Why is the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) still on the public agenda? Didn’t reputable scientists tell us that it was a scientific and technological impossibility to develop? And didn’t they also tell us that even if it should turn out to be feasible, it would be too expensive? Wasn’t it ludicrous to hear Ronald Reagan talk about a shield to protect our country from nuclear missiles; and didn’t all kinds of “experts” treat the idea of what they called “Star Wars” with derision and contempt? Anyhow, now that the cold war is over, and we no longer have an enemy, why do we need a defense against nuclear missiles at all?
Yet a Congress overwhelmingly controlled by Democrats appropriated a record $4.15 billion for SDI this past year, with the expectation that the sum will not be appreciably cut for the fiscal year which began on October 1, in spite of our nation’s fiscal crunch. Why? It surely is not because of pressure by the defense industry for contracts and jobs, because in reality the SDI funding is spread around the country in relatively small amounts.
That is not all. The Russians are now responding affirmatively to the eight-year-old offer of Ronald Reagan that we share technology and learn how to work together to develop defenses against nuclear ballistic missiles that threaten us both. In a talk to the United Nations on January 31, 1992, the Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, asserted: “I think the time has come to consider creating a global system for the protection of the world community” against nuclear missiles. He repeated the call for a global protection system to great applause in his address to the U.S. Congress on June 17, 1992. That same month, Yeltsin and President George Bush agreed in their Washington summit on a shared program for early warning of missile launches. Follow-up meetings of experts took place in Moscow the next month. Russia clearly believes itself to be vulnerable and also wants to preserve its technological base and gain from ours.
At a recent seminar in Erice, Sicily, Dr. E.P Velikhov, one of Russia’s most respected scientists and President Yeltsin’s adviser on nuclear matters, strongly urged the development of a global system of defenses against ballistic-missile attacks of all types. Wearing an SDI necktie, he argued that Mutual Assured Protection, rather than the long-cherished Mutual Assured Destruction of the cold war, should guide the new relationship among the U.S., Russia, and other responsible states. Joining other scientists at the seminar, Velikhov emphasized that space-based SDI sensors could have a dual use. In addition to monitoring the skies for missiles, they could, in an ecological role, monitor the skies for environmental damage.
Why the dramatic change? The reason primarily rests on the growing realization that it is much easier to build nuclear weapons than we once thought; and that missiles to hurl them through space directly to their targets are now readily available on the international commercial market. The CIA recently told Congress that in seven or eight years, twenty nations are likely to have ballistic missiles and that perhaps fifteen third-world countries may well have their own missile-production facilities within that time frame.
North Korea, for example, is now producing and selling a more modern weapon than the Scud used by Iraq in Desert Storm. This new weapon, known as Scud-C, has a range of 300-400 miles; and the North Koreans are beginning to deploy a later version, Scud-D, with a 650-mile range. The Scud-D can reach Japan, which does not have an SDI program to defend itself. The North Koreans also have two nuclear reactors that are supposed to start operations later this year, with a combined power level of hundreds of millions of watts, producing enough plutonium to make roughly a bomb a month.
To judge by North Korea’s past record, it will sell this expertise as well as the nuclear weapons themselves to anyone with cash. In fact, purchases of Scuds and other arms by Libya and other third-world countries have already yielded billions of dollars to North Korea. The extremely high value placed on nuclear weapons in the third world is likely to lead to sales that will dwarf even these amounts.
An incident involving India suggests the price radical terrorists would be willing to pay in order to obtain nuclear weapons. According to the Indian ambassador to the United States, after India exploded its first nuclear weapon, Libya offered to pay an amount comparable to the Indian national debt—about $15 billion at the time—for access to India’s nuclear-weapons technology.
United Nations experts, studying the evidence they collected on the Iraqi nuclear-weapons program, have concluded that at the outbreak of the Gulf war, Iraq was only a year or two from completing a Hiroshima-sized device—the explosive equivalent of 10,000 tons of TNT packed into a warhead small enough to launch from a Scud. The Iraqi bomb-building program was drastically disrupted by the war, but Iraq is already reconstructing some of the nuclear sites bombed by the U.S. and our allies. One of the UN officials on the on-site inspection team reported that technicians working at the Iraqi nuclear-test site at Al Atheer told him, “We are waiting for you to leave.”
