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David R. Tanks
David R. Tanks
Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis Web Site
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Missile Defense:
A Supporting Argument

With David R. Tanks
Senior Defense Analyst,
Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis

Wednesday, May 2, 2001; 1 p.m. EDT

President Bush called Tuesday for a missile defense system to help protect the United States and its allies from other smaller countries with chemical weapons which pose a greater threat than Russia and China. Bush's plan faces many questions about its feasibility, expense and wisdom.

Senior defense analyst David R. Tanks was online Wednesday, May 2, at 1 p.m. EDT, to discuss the president's plan. "The problem is proliferation and the question is how to stop it," said Tanks.

Tanks' areas of specialization include the emerging proliferation setting, with emphasis on weapons of mass destruction, counterproliferation strategies, missile defense and national security strategy and arms control treaties and regimes.

Below is a transcript.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

washingtonpost.com: Our guest, David Tanks, will be with us shortly. Send your questions now.

David R. Tanks: I am David Tanks from the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis. I am looking forward to the coming dialogue and hope it proves to be mutually productive. For those of you who are interested in a comprehensive look at national missile defense issues, our study entitled National Missile Defense, July 2000, is posted on our web site at www.ifpa.org free download). It is located at the bottom of our home page at www.ifpa.org. The study is 12.7 megabytes--available in bulk for broadband capabilities or by chapters for smaller bites.

New York, N.Y.: Does this denote countries ( Russia, France, China, U.S., etc. ) can now test nuclear weapons underground /deep in the ocean or in space ? If so, bad move.

David R. Tanks: The Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty has nothing to do with nuclear testing issues. So this issue should not come up.

Cathedral Heights: Apart from questions of disruptive impacts on our relations with our Allies, Russia, and China, and the sheer costs involved, what evidence do missile defense advocates have that this system(s) will actually work? The very primitive ground-based intercept system developed by the Pentagon during the Clinton administration failed basic testing exercises in 2000. Will we ever have a system that can successfully "hit a bullet with another bullet"?

David R. Tanks: We have had some difficulty in testing. Most of the problems had nothing to do with hit-to-kill capabilities. When the supporting systems have worked properly, hit to kill has worked quite well. In chapter 3 of my study I explain the technologies involved. In chapter 4 I included a discussion of the testing program. I recommend you look at those issue. I believe you will be surprised at what you find.

Galveston, Tex.: Wouldn't the administration get more security benefits by resuming talks with North Korea on cutting back its missile development and missile sales programs than by emphasizing missile defense ?
Should the President's speech have made more peaceful overtures to China ?
Jean C. Willis

David R. Tanks: North Korea clearly is a difficult problem. I believe it must be held accountable for its actions (proliferation, continuing to strengthen is attack capability along the DMZ, and its continuing pursuit of nuclear weapons). At the same time, I believe we need to stay engaged. Without engagement, we close off our diplomatic options and are totally dependant on military force. I think the real issue is one of balance. In the past, we did not hold North Korea accountable for failures to abide by the agreements it made with us. Today, I too have some concerns that we are in danger of leaning too far in the other direction.

MD: As an engineer it seems to me that Bush is rushing to spend billions of tax payer dollars on deploying technology that is largely unproven. In addition, you must admit that it will be vastly cheaper for an attacker trying to penetrate such a shield with simple counter measures such as decoys and mobile launchers. Not to mention the fact that we would have to nail a missle in the first minute of the boost phase to have any hope of destroying it before the missle deploys decoys. What is your opinion about these statements?

David R. Tanks: Today’s technologies give the builder of defensive systems several very sophisticated capabilities to defeat penaids just as penaids give the attacker several very sophisticated capabilities to defeat the defender. So the question comes down to who, the attacker or the defender, has the best technology. While building these defensive systems is neither cheap nor easy, it really is, after all, rocket science. Developing penaids is also neither cheap nor easy; it too is rocket science. I recommend you get my study and look at chapter 3, which discusses the technology in a lot of detail.

