, Inc.
November, 2001 / December, 2001
SECTION: 9/11 AND AFTER; Pg. 31
LENGTH: 5705 words
HEADLINE: Preparing for the Next Attack
BYLINE: William J.
Perry; WILLIAM J.
PERRY, Professor in the Department of Management Science and Engineering at Stanford
University, served as U.S. Secretary of Defense from 1994 to 1997.
THE NATURE OF THE PROBLEM
IN THE WAKE of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, America
has been mourning its dead and tending to its wounded. But the country also
has been building up an angry resolve to respond to this outrage against
humanity, and a pragmatic resolve to reduce its vulnerability to future
attacks. The world has seen just how terrible the consequences can be when
terrorists have the hatred to murder innocent civilians, the resources to
coordinate and conduct systematic operations, and the fanaticism to sacrifice
their own lives. The evil genius who conceived of using a passenger airplane
in kamikaze mode calculated that its 200,000 pounds of jet fuel would make it a
weapon of mass destruction. And so it was, with more than 3,000 deaths
resulting from each plane used against the World Trade Center, more than ten
times the fatality rate caused by past attacks with truck bombs.
The United States can take many actions to make this sort of attack more
difficult to carry out, and it will do so, despite the inconvenience and
expense. But as Washington moves to reduce the vulnerabilities exposed by the
last strike, it should also try to anticipate the next one. As deadly as the
World Trade Center disaster was, it could have produced a hundredfold more
victims if the terrorists had possessed nuclear or biological weapons. And the
future threat could come from hostile nations as well as terrorists.
Nuclear or biological weapons in the hands of terrorists or rogue states
constitute the greatest single danger to American security -- indeed, to world
security -- and a threat that is becoming increasingly less remote. Several
nations hostile to the United States are already engaged in covert programs to
develop nuclear weapons, and multinational terrorist groups have demonstrated
both by word and by
deed that their goal is to kill Americans and destroy symbols of American
power. Such terrorists have escalated their methods from truck bombs to the
near equivalent of a tactical nuclear weapon, and they clearly have the
motivation to go further up the ladder of destruction. Indeed, Osama bin Ladin
has told his followers that the acquisition of weapons of mass destruction is a
"religious duty." The only question is whether they will succeed.
Since the end of the Cold War, the barriers to success have been lowered. The
know-how for making nuclear weapons is increasingly available through the
Internet. Security controls on the huge supply of nuclear weapons (which
number in the tens of thousands) and fissile material (amounting to hundreds of
tons) are becoming increasingly uncertain. And the thriving black market in
fissile material suggests that demand is high. In the next few years this
combination of forces could result in a nuclear incident with results
more catastrophic than the destruction wreaked by the Hiroshima and Nagasaki
bombs, which together killed an estimated 200,000 people.
A nuclear attack's capacity for destruction is familiar by now, but recent
simulations indicate that an attack with smallpox germs could cause just as
many deaths. Futhermore, there is good reason to fear that biological weapons
could become the weapon of choice for terrorists. They can be produced without
the massive infrastructure required for their nuclear counterparts, and
biotechnology pharmaceutical developments are proliferating these production
techniques. Hostile groups that cannot develop their own weapons, meanwhile,
may be able to buy them through illicit channels. The Soviet Union produced a
large supply of biological weapons during the Cold War, some of which may still
be available. China, North Korea, and Iraq have all had biological weapons
programs, as did the Aum Shinrikyo cult
in Japan, which in 1995 released a chemical weapon, sarin, in a deadly attack
on Tokyo's subways.
Finally, the threat posed by long-range missiles has received much attention.
But a long-range missile in the hands of a hostile force does not pose a
significant new danger unless the missile has a nuclear or biological warhead.
Nuclear and biological weapons, in contrast, are dangerous even in the absence
of missiles, since they can be delivered by a range of methods, including
trucks, cargo ships, boats, and airplanes. Indeed, given its attractions,
covert rather than overt delivery is not only feasible, it is the most likely
method of attack.
Considering the level of catastrophe that could occur in a nuclear or
biological attack, mitigating such threats should be an overriding security
priority today, just as heading off a nuclear attack was an overriding priority
during the Cold War. In that era the United States essentially depended on a
single strategy: deterrence. Now it can add two other strategies to the mix --
prevention (curbing emergent threats before they can spread) and defense.
