Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States
Appendix III: Unclassified Working Papers
Robert A. Manning 1 : "Missile Proliferation Threats in Northeast Asia"
Let me begin by underscoring that I share the concerns that gave rise to
this commission. The proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of
mass destruction is a matter of grave import to the national security of
the United States. The capacity of real or potential adversaries with
aggressive intent to prevent or threaten the deployment of U.S. forces in
regional conflict scenarios is among the principal post-Cold War challenges
to the freedom of action and global leadership of the United States.
The capabilities and behaviors of the states to be examined in this
session--China, the Koreas, and Japan--raise multiple sets of concerns for
U.S. interests, ranging from current clear and present dangers both in the
regional theater and beyond (e.g. North Korea, China), to long-term
concerns about some direct and indirect threats to American security
interests (e.g. nuclear arms race in Northeast Asia after Korean
unification). The character of these real and potential threats differ
greatly and require a multi-layered mix of responses tailored to the
problem ranging from deterrence and security guarantees to preemptive
diplomacy as well as urgent deployment of theater missile defenses. While I
will address capabilities to which we must respond, I also believe there
are some conceptual issues that must be addressed in order to avoid the Law
of Unintended Consequences--sometimes referred to as the "Pogo problem"--in
which our responses may further complicate the problem they seek to
The China Problem
Let me begin with China, which poses challenges on several different
levels. While Chinese armed forces are generally 25-30 years behind those
of the U.S., The People's Liberation Army (PLA) has concentrated on
"pockets of excellence," perhaps most prominently ballistic missiles. China
appears to view ballistic missile forces as part of its comparative
advantage as a "niche" military power, in part to compensate for its
considerable shortcomings in airpower.
The Chinese proliferation problem is essentially threefold in nature. At
the strategic level, Beijing, with probable assistance from Russian
specialists (the extent of which is not fully known), is qualitatively
improving its strategic rocket forces in terms of distance and accuracy and
its last series of nuclear tests before honoring the moratorium on testing
and agreeing to the CTBT, sought to qualitatively improve its nuclear
In regard to ICBM capabilities, China has roughly a 12-18 operational
ICBM's with nuclear warheads. However, Beijing is developing the DF-31
(5000 mile range) and DF-41 (8000 mile range) both solid-fuel, mobile
missiles which may be deployed over the next 8-10 years. With these
missiles, China could hit targets in virtually all of the United States.
While Beijing has not yet obtained multiple, independently targetable
warheads (MIRV), its most recent testing appears to have been conducted
with the idea of moving toward such capabilities. In this regard, China
appears to have sought Russian SS-18 technology which could enhance MIRV
capabilities and provide more sophisticated guidance systems. Success in
such an endeavor can not be ruled out.
In addition, China appears on the verge of troublesome nuclear doctrinal
shifts, in particular moving from its current minimal deterrence posture to
limited deterrence, a concept which, among other things, implies use of
tactical nuclear weapons in battlefield situations. Ironically, these
nuclear developments occur at a time when China enjoys its most favorable
security environment in recent memory including an unprecedented nuclear
build-down on the part of the U.S. and Russia. It must be said that China's
nuclear modernization thus far appears mainly qualitative in nature,
designed to enhance its minimum deterrent capability. There is at present
little evidence that Beijing plans to significantly increase its quantity
of nuclear warheads above the current 400-450 level. Nonetheless, China's
nuclear plans should be viewed as a major factor in shaping the trajectory
and end state of the current U.S. nuclear build-down.
In its "missile tests" near Taiwan in 1995 and more dramatically in 1996,
China sought to demonstrate its intermediate range missile capabilities.
The M-9 and DF-15 missiles fired near Taiwan sought to demonstrate the
capacity to blanket Taiwan with missiles from North to South. In addition,
China is upgrading longer distance IRBM's, replacing CSS-2's with more
accurate CSS-5 launchers with a range of about 1300 miles. There are also
indications that China, with technological assistance from Israel and
Russia could develop and deploy cruise missiles by 2010 or before. The
missiles in this category raise the specter that at some point in the next
10-15 years that China may obtain the capability of countering U.S. naval
power in and around the Taiwan strait.