Cleveland Park, D.C.: Mr. Tanks - This new policy seems premised on a very dubious assumption, namely that a "rogue" state would employ missiles as the delivery system for weapons of mass destruction. Given that such an act would invite sure and total retaliation against the easily-identifiable origin of the missile, isn't it much more likely that an aggressor would opt for a more covert method of attack, therefore obviating the need for a missile "shield"? And since the technology for such a defense is clearly inadequate at present, isn't it at the very lease a premature move on the part of the administration to pull out of the ABM treaty?

David R. Tanks: No country wants to strike the United States. Fools they are not. They want to put is in a position of letting they change the international structure. In some cases, they are deliberately proliferating missile and WMD technology as a means of weakening our international position.

This does not mean that they might not use the weapons in a crisis situation, say for example, if North Korea attacked the South and our help was bringing about the defeat of the North. Who can say what a dying regime might do.

Ruben, New York: To what extent do you think the Bush/Cheney decision to pursueStar Warss is being driven by industrial interests close to the Republican administration who will glean a lot of business from the R&D work? And how can the administration possibly justify the vast expense of the star wars project when it does nothing to neutralize the potential danger of a suitcase bomb or terrorist attack on a major US city? I would view that as being by far the most realistic threat to US security in this day and age.

David R. Tanks: Actually, many industrial interests that make conventional weapon systems are most worried about missile defense. The funding is limited, something else will not get funded as a result of a decision to field missile defenses. So that issue is neutral.

The idea that a smuggled weapon negates the rationale for missile defenses is not seeing the entire picture. Doing nothing about missile defense because there are other means of delivery of these weapons is comparable to not searching for a cure for cancer because we could still die of heart attack. In reality, we need to work on both problems

Edinburg, Virginia: I think the rogue state argument is a diversion. The real danger is that the US is finding itself in an increasingly competitive world. The US foresees the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons in a limited engagement; most probably in a situation involving the Koreas, or even China and Taiwan. Does the building of a missile defense increase the sense of security and the possibility that the US would use nuclear weapons in a tactical situation?

David R. Tanks: The real problem is not missile defense, it is the current rate of proliferation that is occurring around the world. How do we slow the rate down? Diplomacy is not working.

Russia and China's policymakers understand that for their countries to gain more leverage in the international arena, the current unipolar structure must change. Consequently, their declared policies are to work toward the establishment of a multipolar international structure. The clear implications of such policies are that 1) U.S. security must be weakened and 2) additional power centers must be raised in the international structure. Toward this end, Russia and China signed a joint declaration of cooperation to build a multipolar international order. Their actions in providing missile and/or other military assistance to China, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and other states, along with their efforts to use bilateral arms control agreements to limit U.S. power, are consistent with the stated multipolar policy objectives.

Annapolis, Md:

It seems to me that the argument for a defense system is rogue states and terrorists. The defense system would be able to shoot down the missles that these people shoot at us.

But, wouldn't most of these nations tend to just assemble the warheads here, rather than propelling them?

David R. Tanks: The issue for most states is how to deter the United States. If a statetriess to smuggle a nuclear weapon into the United States and gets caught. It is an act of war. Being smart people, they do not want to start a war with the United States.

Fairfax, VA: This is a quote from UK paper, The Guardian,
" Rumsfeld's missiles, however smart, cannot stop an anthrax attack on the New York subway or the detonation in say, Austin, Texas, of a portable,low-yield "mini-nuke" of the kind favoured by US defence scientists and coveted by Iraq. So why do he and Dubya want them so?"

I wondered if you could answer the question.

David R. Tanks: See my earlier responses to similar questions

Silver Spring, md: Wouldn't the best missile defense be simply to take out a potential enemy's ability to produce and fire missiles like the Israelis did in Baghdad in 1981 to the Tammuz reactor, and we did repeatedly during Desert Storm and several times since?
Wouldn't be far better to simply prevent the missile being fired in the first place than to try and knock it out of orbit once it HAS been fired. True, we cannot just bomb a missile silo on Russian or Chinese soil..this could start a nuclear war. Nor could we always prevent a submarime-fired missile., so there is some justification for a space-based system. And what is wrong with the Patriot missiles we have NOW...can't they do the job? But the Israelis showed us 20 years ago that sometimes you just have to act when you know that a potential enemy has a product that could be a real threat.