Rather than relying exclusively on any one strategy, the sensible approach is
to deploy a balanced mix of all three. Missile defense should be one element
of national policy, but if the single-minded pursuit of it conflicts with
programs designed to curb proliferation and strengthen deterrence, it could
decrease our own security rather than increase it.
HOW TO HANDLE A WEAPON
PREVENTION is the first line of defense against the proliferation of weapons of
mass destruction, but it requires cooperation from the other nuclear
powers. Any actions that the United States takes to stop the spread of weapons
can easily be nullified if Russia, for example, decides to sell its nuclear
technology, weapons, or fissile material. Russian leaders know that it is in
their national interest to fight proliferation. But they may at some point be
torn between their security interests and the need to earn hard currency. This
financial incentive might delude them into thinking that the sale of commercial
nuclear technology to Iran, for instance, would not facilitate Iran's
development of nuclear weapons.
The cooperation necessary to prevent proliferation is manifested through
treaties already in force, such as the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the
Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), and the Biological Weapons Convention;
through treaties not yet implemented, such as the Comprehensive Test Ban
Treaty, START II, and START III; through bilateral and multilateral agreements,
such as the
Trilateral Agreement (among the United States, Russia, and Ukraine), the Agreed
Framework (between the United States and North Korea), and the missile
agreement under discussion with North Korea; and through cooperative programs
to reduce nuclear risks and manage Cold War -- era nuclear arsenals, such as
the Nunn-Lugar program with Russia and other former Soviet states.
Many of these programs have been quite successful. The Nunn-Lugar initiative,
for example, in concert with START and the Trilateral Agreement, has already
been responsible for the dismantling of more than 5,000 nuclear warheads and
the complete elimination of nuclear weapons in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and
Belarus. And as a result of programs designed to immobilize or commercialize
leftover Soviet plutonium and weapons-grade uranium, material that was once
intended for Soviet bombs will soon meet half the supply needs of American
To prevent future proliferation, the
United States should sustain and build on these programs, by extending the
Nunn-Lugar efforts to tactical nuclear weapons, for example, and by funding
proposed efforts to immobilize plutonium. But some weapons materials have
already spread, and future prevention efforts will not always be effective (as
evidenced by the expelling of U.N. weapons inspectors from Iraq). So the
second line of defense must remain deterrence.
Even if START II and START III were fully implemented, the United States would
still be left with a nuclear force capable of destroying any nation reckless
enough to use nuclear weapons against it. In particular, a nuclear attack
using ballistic missiles would be instantly tracked to its place of origin and
thus invite immediate retaliation by U.S. nuclear forces -- a fact known by all.
Some worry that
a nation with nuclear weapons might attack a U.S. ally with conventional
weapons, believing that Washington would not honor its defense commitment for
fear of provoking a nuclear attack on U.S. cities. But any such move would be
a serious mistake, since the United States would respond in kind -- with its
own conventional military forces -- to a conventional attack on an ally. The
aggressor might then threaten a nuclear strike but would have to contemplate,
once again, the certain knowledge of immediate and catastrophic retaliation.
So long as the United States maintains strong conventional forces, therefore,
the threat of nuclear extortion reverts to the classic deterrence scenario.
Moreover, if threatened, the United States has the capability to destroy a
hostile nation's launch sites, storage sites, and production facilities with
its long-range, precision-guided, conventionally armed weapons -- and
others know it. Whatever Washington's stated policy, therefore, no hostile
nation could rule out the possibility that the United States would strike back
In short, the United States has a powerful and credible deterrent involving
both nuclear and conventional weapons, which should make a direct nuclear
attack or nuclear extortion by a nation very unlikely. The chance still
exists, however, that a hostile nation armed with nuclear or biological weapons
could end up under a leader who is mentally unbalanced or who miscalculates the
consequences of his or her actions. And a terrorist group is probably less
deterrable; its members might believe that an attack could not be traced back
to them, or they might even be seeking to die for their cause. Both prevention
and deterrence, in other words, could fail in the face of terrorism, and there
is always the possibility, however remote, of an accidental or unauthorized
launch from another nuclear power. Any of these contingencies would create a
catastrophe, so it is reasonable for the United States to seek
"catastrophe insurance," much as individuals buy earthquake insurance to cover the possibility that
their house might be destroyed by such an event.
DEFENSE AGAINST THE DARK ARTS
THE MOST IMMEDIATE DANGER is of a terrorist group delivering a nuclear bomb or
biological weapon with a truck, cargo ship, airplane, or boat. Such an attack
could be tactically similar to what the United States has already experienced
-- in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, the 1996 explosions at the Khobar
Towers in Saudi Arabia, the attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania
in 1998, and last fall's bombing of the U.S.S.
