Statement of R. James Woolsey
United States House of Representatives
Committee on Armed Services
National Missile Defense Policy & the ABM Treaty
Mr. Chairman, Members of the Committee, it is an honor to be asked to testify before you today on the topic of National Missile Defense Policy and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972.
One of the most fundamental changes in the nation=s security in many decades is nearly upon us, and we are sadly derelict as a nation in addressing it. This is partly the result of several years= delay that has been abetted for the last four years by a very poor National Intelligence Estimate issued in late 1995. That now-famous estimate may have answered accurately the question it asked itself, but the result was fundamentally misleading because of the nature of the question. In essence, the 1995 estimate asked, AWill, in the next 15 years, a potentially hostile nation other than Russia or China be able indigenously to design, test, and deploy an ICBM with safety and reliability standards approximating those of the U.S. that will be able to attack the lower 48 states?@
The estimate=s negative answer was used in the 1996 campaign by the President to make the point that there was no ballistic missile threat to the U.S. for the next 15 years.
A number of observers were struck by the misleading nature of all this and criticized both the estimate and its use. Congress convened the Rumsfeld Commission, on which I was privileged to serve, to assess the ballistic missile threat. It reported a year ago last summer and stressed that, inter alia, the 1995 estimate=s assumption of negligible international trade and assistance in ballistic missile technology and development, its mirror-image approach to assessing the safety and reliability requirements, and hence the testing program, of such nations as North Korea, and its curious implicit assumption that Alaska and Hawaii were excluded from the federal government=s Constitutional duty to Aprovide for the common defense@ all contributed to the estimate=s misleading character.
The Commission=s view was that the imminence of the threat posed by the rogue states= ballistic missile programs in particular was far greater than the 1995 estimate suggested. The Commission stated that North Korea and Iran could have an ICBM within five years of a decision to embark on a program and Iraq within ten years. Further, it stressed that we might well not know when a rogue state=s program began, leaving us with far less than five or (in Iraq=s case) ten years of warning. As if to punctuate the Commission=s work, a few weeks after its report was filed North Korea tested a Taepo Dong missile with a third stage, demonstrating substantial progress toward an ICBM program.
Director Tenet has, in my judgment done a good job of leading the intelligence community toward a reassessment of the ballistic missile threat in the aftermath of the 1995 estimate and the Rumsfeld Commission Report. The recently-issued estimate might be summarized as follows: Within the next fifteen years the U.S. will most likely face ICBM threats from (in addition to Russia and China) North Korea, probably from Iran, and possibly from Iraq. North Korea could convert its Taepo Dong-1 Space Launch Vehicle to carry a biological warhead to the U.S. but is more likely to design the larger Taepo Dong-2 to be capable of carrying a nuclear weapon; a test of such an ICBM could occur at any time unless delayed for political reasons. Iran could test an ICBM capable of carrying a biological payload to the U.S. in the next few years and could test one with a payload sufficient to carry a nuclear weapon between 2005 and 2010. Iraq could test an ICBM capable of carrying a nuclear payload to the U.S. between 2005 and 2010 depending on the level of foreign assistance; sooner, within a few years, Iraq could test one that could deliver a biological payload to the U.S., if it began development now.
The new estimate also contains far more realistic, and troubling, assessments of the degree of international trafficking in ballistic missile technology and components and the possibility of short-range ballistic missiles= being deployed unconventionally, e.g., on surface ships, than the 1995 estimate. The new estimate also states that there is Aan immediate, serious, and growing threat to U.S. forces, interests, and allies@ from proliferating medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs).
In light of the above, I would suggest to you that, in the circumstances of today, strong support for ballistic missile defense and a willingness to amend substantially, even to withdraw from, the ABM Treaty is a reasonable position -- even for those who, like myself, have historically emphasized the central importance of offensive strategic weapons, have seen some value in certain arms control agreements, and did not initially welcome President Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative. The circumstances have changed, and that calls for a substantial change in our assumptions and our policies.
