July 23, 1999, President Bill Clinton signed the National Missile
Defense Act (H.R. 4) into law and established as the policy of the
United States the decision to deploy a national missile defense
system as soon as technologically possible. H.R. 4 does not include
specific steps, however, to implement this historic policy. In
order to deploy a missile defense system, the U.S. military must be
able to test the systems currently under development against the
types of missiles that may be launched against the United States or
its allies. Today, the clearest threat of attack emanates from
North Korea, which surprised the military community last August by
launching a Taepo Dong-1 rocket over Japan. Unfortunately, the
Clinton Administration's current policy bars the testing of certain
defense systems against target missiles resembling the Taepo
Representative David Vitter (R-LA)
recently introduced the Realistic Tests for Realistic Threats
National Security Act of 1999 (H.R. 2596) to reverse this policy,
which is based on a 1995 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that
Third World countries like North Korea would not be able to launch
rockets similar to the Taepo Dong-1 for at least another decade.
North Korea defied this estimate in just three years. H.R. 2596
specifically would require the Department of Defense to test the
Navy's Theater Wide (NTW) system and the Theater High Altitude Area
Defense (THAAD) system against target missiles that simulate the
Taepo Dong-1 by the end of fiscal year (FY) 2001. Congress should
use the opportunity presented by H.R. 2596 to establish the steps
that lead to the deployment of a national missile defense system in
the near term.
North Korea's Threat.
Since the Cold War, the communist regime in North Korea has
remained hostile to the United States. Its million-man army
continues to threaten South Korea and the 37,000 U.S. soldiers
stationed there. And North Korea spends money to build up its
military force despite widespread starvation across the country. In
addition to the test launch last August, reports of North Korea's
covert program to acquire nuclear weapons and its recent purchase
of missile components from China have heightened concerns on
Capitol Hill about North Korea's intentions.
Since the 1980s, North Korea's arsenal has
included short-range ballistic missiles that are similar to the
300-kilometer (km) Scud missile. In 1993, Pyongyang tested the
Nodong missile, which has a maximum range of over 1,000 kilometers.
It is estimated to have about 50 such missiles. The expanding range
of its missiles became most alarming with the test launch of the
Taepo Dong-1 last August to put a satellite in orbit. This launch
surprised the U.S. intelligence community because the rocket
included a third stage, and although the attempt to deploy the
satellite failed, the rocket left debris some 4,000 km from the
launch site. If configured as a ballistic missile, the rocket is
estimated to have a maximum velocity of 5 to 8 km per second,
depending on its warhead. Both these characteristics mean the
rocket exceeds the Clinton Administration's arbitrary testing
limits on target theater missiles that have a maximum range of
3,500 km and a velocity of 5 km per second.
Realistic Threat Response.
In 1995, when the Clinton Administration announced its
intelligence estimate that no hostile Third World country would be
able to launch a ballistic missile similar to the Taepo Dong-1
within the next 10 years, it affirmed its policy to limit the
capability of U.S. missile defense systems to meet this long-range
threat. Consequently, its current policy bars the NTW and THAAD
systems from being tested against target missiles that resemble the
Taepo Dong-1. To begin testing against such missiles, Congress
should insist that the Administration remove its restrictions on
testing. In addition, Congress should instruct the Department of
Defense to establish:
- A testing program based on a more
realistic assessment of the threat.
Both missile defense programs are progressing according to a
timetable based on the 1995 NIE assessment. North Korea's test
launch last year demonstrated this assessment is flawed. A
realistic assessment would enable the military to remove the
technological and bureaucratic barriers to testing its current
systems against target missiles that resemble the Taepo
- Precise testing goals.
The NTW and THAAD missile defense programs should proceed with a
sense of urgency. Their scientists and engineers should receive
specific testing goals based on a realistic assessment of the
threat. H.R. 2596, for example, would set as a clear goal the
testing of both systems against target missiles with the specific
characteristics of the Taepo Dong-1.
- A clear deadline for development and
The NTW and THAAD missile defense programs have suffered
because of the Clinton Administration's mistaken NIE assessment.
They should receive specific deadlines for the development and
testing of their missile defense systems. H.R. 2596, for example,
would set the end of FY 2001 as the deadline.
- A streamlined management approach to
developing and testing missile defenses.
A streamlined management approach such as that used to develop the
Polaris system would enable the military to meet whatever deadline
Congress established. Section 2 of H.R. 2596, for example, would
direct the Director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization
to make necessary adjustments in NTW and THAAD program management
to be consistent with the legislation's testing deadline.
Streamlined management would increase the likelihood that the
United States would deploy an adequate missile defense at an
a bipartisan majority of Congress passed H.R. 4 last May, it sent a
clear message to the Clinton Administration that Americans in
general, and U.S. troops specifically, want and deserve protection
against missile attack. President Clinton agreed to this
presumption by signing H.R. 4 last week. But to get from that
declared policy of providing missile defense for America to
deploying an effective defense, the U.S. military must be free to
develop and test systems that respond realistically to the emerging
threat. Such legislation as H.R. 2596, which has the support of
House Armed Services Committee members Duncan Hunter (R-CA) and
Curt Weldon (R-PA), demonstrates that Congress understands this
need and that its support of missile defense is not just
Baker Spring is Senior
Defense Policy Analyst in The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis
International Studies Center at The Heritage Foundation.