Testimony of Michael Krepon

President, Henry L. Stimson Center

Missile Defenses and US National Security

Committee on Armed Services, US House of Representatives

October 13, 1999

Mr. Chairman and Members of the Committee:

It is a great pleasure to appear before you. You have heard a great deal about ballistic missile threats and the need to amend or abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. I will leave these particulars to others; perhaps I can be of greatest service to you by providing a broader context for your deliberations.

I do so without the encumbrance or influence of federal grants or contracts, since the Henry L. Stimson Center is funded by private foundations. My views are entirely my own, and should not be construed as reflecting those of the Stimson Center=s funders.

Nuclear dangers are now growing on many fronts, ranging from Russia=s domestic weaknesses, covert missile transfers, lack of success in dealing with the most difficult proliferation cases, and growing strains on treaties to foreclose or reduce nuclear capabilities. The US formula for dealing with these dangers during the Cold War consisted of heavy reliance on huge nuclear arsenals, high states of launch readiness, and no missile defenses. This formula no longer makes sense. The next administration has the difficult task of coming up with a creative, new approach to reduce nuclear dangers.

These dangers are quite different and more complex than those preoccupying US presidents and members of Congress during the Cold War. In my view, the threats posed by new proliferation challenges and Russia=s domestic difficulties now require a new strategic synthesis of deep cuts in offensive nuclear forces, much reduced launch readiness, and some missile defenses.

A new US strategic posture combining deep cuts with defenses directly challenges Cold War thinking, which continues to dominate nuclear issues. Many arms control advocates equate missile defenses with instability, while many supporters of strategic defenses oppose treaties. Unless the next administration, with help from the Congress, can create synthesis out of division, nuclear dangers are sure to grow.

The transition from many thousands of nuclear weapons on hair trigger alert and no defenses, to much smaller, Aholstered@ arsenals with defenses will take many years. During this transition, some aspects of nuclear deterrence will remain constant: The over-riding purpose of a new strategic posture, like the old one, would be to increase nuclear safety and security. And as before, the new approach to nuclear threat reduction would require extensive co-operation with Moscow.

Why should the United States continue to co-operate with a weakened Russia at a time of unparalleled US strength? Because a Russia in distress with a surfeit of nuclear weapons and fissile material spells trouble for the United States, US allies, Russia=s neighbors, and non-proliferation treaties. Under these circumstances, the impulse toward unilateral steps to reduce nuclear dangers will be strongly felt B for example, by trashing the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and by deploying unconstrained missile defenses. But most nuclear dangers cannot be excised by unilateral solutions. The track record of co-operative approaches is far better.

During the 1990s, agreed constraints on strategic arms reduction treaties and missile defenses became the fulcrum around which many creative US-Russian co-operative threat reduction programs operated. These initiatives -- whether the Nunn-Lugar program, lab-to-lab programs to secure fissile material, or the sharing of missile launch warnings -- are now more necessary than ever, and will more difficult to implement if treaties continue to unravel. Even limited strategic defenses will further complicate the nuclear equation, unless co-operative approaches are deeply rooted. Without co-operation with Russia and, to a lesser extent, with China, success in countering proliferation will continue to be elusive.

A reaffirmation of co-operative approaches to reduce nuclear dangers won=t be easy, since the next US president will take office at a time when the treaty-based rules of the road for nuclear offenses and defenses are breaking down. Patchwork solutions are unlikely to work under these circumstances, although they will continue to be applied, given the multiple proliferation challenges ahead. All of these efforts have a better chance of success if a new strategic synthesis can be forged, one that combines deep cuts, reduced launch readiness and limited defenses. This formula, in turn, can strengthen non-proliferation efforts B if a transition strategy incorporates current US-Russia treaties, rather than throwing them over-board.

Transition strategies are incompatible with demolition techniques. If US- Russian treaties governing nuclear offenses and defenses are jettisoned, the Non-Proliferation Treaty=s future will be gravely endangered. The NPT=s connective tissue links non-proliferation with progress on strategic arms reduction. If one part of this bargain unravels, the other will, as well. Deconstructionist approaches by the Congress or by the executive branch are doomed to backfire, resulting in little co-operation and accelerated proliferation. I urge you to adopt a far different approach. A co-operative transition to nuclear safety is needed. The best hope for success rests on the foundations of existing treaties, suitably amended -- although other initiatives will play an increasingly important role.

Acceptance of a new strategic synthesis would require considerable adjustments in the way we think about nuclear weapons and nuclear safety in the post-Cold War period. It would require the development of a working domestic consensus on issues that have often divided Democrats and Republicans. Long-held rigidities on both wings of the political spectrum would have to be softened and a new common sense, centrist position would be propounded. If a new domestic consensus can be forged, the Kremlin might well be persuaded to accept it, although this, too, will be an extraordinarily difficult undertaking. Other countries long accustomed to Cold War nuclear doctrine would also need to appreciate the wisdom of new formulas to reduce nuclear dangers.

As nuclear dangers grow, old constructs are becoming less relevant at best, and even harmful to public safety and US national security interests. A new concept of co-operative transition to deep cuts and limited defenses offers a way out of this thicket. There is no better time to act boldly and creatively than when Russia and its nuclear forces face an uncertain future, when US military capabilities are paramount, and when the treaty-based foundations for nuclear arms reductions are unraveling. Deep cuts are not only compatible with limited national missile defenses, they are also essential for revitalizing the Non-Proliferation Treaty which is growing weaker as US-Russian treaties unravel. The next administration can grasp this opportunity, or deal in a reactive mode to the growing nuclear dangers that are now evident.

