Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States
Appendix III: Unclassified Working Papers
Kenneth R. Timmerman 1 : "Rogue States and Ballistic Missiles: Lessons and
I believe one can draw a number of lessons from the public record on how
well we in the United States do the job of preventing ballistic missile
programs (and by inference, other WMD programs and technologies) in
developing nations, especially in what are now called the "rogue states." I
confess a modicum of responsibility for coining this term while working on
the professional staff of the House Foreign Relations Committee in 1993,
when we did a series of hearings on Iran 2 , Iraq 3 , and North Korea. Some
have objected that the term "rogue regime" is too lapidary, in that each of
the five countries normally referred to (Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya,
Cuba) present dramatically different realities. However, I still believe
that from a proliferation standpoint, the term is useful because many of
the problems non-proliferators face with these regimes are remarkably
The point of view I will present today, however, is that of a
non-government specialist who has had the good fortune of being the first
Western journalist to have discoursed at length with the heads of Iraq's
ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs in Baghdad, starting in 1986
4 . I have also spent a great deal of time poking through weapons factories
in a variety of developing nations. And finally, as a journalist I have
spoken at length - and repeatedly - both to Iranian missile designers and
to many of their Western suppliers, and have followed the arms and
technology markets in that part of the world for more than fifteen years. 5
So what you will hear from me today is a "ground zero" perspective, not a
policy pronouncement or an analyst's forensic reconstruction.
I believe we have done the job poorly because we do not get out in the
field often enough. And when we do get out in the field, we go to the wrong
places or listen to the wrong people. Or, even worse, if we do hear the
truth, we are culturally bound to reject it, because it challenges our
basic preconceptions about the ability of Third World countries to do
things we have always considered to be our unique province.
Lesson 1: The U.S. can't seem to keep an eye on more than one ball at a
Iraq: In the mid-1980s, the U.S. focused intently on Iraqi procurement
activities aimed at developing a 2000 kilometer-range nuclear-capable
missile, known in the West as Condor-2, which the Iraqis referred to as
Badr-2000 or Project 395. Condor-2 was initially intended to grow out of an
existing shorter-range missile developed by Argentina with German
assistance, the Condor-1. The U.S. government became alarmed when it began
to detect major transfers of technology, first to Argentina, by Germany's
premier aerospace concern, MBB. As investigators looked further, they
discovered that MBB was only the tip of the iceberg, and that major firms
across Europe were all contributing to what became known as an joint
Iraqi-Argentinean-Egyptian program. Snia Bpd in Italy provided solid-fuel
propellant technology; Sagem in France sold guidance kits; Egypt's Abu
Zaabal Specialty Chemical Company helped to build the Taj al-Ma'arik solid
fuel propellant plant in Latifiyah (al Hillah), while former MBB and Krupp
group engineers working out of Switzerland in the Consen group provided
overall program management. Even U.S. companies such as Electronic
Associates Inc., Gould, Hewlett Packard, Tektronix, Scientific Atlanta, and
Wiltron, legally sold equipment to the Saad 16 (known as the Al Kindi
Research complex as of 1989), until the U.S. began denying licenses to
Iraqi-based facilities known to be involved in Condor-2 in 1986.
The U.S. was so obsessed with stopping Condor-2 that the Pentagon, with the
blessing of the White House, launched an extraordinary - and initially
successful - diplomatic effort, to create an international club of missile
suppliers specifically aimed at stopping Condor-2. Today that organization,
the MTCR, has become an exporters cartel, not a control mechanism. But when
it was first established in 1985, two years before the MTCR was actually
ratified in public, it immediately set to work to frustrate Iraq's
procurement of solid-fuel propellants and precision guidance kits for the
Condor-2. By all accounts, the MTCR succeeded its initial mission. While
Iraq did manage to set up a solid-fuel propellant plant and to purchase
large mixers from Germany for manufacturing the Condor-2 boosters, the
vigorous international effort led by the United States prevented key
technologies - especially guidance - from reaching Baghdad. The end result
was the Condor-2 never took off.
But here's the rub: while all eyes were on Iraq's solid-fuel program, the
Iraqis were quietly moving in another direction. In 1986, at least two
years after the Iraqis realized that the Condor-2 was being targeted by the
Americans (because of the prosecution in the U.S. of an Egyptian military
attaché involved in procuring carbon fiber and other material for the
missile nose cone), the Iraqis launched a crash program to extend the range
of their Soviet-built SCUD-B missiles. In the immediately term, they wanted
the range to hit the Iranian capital, Teheran. Further down the line, they
wanted to reach Israel.
Western analysts have tended to pooh-pooh the extended SCUD program in
Iraq, but they miss the point: this is the one that worked. The Iraqis
succeeded in re-engineering the SCUD-B in something like 18 months - and
that's from the start of the program to operational missile launch. It was
these extended-range SCUD-Bs, now known as the al-Hussein, that Iraq rained
down on Tehran during the February 1988 War of the Cities. Their use is
credited (along with Iraq's extensive use of CW during the campaign to
liberate Fao) with convincing Ayatollah Khomeini to throw in the towel
later that year.