Iraq has large deposits of uranium within its borders. Most of it is the isotope Uranium-238, a relatively inert variety of uranium whose nucleus does not undergo fission and cannot be used to make bombs. Only 1 percent or so is Uranium-235, the fissionable isotope that can be made to explode. The challenge confronting the Iraqi and other bomb-builders—as it confronted American scientists in World War II—is to separate the desirable Uranium-235 from the unwanted Uranium-238.
As the United States did in the Manhattan Project, Iraq under Saddam Hussein simultaneously pursued several paths in an all-out drive toward the ultimate weapon. After some experimentation, the Iraqis chose two relatively low-tech methods—the calutron and the centrifuge—for concentrating the Uranium-235 in the ore they mined. The UN investigators discovered that the Iraqis were building enough calutrons and centrifuges to make materials for two to four bombs a year.
The Iraqi calutrons and centrifuges are big devices: the calutrons are 18 feet across and weigh 50 tons. Yet all this activity went unnoticed and unsuspected, not only by the UN inspectors but by U.S. intelligence. During the 1980’s, Saddam surreptitiously created a complete industrial complex for mining uranium, concentrating the Uranium-235, and designing and testing his own nuclear weapons. Saddam’s atomic-bomb program involved altogether some 30 plants. The existence of these plants was never suspected by the International Atomic Energy Authority (IAEA), despite repeated on-site inspections over the course of the decade.
The French and Russians had provided Iraq with a substantial amount of Uranium-235 for use in a research reactor. Every six months for years, teams from the IAEA inspected the half-built reactor and its core of enriched uranium. Each time they reported that all the French and Russian uranium was intact; none had been diverted to illicit weapons projects. The IAEA inspectors, diverted to look elsewhere, failed to detect the existence of the enormous covert Iraqi effort, which was based on uranium supplied by Iraq itself from its own mines.
Iraq had signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty designed to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons. In hindsight it is clear that Saddam used the respectability he achieved as a signer of the treaty as a cover for an enormous secret-weapons program.
The Iraqi program has been derailed temporarily, but Iran, Libya, Algeria, and North Korea also have large-scale nuclear-weapons projects in progress. China has announced that it will build a 300-million-watt nuclear reactor in Iran, sufficient to produce plutonium for several atomic bombs a year. The Iranians are reported to have received a calutron from China. While a single calutron cannot produce enough Uranium-235 to make a bomb in a reasonable time, the one calutron the Iranians possess can readily be cloned by them into a large number.
Algeria has also received massive assistance from China in its atomic-bomb program, particularly in the construction of a large nuclear reactor suitable for manufacturing plutonium. Plutonium is a nuclear explosive as powerful as Uranium-235 and much easier to produce. The Algerian reactor under construction by Chinese technicians is reported to have a power level of tens of millions of watts and a plutonium output sufficient for two or three bombs a year when completed.
Even more disquieting developments stem from the economic and political turmoil in the former Soviet Union. Russian nuclear scientists, who know all the tricks of designing and building the most advanced nuclear weapons, are paid between $5 and $10 a month at current exchange rates. According to Science, they have been offered up to $400,000 a year to share their knowledge with third-world countries.
The same countries that have been pushing their nuclear programs hardest also have been the heaviest investors in ballistic missiles. Several have built factories, with assistance mainly from North Korea and China, for turning out large numbers of ballistic missiles in their own countries. When these states also acquire weapons of mass destruction, they will have the means in hand for delivering them to the territories of their traditional enemies. The temptation to settle old quarrels with the ultimate weapon may well be irresistible.
Many nations also have or will soon have the capability for manufacturing equally fearsome chemical and biological weapons. These weapons are agents of mass destruction—as much so as nuclear weapons and considerably cheaper to make. The amount of nerve gas on the head of a pin is sufficient to cause the death of a human being. One 300-millionth of an ounce of anthrax is lethal if inhaled. A few hundred pounds of anthrax, dispersed over a city, can kill one million people at a cost of less than $100,000. In deaths per dollar, anthrax and nerve gas are far more cost-effective than nuclear weapons.
