The Heritage Foundation

Executive Summary #1303es on Missile Defense

July 2, 1999

July 2, 1999 | Executive Summary on Missile Defense

Executive Summary: China's Nuclear and Missile Espionage Heightens the Need for Missile Defense

Developing and deploying a credible defense against ballistic missiles for Americans now must become an even higher national priority following revelations in the May 25, 1999, Cox Report that China soon will have the ability to threaten the United States with new nuclear missiles based largely on stolen or purchased U.S. technology. U.S. technology in the areas of missile motors, nuclear warheads, nuclear reentry vehicle design, and perhaps even warhead penetration aids are enabling China in the near future to begin to field at least three new modern intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of reaching cities inside the United States.

According to the Cox Report, by as early as 2002 China could begin deployment of its new 5,000-mile-range DF-31 ICBM. From northern areas of China, this missile could reach the states of Washington and Oregon. Around 2005, China could field an 8,000-mile-range variant of this missile, the DF-41, which could hit most of the continental United States. Both ICBMs are expected to be modern, mobile missiles with solid-fuel motors, possibly armed with multiple warheads. China also is expected to deploy a submarine-launched ballistic missile similar to the DF-31. As the Cox Report and an earlier report issued by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence make clear, China's missile program has benefited significantly from U.S. technology. In fact, China's new nuclear missiles may have not been possible without access to U.S. solid-fuel rocket motor technology, modern small nuclear warhead and nuclear reentry vehicle design, and missile-guidance technology.

These disturbing revelations, especially when viewed in light of the volatility of U.S.-China relations and China's record of conducting provocative missile tests to pressure Taiwan and the United States, make it imperative that the United States develop and deploy a national missile defense (NMD) system as soon as possible. This means the Clinton Administration should abandon its adherence to the defunct 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which prevents the United States from developing effective missile defenses, and increase funding for existing national and theater missile defense programs.

To counter China's new missiles, the United States should:

  • Perform an intercept test of an upgraded version of the Navy Theater-Wide (NTW) missile defense system in a way that responds to the threat from China.
    The NTW system envisions 650 interceptor missiles to be deployed on 22 existing U.S. Navy Aegis cruisers around the world. Congress should require that the Department of Defense conduct an intercept test of this version of the NTW system against a target missile that has the flight characteristics of the long-range missiles China currently has under development. Considering the urgency of the threat, Congress also should require that this test take place no later than the end of fiscal year (FY) 2001. Finally, Congress should demand that the test demonstrate the capability of the NTW system to intercept a modern, long-range missile in the ascent phase of its flight before it can release multiple warheads, decoys, and penetration aids.

  • Revive the space-based interceptor (SBI) program.
    The Clinton Administration canceled the SBI program in 1993. The emerging missile threat from China reveals this cancellation was a mistake. Congress should revive the SBI program by allocating $250 million of the money to be made available to NMD programs in FY 2000 to resuming the development of this technology. Congress also should require that the Department of Defense conduct a test of an SBI against a target missile that resembles the long-range missiles China currently has under development. In this case, the test should occur before the end of FY 2003. As with the test for the upgraded version of the NTW system, this test should demonstrate the capability to destroy long-range missiles in their ascent phase.

The Clinton Administration's policy of observing the ABM Treaty, in effect, blocks much-needed progress in both the NTW and SBI programs. In the latter case, there is no program at all. The alarming developments regarding China's use of U.S. nuclear and missile technology to modernize its strategic forces means there is no time to waste. The United States urgently needs to develop and deploy these two systems to address the emerging threat, or it runs the risk of being blackmailed by China with missiles designed with stolen U.S. technology.

Richard D. Fisher, Jr., is a former Director of The Asian Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation. Baker Spring is Senior Defense Policy Analyst in The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis International Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Baker Spring F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

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