The Heritage Foundation

Executive Memorandum #699 on Missile Defense

October 12, 2000

October 12, 2000 | Executive Memorandum on Missile Defense

Proliferation Continues After President's Decision to Defer Missile Defense

Arms control advocates would have Americans believe that deploying a missile defense "shield" would unleash a worldwide arms race, but the facts prove otherwise: America has deployed no defense against missile attack, and the proliferation of ballistic missiles and missile technology--already a matter of grave concern--is accelerating. An eruption of proliferation activity followed President Bill Clinton's announcement on September 2 that he would defer the decision to deploy a national missile defense system to the next Administration. Rather than give hostile nations a reason not to arm themselves, America's lack of missile defense has encouraged them to develop their missile capability. Recent proliferation activity underscores the urgent need for America to pursue global missile defense now.

The rash of proliferation activity is hardly surprising. Rogue nations would not invest their scarce resources in the development of long-range ballistic missiles against the United States if America was committed to deploying territorial and theater missile defense systems. It would hardly be worth their effort. But President Clinton's refusal to support the deployment of a robust missile defense program invites such nations to continue to pursue and perfect longer-range ballistic missiles.

Critics of missile defense argue that the threat of missile attack has decreased to the point that spending resources on missile defense is not justified. They point to the promises of leaders such as North Korea's Kim Jong-il to halt their missile development programs and Colonel Muammar Qadhafi's recent embrace of international norms. Time after time, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Jiang Zemin have scoffed at the idea that the United States is threatened by ballistic missiles.

Yet countries with a history of antagonistic behavior towards the United States continue to develop long-range ballistic missiles, which have no other purpose than to kill thousands of people. For example:

  • Libya has received its first consignment of North Korean Nodong Missiles.
    On September 24, London's Daily Telegraph reported that Libya had acquired the first shipment of its order of 50 North Korean Nodong medium-range ballistic missiles and seven launchers. The deal includes North Korean technicians, who will help construct the necessary maintenance and storage facilities in Libya. Nodong missiles have an 800-mile range, which will give Libya the ability to attack Israel and southern Europe and thereby target America's friends as well as its forward-deployed troops in those regions.

  • Iran has tested a new version of its infamous Shahab. On September 21, Iran tested a new version of the 800-mile-range Shahab ballistic missile called the Shahab-3D. Iran claims the new missile is solid-fueled, indicating that Iran is reaching more advanced stages of missile development. Iran is also dangerously close to developing nuclear warheads for its ballistic missiles.

  • Syria has tested the Scud-D.
    Although Syria already has Scud missiles capable of hitting Israel, the new model acquired from North Korea will allow it to attack all of Israel from bases deep within its own territory. The missile has a range of around 450 miles. The Syrians are attempting to develop multiple warheads for the missile in hopes of foiling Israel's Arrow 2 theater missile defense system, currently in joint development with the United States. Syria also has one of the region's most extensive chemical and biological weapons production programs.

  • India and Pakistan plan to test new missiles.
    Both India and Pakistan have announced their intentions to test new intermediate range ballistic missiles in the near future. India is ready to test the 1,860-mile-range Agni III, capable of hitting targets as far away as central China. Pakistan's military is waiting for final orders to test the 1,550-mile-range Shaheen-II. Its latest missiles have been produced with significant assistance from China and North Korea.

  • Russia has tested two versions of its advanced Topol-M.
    Russia continues to develop more advanced ICBMs and recently tested both the mobile and silo-based versions of the 6,200-mile-range Topol-M. Russia plans to make the Topol-M the core of its Strategic Rocket Forces. The mobile version is launched from a new launch vehicle, making it nearly impossible to track and target.

As these developments show, the threat from ballistic missiles to the United States, U.S. troops, and America's friends and allies is clear and growing. The intensified proliferation since the President's deferral decision underscores the folly of this Administration's approach to the threat. As long as the United States refuses to commit to the deployment of an effective missile defense system, dangerous ballistic missiles will continue to put Americans at risk.

This growing threat, combined with the President's announcement that the final decision on missile defense will be left to the next President, significantly raises the stakes in November's election. The next President must commit to protecting America's families, troops, friends, and allies from the threats posed by the escalating proliferation of missile technology. Diplomacy and arms control schemes alone remain inadequate. The United States must develop a robust and global missile defense system.

The first step is to move beyond the outdated and legally defunct 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The President should then initiate the upgrading of America's fleet of Aegis cruisers to equip them to defend against ballistic missiles. Additionally, he should aggressively pursue space-based missile defense options. Few other decisions the new President makes during the coming year will be as important.

Jack Spencer is Policy Analyst for Defense and National Security and Michael Scardaville is a Research Assistant in the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation.

About the Author

Jack Spencer Vice President, the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity

Michael Scardaville Policy Analyst
The Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy