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National Missile Defense
with Anthony Cordesman

Wednesday, May 3, 2000, 1 p.m. EDT

Anthony Cordesman, senior fellow for strategic assessment at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was online Wednesday, May 3 at 1 p.m. EDT to discuss the possibilities of a national ballistic missile defense system. Cordesman was formerly national security assistant for Senator John McCain. He now oversees CSIS's "Homeland Defense" project which examines the need for and the implications of ballistic missile systems. Cordesman authored a report (pdf format requires Adobe Acrobat) suggesting that missile defense is not now critical but could become necessary in five or ten years.

He has written and lectured extensively on NATO, the Middle East, the U.S. and Soviet military balance, U.S. forces and defense budgets, and the lessons of war. Of Cordesman's many books, the most recent include The Arab-Israeli Military Balance and the Middle East Peace Process (Westview, 1996), Iran's Military Forces in Transition (Praeger, 1999), Iraq and the War of Sanctions (Praeger, 1999), and as author/coauthor of the series CSIS Middle East Dynamic Net Assessment (Westview, 1997). He was formerly the international editor of the Armed Forces Journal and U.S. editor of Armed Forces (UK).

Cordesman is also an adjunct professor of national security studies at Georgetown University and a military analyst for ABC-TV. He has held senior positions in the Office of the Secretary Defense, the State Department, the Department of Energy, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. His overseas posts included Iran and other Middle Eastern states, Great Britain, the U.S. delegation to NATO, and as a director in the NATO International Staff.

Submit questions for Anthony Cordesman in advance or any time during the Live Online hour.

Los Angeles, CA: What type of adjustments need to be made to the ABM treat by the US to allow for the NMD project? What is the difference between the US NMD and the Russian system that protects Moscow?

In your opinion do the ratifications of the CTBT and Start 2 treaties by the Russian show that Russia and Putin are ready to show the world and the US that they are the good guys here and the US is the bad guy? Will these political moves by Putin put him in better negotiationing position when Clinton comes to town?

Anthony Cordesman: The ABM Treaty will require revision to permit a limited national defense system with the radars, space-based sensors, and remote sites suitable to covering the entire US. The present treaty permits one site near a capital or an ICBM launch site for point defense. More broadly, the US is proposing major additional revisions to allow inspection and verification to prove that neither nation is deploying a system that could deny the other the ability to attack, and broad cooperation on many aspect of counterproliferation.

College Park, Md.: Hello Mr Cordesman,

Your report contains many points about national missile defense, but, to me, one stands out above all the others: No missile defense system can credibly protect the US from rogue threats because the cost of circumventing such a system is too low.

Why on earth isn't this argument by itself sufficent to stop work on the NMD? What's the point of developing and deploying an ineffective defense system?

Anthony Cordesman: No one system can defend the US. An NMD system would deal with one type of threat, and be valuable for deterrence, defense, and to reassure our allies that we cannot be blackmailed. It will only be cost-effective, however, if hostile states do in fact deploy missiles that can attack the US.

Bethesda, MD: With the proliferation of missile development & acquisition programs in countries opposed to US interests such as North Korea, Libya, and Iraq, why do you think liberals ie. the Clinton Administration are so opposed to development of defenses?

Anthony Cordesman: In fact, the Clinton Department of Defense strongly supports a decision to deploy an initial site, and the State Department proposed extensive revisions to the ABM Treaty to permit this in January 2000.

Sealy, Texas: Do you agree or disagree with the following statement:

Missile defense is not about defending America, although it can do that. Its primary mission is to keep the world safe for American conventional military interventions.

Since the real mission of Third World nukes is not to strike the USA, but to intimidate neighboring states from providing forward bases for American military forces.

Anthony Cordesman: This is not a yes or no question. Iran and North Korea are known to be working on very long-range boosters that could be used in missiles targeted on the US. At the same time, there is no question that an NMD capability would give the US greater freedom of action and some immunity to blackmail. We would, however, need theater defenses as well or our allies would be unlikely to take risks on our behalf.

Tucson, AZ: Why wouldn't traditional deterrence apply to attacks from rogue states?

Anthony Cordesman: Traditional deterrence assumes that swuch states would act in the same way as the former Soviet Union and would be deterred purely by offensive retaliatory capabilities. It is not clear that regimes like those of Iran and North Korea would act in this manner.

Raleigh, NC: In the 1960s, during development of Sentinel, Safeguard, etc., the political maneuvering between the Army and Air Force became rather intense. Can we expect more of the same in regard to a NMD? Or, does one service clearly have the upper hand?

Anthony Cordesman: A central office, the Ballistic Missile Defense Office, coordinates the NMD effort. There are, however, some service rivalries. The Navy is quietly briefing the press on a sea-based NMD option, and some advocates in the Air Force are pushing a airborne laser system to strike at missile during the boost phase. I guess that some things never change.

Work, DC: Can this thing really function as it's supposed to, or are we looking at another major boondoggle that's going to shovel obscene amounts of money at contractors who can't produce what they're supposed to on time and nowhere near close to budget?

Anthony Cordesman: We will not know the answewr to your question until we actually deploy at least an initial system, and gain several years of practical experience. The system is too complex to validate with a conventional test and evaluation program, and the Director of BMDO, the Director of Operational Test & Evaluation of the Department of Defense, and the Congressional Budget Office all agree that the current test program is inadequate and underfunded. Please seem my report for more details.

hillsboro, nm: I understand many of our missiles are MIRV. Will the proposed defense be able to handle a missile that splits into two or more fully functional units?

Anthony Cordesman: Much depends on the quality of countermeasures. We believe that Russia and China will be able to defeat the system. Experts differ sharply over how well the system can deal with the less sophisticated threat from developing states and countermeasures like Mylar balloons, decoys, and cluster reentry vehicles.

Harlingen, Texas: The three-stage, 30,000 lb. Ground Based Interceptors intended for NMD are similar in size and performance to the Small ICBM concepts of the 1980s. Isn't there a danger Russia's decaying missile warning system will mistake a sudden firing of up to several dozen GBIs for an ICBM attack?

This seems particullarly possible if a second group of GBIs is installed in North Dakota near existing ICBM fields and have to fire northward, toward Russia, in order to engage an attack from Iran.

If you think such a mistake is a possibility, what should the US do to minimize the chances that it would happen?

Anthony Cordesman: Unless the Russian system totally collapses, it will be clear that GBI interceptors are not directed at or entering Russian territory. The observable nature of a GBI apogee is too different.

mumbai,maharashtra: what is your stand on CTBT AND NPT taking into account clinton's visit to india?

Anthony Cordesman: Linking the CTBT and NPT to missile defense is more political rhetoric than substance. There is a real linkage to the ABM Treaty. The NMD system will be purely defensive and use conventional warheads. As such, it defends against proliferation but does not add to it.

washingtonpost.com: Is the risk of attack, and the need for an NMD, greater now than it was during the Cold War? Are Iran and North Korea more likely to attack (when capable) than the USSR was?

Anthony Cordesman: At present no. The North Korean three stage booster is not an operational system, and Iranian long-range missiles are still on the drawing board. The state of the Russian threat is far lower, and the Chinese threat is aging and limited. The issue is what may happen over the next 5-10 years, not changes in the current threat to the US.

Arlington, VA: Can we ever test any missile defense system enough to have confidence that it will work when we need it? The idea of deploying such a complex system as NMD after only a few tests is worrisome.

Anthony Cordesman: The test program is a major problem and the US Congress has created major uncertainties by pushing forward deployment without funding an adequate test and evaluation program. It should be possible, however, to get a good idea of overall capabilities over time if we fund the proper threat, deterrence will exist even if the system is not perfect, and Third World threats will also face major uncertainties as to the capabilities of their offensive systems.

Hamilton VA: Aren't we simply throwing money away trying to develop a system? These ideas have been floating around for years, have been studied and tested to death and still they can't hit the target when they know when it's to be launched and what it's flight path is.
This is just right wing feel good nonsense. It will never work.