The third category of China proliferation problem is that of the export of
missiles and missile technology. This has been obvious in the case of M-11
missile provided to Pakistan, which appears not to have deployed the
systems, which could trigger U.S. sanctions. While such cooperation with
Pakistan has abated, it is less clear that China has terminated all of its
military cooperation with Iran to which it has been a major supplier of
missile technology, as well as exports which could facilitate Iranian
efforts to obtain chemical and nuclear weapons.
Of greatest concern are C-801 and C-802 anti-ship missiles, (the successor
to the Silkworm which China sold Iran in the 1980s) which have an impact on
the naval balance in the Persian Gulf. Iran has sought both M-9 and M-11
missiles as well. Iran appears to be the principal recipient of Chinese
missile exports in the region of late. It is unclear whether Chinese
pledges to halt C-802 and other technologies related to weapons of mass
destruction are being "grandfathered" in, or are being halted either
because China has fulfilled its commitments or Iran's shortages of hard
currency made the deals problematic. It does appear that China has been
reassessing its relationship with Iran over the past year, leading to a
diminution of its supplier role in regard to missiles, chemical precursors
and nuclear-related facilities. In any case, it should be noted that when
Chinese behavior is viewed over the past 10-15 years, there is a general
progression towards international norms (e.g. joining the NPT, CTBT, CWC,
claiming to adhere to MTCR) and regimes, though lapses as cited above,
"strategic exceptions" as in the case of Pakistan and grandfathering in
after making commitments has tarnished its record.
The missile proliferation threat from North Korea is twofold in nature.
Within the Northeast Asian theater, its Scud B and Scud C, along with some
11,000 artillery tubes and rocket launchers within range of the Greater
metropolitan Seoul area have been a profitable threat that has made the
DPRK the second largest recipient of U.S. aid in East Asia. Pyongyang's
development of the No Dong I, which can hit parts of Japan --including
Japanese civilian nuclear power plants--enlarge the circumference of the
North Korean threat. It is unclear whether the No Dong it currently
deployable, though there have been indications that Pyongyang is close to
deployment. In light of fuel shortages and other impediments to a fully
operational air force, DPRK missile deployments may in recent years have
increased in importance to net DPRK capabilities.
Of particular concern, however, is North Korea's involvement in the
proliferation of missile capabilities in the Middle East. Though its
exports are a principal concern, there is some evidence of a symbiotic
relationship in which cooperation with Mid-East states has facilitated
development of North Korean missile technology as well as
missile-production capacities in Syria and Iran.
North Korea has not only delivered several hundred Scud missiles to Iran
and Syria during the 1990s, but also aided both Teheran and Damascus'
development of missile production capabilities. In turn, Mid-East financing
and cooperation has facilitated North Korea's development of missile
technology. North Korean-Iranian missile cooperation, a "pariah alliance,"
has been the centerpiece of DPRK activity in the region, though Iranian
hard currency problems appears to have diminished this relationship
somewhat. Since the mid-1980s, Pyongyang has engaged in a cooperative
military relationship with Iran, beginning with the sale of Scud-B
missiles. In the early 1990s, Iran ordering modified Scud-C missiles, and
to date has reduced roughly one hundred of them. At the same time North
Korean technicians began showing up in Iran, where they are apparently
still are aiding Iranian missile production, and the DPRK helped Iran
develop its own Scud manufacturing capacity.
It must be noted that Iran is particularly interested in the No Dong I, a
souped-up Scud-C with a range of up to 1200 kilometers. Iran may have
played an important role in financing the development of the No Dong, paid
for with a mix of cash and oil exports. The No Dong is known to be flight
tested only once, in 1993 in the Sea of Japan, though it is possible that
the missile has been tested in Iran. There appears to be some debate about
the status of the No Dong amongst analysts, some of whom argue that testing
may not be necessary as it is basically a Scud-C, with others arguing it is
not yet so close to deployment. In regard to Syria, after China cut off
Scud exports in 1989, North Korea stepped in and has not only sold several
dozen missiles and launchers to Damascus, but also has helped Syria
developed Scud-C production capabilities over the last several years.
Northeast Asian Futureshock
Rarely are the proliferation threats of U.S. allies discussed in the
context of proliferation. While the activities of South Korea and Japan are
not a threat to the United States per se, to the degree that either develop
missile or other WMD capabilities in the coming decade, it could be the
harbinger of a destabilizing scenario in Northeast Asia by 2010-15 that
could harm U.S. interests and is thus, worth noting.
