Statement of
Albert Carnesale
Professor of Public Policy and Administration
John P. Kennedy School of Government
Harvard University

before the

Comittee on Armed Services
U.S. House of Representatives

April 16, 1991

Thank you for inviting me to express my views on the implications of the Patriot missile system's success in Operation Desert Storm for the Strategic Defense Initiative.

Three questions provide the structure of my remarks. First, what has changed in the world of ballistic missile defense (BMD) since the mid-1980s heyday of the SDI? Second, how have these changes affected the arguments for and against BMD? And third, what are the implications for the future of SDI?

Changes in the World of BMD

I begin by identifying six important changes that have occurred in the world of BMD.

Patriot's Performance. First and probably foremost among these changes is the political push given to all forms of BMD by the perceived success of the Patriot missile system in the Persian Gulf War. My use of the term "perceived success" is intended to reflect the fact that we do not yet know the extent to which the Patriot system actually reduced the damage that would otherwise have been inflicted by Scud attacks. Despite this ignorance, however, the widespread perception is that Patriot was very effective. Dramatic television coverage of the Patriot versus Scud duels heightened public awareness of the threat posed by ballistic missiles, and led many to believe that BMD constitutes an effective response to that threat. As a result, the Gulf War has given a political boost to the SDI.

There is more than a touch of irony in Patriot's being a source of revitalized interest in the SDI. Patriot predates the SDI by well more than a decade. It was the promise of Patriot's development predecessor, SAM-D, that provided the incentive for the United States to confine the limitations of the 1972 ABM Treaty to systems for defense against strategic ballistic missiles; that is, to screen from treaty constraints systems for defense against theater ballistic missiles (TBMs). When the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO) was created more than a decade after the Treaty was ratified, the Patriot and other anti-TBM (ATBM) systems intentionally were excluded from SDIO jurisdiction. The intention was to maintain a clear distinction between ATBM systems and strategic defense, and thereby to reinforce the immunity of ATBM systems to ABM Treaty constraints. In short, Patriot has been about as far removed from the SDI as any Amrican system for defense against ballistic missiles could be. Unsurprisingly, ever since the Gulf War SDI advocates have been taking credit for Patriot's perceived success, giving the impression that It has always been there, and trying to package SDI projects as follow-ons to Patriot. We know better, but that won't change the tight psychological and political linkage between Patriot and SDI.

The Soviet Threat. The second major change in the world of BMD has been the recession of the military threat posed by the Soviet Union. While the Soviets still maintain a strategic offensive arsenal far more than sufficient to inflict mortal damage on the United States, the likelihood of Soviet actions leading to such a disaster has decreased markedly. Moreover, the Soviet economy is in ruins; the Soviet government is preoccupied with domestic problems; the Soviet Union's ability to project conventional force beyond its borders continues to decline; and the Warsaw Pact is dead. Accordingly, there is less need than before to enhance strategic deterrence by deploying defenses intended to complicate a Soviet first strike. Indeed, to the extent that some thought it necessary to deploy strategic defenses to deal with half of the Soviets' force of 308 SS-18 heavy ICBms, the START agreement, if and when implemented, will accomplish that feat perfectly and at near-zero cost.

Mission. The third change is in the mission to be performed by strategic defenses. No longer is serious consideration given to meeting the extraordinarily demanding goal of transcending deterrence; that is, to replacing offensive deterrence by perfect or near-perfect defenses. Nor does there sees to be such attention paid to enhancing deterrence by blunting a disarming first strike, or to limiting damage if deterrence of the Soviet Union should fail. Rather, the current focus of SDIO is on the far less demanding mission of protecting against limited strikes. A limited strike is an attack consisting of no more than a hundred reentry vehicles, which corresponds to about two percent of the reentry vehicles permitted in the Soviet strategic arsenal under the START agreement. This modest goal is a far cry from the "defense dominance" aspirations of Yesteryear.

Technology. Fourth among the changes is a move from defensive systems based on optimistic expectations of scientific breakthroughs to systems based on technologies in hand, within our grasp, or at least dimly in sight. Gone are the grossly exaggerated claims about near-term applications of X-ray lasers or chemical lasers in space, free electron lasers on the ground reflecting their beams off multiple orbiting mirrors, and neutral particle beams discriminating easily between real reentry vehicles and the most sophisticated decoys. We're back to good old-fashioned rocket-propelled interceptor missiles, probably fired from the ground, although space enthusiasts are eager to base some of these interceptors in orbit around the Earth.

Proliferation. The fifth change in the world of BMD is the proliferation of ballistic missiles. Ballistic missiles already are incorporated in the military forces of almost twenty countries, and the number is increasing. Many of these missiles could threaten U.S. forces overseas, our allies, and our friends. Several countries can arm their missiles with nuclear, biological, or chemical (NBC) warheads, and that number also will grow. Only the Soviet Union, China, France, and the United Kingdom have the capability today to reach the United States with ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons. India and Israel could join the list within a decade or so, but few if any other nations are likely to do so.

Defense Resources. The sixth important change is in the domain of defense resources. Unlike the mid-1980s, when many believed (despite evidence to the contrary) that the U.S. defense budget would continue to grow indefinitely, almost everyone now expects the defense resource pie to shrink in the years ahead. Any significant increase in funding for SDI would require a compensating sacrifice elsewhere In the Department of Defense. The competition for defense dollars is more intense than before, and is likely to become even more so.