In order to make this clear, it might be informative to trouble you with a few biographical points. Thirty years ago, as a Captain in the U.S. Army, I was serving as an analyst of strategic programs in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, and in that capacity I was assigned as an advisor on the U.S. delegation to the first round of the SALT I talks in Helsinki. Thus I was a very junior participant in the initial negotiations that led, three years later, to the ABM Treaty. When the treaty was approved by the Senate in 1972 I was the General Counsel of the Senate Armed Services Committee and assisted Senator Stennis in the Committee's consideration of the treaty and the floor debate. Then for three years in the late 1970's, as Under Secretary of the Navy, I was heavily involved in the Navy's strategic force planning, especially for the Trident program, some important aspects of which were influenced by the existence of the treaty.
In 1983, I was a member of President Reagan's Commission on Strategic Forces, the Scowcroft Commission (and the principal draftsman of its report); we did not reject SDI when it was announced by the President during the middle of our deliberations, but it is fair to say that the Commission assigned SDI a decidedly secondary role to what we felt to be the nation's central strategic objective: maintaining a survivable and effective offensive deterrent. Following the Reykjavik summit of 1986, I was the co-author of an article in the New York Times Magazine that was highly critical of President Reagan's proposal there to ban all ballistic missiles and rely principally on SDI for our strategic protection. We wrote in the article:
"The official line has become a sort of strategic Manichaeanism: that there exist
only the dawn of S.D.I. and the darkness of mutual assured destruction that went
before it. The concept of careful and stable deterrence, with modernization of
nuclear weapons to improve their survivability, some militarily useful work on
defensive systems and moderate arms control, was abandoned."
One aspect of the approach to strategic issues summarized by this quotation, for many of us in the seventies and eighties, included adherence to the ABM Treaty. But for an important share of the treaty's supporters, acceptance of the treaty was not accompanied by any lapse into revery about the beauty of the concept of mutual assured destruction. It was very far from desirable, for many of us who supported the treaty then, that by agreeing not to deploy nationwide ballistic missile defenses we would thereby guarantee most Soviet missiles a free ride to American targets -- quite a few of us never liked the mutual aspect of mutual assured destruction. But we persuaded ourselves then that, nonetheless, the treaty presented the lesser of two evils, for two reasons.
First, we were not convinced that the technologies foreseeable in the early seventies, or even through much of the eighties, for ballistic missile defenses were going to spawn deployable systems capable of defending reliably against our major concern -- an all-out Soviet attack. Very little else with respect to threats was on anyone's mind. Thus we felt that the U.S. was not giving up something that was practically attainable when it signed on to the Treaty. Threats of lesser magnitude, other than the one that came to be posed by Chinese ICBM's, were not apparent in those years. (And for most of this period we were working cooperatively with China against the Soviet Union on a range of issues.)
Second, we felt that the massive Soviet lead in large ICBM's equipped with MIRV's, together with its reasonably capable ballistic missile submarine force, put a large share of our own ICBM's and bombers theoretically at risk if the Soviets should ever contemplate launching a first strike in the midst of some crisis, such as a war in Europe. This forced us in our strategic planning to rely heavily on our own ballistic missile submarines as the only truly survivable part of the American nuclear deterrent. Soviet deployment of an early ABM system around Moscow, together with their extensive infrastructure of sophisticated radars and air defense interceptors throughout the country, led some of us to join the you-need-both-a-belt-and-suspenders set. We wanted to ensure that -- even if U.S. offensive forces were heavily depleted by a Soviet attack and Soviet defenses were upgraded -- the United States' ability to retaliate using submarine-launched missiles alone would be clear and sufficient. We felt that checking Soviet recklessness in a crisis -- most likely one in which the Soviets would be able to count on superiority of conventional forces in Europe -- heavily depended on this clarity and sufficiency, and that limiting Soviet deployment of even less-than-perfect ABM defenses was extremely important to this end.
This thinking seems dated now -- to some it was not persuasive even in 1972 -- and it came to be increasingly questioned after President Reagan's famous 1983 SDI speech. By the nineties it became outdated in almost all of its assumptions due to the end of the cold war, the rise in the possibility of an accidental or unauthorized launch of a ballistic missile by increasingly chaotic Russian military forces, a more strained strategic relationship with China, and persistent work on both longer-range and more flexible ballistic missiles and on weapons of mass destruction by rogue states such as North Korea, Iran, and Iraq.