In the 1970s both South Korea and Taiwan sought to develop nuclear weapons
capability. It was the unique position of the U.S. and its security
umbrella that led to the culmination of those programs. Seoul currently has
no missile programs beyond those in the short-range category well under
MTCR limits. In the case of the Republic of Korea, however, it is quite
possible that Korea will be unified under Seoul's terms within the next
decade. A unified Korea could well inherit not only nuclear weapons
capability, but chemical, biological and intermediate range missile
Apart from this potential Ukraine-type problem, I would emphasize to this
commission that the future of a U.S. military presence in Korea after
unification is highly problematic. To the degree that the U.S. security
relationship with Korea frays, a unified Korea surrounded by nuclear powers
and bin Japan, what may be perceived as a virtual nuclear power, there will
be a Korean nuclear temptation. One step removed from that, with a highly
developed civil nuclear power industry, Korea may seek U.S. permission to
reprocess, which could provide its fissile material--and the ability to
become a virtual nuclear power. I mention this not because I think it is
inevitable or even likely, but because it is a woefully under-appreciated
Similarly, Japan has developed the H-2 rocket, though for purposes of
satellite launch and reconnaissance capabilities. In addition, Japan is
acquiring amounts of plutonium as part of its civilian nuclear power
program. In the perception of Chinese or Koreans, a worst-case scenario
where Japan could be viewed as a virtual nuclear power is not unimaginable.
Again, the U.S. nuclear umbrella will be an important factor shaping
Japanese perceptions and behavior, perhaps more than missile defense
capabilities which Tokyo will likely acquire over the coming decade (and
with AEGIS cruisers and AWACS already has an infrastructure for).
What does all this mean in terms of American security? Let me offer a few
concluding thoughts. In regard to missile threats, those affecting the
ability to fight and prevail in a regional conflict involve a mix of
deterrence and defensive systems principally with endo-atmospheric
capabilities--PAC-3, Navy Lower Tier, MEADS. The near-term and current
threat is short-range missiles and cruise missiles. We have been remiss in
not developing and deploying such the most advanced theater systems sooner.
In judging missile threats it is important to bear in mind that unlike a
terrorist bomb in a suitcase, missiles have return addresses. Even those we
deride as "rogue states," a misleading term which impugns a lack of
rationality to an actor that may merely employ a different frame of
reference or logic system, are not suicidal. Thus, the notion that North
Korea would decide to fire a shot at Alaska, launching a war with the U.S.
because it had the capability to do so is a bit of a stretch. I would also
argue that of late we have begun to underestimate deterrence. Certainly on
the Korean Peninsula, as was the case with the USSR during the Cold War,
deterrence worked and works still.
Lastly while no President can in good conscience decline to invest in
technology that could ultimately move us toward a defensive world, there
are only two major powers with the ability to threaten the U.S. with
long-range attack, Russia and China. I would argue that in both cases
deterrence works, as does arms reductions to reduce the number of missiles
potentially able to harm us. But before deploying systems with strategic
capability, Chinese concerns should be factored in, and if possible some
understanding with Beijing should be reached. From the worst-case
perspective of a Chinese strategic planner, fear that their modest
deterrent might be neutralized is not an unreasonable concern. This could
stimulate a Chinese decision to MIRV on a significant scale or more
broadly, build up numbers of warheads (and dummies) which might render
strategically capable systems less than 95% effective counterproductive if
China has an arsenal of say, 1000 or more warheads. At present, the
technology allowing more than 70% effectiveness does not exist to my
knowledge. Would you buy a fire insurance policy if the cost was high and
it only covered your bathroom under certain conditions?
The point I want to stress here is that we have ample window in which to
develop national missile defense systems. But there is a real urgency in
deploying the most capable theater systems to counter, short-range and
cruise missile threats. U.S. research, development and procurement should
reflect this reality.
1. Robert Manning is a Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations.
Previously (1994-97) Senior Fellow, Progressive Policy Institute overseeing
foreign policy, defense, and trade issues. His work has revolved around the
broad theme of defining post-Cold War foreign policy, with an emphasis on
nuclear strategy and non-proliferation, security and economic architecture
in the Asia-Pacific region, and defense planning and policy.