Effects on the BMD Debate.

Let me now turn to the second question that structures my remarks: How have these six changes in the world of BMD affected arguments on both sides of the debate? Consider each of the changes in turn.

First, the perceived success of the Patriot in Operation Desert Storm undoubtedly enhances the political appeal of the SDI.

The second change -- recession of the Soviet threat -- cuts both ways. On the one hand, a collapsing Soviet economy and a less aggressive Soviet Union mitigate U.S. concerns about the prospects for, and potential consequences of, any significant expansion of Soviet defenses. For this reason, modification of the ABM Treaty to permit more extensive strategic defense in the Soviet Union as well as in the United States appears less risky than before. On the other hand, the reduced likelihood of a Soviet first strike against U.S. strategic forces surely lessens any felt need to deploy defenses intended to blunt it, and potential deep reductions in offensive arsenals would heighten our concerns about penetrating Soviet defenses.

The third and fourth changes -- retreating from President Reagan's SDI vision of "eliminating the threat posed by strategic nuclear missiles" to the Bush administration's far more modest goal of providing protection against limited strikes, and shifting the focus from BMD system based on unforeseeable scientific discoveries to systems relying more on plausible technological advances - together raise the SDI debate to a level of realism far higher than that of earlier years.

There is no doubt that the fifth change -- the accelerated proliferation of theater ballistic missiles -- heightens the need to defend U.S. forces and interests within TBM range. Fortunately, there are no indications of an imminent jump in the number of hostile parties threatening the U.S. homeland with ballistic missiles carrying nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction.

Sixth, the continuing decline of the U.S. defense budget augurs ill for the SDI. Thus far, the Army has been willing to sacrifice not one tank for strategic defense; the Navy not one ship; the Air Force not one plane; and the Marine Corps not one bayonet. I see no sign of support within the Department of Defense for a reallocation of resources of the kind required to facilitate extensive deployment of strategic defenses.

Taking into account all of these considerations, I conclude that the changes in the world of BMD bolster the already strong case for improving and expanding deployments of defenses against theater ballistic missiles. Their effect on the case for moving toward widespread deployment of strategic defenses also is favorable, but is not decisive. The strategic defense debate will continue.

Implications for the SDI

I now turn to the third and final question that structures my remarks: What are the implications of all this for the future of the SDI?

It is worth trying to set aside a few issues that need not appear on the agenda for the BMD debate. First, we need not argue now about the feasibility or desirability of deploying strategic defenses to transcend deterrence, to enhance deterrence, or to limit damage against a large scale attack of the kind that could be mounted by the Soviet Union. Few maintain that we could and should deploy such systems now or in the near future. Second, we need not argue about the feasibility or desirability of improving and expanding ATBM deployments. The inclination to do so is widespread. Third, we need not argue about the desirability of maintaining a robust research and development program in BMD. No one opposes it.

The central issues remaining on our agenda relate to the focus and scale of the R&D effort and to plans -- if any -- for deployment of strategic defenses.

The broad objectives of the R&D program should be to guard against technological surprise, to investigate countermeasures, and to pursue more effective BMD systems. In the area of ATBM R&D, emphasis should be on evolutionary ground-based systems, focusing in the near term on upgrades to Patriot and in the longer term on THAAD (Theater High Altitude Area Defense) and perhaps ERINT (Extended Range Intercept Technology). This exploration should include also systems employing sea-based, air-based, and space-based components. (With regard to space-based interceptors such as Brilliant Pebbles, however, I confess to an engineer's intuitive assessment that they would be less effective than their Earth-based counterparts in defending against ballistic missiles of short and medium range. The burden of proof should fall on those who make the counter-intuitive technical claim.)

Strategic defense R&D should have two main thrusts: first, development of defensive systems, probably ground-based, to protect the United States against small attacks of the kind that might be launched inadvertently, or without authorization, or by a nation having a small arsenal of long-range ballistic missiles; and second, exploration of advanced BMD technologies offering potential for meaningful damage limitation against large attacks. The latter effort calls for clarification and perhaps modification of the ABM Treaty to ensure that tests of components other than fixed ground-based ones are consistent with our nation's legal obligations.

As to the scale of the BMD R&D effort, I believe that funding on the order of $4 billion annually would be sufficient and appropriate to meet the needs of a properly structured program.

The leap from R&D to deployment of strategic defenses is a long one, and it raises some fundamental questions. Would the defensive system effectively protect the United States against even a small number of NBC weapons, especially in light of the many means other than ballistic missiles by which such weapons could be delivered? Should coverage be provided only to the 48 contiguous states of the United States; to all 50 states; to some or all U.S. allies and friends; or globally? Where should it be based? Would it be affordable and worth the opportunity cost; that is, would it contribute more to our national well-being than would other capabilities that could be acquired with the same resources? Would it require modification or abrogation of the ABM Treaty and, if so, would it appear to be worth the military, economic, and political costs of such action?

Our nation has not yet addressed-these questions adequately an they relate to the strategic defense systems currently envisaged, including the GPALS (Global Protection Against Limited Strikes) system now favored by SDIO. Until we do so, any plans for deployment of strategic defenses would be premature. Let us hope that the next phase of the American debate about strategic defense will focus on these fundamental questions rather than on the contentious ideological issues to which previous discourse too often has been diverted.