Cole -- and the ultimately responsible parties would be equally difficult to
identify. The probable culprit would be a well-organized
multinational group, acting with direct or indirect support from one or more
hostile nations. Regular military defense tactics by the United States would
be largely irrelevant, since the attackers would conceal the place and time of
the strike, and Washington cannot maintain terrorist alerts continuously for
the entire nation. The first line of defense against this threat, accordingly,
is to develop an intelligence network able to give the government advance
warning of an attack so that it can be stopped before it is launched.
As Washington tries to step up its intelligence activities, however, it will
face two barriers: the restrictions imposed on U.S. intelligence agencies'
investigations of domestic suspects, and the disconnect between intelligence
and law enforcement. Resolving these problems without unduly infringing on
Americans' civil liberties will take judicious new legislation, as well as a
restructuring of the
executive branch. President Bush's creation of an Office of Homeland Security
provides a useful basis for the necessary changes.
At the same time, Washington should pursue an aggressive campaign against the
bases of terrorist groups and their possible state sponsors. Terrorist groups
often have activities and support scattered in several countries, so the United
States needs joint intelligence collection and analysis efforts with other
nations, particularly those where terrorist cells are located. It will be
perhaps most important (and most difficult) to get this type of cooperation
from Russia and China. But just as future success in preventing nuclear
proliferation will require joint programs with Russia and China, so will
success in collecting intelligence on multinational terrorist groups.
Hostile nations also can pose a danger if they develop the capability to attack
United States with nuclear or biological weapons. In addition to the covert
means available to terrorists, states could place their weapons in aircraft,
perhaps in the guise of commercial planes, or cruise missiles, perhaps based in
freighters off the U.S. coast. Here again, intelligence is key: putting the
necessary defense measures in place requires a timely warning of the time and
location of a planned strike.
A hostile nation might also strike with long-range ballistic missiles, a
possibility that has received a great deal of attention recently. Not wanting
to depend on deterrence alone in such a situation, the Bush administration has
stated its intent to deploy a national missile defense (NMD) for added
protection. NMD is, in a sense, an insurance policy that becomes relevant if
both prevention and deterrence fail and the
aggressor nation chooses to deliver its weapons using ballistic missiles
instead of aircraft, cruise missiles, or covert means. The controversy
surrounding missile defense may be thought of as a debate about how likely the
United States is to need such insurance, how much the policy will cost, and
whether the nation can collect on it if needed (i.e., whether the defenses will
work). These are all reasonable questions to ask before committing to the
The ground-based missile defense system now well advanced in its development is
designed to intercept incoming warheads in mid-flight -- essentially trying to
"hit a bullet with a bullet." Much controversy has arisen about this system, particularly after several test
failures. But even though success will demand quite advanced technology, I
believe that the United States will demonstrate a
convincing mastery of the system before long, perhaps in another five to ten
tests. In a few years, therefore, NMD could demonstrate on the test range a
technical effectiveness of 80 -- 90 percent.
Assessing the likely operational effectiveness of such a system is a different
matter, and it involves taking a realistic view of various possible degrading
effects. An NMD system could sit unchallenged for years, for example, and then
have to operate perfectly the first time it is needed, probably without any
advance warning. Such a scenario is exactly the opposite of the situation on
the test range, where the crew is primed and ready (and the firing is postponed
if they are not). Experience with other military systems, moreover, suggests
that they achieve their best performance only after significant use in combat
conditions. Tactical air defenses are fine-tuned
after operating against repeated waves of bombing attacks. A missile defense
system operating against a nuclear attack would have to perform well during its
first and only mission.
In a real attack, finally, one must expect the aggressors to employ technical
or tactical countermeasures, such as decoys, chaff, radar jamming, or
nuclear-induced radar blackout, to evade the NMD system. Washington is not
likely to know which countermeasures might actually be used against its system,
but it is prudent to expect them to be tailored to the specifics of the U.S.
NMD program as it is described in the public record. Countermeasures are not
simple to develop, but the incentive for the missile designer to acquire them
is quite high. This inherent vulnerability of an air defense or missile
defense system is a problem that can be addressed but never fully resolved.
Susceptibility to countermeasures is
not new; indeed, it is a classic weakness common to all air defense systems.
