COHEN'S NATIONAL MISSILE DEFENSE STATEMENT:
WHAT DID IT MEAN?
January 21, 1999 -
John Isaacs - Council for a Livable World
On January 20, Secretary of Defense William Cohen announced major steps
toward deployment of a National Missile Defense, but avoided an outright
commitment to a system that is years from testing. [See Pentagon press
release following this analysis]
Cohen delivered a decidedly mixed message on National Missile Defense. As
a result, different media and Republicans came away with decidedly diverse
The Washington Post headline today declared: "Cohen Says U.S. Will Build
Missile Defense; Weapon To Be Pursued Despite '72 ABM Treaty."
The New York Times was more cautious: "Clinton has not approved the final
project. But with a growing number of nations building or acquiring
ballistic missiles, and with political pressure from Republican legislators
mounting, the Administration has come much closer to a decision to build a
The Washington Times declared: "Pentagon postpones missile defense."
Missile defense advocates were similarly split. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.)
said: "I applaud them, I'm delighted. I think reality finally caught up
Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) had a different take: "I remain skeptical given
the president's continuing lack of a firm commitment to proceed with
The following conclusions on National Missile Defense (Cohen also announced
decisions on theater missile defenses) can be drawn the press conference
1. The Clinton Administration has taken another major step forward — both
with money and rhetoric — towards deployment of a National Missile Defense.
The Administration added $6.6 billlion to the program over the next six
years, bringing the total to $10.5 billion between fiscal years 1999 and 2005.
2. The Administration has not yet committed to deploy a National Missile
Defense system, because, as Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, there is no
there there. That is, there is no system that has been developed and
tested that is ready for deployment. The Pentagon press release stated:
"No decision to deploy a national missile defense system will be made
3. The Administration expects to make a deployment decision in June 2000
despite the fact that the booster rocket for the system will not be tested
until fiscal 2001 and the kill vehicle (the thing that is supposed to hit
incoming missiles) will not be tested until fiscal 2003. In this
Alice-in-Wonderland world, the Pentagon will use "surrogate boosters,"
"surrogate kill vehicles" and some "surrogate radars" (their terminology)
in their testing program before June 2000.
4. Even with the additional money, the Administration has postponed the
initial deployment date for a National Missile Defense from 2003 to 2005,
because of the difficulties in designing a system that works. In more than
40 years of research, and the expenditure of more than $100 billion since
the program's inception in the 1950's, the Pentagon has been unable to
develop a system that actually works reliably.
5. The Joint Chiefs of Staff — which only last fall were skeptical of the
imminence of the missile threat to the U.S. — have turned the corner to
view the rogue missile threat (read North Korea and Iran) to the United
States as here and now. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton
yesterday concurred with Cohen's threat assessment: "I would simply like to
underscore the secretary's comments about missile threat that American
faces." With this new unanimity of view in the Pentagon, DOD's press
release stated: "Technological readiness will be the primary remaining
6. Cohen endorsed the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty while
simultaneously making it clear that the treaty will need to be modified.
He also indicated that the U.S. was prepared to cast aside the Treaty with
six months notice if the Treaty blocks our missile defense plans. He
affirmed "The ABM treaty I think is important to maintain the limitations
on offensive missiles [and] is in our overall interests." But he also said
"I believe it should be modified to allow for a deployment of an NMD system."
Cohen's announcement yesterday takes one more issue away from Republicans
for the 2000 elections. It is unclear at this point whether the
Administration will decide to work with Republicans to pass a measure (such
as the Cochran R-MS bill) that would endorse deployment of a National
As for the public's concern about National Missile Defense or any national
security issue, CBS News conducted a poll on January 19 after the State of
the Union address asked which one of the following three issues is most
important today: 1) education, 2) Social Security and Medicare or 3)
foreign policy and military spending.
47% of respondents chose Social Security and Medicare
43% chose education
9% chose foreign policy and military spending.
COHEN ANNOUNCES PLAN TO AUGMENT MISSILE DEFENSE PROGRAMS
DOD News Release No. 018-99 January 20, 1999
Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen announced today that the Defense
Department plans to allocate additional funds to National Missile Defense
(NMD) and Theater Missile Defense (TMD) programs to meet the growing
ballistic missile threats from rogue states to U.S. forces deployed
overseas and potentially to U.S. territory.