Chemical and biological weapons are not only much cheaper than nuclear weapons, but also far easier to produce. They require only drugstore technology. An Iranian government official recently called them “the poor man’s atomic bomb.”
UN inspection teams discovered after the Gulf war that Iraq had built plants with a capacity for manufacturing 20,000 pounds of anthrax a year, and 500 tons a year of nerve gas and mustard gas. In future conflicts and peacekeeping operations, American forces situated overseas would be vulnerable to chemical attacks. Iranian missiles tipped with chemical warheads could have wiped out the U.S. forces stationed at the Dhahran air base in Saudi Arabia—less than 200 miles from Iraq, directly across the Persian Gulf. In the Gulf war, U.S. Navy ships were tied up for days at Dhahran while their cargoes were unloaded, easy prey for Scuds armed with nerve gas.
America’s allies in Europe are also under the gun. The distance from northern Tripoli to Rome is 600 miles—within the range of missiles being sold in the third world by North Korea and China. Roughly the same distance separates Algiers from Paris. Will our European allies support the U.S. in the next confrontation with an aggressor if he possesses the means of exploding nuclear warheads over Rome and Paris, or dispersing nerve gas and anthrax spores over their populations? Will an American President risk the destruction of the centers of Western civilization by calling the bluff of a nuclear-armed fanatic?
Had Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons capable of striking European and American citizens at the time he invaded Kuwait, it is questionable whether President Bush would have undertaken his military response. Had Saddam’s nuclear weapons been only capable of striking Iraq’s immediate neighbors, it is not likely we would have been able to persuade any Arab states to join us.
A unique situation has developed in the world in the aftermath of the cold war. The columnist Charles Krauthammer says, “Missiles shrink distance. Weapons of mass destruction multiply power.” Through the spread of these devices and the technologies required for their manufacture, smaller states can bring to heel the greatest military power the world has ever known. Applying nuclear, chemical, and bacteriological blackmail, they can prevent the U.S. from using its power in defense of its legitimate interests and for the protection of its friends and allies among the democratic nations.
How is the United States to deal with this unprecedented problem? Possible responses include arms-control treaties, deterrence by the threat of devastating retaliation, and an active defense that destroys missiles. Let us look at each of these in turn.
Arms-control treaties and controls over the transfer of weapons technology are attractive, because they appear simple and cost least. But recent experience does not lead to optimism regarding this approach. It is a discouraging fact that Saddam, after signing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, was able to mount a nuclear-weapons program comparable in scope, though not in genius, to our own Manhattan Project.
Experience with treaties relating to chemical and biological warfare—the 1925 Protocol forbidding the use of poison gases, and the 1972 Convention on Bacteriological and Toxin Weapons—has also been disappointing. Iraq signed the 1925 Protocol, but then used poison gas extensively during its war with Iran. After the Gulf war, UN investigators discovered that Iraq had stockpiled thousands of bombs and artillery shells, filled with nerve gas and mustard gas.
Iraq also signed the 1972 Convention forbidding the production of biological weapons, but admitted to the UN inspection team last year that it had been working on anthrax as well as botulism toxin—possibly, along with cobra venom, the most poisonous substance known. The inspection team unearthed facilities in Iraq for production, testing, and storage of these deadly poisons.
The history of events in Iraq, then, suggests that treaties and controls over technology transfer are readily circumvented by an aggressive and reckless leader set on developing weapons of mass destruction.
The second possible response—the threat of devastating retaliation—is more likely to be an effective deterrent to aggression. This strategy—Mutual Assured Destruction, or MAD, in its superpower context—demonstrated its effectiveness during the standoff between the U.S. and the USSR that endured for more than 40 years.
