Missile Wars
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interview: newt gingrich
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Newt Gingrich, a Republican from Georgia, was the speaker of the House of Representatives from 1995 to 1999, and is currently a member of the Defense Policy Board, an influential group of advisers to the Pentagon. This interview was conducted by FRONTLINE producer Sherry Jones on March 27, 2002.

There was a plank, if you will, in the Contract with America about national missile defense. What was that, and how did that become a part of the contract?

I think a number of us have been very, very worried, as you look at more and more countries getting nuclear weapons and getting ballistic missiles, and as you watch the North Korean program, for example, that the United States could not stop a single warhead from a single missile that could eliminate an entire city. So a number of us who are very concerned about defense decided in 1994 that that was a very important issue to bring to the American people about their safety and the risks that they face.

It seems that by that time, as someone described it to me, national missile defense had become almost a litmus test among Republicans, specifically.

It's almost as much of a litmus test among Democrats to be against it. I mean, it's a very strange phenomena that you have an objective reality -- countries like North Korea, Iran, Iraq, others, [who] are trying to get weapons of mass destruction and trying to get ballistic missiles and spending a lot of money on it, [and] it's a fact that if they fired one of those missiles, you could literally not stop it today -- so it's odd to me that it would be a litmus test.

I think people who are very concerned about national defense in either party ought to be concerned about how would you stop a North Korean missile or an Iraqi or an Iranian missile. I don't think it should necessarily be a political issue.

But it inevitably is.

It became one, and I frankly don't understand why. I don't know whether it was the left's hostility to Ronald Reagan and the fact that he proposed it, or what it was. But I think it's unfortunate that it became an issue in that sense, because I think this is much like radar was in Britain in the 1930s. Without radar, Britain would have lost the Second World War. People like Winston Churchill worked very, very hard to develop radar when lots of people didn't know why they were doing it. They didn't understand it. They didn't believe it would work. I think today we have a similar situation. I wish this could be dealt with as a national security issue, not a political issue.

But in 1994, President Clinton was seen as vulnerable on a number of fronts, as the elections proved, but particularly on issues of national security.

No, if anything, we thought he was more vulnerable on balanced budget, tax cuts, and welfare reform. We thought national security was important and we thought it should be talked about, because we thought the world was more dangerous than the administration was letting on. But we did not think that was the central theme of the campaign. I think we would have said the balanced budget and the welfare reform and tax cuts were much bigger themes in the campaign.

In the aftermath of the Gulf War, the use of the Patriot [anti-missile system] was also viewed as a success. I've read some articles at the time where you and some of your colleagues were essentially saying, "Let's find the Democrats who opposed systems like the Patriot." Can you talk about that a bit?

I think that there should be some accountability if you're consistently wrong on national defense, and you're consistently unwilling to vote for systems that are needed or unwilling to vote for the money to pay for systems. ... Every vote I ever cast, Democrats were pretty comfortable keeping me accountable. We were trying to do the same in the other direction.

Some months later, after the Gulf War, it turned out that in fact the Patriots had hit few, if any, Scuds. Did that change the discussion?

Everybody agreed at the time that they were being used that they had an enormous psychological advantage, because it gave people the feeling that something was happening and that something was working. I think it was a reminder that the Patriot is an old [system], and in many ways, a substandard system compared to what's needed, and that we need far more than just to upgrade the Patriot.

I want to make sure that if the intelligence is wrong, and if the opponent is not rational, that we don't lose Los Angeles. I'm willing to pay a premium to not lose Los Angeles.

But I do think anybody who remembers vividly watching, for example, broadcasts from Tel Aviv, where they didn't know if the next incoming Scud was going to have a chemical warhead or a biological warhead -- that experience ought to give people a pretty good sense of why we think it's important to have missile defense.

You said "psychologically," and I understand. I remember those pictures. Though in reality, the Patriots weren't protecting against the Scuds.

But at the time, nobody -- we didn't know that, and they didn't have enough information at the time. Just as, frankly, the hunting for the Scuds from aircraft wasn't going very [well], either. We have no evidence that a single Scud was killed from the air by a purely aircraft-based system. The only Scuds we got were Scuds where we had special forces on the ground, inside Iraq. That should be very sobering -- that even a country like Iraq, which is not anywhere near the most sophisticated opponent, [had] missiles that turned out to be a very, very big problem.

So, after the landslide in 1994, missile defense was front and center of the national security debate. You proposed legislation that would essentially carry forward with what had been promised in the Contract. Can you talk to me about that a bit? What was the goal?

I think the goal was to start building a real national missile defense that would have the kind of interceptor systems and the kind of defense in-depth that would give you a pretty good chance of stopping one or two or five or ten missiles. It wouldn't be designed to stop a Soviet first strike, as in the mid-1980s. But certainly against a country like North Korea or Iraq or Iran, you should be able to build a layered defense in-depth that would give you a pretty high likelihood of stopping most of the missiles. That's what we wanted to build.

Was there any cost attached to it at that point?

People had differing arguments about the cost. It also depends on how you do it. It was a constant effort by the Clinton administration to define the hardest to do, least efficient, most difficult technique, and then cost that. ...

It would be like you deciding you want to buy a family car, and we said, "You know the Rolls-Royce that's out there is going to cost you $297,000. I don't see how you can afford it." That's true. You're probably not going to buy a Rolls-Royce. We always felt that if you were more aggressive and tried out new technologies, you could deliver a system for much less then the Clinton administration was saying.

What about coming up against the ABM Treaty?