The new budget will request additions of $6.6 billion to current NMD
funding levels for a total of $10.5 billion for NMD through fiscal year
2005. No decision to deploy a national missile defense system will be made
before 2000. In theater missile defense, the new budget will continue
flight testing of the Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) program
and add money to the Navy Theater Wide program in order to allow
accelerated deployment of an upper tier system by 2007.
"The Department of Defense has long worked to ensure that our NMD
development program was properly funded. But until now, the Department has
budgeted no funds to support a possible deployment of a limited NMD
system," Secretary Cohen said.
"Since we intend to make a critical decision in June 2000 regarding
deployment, the budget we will submit in February will increase NMD by $6.6
billion, including the cost associated with NMD deployment over the Future
Years Defense Plan. This includes $800 million provided by Congress in the
FY99 supplemental appropriations bill and nearly triples, to $10.5 billion,
the amount we are budgeting for National Missile Defense," he said.
Last summer, the Department of Defense embarked upon a ballistic missile
defense program review that assessed the evolving missile defense
environment. The review addressed both the expanding threats from
medium-range ballistic missiles and the emerging threat from long-range
"We are affirming that there is a growing threat and that it will pose a
danger not only to our troops overseas, but also to Americans here at
home," said Cohen. "Last spring, a commission chaired by former Secretary
Donald Rumsfeld provided a sobering analysis of the nature of the threat
and of limitations on our ability to predict how rapidly it will change.
Then, on August 31, North Korea launched a Taepo-Dong 1 missile. That
missile test demonstrated important aspects of intercontinental missile
development, including multiple-stage separation, and unexpectedly included
the use of a third stage. The Taepo-Dong 1 test was another strong
indicator that the United States will, in fact, face a rogue nation missile
threat to our homeland against which we will have to defend the American
A Deployment Readiness Review is scheduled for summer 2000 in order to
assess the NMD program's progress and to provide information for a
"Our deployment readiness program has had two key criteria that must be
satisfied before we could make a decision to deploy a limited National
Missile Defense: there must be a threat to warrant the deployment, and our
NMD development must have proceeded sufficiently so that we are
technologically ready to deploy," Cohen said. "What we are saying today is
that we now expect the first criterion will soon be met, and technological
readiness will be the primary remaining criterion."
If deployment requires an amendment to the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty,
the United States will negotiate with the Russians in good faith. "While
our NMD development program is being conducted consistent with the terms of
the ABM Treaty, our deployment may require modifications to the treaty and
the administration is working to determine the nature and scope of these
modifications," Cohen said. "We have already begun environmental site
surveys for potential basing sites in both Alaska and North Dakota, and we
have briefed Russian officials on these activities," Cohen said.
Secretary Cohen also announced steps to advance the Theater Missile Defense
program, which is designed to protect our troops and allies from short- and
medium-range missiles. The Department recognizes the critical importance of
both land-based and sea-based upper-tier systems in the overall TMD
Money will be added to the Navy Theater Wide program to move it from the
development to the acquisition phase. The land-based Theater High Altitude
Area Defense program will continue flight testing. However, recognizing the
development problems associated with THAAD, and the very difficult task
inherent in ballistic missile defense technology, both Navy Theater Wide
and THAAD will be examined after initial flight testing to determine system
progress. Based on this assessment, the Department will be prepared to
reallocate upper-tier program resources to focus on the most successful
program. To meet the existing and emerging threat, our objective is to
field an upper-tier system capability by 2007. This would be an
acceleration for either system. Currently, THAAD is scheduled for
deployment in 2008 and NTW in 2010.
In addition, the Department will propose to restructure the Medium Extended
Air Defense System (MEADS) program-a cooperative program with our German
and Italian allies-to develop the essential technologies for critical
maneuver force protection requirements.
"These new initiatives will help to ensure that we will meet existing and
rapidly emerging ballistic missile threats as quickly and effectively as
possible, and in a manner that is integrated with our overall defense
requirements," Cohen said.
Council for a Livable World
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