My point with respect to the ABM Treaty in today's world is really twofold.
First, there is common ground possible, today, between those who have been on different sides of the ABM Treaty debate in the past. Both those who have opposed the treaty for many years (often in company with early support of the more ambitious forms of SDI) and those, such as myself, who supported the treaty during the same period and were skeptical of ambitious SDI, need to realize that what matter, today, are the decisions that now need to be made, not ancient jousts between SDI supporters and ABM Treaty supporters during the era before the fall of the Berlin wall. We may have both been somewhat right and somewhat wrong. It doesn't matter. Together we won the cold war. It's time, indeed past time, to go on to the next set of problems.
Second, if one focuses on the strategic realities of today, I would submit that there is no strategic rationale for the ABM Treaty. The old rationale for our wanting to limit Soviet defenses, as spelled out above, does not apply to today's Russia or the Russia of the foreseeable future, even if that nation turns more hostile to the U.S. than it is today. Russia is no longer capable of threatening Europe with many divisions of conventional forces so it would have no advantage in a crisis on that continent. Consequently we do not need to rely in any day-to-day sense on our strategic offensive nuclear forces to protect our NATO allies from Russian conventional attack. Moreover, Russian strategic nuclear forces do not threaten a substantial share of our nuclear deterrent: the deterrent that we do maintain is no longer heavily reliant on fixed land-based ICBM's that might be vulnerable to Russian attack, and hence we have no reason to want to limit Russian defenses to ensure that our retaliatory forces would be able to penetrate Russian defenses.
The only rationale for the ABM Treaty today is one rooted in current foreign relations concerns: the Russians do not want us to withdraw from it, so doing so would, presumably, upset them and perhaps lead them to do other things that we don't want. For example, for the umpteenth time they may threaten to refuse to ratify the START II Treaty. But it seems to me there is a limit to the degree to which we should let this sort of thing influence us. The Russians were willing in 1992, following President Yeltsin's remarkable speech in January of that year, to consider substantial revisions to the ABM Treaty and to discuss mutual work on ballistic missile defenses with us. Perhaps this or the next Russian government will prove similarly reasonable in the future. That doesn't look likely today, but it is still worth offering, in my view, to work with the Russians in the way that we began in 1992 and abandoned in 1993. If that proves fruitless there are ample legal and strategic grounds for no longer considering ourselves bound by the Treaty. We cannot perpetually let our security vis-a-vis the likes of North Korea, Iran, and Iraq be held hostage to Russia's not wanting us to have defenses.
In the meantime, in my judgment, the Senate should not approve the delineation agreement that the Administration has already reached with the Russians, which limits unnecessarily the effectiveness of our theater defenses, nor the accompanying expansion of the treaty to encompass Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakstan -- a step for which there is not even the most remote strategic rationale. We don't have any reason to want to limit these countries' ballistic missile defenses. Why should we let them have a hand in limiting ours?
In my view only a shift to a fundamentally different kind of treaty dealing with ballistic missile defenses or a withdrawal from the 1972 treaty would meet our strategic needs. Even if one believes that a full defense against an all-out Russian attack is not attainable, the 1972 treaty clearly hinders our ability to defend ourselves against a number of lesser and plausible threats during this post-cold war era: blackmail by rogue states, an accidental launch from a more chaotic Russia, or a threat from China in the midst of, e.g., a crisis over Taiwan. As interpreted by, particularly, this Administration, the treaty is even undermining the effectiveness of our theater ballistic missile defenses, systems that are not supposed to be covered by the treaty. A very limited one- or two-site defense of the U.S., of the sort that might be compatible with a treaty that has been only modestly amended, would be essentially worthless against some perfectly plausible threats, such as ship-launched ballistic missiles, that we identified during the deliberations of the Rumsfeld Commission. Indeed against some very plausible threats, such as ballistic missiles carrying clusters of biological weapons that may be released early in the trajectory, only boost-phase intercept from space offers a likely response.
In short, Mr. Chairman, the world in which the ABM Treaty was an imperfect, but in my view reasonable, accommodation to the strategic circumstances in which we found ourselves is gone with the wind. In the new world in which we live we now require defenses for our security, and our treaty obligations must be adjusted to serve our strategic needs, not the other way around.