Expert opinion is divided, however, on the value of nuclear deterrence in regional conflicts. On the one hand, Saddam was apparently undaunted by the nuclear arsenal of the United States and had to be driven out of Kuwait. He appeared confident that the U.S. would not initiate the use of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
On the other hand, Iraq did not use chemical weapons against Israel, although the UN inspection teams found that the Iraqis had large stockpiles of nerve gas and 30 chemically-armed Scud warheads. No doubt sharing in the general belief that Israel possesses nuclear weapons, Saddam probably feared that the Israelis would retaliate with those weapons if he gassed Tel Aviv. In this instance, deterrence by the threat of devastating retaliation seems to have worked.
While deterrence may have worked for Israel in the Gulf war, however, the Israelis cannot count on its working in the future. If Saddam had an arsenal of nuclear weapons and not just 30 chemical warheads, he might have gambled that a surprise attack with nuclear-tipped missiles on Israel’s military bases and launch sites would cripple the Israeli forces of retaliation, or at least reduce to a tolerable level their ability to inflict punishment on Iraq.
No sane leader would make that gamble, but that is the weakness in the MAD strategy. It assumes that hostile leaders will be rational and governed by reasonable standards of prudence. If that assumption ever proves wrong, the strategy will fail. When it fails, the failure will be catastrophic. What satisfaction would it be to the Israelis, as their nation is destroyed, to know that they had destroyed the cities of Iraq? There would be some, but not much.
Driven by these doubts, military planners in Israel are moving toward the deployment of a defense that can intercept ballistic missiles in flight and destroy them before they do any damage. The intercepting missiles planned by the Israelis for this job are called Arrows. They are being developed with help from the U.S., and are generically similar to the Patriot, which attracted our attention as a defense against the Scud during Desert Storm, but use a more advanced technology. The latest versions are rockets with “eyes” and “brains”—sensors to see the approaching missile and sufficient computing power to home in on it and explode in its vicinity.1
Estimates of the effectiveness of these intercepting missiles range from 90 percent under idealized conditions down to about 70 percent when they are launched under operational pressures. Assuming an intermediate value of 80 percent, these interceptors would destroy four out of five attacking missiles. If the interceptions occurred at a sufficient altitude, there would be time to target a second shot on the attacking missiles that leaked through the first layer of defense. The second shot would again intercept four in five of the leakers. This means that, with a two-layer defense, only one attacking missile in 25 would reach its target.
A missile defense of this kind, combined with a powerful retaliatory force, would provide a very strong measure of security for Israel. How would Saddam make his plans for an attack on Israel in the face of such a combination of missile defenses and retaliatory forces? Let us assume that he would not launch his missiles against the cities of Israel, because he would know that if he did, the Israeli retaliatory forces would lay waste his homeland in reprisal. He, therefore, might well conclude that he must avoid the cities in his initial attack and instead attempt to cripple Israel’s capability for retaliation by attacking Israeli military bases and launch sites.
Could he succeed? A crippling strike against Israel’s retaliatory forces would require, in round numbers, some ten nuclear-armed or 100 chemically-armed missiles. If the Israelis targeted two defending rockets against each attacking missile in a two-tier defense, and each rocket had an effectiveness of 80 percent, only one in 25 Iraqi missiles would penetrate the two-tier defense. Thus Saddam would have to launch 250 nuclear-armed or 2,500 chemically-armed missiles against Israel’s air bases and launch sites to destroy them. These numbers would daunt even the most imprudent leader.
Israel and other friends of the U.S. in the Middle East are not alone in their jeopardy. The capitals of our European allies and U.S. naval and ground forces in the Middle East will also soon be at risk from chemical attacks originating in the radical terrorist states of the Middle East. The threat will increase as some of these states acquire nuclear weapons.
Hence the protection of our forces overseas and those of our allies is also beginning to figure in U.S. planning for a ballistic-missile defense force.
SDI has under development several intercepting missiles that can counter these threats. The first ballistic-missile interceptor that will be available to the U.S. is an improved version of the Patriot, scheduled for early deployment. The other interceptors under development by SDI—which go by the names LEAP, THAAD, Erint, and E2I—use more advanced technology, and will take longer to develop. All these defenses are based on the ground. The miniaturized interceptors based in space, which hit their targets by swooping down from orbit, have had their development at least temporarily banned by Congress. We believe, nonetheless, that they hold great promise.
