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Missile Defense Debate

May 1, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


MARGARET WARNER: For reaction to President Bush’s speech we get four views. Joseph Cirincione is director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Keith Payne, director of the National Institute for Public Policy, a think tank that does defense related studies for the U.S. government; Jacqueline Grapin, an author and journalist, and co-founder of the European Institute, an organization that promotes U.S./European Relations; and Lawrence Kaplan, a senior editor at the New Republic, who covers foreign and defense policy.

Welcome to you all.

MARGARET WARNER: Joseph Cirincione, the president was saying today that essentially America and its allies can’t be safe any longer without a robust missile shield. Is he right about that?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: Well, he got it half right. He promised to have America lead the way in reducing nuclear weapons stockpiles. That’s very non-controversial. Many people will welcome that. I think he’s going to cut down to as low as 1,000 or 1,500 nuclear warheads — deep cuts that only a Republican can make.

But I think he’s tragically mistaken on missile defense and this is where he risks upsetting the whole deal that he’s proposing. If he overreaches; if he goes as far as some of his advisers would like him to go and proposes a grand satellite-constellation, ground-based and sea-based defenses, and abrogates the ABM Treaty, then he risks antagonizing not just Russia and China but also our allies who are very apprehensive about this kind of plan. Our allies don’t see the threat. They don’t see the technology and are afraid that President Bush might upset the security arrangements that have worked so well.

MARGARET WARNER: But, briefly, is he right about the threat?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: No he’s not right about the threat. He sees an increasingly dangerous world. In fact, there are very few countries with ballistic missiles. There are only five right now that can hit the United States. The United States itself has ballistic missiles — Russia China Great Britain and France. Outside of that, there is only a handful of countries that we worry about – Iran, Iraq, and, most importantly, North Korea. But these threats are limited, confined, and can probably be answered more adequately with diplomatic, not military measures.

MARGARET WARNER: Keith Payne, your view of this? I know you disagree with your colleague here.

KEITH PAYNE: Yes. I think I have a different perspective. I think that President Bush was accurate in his characterization of the threat. I believe the threat is quite real; the threat is growing and the next 10 to 15 to 20 years we are, indeed, going to see a number of so-called “rogue” states. The president referred to them as the “least responsible states.”

They’re going to be in possession of weapons of mass destruction and various ranges of missiles and it would be, I believe, irresponsible for the United States not to start now to provide the defense of the territory of the United States our allies and force that’s might be sent abroad to be defended against these threats that are clearly emerging.

MARGARET WARNER: Ms. Grapin, what’s the European view here? I mean, generally, we describe them as being opposed to this, but explain a little more and why.

JACQUELINE GRAPIN: The Europeans have evolved in that. Initially they were opposed to it, because they do not have the perception that the threat that is described is really the priority for our society; that we must invest in a very costly system, which we don’t know whether it’s going to work or not before a very long time and we have other priorities in our societies — even on the defense side. So that’s one reason.

Another reason is that they are afraid this is going to start another arms race at a moment when after 30 years of efforts in the arms control arena and other successful efforts, we are going to see the risk that countries such as China might find the need to saturate the differences that are going to be put in place and if China does it, India will want to do it; if India does it, Pakistan will want to do it. If Pakistan does it –

So the allies are worried about that and worried also about the reaction of Russia as this whole system would jeopardize the 1972 treaty of Anti-Ballistic Missiles, which the Russians considered very important. Certainly negotiations with possible are Russia, especially if the U.S. reduces its number of nuclear missiles, but this is not done.

So overall where as the Europeans initially had a negative reaction, now their position is more to say “Well, this is U.S. policy, but the overall framework of the alliance should be discussed within the alliance.” It’s necessary to have consultations; it’s necessary to come up with solutions which are good for everybody, including the allies.

MARGARET WARNER: What’s your understanding Mr. Kaplan, of the impact, the likely impact of these consultations? The president made a great deal today of saying there are going to be real consultations. I want to hear what our allies say. To what degree do you understand they’re going to take some of these concerns into account?

LAWRENCE KAPLAN: I think they very sensitive to European concerns and I think contrary to popular wisdom, Europeans have actually proved quite amenable to some of our initiatives on missile defense. In fact, when Defense Secretary Rumsfeld visited Europe last year, initially there was some grumbling, but by the time he left, actually the French, the British and the Germans afterwards said, that, in fact, they would not object to at least a limited missile defense system; and I think part of the reason, in fact, is that Russia as soon as Rumsfeld left proposed their own missile defense system that would also help Europe.

MARGARET WARNER: A much narrower one, but -

LAWRENCE KAPLAN: A much narrower system, but I think the European realized at the end of the day they’re far better off with the United States than under a Russian umbrella.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Payne, now – of course the president is talking about a much more ambitious system than a theater system or what President Clinton proposed. We ran a little of his tape describing this but tell us a little bit more about what would be involved.

KEITH PAYNE: Well, based on the president’s speech today, he talked about a system that eventually could possibly attack offensive missiles at the various stages of their trajectory beginning in the boost phase when missiles burn through the atmosphere and start to lift off into the midcourse when they’re sub orbital in this long arc toward their trajectory, and then possibly also in the terminal phase when they reentered the atmosphere. So what the president actually pointed to was the possibility of missile defenses that could address an offensive missile possibly carrying a nuclear weapon and each one of the phases of the trajectory, which is, in fact, a more comprehensive approach; and the theory is everyone that I know in the subject area agrees the more phases that an offensive missile can be attacked in the more likely the defense system will be effective and possibly very effective.

MARGARET WARNER: He’s also talking about the various U.S. assets, correct -


MARGARET WARNER: — ships, planes, ground based and, ultimately, space.