Missile defense systems have no significant operational history yet, but the
United States and other countries have a history of air defense operations that
extends over 60 years. Historically, these activities have demonstrated an
ability in combat to shoot down between 3 and 30 percent of an attacking force;
under some operational conditions they have done even less well. This record
does not stop the United States from building and deploying such air defense
systems to defend its military forces from repeated attacks by conventionally
armed bombers, because a shoot-down rate even as low as 10 percent would
eventually exhaust an enemy's bomber force. But this low success rate is one
reason the country has no comparable
air defense system capable of defending its cities against a strike from
nuclear-armed bombers, for which a shoot-down rate of even 30 percent would be
Early in the Cold War, the United States considered deploying an air defense
system to protect its population from the growing Soviet bomber fleet. The
plans called for large radars, a nationwide command-and-control system, F-106
interceptor planes, and substantial complexes of antiaircraft missiles around
each major urban area. A few of these units were actually deployed, but in the
end Washington concluded that even if the system could achieve historically
high shoot-down rates, it could not provide meaningful national protection
against a nuclear attack from the air.
Moscow, meanwhile, made the opposite decision. At the time, U.S. intelligence
estimated that to protect their cities against our B-47 and B-52 bombers, the
Soviets spent more than $ 100 billion (in 1970 dollars) building and deploying
their air defense system, which included thousands of surface-to-air missiles.
In response, the U.S. Strategic Air Command developed technical and tactical
countermeasures that they judged would enable a sufficient number of American
bombers to penetrate the Soviet defenses and devastate the Soviet Union. This
judgment was never put to a test, but its assessment of the Soviet system's
vulnerability achieved credibility in the 1980s when a light civilian plane
flew from West Germany and landed in Red Square without being intercepted.
The comparison between air defense and ballistic missile defense is imperfect,
and one cannot simply apply the track records of the former to the latter. But
it is hard to make a persuasive
argument that shooting down a ballistic missile is easier than shooting down an
airplane, or that a nation capable of deploying a force of intercontinental
ballistic missiles could not build relatively challenging countermeasures.
Even if the current NMD system eventually demonstrated a 90 percent rate of
technical effectiveness on the test range, it is reasonable to question whether
it could ever come close to that under operational conditions.
Today's U.S. policymakers must understand the fundamental limitations of
missile defense systems against nuclear-armed missiles (just as their
predecessors came to understand the limitations of air defense systems against
nuclear-armed bombers) and recognize that even if successful in that arena they
would provide virtually no protection against a cruise missile or bomber
attack, not to mention covert delivery by other means. Failure to recognize
these limitations could
create a false sense of security and lead to inappropriate defense priorities.
In the 1930s, the Maginot line, erected to protect France against a German
invasion, had just this effect on French leaders, with terrible consequences
for their nation. The Maginot line failed not because it was poorly designed
or implemented, but because the Germans recognized precisely how formidable a
defense it was and devised a strategy for going around it. Committing the bulk
of U.S. homeland defense resources and energies to NMD tempts a similar fate:
hostile nations have not only countermeasure options but also the options of
carrying their weapons on aircraft or cruise missiles, thus going around our
THE COST OF A LAYERED CUT
SEVERAL DIFFERENT NMD systems for protecting American military forces are in
advanced stages of development. Theater
defenses, which operate against medium-range missiles, will likely be deployed
in the next few years at a cost that is reasonably well known. Coming up with
a credible estimate of what a national missile defense would cost, on the other
hand, is more difficult.
The Bush administration has not yet decided on a final design for such a
system, but it has testified that it wants to move to a
"layered" approach, in which different components could operate in sequence against a
ballistic missile in its boost phase, in midcourse, and in its terminal phase.
The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that a full-scale version of the
midcourse system now under development would cost $ 50 billion (for production
and deployment of the sites and ten years of operation), plus an additional $
billion for the space-based sensors. A system aimed solely at a missile's
terminal stage probably would not require a new development program, since it
could be based on the theater missile defense systems that will be deployed in
a few years. But because terminal defenses can protect only relatively limited
areas, a national network of them would have to include not only a global
command-and-control system but separate and complex packages of missiles and
radars for each urban area to be covered.
The boost-phase component of the project has not yet been designed. An
air-based version of it, if alerted and deployed in a crisis, might provide an
emergency defense against a missile launched from North Korea or Iraq, but not
against one from northern
Iran. Complete coverage would require either a constellation of spacecraft or
bases on the territories of Russia and several of the Central Asian republics.