The SDI interceptor called LEAP will be particularly useful in the Middle East and Mediterranean theaters. First, it is extremely capable, with a first-class set of eyes and brains. Second, it weighs only twelve pounds and can be mounted on a Navy Standard Missile and fired from the deck of an Aegis cruiser. Third, this Navy-LEAP defense against ballistic missiles could be available as early as 1995 or 1996—earlier than any comparable program.
Stationed in the Mediterranean, Navy ships outfitted with LEAP interceptors could be an effective defense against nuclear-tipped missiles launched from hostile states in the Middle East toward Europe. They would also protect U.S. allies in the Middle East itself against the threat of nuclear destruction by their neighbors.
THAAD is a highly capable interceptor, but will be available somewhat later than LEAP. THAADs are small enough to be loaded in considerable numbers into a C5A Air Force transport and dispatched quickly to any theater in the world in which a crisis erupts. A THAAD intercepts the approaching missile at altitudes as great as 100 miles (compared to the Patriot’s five to ten miles) and also has a large “footprint,” or defended area.
The Israeli Arrow is intermediate in capability between the advanced Patriot and THAAD. Its defending area is not as large as THAAD’s, but it is well suited to the requirements of that small nation.
The advanced Patriot, Navy-LEAP, THAAD, and Arrow will probably be ready in time to counter the high-performance ballistic missiles which are now becoming available in the Middle East as a result of the marketing efforts of North Korea and China. The Scuds fired against Israel in the Gulf war were terror weapons, too inaccurate to be used against an air-force base or any other target smaller than a city. Syria recently purchased from North Korea that greatly improved version of the Scud called the Scud-C, which is sufficiently accurate to be effective against such small targets as military bases and missile-launch sites. The Scud-C also has a greater range and can reach any part of Israel from Syria. Iran and Libya are reported to be negotiating with North Korea for the purchase of more Scud-Cs, and for the construction of plants to manufacture Scud-Cs within their borders.
The introduction of Scud-Cs into the Middle East—as well as the even more accurate M-9s that are now being marketed by China in the region—magnifies the danger to U.S. forces stationed overseas, as well as to Israel and our European allies, in any future replay of the Gulf war. This beefing-up of missile capability that is now going on in the Middle East is particularly disturbing when viewed in the context of burgeoning capabilities for the production of nuclear and chemical weapons by Middle Eastern states.
There was an unexpected development in the Gulf war. When the first Scuds hit Israel, Americans and Israelis manning the Patriot batteries looked up into the sky and saw something that surprised them. The bright trail of the approaching missile was clearly visible, heated to incandescence by the friction of its rapid motion through the atmosphere. As they watched, the trail divided into two or three separate trails, and those divided again, until there was a veritable shower of light.
They caught on quickly to what was happening. The Scuds were breaking up into pieces as they descended through the atmosphere, and each piece, as it melted and vaporized, created its own incandescent trail. Later, when coalition forces examined captured Iraqi Scuds, the reason for the breakup became apparent. The Scuds had been cobbled together by the Iraqis out of pieces of rocket tank to give them the longer range needed to reach Israel. The workmanship was poor, and as a Scud descended into the denser air of the lower atmosphere during the final stages of the flight, it broke up, first into a few large pieces, and then into a number of smaller fragments.
The Patriot, confronted by this shower of fragments, could not tell which one contained the Scud warhead, and tended to go after the largest fragment because it generated the strongest radar reflection. But the largest fragment often did not contain the warhead. As a consequence, even when a Scud was successfully intercepted by a Patriot, its warhead often reached the ground intact and exploded.