David R. Tanks: Patriot's cannot engage targets effectively that are traveling at velocities greater than 2 kms per second. ICBMs travel at velocities that are usually around 6 or 7 kilometers per second. They also operate in the lower 1/4 of the earth's atmosphere. We need to hit the warhead before it reaches the earth's atmosphere with a system that can handle the high velocities.

Most missile proliferators are putting their system so far underground that we would have to use a nuclear weapon to preempt. Some of these sites are near other states (such as North Korea has positioned some sites near the Chinese border. Our strike could start a war. What if we failed to get all of them?

Alexandria, VA: Many analysts believe that the original Star Wars program was initiated primarily to force the Soviets to spend themselves into oblivion trying to keep up. What's the real rationale behind this current plan? Do we still believe that our greatest threats are from a large-scale attack by a single nation?

David R. Tanks: Both China and Russia have covertly been providing missile and WMD development assistance to other states as a way of undermining U.S. power. In reality, they have provided the provocation for the current U.S. missile-defense effort. We need to show these two states that they have more to lose by these actions than might gained by continuing on a proliferation course.

The system will not not be capable of stopping a large attack. It will ensure that if China wants to threaten LA, it will have to fire enough missiles to justify the completedestructionn of China when we fire back. Thus, it will eliminate the idea that one can engage in limited nuclear war, hopefully reducing that option.

Lincoln,Nebraskak: What do you think about the proposed submarine launched missile defense. From what I have read and heard, it sounds like a much better option to attack the missile in the launch phase rather than in the last minute.

David R. Tanks: I have not seen much on a submarine option. The Aegis option is the one getting most of the attention.

We need a layered defense. That means we need a system that can fire early, assess the results, and fire again if necessary. In chapter 5 of my study, I discuss seabased options and have some trajectory diagrams to show the problems involved in early engagements.

Washington, DC: I know you've already answered a couple questions on this, but the truth is, the largest obstacle you face in the public arena is the argument that suitcase bombs are the larger, more realistic threat. A missile defense system is a MULTI-BILLION dollar commitment to AN unproven, failing technology that does NOTHING to solve the greatest threat. Can't you see how people would have a problem with that?

David R. Tanks: I disagree that the technology is a failing technology. It depends on what standard you want to use.

If the Wright brothers waited until they had a B-747 before flying, we would all still be enjoying a slower pace of life.

I think the technology is better than you seem to think.

Vienna, Va: Mr. Tanks, you stated earlier that people are not fools...they do not want to strike the U.S. directly. Does this apply, in your opinion, also to Osama Bin Laden and other Mideast terrorist groups. They have demonstrated in the past they WILL strike the U.S......from our destroyers to our embassies to our military installations to the World Trade Center in New York.

David R. Tanks: Thank you for pointing out a problem in my answer earlier. I should have specified that states do not want to strike the U.S. Terrorists are a different issue, one that says we need to do more in handling that type of threat.

However, we have a policy ofstrikingg back at terrorists, regardless of where they are located. If a state is providing sanctuary for terroristorganizationss, and the state has ballistic missiles capable of reaching the U.S., they might feel emboldened to unleash the terrorist cells feeling we would not retaliate. Clearly, such a situation would make it more difficult to deter terrorist attack.

Arlington, VA: What more can we do to help the Russians keep their plutonium and other bomb-making materials out of the hands of terrorists?

David R. Tanks: Given the dire economic conditions in Russia, there is a lot of incentives for people with access to sell it on the black market. Nunn-Lugar programs have helped, but there are still major problems.

At the national policy level, Russia and China's policymakers understand that for their countries to gain more leverage in the international arena, the current unipolar structure must change. Consequently, their declared policies are to work toward the establishment of a multipolar international structure. The clear implications of such policies are that 1) U.S. security must be weakened and 2) additional power centers must be raised in the international structure. Toward this end, Russia and China signed a joint declaration of cooperation to build a multipolar international order. Their actions in providing missile and/or other military assistance to China, India, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and other states, along with their efforts to use bilateral arms control agreements to limit U.S. power, are consistent with the stated multipolar policy objectives.