Because of their access to the missile during its boost phase, space-based
systems have inherent advantages over those based on the ground, in the air, or
at sea. But at the same time, they entail considerably more complex technical
problems, raising difficult questions about cost, schedule, and feasibility.
It is hard to imagine either a space-based boost-phase system or a nationwide
complex of terminal systems costing less than the ground-based midcourse
defense system now under development. In the end, the cost of a layered
approach to NMD could be several times higher than the $ 60 billion estimate
for the midcourse system alone -- enough to drain significant resources from
other military needs.
Even if the Defense Department were to save the money it hopes to by reforming
the defense acquisition system and closing unnecessary bases, and even with the
new willingness since September 11 to commit additional resources to national
defense, the administration will have to make difficult choices about how to
distribute its spending among force structure, readiness, and new investments,
including missile defense.
During my tenure as secretary of defense, I found that setting funding
priorities for defense programs and then defending those priorities to the
president, Congress, and the public was a very demanding task. I judged then
-- and continue to believe now -- that although the NMD program is important,
it should have a lower priority than those programs that are key to maintaining
military readiness. I would also accord NMD a lower priority than critical
programs designed to upgrade American conventional forces. In particular, I
believe there is
an urgent need to replace U.S. fighter-bombers with the new generation of
aircraft that have been developed over the last ten years, the technology of
which (especially stealth capabilities and precise weapon delivery) will give
the United States air supremacy in any military conflict for several decades to
come. Operation Desert Storm demonstrated how air supremacy enhances all
aspects of military operations, allowing the United States to win quickly,
decisively, and with minimal casualties. It also illustrated to the rest of
the world the futility of directly confronting the U.S. military. The current
crisis has once again shown the unique role played by aircraft carriers in
rapidly projecting American military power. Washington must support the
programs under way to modernize U.S. carrier battle groups. U.S. forces must
be transformed with modern information technology, which the
Bush administration has rightly made a priority.
All these programs will be expensive, and they will compete with NMD for
funding. Unlike NMD, however, these other investments serve more than one
purpose. They allow the country to prevail in likely conflicts, they help
sustain U.S. global leadership, they help deter conventional war, and they are
a vital complement to nuclear forces in deterring the use of nuclear and
biological weapons against the United States or its allies. Sacrificing the
maintenance of U.S. conventional military supremacy to carry out an extensive
NMD program would decrease rather than increase the nation's ability to deter
nuclear as well as conventional war.
THE REST OF THE STORY
RESPONDING to the dangers of proliferation and terrorism involves more than
defense programs. The United States must also assign a higher priority and
devote more funding to intelligence and law-enforcement programs that could
authorities penetrate those terrorist groups planning attacks, as well as to
intelligence efforts that illuminate the nature of the proliferation threat
Because even the best intelligence efforts can never offer perfect protection,
the country also needs to increase its investments in programs designed to cope
with an attack once it has occurred. In the case of a biological weapon, for
example, quick and effective
"consequence management" could reduce prospective fatalities as much as tenfold. Local and state
governments, especially firefighters and police, will necessarily be on the
front line, but national guard and reserve units can and should be strengthened
to provide more effective support. None of these forces, however, has the
special equipment, medicine, and training needed to deal fully with a
biological attack -- only the Centers for Disease Control can direct an
effective response. To prepare itself to deal with the
wide variety of microbes that might be used in a future attack, Washington must
begin immediately to mobilize the medical and pharmaceutical industries so that
they will be ready to respond with the needed vaccines, medicine, and health
care facilities. All these steps and more, presumably, will be the
responsibility of the new Office of Homeland Security, but overcoming
bureaucratic divisions and programmatic inertia will be more difficult than
some might expect.
Increased efforts to stop or slow proliferation, meanwhile, hold more promise
than many critics seem to think. Since the end of the Cold War, four nations
(Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Belarus, and South Africa) have given up their sizable
nuclear arsenals and two others (Argentina and Brazil) have terminated their
nuclear weapons programs short of success, a trend partially offset by the
decisions of India and Pakistan to come out of the nuclear closet.
Continuing the existing nonproliferation efforts is important, as is
aggressively pursuing opportunities to reduce new threats before they emerge --
for example, by negotiating an agreement whereby North Korea abandons its
Serious nonproliferation efforts must involve Russia and China. Sustained
dialogue with both is crucial, but the most important subject for such dialogue
is proliferation, not missile defense or even reductions in strategic forces.