Later, the Patriot crews noticed a useful fact. The piece containing the warhead was relatively heavy compared to the other pieces, and barreled through the atmosphere without being slowed so much by air drag. After a short time, the warhead pulled out in front of the shower of Scud fragments and led the pack. Word went back to Raytheon, the builders of the Patriot, to design a new computing program that would analyze the radar reflections to see which fragment was ahead of the rest, and make that the prime target for the Patriot interceptor. The new software went into action a few weeks later, just before the end of the brief Desert Storm campaign, and dramatically improved the Patriot’s score.2
But there was a downside to this experience that was not lost on U.S. and Israeli experts. Nor, we can be confident, were its implications less than clear to third-world military planners studying the lessons of the Gulf war. Through poor workmanship, the Iraqis had accidentally created a missile that could deploy decoys capable of drawing the Patriot’s attention away from the warhead.
What had been done by accident in the Gulf war could be and surely would be done deliberately, with even greater effectiveness, in a next Middle East war. Throwing out simple decoys does not require high technology, and is well within the capabilities of all the third-world states that are likely to stir up trouble.
It Is a modest advance in concept to proceed from decoys to cluster munitions—warheads built to hold not just a single bomb, but a group of up to 100 bomblets. Cluster munitions of this kind are available in the weapons market, manufactured inter alia by companies in South Africa and Argentina. The bomblets can be modified easily to survive a rocket launch and the heat of their reentry into the atmosphere.
After a missile has burned out and started to coast through space, it disperses the separate bomblets in the cluster. Each bomblet is a target that the SDI defense has to shoot down, so the defending force has to counter up to 100 times as many objects as before. For a massive attack by 100 missiles, that would mean 10,000 credible targets for the interceptors.
Since it would be extremely costly to deploy enough interceptors to shoot down 10,000 bomblets, the only feasible defense against a Scud armed with cluster munitions is the destruction of the Scud before it deploys the cluster. This means that the Scud must be intercepted in its boost phase, before it burns out and starts to coast. At that early stage in the rocket’s flight, the bomblets are still packed together in the warhead, and the SDI defense only has to shoot down one object: the missile.
How can the missile be destroyed in its boost phase? At this point it has not yet covered much distance, and may be hundreds of miles from its target. For the Scuds used to attack Israel, the boost phase lasts only about 70 seconds. The Patriot, Arrow, and THAAD defenses being developed by the U.S. and Israel do not have the speed needed to cover a distance of hundreds of miles in that short a time.
This takes us to the space-based interceptors being developed by SDI. They are very fast and will provide a very effective boost-phase defense against cluster munitions. But these space defenses are not slated for deployment until the turn of the century, whereas cluster munitions could become a reality in the third world in less than five years. In other words, a very dangerous threat will exist from roughly 1995 until the deployment of space-based defenses at the end of the decade or early in the next century.
Fortunately, there seems to be away to counter the cluster-munitions threat in time. The miniaturized SDI interceptors can be slung under the belly of a drone—a pilotless, high-altitude airplane—and dispatched in the direction of the attacking missile as soon as its launch has been detected. The task is to use the “eye” mounted on warning satellites to detect the launch promptly and provide adequate warning time. Traveling at four to five miles per second, the interceptor should be able to catch a Scud-type missile in its boost phase even if the launch site of the Scuds is hundreds of miles distant. The miniaturized interceptors designed for deployment in space, if slung under the drone, would do the job. So would the somewhat less brilliant LEAP interceptors. The exceptional smarts of the space-based interceptors are useful for the drone defense but not absolutely essential.
We excel at building miniaturized interceptors like LEAP. The Israelis excel at building drones. Countering the threat of mass destruction by the marriage of outstanding technologies in the two countries represents strategic cooperation at its best.
SDI has been roundly criticized by some who say it is moving too quickly toward deployment of missile defense, and by others who say it is moving too slowly. One reporter recently wrote that SDI is a nine-year-old program that has spent $27 billion “without deploying an anti-missile missile.” The critic ignored the fact that SDI has been primarily a research-and-development program mandated not to deploy in space because that would violate our Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) of 1972 with the Soviet Union.
While praise of SDI is considered by some to be poor form, we have a high regard both for the SDI organization and for Congress, which have jointly worked to overcome a most difficult combination of technical, diplomatic, and economic obstacles. Pressures from several quarters to kill SDI have been successfully resisted. The development of theater-missile defenses with at least minimally adequate funding has been undertaken. Congress has been warm to ground-based defenses but cool to defenses using interceptors based in space, although a space-based defense, in our opinion, would be a highly cost-effective approach to global protection for the U.S. and its allies.