Russia=s internal weakness increases nuclear dangers, but it can also facilitate the creation of a new strategic synthesis. Russian nuclear forces will fall precipitously over the next ten to fifteen years, as Cold War-era missiles and submarines move dangerously beyond their service life, and as fiscal constraints prevent their replacement. Russia would obviously prefer that deeper cuts be reciprocal, rather than unilateral. The level of reductions that Russia now seeks -- to at least 1,500 deployed warheads, if not lower -- would also reduce considerably the number of warheads that are maintained at high rates of launch readiness. Even deeper cuts in deployed forces would have the added benefit of requiring non-trivial revisions of US and Russian targeting doctrines still rooted in Cold War concepts.

The next administration would be wise to secure much deeper, parallel, and verifiable reductions in nuclear forces than those now contemplated for START III -- perhaps to 1,000 deployed warheads. It is hard to visualize the damage that would result from 1,000 nuclear detonations, and harder still to explain why a force of this size would now be insufficient. Many independent groups of experts, such as those convened by the National Academy of Sciences, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Atlantic Council, and the Henry L. Stimson Center, have suggested that bilateral reductions to approximately this level could be carried out without harm to US national security. Beyond this point, verifiable reductions would need to be pursued in a multilateral context.

Steep US and Russian reductions in nuclear forces would also lower by several thousand the number of warheads on hair trigger alert, but residual forces on both sides might well remain in high states of launch readiness unless further steps are taken to Aholster@ these forces. The chances of greatly reduced alert rates in Russia absent comparable steps by the United States are nil. At the same time, there is no assurance that a unilateral lengthening of the fuse on US nuclear forces will lead to comparable restraint by the Kremlin. This subject therefore needs to be part of a broader US-Russian strategic dialogue over nuclear safety and security. The ways and means of lengthening the nuclear fuse and holstering nuclear forces will be difficult to arrive at, but this ought not to foreclose such discussions, as is now the case.

In return for carrying out parallel and verifiable reductions alongside Russia, the United States could reasonably demand quite a bit from the Kremlin, including revisions of the ABM Treaty to permit limited defensive deployments, and extending the scope of co-operative threat reduction programs to include the irreversible dismantlement of nuclear warheads for tactical as well as strategic forces.

As with any other military program, missile defenses should not be asked to perform missions that are not achievable, and taxpayers should not be asked to write a blank check for an ambitious program beyond its reach. Missile defense programs must therefore have a clearly defined, achievable mission. Oversight is needed to ensure that missile defense technologies are proven under repeated, rigorous testing, and that Amission creep@ does not raise the bar for defenses beyond which their effectiveness has been proven.

For the foreseeable future, only limited missions for national missile defenses might be achievable, depending on future flight test results against non-co-operative targets. Some states of proliferation concern will have small missile forces that could place US forward-deployed forces, US allies and friends, and even US soil at risk. In addition, the threat of a limited, unauthorized launch of ballistic missiles from Russian soil cannot be entirely excluded, especially if centrifugal forces within Russia continue to grow. In all of these cases, the launch of a ballistic missile with a weapon of mass destruction constitutes a low probability, but high consequence event that can no longer be dismissed. These limited threats call for limited defenses which can be accommodated by modest amendments to the ABM Treaty.

Why not proceed with unlimited defenses? Because unconstrained defenses will prompt the demise of most co-operative threat reduction efforts with both Russia and China. Unlimited defenses will also mean the demise of treaties governing nuclear offenses which, in turn, will turn the Non-Proliferation Treaty into a hollow document.

Can the benefits of unconstrained defenses outweigh the attendant costs?

An entirely different calculus applies to limited national defenses. Limited defenses, if proven under rigorous testing, can offer political as well as military benefits, and can be pursued within the context of co-operative threat reduction efforts. Will limited defenses work perfectly if needed? If perfection is the required standard, then government spending of all kinds would be greatly reduced. Does it make sense to seek to intercept missiles when there are other, simpler means of wreaking havoc with weapons of mass destruction? Yes B as long as counters to other means of delivery are also pursued.

Under troubling post-Cold War circumstances, a modest insurance policy against missile threats is worth buying. Buying too much insurance is not a wise use of taxpayer dollars. Abrogating treaties to deploy heavy defenses against light threats is profoundly unwise, in my view.

The launch of extended-range missiles carrying weapons of mass destruction B and the resulting break down of deterrence -- would be a seminal event. National and theater missile defenses can help lessen the likelihood of this tragic circumstance by demonstrating US resolve to defend forces and friends, as well as by countering states that seek to use missiles to extend their coercive influence in troubled regions. The political utility of missile defenses could be as important as their military effectiveness B if missile defenses are pursued in the context of collaborative approaches rather than by trashing treaties.

The approach suggested here involves bilateral US-Russian negotiations as well as extensive consultations between the executive and legislative branches in both countries. While amended treaty constraints are envisaged, less formal arrangements could well play a larger role. Co-operative threat reduction efforts would need to extend beyond current Nunn-Lugar and lab-to-lab programs. The next frontiers for co-operative threat reduction are reduced launch readiness for nuclear forces and the verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of nuclear warheads -- tasks best tackled outside of treaties.

The debate over deep cuts vs. defenses made sense during the Cold War, but it has now been overtaken by events. Both arms control advocates and strategic defense enthusiasts want to reduce nuclear dangers, but they are too wedded to old arguments to join in common cause. These tired debates no longer make sense to most Americans, who support deep cuts as well as defenses. Both objectives can be compatible and stabilizing as long as they are pursued co-operatively. The next administration and members of Congress face the challenge of turning common sense into national policy.