Moscow and Beijing must take serious actions, in cooperation with the United
States, to curb the unconventional weapons programs in Iraq, Iran, Libya, and
North Korea. To get Moscow and Beijing on board, Washington should be prepared
to make some compromises on other issues. Both governments appear to care less
about proliferation than about preserving their ultimate nuclear deterrent.
The United States should take the opposite
approach, thus opening space for mutually beneficial discussions.
If effective agreements to curb proliferation cannot be reached, the threat
will continue to grow. Indeed, if the present impasse in the consultations on
missile defense continues, it could lead China to dramatically increase the
long-range missile modernization program it now has under way and could lead
both Russia and China to provide missile and counterdefense technology to
nations hostile to the United States. If the attempt to deploy a missile
defense resulted in an increase in proliferation, it would represent a net
decrease in U.S. security. If discussions with Russia and China could succeed
in reaching meaningful proliferation curbs, on the other hand, the Bush
administration would seize a unique and historic opportunity to prevent new
nuclear and biological threats from emerging. It is of course possible that
cooperation will not be forthcoming from Russia or China. But the stakes are
too high to not make every effort.
If the Bush administration works to maintain U.S. conventional military
supremacy, boosts efforts at intelligence gathering and consequence management,
and pursues international cooperation on the pivotal nonproliferation issue, it
is unlikely to have enough funds or diplomatic leverage for the near-term
deployment of a full-scale, layered NMD system. It should still be possible,
however, to support an accelerated program to produce and deploy theater
missile defenses. Once the new systems have been developed, they could be
deployed rapidly during crises to defend against ballistic missile threats in
those (relatively few) cases where the missile's boost phase would fall within
range of the system. Deploying a naval-based missile defense system or an
airborne laser to South Korea, for
example -- as the Clinton administration deployed Patriot missiles during the
1994 crisis caused by the breakdown in nonproliferation talks with North Korea
-- would be one way to respond to an attempt at nuclear extortion.
It should also be possible to maintain a robust missile defense research and
development program, the results of which might change the calculus on such
issues down the road. A central objective of this effort should be to gain a
sophisticated understanding of missile defenses' vulnerability to
countermeasures and develop appropriate means to defeat those countermeasures.
In particular, the Defense Department should have a much more aggressive
program to test the performance of American NMD systems against all realistic
countermeasures. Testing can play an important role in validating the design
of mechanisms to thwart countermeasures. But only very detailed and extensive
simulations, monitored by an objective
team" of outside observers, can allow officials to evaluate how well the system
would work against the diverse countermeasures that it might have to face.
STEP BY STEP
THE UNITED STATES has suffered the most devastating terrorist attack in world
history. It can and will respond. But the attack demonstrates that there are
large, well-organized groups whose primary objective is to kill large numbers
of Americans. These groups understand all too well that nuclear or biological
weapons can fulfill that mission even better than truck bombs or kamikaze
aircraft can. The United States also faces a small number of nations that
believe they can advance their own interests by mounting unconventional
threats. Future U.S. security therefore depends on actions taken today to
prevent the proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons tomorrow.
Nonproliferation efforts, in turn, depend on
effective cooperation with the other nuclear powers. Achieving such
cooperation is therefore a critical national security objective.
Even if the United States fails to prevent proliferation, it still has a
powerful and credible deterrent of both nuclear and conventional weapons. But
it is reasonable to take out insurance against the contingency that both
prevention and deterrence fail. National missile defense is such an insurance
policy. As the government considers the priority to give to missile defense
relative to other national security efforts, both within the defense budget and
without, it should recognize that NMD would not provide any protection against
the most likely forms of terrorist attack, nor would it be effective against a
strike by cruise missiles or bombers. The insurance policy would thus cover a
possible but not the most likely contingency, would come at a high price, and
an increase in the level and sophistication of the threats the country faces.
Theater missile defenses, in contrast, address a clear and direct threat to
American deployed forces from short-range missiles, and the military should
move to deploy the next generation of them as expeditiously as possible. It
makes sense to continue a robust research and development program for defenses
against ballistic missiles, but it would be a mistake to let such efforts
interfere with attempts to prevent proliferation or hamper achieving the joint
international programs necessary to respond effectively to the immediate
terrorist challenge. In any event, informed judgments about the wisdom of
deploying an NMD system can be made only after officials can get realistic
estimates of its effectiveness in the face of probable countermeasures and
credible estimates of its financial and diplomatic costs. That day is still
GRAPHIC: Photo, Your father's strategic defense: An antiaircraft battery, circa 1997,
AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS
LOAD-DATE: November 27, 2001