“Eyes” in space—satellites that detect the heat of a missile launch—are as important as the interceptors. Satellite “eyes” played a critical role in the Gulf war in giving the Patriot crews advance warning that a Scud was on its way. A mature SDI system should include both space-based and ground-based sensors and interceptors.
The SDI program has been able to maintain its bipartisan orientation primarily thanks to the leadership of Senator Sam Nunn, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Representative Les Aspin, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. It has not been an easy task, since partisanship is usually the life-blood of American politics and because aggressive opposition to SDI has come from many congressional Democrats. This has made the Nunn-Aspin effort all the more noteworthy.
The debate in the country and the Congress continues. How best to deploy land-based intercept missiles? How efficient is the program? Are administration claims about SDI successes exaggerated? Are short-range “theater defenses” adequate for our security, or will we end up protecting our allies and not ourselves? Should we unilaterally move to end the ABM treaty restrictions on SDI testing and deployment, or should we wait until we can negotiate satisfactory amendments with the Russians? Is the administration faithfully and conscientiously carrying out the provisions and philosophy of the 1991 Missile Defense Act, ably formulated and consensus-driven by Senator Nunn, which provides for a single land-based intercept site with 100 advanced interceptors in Grand Forks, North Dakota—the first of six such sites designed to protect our whole country from missile attack?
Nunn and Aspin are each committed to the deployment of missile defenses against limited attacks on the United States. Both are urging an SDI program to defend against missile attacks by terrorist rogue states, or through accidental missile firings. These initiatives have strong support from Yeltsin as well as the Russian military. A number of European leaders, most recently Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt and Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van den Broek, support them.
It is interesting here to note that Dr. Velikhov, Yeltsin’s scientific adviser on nuclear matters, shares the belief that the SDI space program—including not only space-based interceptors, but also the extremely important satellite “eyes” or sensors located in space for prompt early warning of missile launches—should not be neglected. Indeed, contrary to many judgments in the U.S. government, he argues that the space-based defense does not violate the ABM treaty, since it would now be jointly operated.
A global protection system, including ground-and space-based elements, to defend the international community against ballistic missiles requires serious cooperation among nations. The SDI program seems now to be directed toward that end. The United States obviously no longer needs to focus as much on a massive attack coming from the Soviet Union. Instead we are addressing the threat from limited attacks by missiles with a variety of ranges and launched, whether accidentally or deliberately, from any place to any other place in the world. Nuclear proliferation is a major stimulus to the effort.
A joint high-level U.S.-Russia collaboration now exists and is helping to bring an SDI global protection system into operation. The teams working on SDI collaboration have a mandate to focus on the sharing of early-warning data on missile launches with a view to establishing a communications center for global protection. This will require changes in existing treaty arrangements and the formation of some new legal regimes. How to achieve global protection against missile attacks without threatening the security interests of any nation may well turn out to be a more difficult challenge than the scientific and engineering tasks that now appear under control.
One thing is certain: unless that challenge can be met, and unless the assault on SDI can be overcome, our allies and our own forces overseas will be left vulnerable to a devastating threat.
On the other hand, the end of the cold war has created a millennial opportunity to build a safer and better world. It is clear, as we contemplate the new dangers arising out of bitter regional conflicts in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, that the defenses developed by SDI have become an essential component of that new world order.
1 The key to the effectiveness of the new missile defenses is the miniaturized computer. Remarkable progress in the miniaturization of computer circuits enables millions of transistors and other electronic components to be packed into a silicon chip the size of a thumbnail. The density with which these electronic components are packed into the chip is beginning to approach the density of the neurons in the human brain. This miniaturization permits defense scientists to build highly sophisticated computer “brains” into a very small missile.
2 The strategy of going after the object that leads the pack may not work if there is a next time. It would not be difficult for the attacking force to include on the Scud a few cannonball decoys—small, dense objects that barrel through the atmosphere even faster than the warhead. Cannonball decoys would ensure that the warhead was no longer the lead object.