Anthony Cordesman: Physics and engineering aren't ideological and don't support either the views of strong opponents or proponents of the NMD program. I suggest that you look at the look description of the problems in the present NMD test and evaluation program in my report, and then decide what your views are.

washingtonpost.com: Can you clarify: Has the U.S. pursuit of a NMD hurt the existing treaty system, real or perceived?

Anthony Cordesman: There is no question that NMD has upset the present treaty system. The problem is whether the system was working. The NPT was not stopping nuclear proliferation, there is no inspection or control regime tied to the Biological Weapons Convention, and there is no treaty affecting long-range missiles. The broader question is how will NMD affect the future of START II and START III and this depends on our reaching some kind of accomodation with the Russians.

Los Angeles, California: I recently read somewhere that North Korea will have full operational ICBM capability in five years of before the US deploys a NMD system. Iran is also close to ICBM capability thanks to some companies in Russia. Should we build a NMD or should we go after the suppliers of WMD's. It looks like we are getting into a new kind of so-called "arms race";but know its a defensive race rather than an offensive.

Anthony Cordesman: You are looking at worst case estimates of the North Korean and Iranian program, which also assume that a mature deployed threat will exist shortly after testing and manufacturing reach the point of initial deployment.

The fact is that we don't know the real-world time table for threat deployments and how it would compare to an NMD deployment.

Herndon, VA: Mr. Cordesman: Many of the "againers" who write about anti-missile defenses appear to say - umpteen billion dollars spent with nothing to show for it - you just can't do it. Your comment?

Anthony Cordesman: Don't compare apples and oranges. The spending on missiles back before the ABM Treaty, and for SDI, was designed to do something very different and much more difficult than the NMD system. At the same time, it is still unclear how effective the current program is, and we are talking about $60 billion to deploy and support and mature single-site program with SBIRS.

washingtonpost.com: Welcome to washingtonpost.com's discussion with Dr. Anthony Cordesman, senior fellow
for strategic assessment at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Dr. Cordesman, in your rough draft report, you identify Iran, Iraq and North Korea as
limited potential threats. How real is the threat of a missile attack and to what extent does
the potential threat support development of a ballistic missile defense program?

Anthony Cordesman: There is no easy answer to your question because so many uncertainties exist. The cost of even one attack on the US is so high, however, as is the risk the world will perceive that we are weak because of a threat to the US, that this may justify "development." Full-scale deployment is so costly that it may only be worth pursuring if the missile threat actually materializes.

washingtonpost.com: Senator Helms recently stated that he would block any attempt by the Clinton administration to amend the ABM in an effort to pursue a missile defense plan... how political is this issue? How much of a role will it and should it play in the upcoming presidential elections?

Anthony Cordesman: Extremely political, and Senator Helms seems to have taken a stand without having been aware of the Clinton Administration's proposals to change the ABM Treaty that were provided to Russia in January 24, 2000. Please see the discussion of the Russian threat in my revised report.

washingtonpost.com: Are there any reliable time tables for NMD deployment?

Anthony Cordesman: No, there are not. The program also involves so many developmental uncertainties that it is not clear what deployment means. It seems likely that we will have to deploy at least a limited system to fully test our NMD capabilities, and then modify and upgrade it with time.

Arlington, VA: In its dealing with the Russians re: NMD and ABM, the Administration has made it clear that the limited system will be unable to stop a massive strike from Russian forces; thus preserving that strategic balance. However, China has made the decision only to pursue a small number of ICBMs for its strategic nuclear forces, which our limited defense could negate. Do you think even limited NMD could spur China to pursue a larger arsenal and what would be the military/strategic/political implications of such a development?

Anthony Cordesman: The fact is that we don't know what threat China will pose. It has a number of ballistic missiles in development, as well as cruise missiles, but any estimate of future deployments over the next 5-10 year will be a guess. The issue is not today's threat, but the future, and the Taiwan Straits Crisis may do more to inspite China to increase its threat against the US than NMD. Nevertheless, Chinese officials regularly attack NMD and do threat they will take steps to increase the Chinese threat to counter it.

washingtonpost.com: washingtonpost.com would like to thank Anthony Cordesman for joining us online today and thanks to all of you who participated in the discussion.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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