Iran: In Iran, a similar obsession with what was "known" appears to have
blind-sided U.S. government policy-makers (and I am being kind here) to
what was actually going on in the decision-making centers and the research
labs of Iranian missile programs.
Iran did not have the same problems with range that beleaguered the Iraqis.
Baghdad has always been within range of Iranian SCUD-Bs, without
modification. So all during the 1980s, it was assumed that Iran had no
strategic interest in developing longer-range missiles.
After the Iran-Iraq war, the U.S. became concerned with Iranian-North
Korean missile cooperation. Early reports, leaked to press, suggested that
Iran had purchased SCUD-C missiles with a range of 600+ kilometers. That
brought Saudi Arabia, parts of Turkey, and even Pakistan in reach - but,
most people felt, so what?
Then in April 1993, reports started to surface in the New York Times and
Jane's Intelligence Review, about a deal concluded between Iran and North
Korea one month earlier to co-develop the Nodong-2, a new missile with a
range in excess of 1,200 kilometers and perhaps as greater as 1,500
kilometers. This would bring Israel into range of Iran for the first time,
and received a lot of attention - not only from the press, but from the
I remember approximately one year later by Martin Indyk, who was then the
top NSC official dealing with the Middle East, that the U.S. had succeeded
in blocking the Nodong-2 program in Iran. This was subsequently billed as
an unintended positive consequence of the U.S.-North Korean negotiations
over the North Korean nuclear weapons program.
For more than three years, the word in Washington was that Iran's
longer-range missile programs had been blocked, because we had succeeded in
cutting off their primary source of technology: North Korea.
But guess what: while all eyes were focused on Pyongyang, the Iranians were
going elsewhere. It was precisely at this point, when North Korean
assistance appears to have stopped or at least slowed, in mid-1994, that
the Iranians turned in serious fashion toward Russia for the missile needs.
This led eventually to two separate families of intermediate and
intercontinental ballistic missiles, the first of which, the Shahab-3,
appears to be ready for production later this year. I have chronicled the
abysmal failure of the United States government to wake up to reinvigorated
Iranian missile programs in the Reader's Digest (Jan. 1998) and my own
newsletter, The Iran Brief.
I am convinced - and we can discuss this later on - that the Clinton
administration chose at a political level to push aside intelligence
information about the Russian assistance to Iran for long enough to be
unable to prevent the most critical transfers. As a result, Iran will
test-fire its Shahab-3 later this year, and this missile will be deployed
where it can threaten U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia and Turkey, as well as
Israel, within two years.
Lesson 2: The bad guys are much more skilled than we tend to give them
Journalists have a term they use to designate nationals of Third World
countries where taxis are cheap, security officials monitor your day-to-day
contacts, and the trains don't run on time: they call them "rag-heads."
But journalists are not alone in under-estimating the technical skills, the
scientific achievements, or the cultural depth of the nations that today
threaten U.S. interests in the Middle East the most, Iran and Iraq.
I can remember vividly long conversations in Baghdad hotels with French and
German aerospace engineers, who lamented the inability of the Iraqis to use
the fabulous technology they were putting at their disposal. One Frenchman
from Aérospatiale claimed the Iraqis regularly tried to blame their lack of
success with the Exocet missiles on factory defects, when in fact the
Iraqis were storing them in open sheds out in the desert. German and
Americans I interviewed who were selling machine-tools to the Iraqis never
believed they would be able to use them to manufacture anything more
sophisticated than a dumb steel-bomb. Surprise. The UN Special Commission
for the Disarmament of Iraq, UNSCOM, found these same machine-tools in
facilities designed to manufacture HEU bomb cores and tungsten-carbide
Iraq continues to have at least 10,000 skilled nuclear scientists and
technicians, and tens of thousands more Western-trained engineers who
continue to work on new weapons development.
We think they won't succeed in designing a new intermediate--range
ballistic missile capable without testing? How do you think the Iraqis have
succeeded in pumping any oil over the past five years? It hasn't been
through massive infusions of Western technology or spare parts. They have
the manpower, and the skills, the make-do with what they have got. The
paradigm is not that of Saudi Arabia or the UAE - or even the oil-spoiled
Iraq of the 1970s. The comparison should be that of Winston Churchill's
Britain under Nazi siege.
While Iran does not feel the same pinch as Iraq as a general rule, the
Revolutionary Guards thrive on a similar siege mentality. They have trained
tens of thousands of weapons designers over the past 15 years, and have
demonstrated a high level of skills both in resolving technical problems,
and in beating Western embargoes.
