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FAS Public Interest Report
The Journal of the Federation of American Scientists
May-August 2001
Volume 54, Number 3-4
FAS Home | Download PDF | PIR Archive
Front Page
The Central Deception of National Missile Defense
If Not NMD, Then What?
Sharing Missile Defense
US Government Fails to Lead on Small Arms
US Policy and the BWC Protocol
Intelligence Oversight Faces New Obstacles
Controversy over Wen Ho Lee Persists
FAS Status Report

Sharing Missile Defense

By Les AuCoin and Robert Sherman

Some commentators have recently suggested that President Bush offer to negotiate a missile-defense sharing arrangement with Russia and China.

Sharing missile defense is not a new idea. During the Star Wars debate of the 1980s, Reagan Administration spokesmen talked of sharing missile defense with the Soviet Union _ at a time when any computer with more than 32K memory was subject to national security export controls. In House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearings, we repeatedly invited Administration witnesses to state which missile-defense technologies they were prepared to share. The response was, invariably, a prompt shift into mumble mode.

Eventually the Reagan Administration allowed that it wouldn't actually share the technology, but might permit the Soviet Union to "share the protection" of missile defense. Presumably that meant that if American missiles were launched against the Soviet Union, we would use the American missile defense to shoot them down. Even in the surreal world of the missile defense debate, the giggle factor on that one was prohibitive, and talk of sharing went away.

There are several reasons why sharing fails to pass the straight-face test.

Begin with the technology any National Missile Defense (NMD) must contain. Even if it is totally ineffective, NMD will certainly incorporate our most advanced military technology, much of which will be applicable to other military systems.

Will we _ should we _ be willing to give the Russian and Chinese militaries such a major boost? It is incumbent upon advocates of NMD-sharing to spell out specifically which leading-edge technologies they are willing to share and why. Don't hold your breath waiting for them to do it.

The absurdity of NMD-sharing hasn't declined with time or with the end of the Cold War. On the contrary, it may be acquiring a grim new overtone.

According to some respected defense analysts, China will become a major military threat to the United States in about 20 years. This may be nothing but hype, but for the moment let's assume these analysts are right.

Today, Chinese military technology trails ours by decades. Are there any circumstances in which we should intentionally assist the Chinese military to close the technology gap? None are apparent.

To their credit, NMD advocates usually don't propose NMD-sharing as strategically merited. They merely offer it as an overtly political gimmick for political purposes. As such, it is fully consistent with the fundamental nature of NMD itself.

The problem with political gimmicks is that at some point they turn into real hardware that costs real money and has a real national security impact.

President Bush came to office carrying ideological baggage that threatens to undermine the military security of the United States. In the case of NMD, the strategic penalty will probably be seen as Russia and China respond by augmenting their nuclear offensive forces above the levels they would otherwise have, and as our relations with our allies become increasingly strained. All of that notwithstanding, it is unlikely that external reality will cause this Administration to question its NMD stance. Domestic political ramifications of national security decisions are on the White House radar screen with an intensity that national security itself cannot match.

But internal contradictions will be more difficult to avoid. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is committed to revolutionizing conventional capabilities of the US military, but now he finds that the funds to do it are not going to be available, and the shortfall is largely created by NMD. Missile defense is already the largest item in the defense budget. If past patterns hold, missile defense costs will escalate rapidly and dramatically. It must be dawning on Mr. Rumsfeld that he can have real-world defense capability upgrades to his conventional forces, or he can have National Missile Defense; he cannot have both.

Les AuCoin (D-Or.) served on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee (1983-1992) where he chaired an investigation of National Missile Defense. Robert Sherman is Director of the Nuclear Security Program at the Federation of American Scientists, and was AuCoin's national security staffer.

Summary of recommendations in A Nuclear Posture for the Next Decade**
By the Center for Defense Information, the Federation of American Scientists, the National Resources Defense Council, and the Union of Concerned Scientists.

Our analysis shows that US security would be substantially improved by adopting a nuclear posture for the next five to ten years in which the United States would:

  • Declare that the sole purpose of US nuclear weapons is to deter and, if necessary, respond to the use of nuclear weapons by another country.
  • Reject rapid-launch options, and change its deployment practices to provide for the launch of US nuclear forces in hours or days rather than minutes.
  • Replace its reliance on pre-set targeting plans with the capability to promptly develop a response tailored to the situation if nuclear weapons are used against the United States, its armed forces, or its allies.
  • Unilaterally reduce its nuclear arsenal to a total of 1,000 warheads, including deployed, spare, and reserve warheads. The United States would declare all warheads above this level to be in excess of its military needs, move them into storage, and begin dismantling them in a manner transparent to the international community. To encourage Russia to reciprocate, the United States could make the endpoint of its dismantlement process dependent on Russia's response. The deployed US warheads should consist largely of a survivable force of submarine-based warheads.
  • Promptly and unilaterally retire all US tactical nuclear weapons, dismantling them in a transparent manner. In addition, the United States would take steps to induce Russia to do the same.
  • Announce its commitment to further reductions in the number of nuclear weapons, on a negotiated and verified multilateral basis.
  • Commit to not resume nuclear testing and to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
  • Reaffirm its commitment to pursue nuclear disarmament and present a specific plan for moving toward this goal, in recognition that the universal and verifiable prohibition of nuclear weapons would be in the US national security interest.
  • Recognize that deployment of a US missile defense system that Russia or China believed could intercept a significant portion of its survivable long-range missile forces would trigger reactions by these countries that could result in a net decrease in US security. The United States should therefore commit to not deploy any missile defense system that would decrease its overall security in this way.

** The full text of this report can be found at