So I think we must first convince Russia that it is in its overall interest tighten its internal controls over fissile materials. Other than that we can do little else that I am aware of.

Annandale, Virginia: Two Questions:
What do you think is the largest public opinion obstacle you face, and how do you plan to overcome it?
What is the largest technical obstacle you face, and REALISTICALLY, how long will it take for the system to be completely operational?

David R. Tanks: I think the public opposition will soften as the testing programeventuallyy proves the system will work.

One of the major technical problems is software. We use different technologies to look at the target to discriminate warheads from decoys. Radar is 3 dimensions, IR is 2. Trying to put these two pictures together in a composite target map is difficult. When the SBIRS-Low satellite system is put in place, it will improve this situation by providing a 3D IR picture of the target array.

I think you are looking at 4-5 years from decision to initial capability. It will require 10 years from a good capability. One concern is that the threat is growing faster than we will be able to respond to it.

Wash, dc: Earlier in this discussion you wrote: "many industrial interests that make conventional weapon systems are most worried about missile defense."

What does that mean in plain English? That doesn't make any sense.

Secondly, you also said: "Something else will not get funded as a result of a decision to field missile defenses."

Do you really believe that this Republican administration can keep its develop a missle defense program AND break its promise to beef up defense?

David R. Tanks: The Bush administration is also interested in limited federal spending.

Sec. Rumsfeld's Strategic Review appears poised to kill a lot of ongoing programs in order to fund a new direction for the Defense Department. Do you think the industries that are fielding the systems that may be axed are happy about that situation?

New York, NY: Some of us might rather enjoy a slower pace of life than have a technology race thrust on us.

You mentioned earlier that we should go ahead with this dubious technology because diplomacy hasn't halted nuclear proliferation. Maybe it's the diplomacy that should be overhauled, rather than our nuclear defenses.

David R. Tanks: Unfortunately, I don't know the answer on that one. For anyone who has a diplomatic solution, I'm sure Sec. of State Powell would like to talk about it.

I made my best effort on finding a solution to the proliferation problem in chapter 6 of my study, beginning with page 6.10. I am afraid that so many countries such as Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, etc. have made so much progress on developing a production base that we might not be able to slow the proliferation rate. In that case, we would have to live with the consequences.

Vienna, va: All this talk about "certain retaliation" in response to an attack....many of the missiles we have today have been in silos literally for decades. They have NEVER been actually fired. Corrosion may have been building up in wires, firingcircuitss, etc... The rocket fuel may or may not still be usable...it may have been building upcontaminationn.
True, the Air Force and Navy regularly go through test drills for actual firing, but my point is that most of our missiles have NEVER been actually fired. We really have no guarantee that they even WILL actually fire at all even if the nuclear code orders actually do go out from the President. Let a car sit in the driveway for 20 or 30 years and then climb inside and try and start it and you will know what I mean. We are assuming that our retaliation system will actually work when it seems to me that there is no guarantee that it indeed will. But I realize that much of our nuclear capabilities and readiness are classified, and perhaps there are are assurances that we in the general public don't know about.

David R. Tanks: Our missiles are selectively tested and recently went through a periodic rebuild. The ones now on alert only have the same skin as the original systems. They will work

Chicago, IL: You wrote earlier that proliferation is the main problem, & I agree. Are there any signs that the Administration's New Framework will include efforts at new nonproliferation agreements? 40 years ago it was thought that every country would have the nuclear bomb by now; arms control treaties prevented this.

David R. Tanks: There is a fear that we could never again get such an agreement. The current NPT is in trouble, but I doubt it will ever be replaced.

David R. Tanks: Thank you for participating. It is interesting for me to see where it questions are and how people see the issue.

Best wishes.

washingtonpost.com: Many thanks to David Tanks for joining us to explain the position of missile defense supporters. For the opposing view, join us right now (2 p.m. EST) for a discussion with Ivo Daalder, who argues against the missile defense system.

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company


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