Lesson 3: Our export control system is not merely broken; it is
In the 1980s and early 1990s, we had tools and a relatively solid
international consensus in preventing the leakage of Western technology to
the Soviet Union through the mechanism of COCOM. Following Iraq's invasion
of Kuwait, the Bush administration attempted understandably to adapt COCOM
to deal with the emerging proliferation threat. While to many in Europe,
this smacked of a U.S. damage-control effort, they nevertheless went along
in the beginning because they also recognized the dangers of countries such
as Iran or Iraq equipped with WMD.
The dramatic shift in emphasis that began in September 1993 under the
Clinton administration to dismantle COCOM, while favoring U.S. computer
exports to China, was seen by our allies as the first ever U.S. action that
actually corroborated paranoid fantasies that had surfaced periodically
over the years that the United States saw COCOM as a means of obtaining
commercial advantage over European or Japanese suppliers.
This proved fatal to COCOM; and the organization was dismantled
unilaterally by the Clinton administration on April 1, 1994.
Since then, our former COCOM allies have maintained national controls on
high-tech exports to the rogue states - and in the case of Germany, they
have been very effective. But the U.S. has shown that the lure of exports
will get the better of national controls whenever large commercial
contracts are at stake (viz., China). The result has been largely a
self-fulfilling prophesy. Those who called export controls a "wasting
asset" in 1992 - William Perry, Ashton Carton, and Mitchel Wallerstein, the
three co-authors of a seminar study by the National Academy of Sciences -
were all appointed to senior positions by President Clinton and used their
new powers to abolish those controls, regardless of their effectiveness.
We can bemoan the results all we wish. But the result is that our
nonproliferation toolbox today is virtually empty.
In a funny way, the Clinton administration has recognized this. When it
became imperative to further restrict Iran's access to American technology
- because critical dual-use items were slipping through - the
administration decided in May 1995 to decree a total trade embargo, knowing
they couldn't enforce a selective tightening of export restrictions.
The ultimate downside to this situation is the erosion of any international
consensus for control regimes. The administration has contributed to this
by inviting known proliferators - Russia and Brazil come first to mind -
into regimes such as the MTCR. To fill this policy void, the Pentagon
My predictions are bleak, based on what we know from the UNSCOM inspections
in Iraq, and what I know from my own reporting on Iran.
* Iraq has maintained a broad-based missile production capability,
within the 150-km range-limit imposed by UN Security Council
Resolutions. It is clear that Iraq has designed new missiles with a
much longer range. Without second-guessing our intelligence experts
about existing missiles and launchers the Iraqis have hidden from
UNSCOM, it is also clear that Iraq will be able to jump-start a new
production program within months, if not weeks, of the end of UN
* Iran will succeed in deploying the Shahab-3 within he next 18 months.
This will bring Israel into range for the first time, as well as U.S.
staging areas in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Further down the line, Iran
may succeed in developing the Shahab-4, with an estimated range of
2000 kilometers, and is known to be working on a second family of
solid-fuel ICBMs capable of reaching Western Europe and the east coast
of the United States. While those missiles are further out, the speed
with which the Iranians developed Shahab-3 (approximately 5 years from
the initial Nodong agreement with North Korea to the anticipated
test-launch of a production missile later this year) should give us
pause when we try to estimate a target deployment date for these
Given our demonstrated inability of preventing proliferation in these two
rogue states, I believe we are in a race with time to see whether our
adversaries will succeed first in developing these new missiles, or whether
we will be capable of fielding limited theater missile defenses to deter
1. Kenneth Timmerman is the Director, The Middle East Data Project, Inc.,
which maintains extensive databases on strategic technology transfers to
rogue states. Investigative journalist and former Congressional aide.
Published several books and numerous monographs on international security
issues. Publishes a confidential newsletter on strategic policy and trade,
The Iran Brief, and consults for government and business clients. Executive
Director of the Foundation for Democracy in Iran.
2. "U.S. Security Policy Toward Rogue Regimes," Subcommittee on
International Security, International Organizations and Human Rights, House
Committee on Foreign Affairs, July 28 and Sept 14, 1993; ISBN
01-16-043984-1, printed in 1994; with attachments on U.S. dual use exports
3. "Iraq's Nuclear Weapons Capability and IAEA Inspections in Iraq," Joint
hearing before the Subcommittees on Europe and the Middle East and
International Security, International Organizations and Human Rights of the
House Committee on Foreign Affairs, June 29, 1993, ISBN 0-16-041691-4.
Includes a Staff report written by Kenneth R. Timmerman, "Iraq Rebuilds Its
4. I chronicled the Iraqi weapons program in The Death Lobby: How the West
Armed Iraq, Houghton Mifflin, 1991 (also available as a Bantam paperback in
the UK and in various foreign language editions).
5. See in particular, Kenneth R. Timmerman, "Missile Threat from Iran,"
Reader's Digest, January 1998; and various issues of our newsletter, Iran