KEITH PAYNE: That’s right. He specifically list the possibility of sea based and air based systems to attack an offensive missile in its boost phase – as I said when it’s burning through the atmosphere, and then he talked about the possibility of a ground based and sea based components addressing the missile threat in midcourse – that long arc when it’s in the exo-atmosphere and in the terminal phase.

MARGARET WARNER: How feasible this?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: It’s not feasible. It’s sheer fantasy; it’s view graphs; it’s concept studies. The fact is a missile defense currently does not exist, despite years of effort. We have been trying to build a national missile defense for about 40 years now; we spent $120 billion. This was not a modest effort. Nothing was stopping us from doing this except technology itself.

President Reagan tried to built it and couldn’t do it and President Bush tried to do it, couldn’t do it; and President Clinton tried, couldn’t do it. The fact is today America doesn’t even have an effective defense against the short ranged Scuds that we encountered in the Gulf War. We hope to field one. They’re make improvements to the Patriot system. But that’s not scheduled for deployment until 2004.

The kinds of systems the president is talking about are decades in the future. So there is no need to rush. There’s no reason to leave the treaty, to abrogate the ABM Treaty. We have years of research ahead of us before we know if anything will be feasible.

MARGARET WARNER: Brief response from you. What reason is there to think that the technology will work?

KEITH PAYNE: Well, I mean, clearly going back to the issue of the ABM Treaty — no need to rush — if the United States is going to move towards development of the some of the systems — even development of some of the systems is prohibited by the ABM Treaty, so if the United States want to move toward development of these systems to see what fruit might be there in these systems, the ABM Treaty is going to have to be revised or withdrawn from so that the U.S. can move into development of anything that’s mobile, anything that’s sea based, anything that’s air based.

The only thing the AMB Treaty permits is a fixed, ground based site with 100 interceptors. Anything beyond that, the United States has to move quickly if it’s going to move towards development of these systems. The president didn’t say that this all exists now. Some of it will likely bear fruit. Some will not bear fruit, but we’re going to go ahead and for those systems that do we’re going to move forward.

MARGARET WARNER: Now, let’s move on to a related subject Mr. Kaplan, which is today the president talked about near term options and Secretary Rumsfeld briefed reporters and said, you know, we’re really thinking of doing this in a phased way, deploying something even if it’s not 100%. Describe a little more what that thinking is.

KEITH PAYNE: Well, there are really two options. It’s very interesting to note, that the speech didn’t contain any reference to a space based system. Really what we’re talking about today is either a land based or a sea-based system or some combination of the two.

Now, President Clinton made substantial progress towards deploying a land-based system. First the idea was to put it in North Dakota and then in Alaska so it would cover Alaska as well. And the problem with that is it really — it did very little and actually nothing to protect our allies. And the idea of getting a terminal phase hit, in other words, when a missile is coming into the United States rather than taking off, is very, very difficult.

So the question the Bush team is stuck with now is, whether to proceed with a somewhat imperfect system that really doesn’t have that much potential, but is relatively far along, or to really shift gears and look at a sea-based system, which as Keith mentioned could interject missiles in their boost phase.

And the Bush team, I believe, at least from talking to many administration officials, actually favors sea-based systems but in the near term, at least particularly to deal with North Korea, is also willing to proceed with a land based option. And I think that the idea again, is that two systems are better than one.

MARGARET WARNER: Mr. Grapin is the fact that the Bush administration talking about a system now that would also protect Europe and make it more palatable to Europeans, a little more palatable?

JACQUELINE GRAPIN: It used to be the national missile defense system; now we’re talking about a missile defense system. The suppression of the “N” is important because you have an “international global missile system” – may be a good thing. But this discussion shows how difficult it is for the allies to oppose something that is not well defined. Nobody knows what we’re talking about.

The only things we know is one it’s going to be extremely costly. Two, it is going to create a deep reconsideration if not revolution within the Atlantic Alliance and we are going to have to discuss the consequences, and in the meantime, what the Europeans would like to avoid, is, one, to antagonize Russia because this would be very serious; two, to jeopardize arms control as it has been secured until now; and three, if possible, to come up to a system, which would not decouple difference by creating a double different system within NATO because that would be the end of NATO.

MARGARET WARNER: Briefly Mr. Cirincione, because I also want to get Mr. Payne in on this, what do you think of the president’s idea of deploying something that is not 100% effective?

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: That could be the worst of all possible worlds. I’m against deploying scarecrows. The worst thing is to put something out there that pretends to defend against ballistic missiles but actually can’t do it. There is nothing in the next four years that could actually work.

MARGARET WARNER: But Secretary Rumsfeld is saying just deploying something will make our adversaries think twice and put some uncertainty in their offensive intentions.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE: This is part of the confusion. First, the president is saying deterrence doesn’t work anymore, and then he argues that missile defense enhances deterrence. Well, which is it? Is it a good or a bad thing? And the danger is, you deploy something that doesn’t work but the enemy thinks it works and they take countermeasures building up their offensive forces, taking measures to defeat your defenses and poisoning international negotiation posture overall. That’s the worst of all possible worlds.

MARGARET WARNER: Brief response.

KEITH PAYNE: I think the language was limited but effective and what a anticipates that means is a limited system would be intended to be effective against some particular rogue states — for example, North Korea — and that would be a near term effort to provide a limited but effectively capability against the possibility of a North Korean missile launch.

MARGARET WARNER: But what about the argument that two of your colleagues here made, which is it will just encourage some of our adversaries to build up?

KEITH PAYNE: Well, I disagree with that. That’s a theory. It’s a theory that’s been around for 30 years time, and history shows it is wrong. I believe that a credible U.S. commitment to missile defense is going to discourage countries from building missiles they’re going to understand we’re going to put money into it and the United States is just going to counter this and do something else.

MARGARET WARNER: All right, thank you all very much.