We started with a pretty straightforward premise: the Antiballistic Missile Treaty was with the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union legally disappeared. So we're now being told we couldn't defend ourselves against North Korea because of a legal document with a country that no longer existed.

I don't think it's, frankly, binding. For the diplomatic purposes with the Russians, we may want to go through a dance. But I think legally it's pretty hard to make an argument that a treaty signed with a country that doesn't exist blocks you from defending yourself against a country that does exist.

Now that we've in fact announced that we are going to withdraw from the treaty, what about the concerns of people that this just starts an unraveling of other arms-control agreements that won't be ratified, won't be negotiated in the future?

There's a class of people who have a permanent faith in paper. I don't know whether this is because they're coming out of the lawyer class or the diplomatic class, or whatever it is. But you know the Indians set off nuclear weapons. The Pakistanis set off nuclear weapons. And they talk about signing another treaty. The North Koreans are clearly building an ICBM, and they talk about signing another treaty.

At what point do you say, I would rather risk my defense with scientists and engineers than with lawyers and diplomats? I'd like to know that if somebody who's truly crazy fires a missile, we can stop the missile, as opposed to we can sue them in the World Court after they kill a million people. I just think that there's a belief in paper that doesn't make any sense in the real world.

You've been talking about what you and others, other of your colleagues, viewed as a threat. However, in 1995, the intelligence community issued a National Intelligence Estimate that essentially said that, other than Russia and China, who already possessed ICBMs, there wasn't a [long-range missile] threat for the next 15 years.

Right. The intelligence community in 1995 -- presumably under political pressure from the Clinton administration -- issued a profoundly false report, which consciously avoided the existence of the world market, consciously avoided looking at trade between countries, and basically said if Iraq has to rely only on Iraq, it could take 15 years.

It was one of the most patently dishonest reports of modern times, because the fact was we already knew, for example, that the Chinese were shipping things to the Pakistanis. We knew that they were shipping things to the Iranians. We knew that the Iranians were buying things from the Russians. We knew that the Iraqis were trying to buy things from France, Germany, and Russia.

To not be honest about the objective reality that a dictatorship which wants to may be able to buy an ICBM off the shelf in another two or three years -- the North Koreans were selling to anybody who had hard currency, there were shiploads of North Korean missiles going into the Middle East -- in that setting, for them to issue a deliberately obtuse report in which the way they worded it was technically correct, but profoundly misleading about the safety of the United States, that's what led to the Rumsfeld commission. Because all of us who were technically interested just found it outrageous that the political system had so totally distorted and perverted the intelligence process.

How do you explain that?

The Clinton administration didn't want to deal with missile defense, so it wished the idea away, the same way that Stanley Baldwin in the 1930s said the Luftwaffe and the Germans aren't a big threat. Go back and look, in retrospect, and it's obvious -- Baldwin was going to run for re-election. He did not want to talk honestly about how dangerous Hitler was. So he just lied to the British people, and they paid a price for it in the Battle of London.

The Clinton administration didn't want to offend their allies on the left by building a missile defense, and they didn't want to offend the American people by admitting that they needed a missile defense they wouldn't build. So I think they just put pressure on the intelligence agencies to issue a report that wasn't true.

The head of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the time said that everyone knew that they were criticized because the 1995 NIE didn't meet the political need to display a threat.

My only point is, how can you now look at the North Korean launches, how can you look at the size of the Iranian program, how can you look at reports as recently as the last few months about Iraq, and not conclude that there's a threat? This was a profoundly misleading report, and I think that it gave people a sense of confidence that we now know they have no reason to have.

You mentioned the Rumsfeld commission, and I want to get to that. But the first step was to ask former CIA director, Robert Gates, to head a commission. What was that commission?

That was actually done, I think, by the administration. We weren't directly involved in that, I don't think. I apologize; that doesn't ring a bell.

OK. I think it was also a congressionally mandated commission, mostly to look into the charge of politicization. But you don't remember that?


OK. Well, then, let's talk about the Rumsfeld commission. What was its mandate? How was now-Secretary Rumsfeld chosen to head it?

The Rumsfeld commission, in some ways, is modeled on a second-team approach that was used in the late 1970s to review the Central Intelligence Agency under President Jimmy Carter, which also showed, by the way, a huge gap in the two interpretations of reality.

The Rumsfeld commission was a bipartisan commission. It was a true miracle that they came up with the unanimous agreement. Their job was to review all the information available to the American intelligence agencies, go to such outside sources as they thought appropriate, and then reach a summary judgment about whether or not in fact there was a serious missile threat to the United States.

They discovered two big fallacies in the way in which the intelligence agencies had operated in 1995. The first was that the classifications were so tight, you'd have people who knew pieces of the story who couldn't talk to other people who knew pieces of the story. Once the Rumsfeld commission had been through enough rooms, when they would get them back in a room and say, "Now, gee, if you knew A and B, would that change how you think about C and D?" And they'd suddenly go, "Wow, if that was true, I'd give you a totally different response." They said over and over that was happening.

The second [big fallacy] was they raised this question of international arms sales and said, now, if you're going to look at the availability of weapons in the world market -- not at the ability of a country's own national economy -- how much would that change the timeframe?

That collapsed all the estimates. I mean, at that point, the agency said, the truth is, if you have the money, there's probably somebody willing to sell to you. We could be faced with a breakout in a matter of a year or two from when a country gets access. That's not 15 years; it could literally be a year or two.

Describe to me the reaction when this report was released.

I think it was a very big bombshell, because Rumsfeld had correctly focused on making it totally bipartisan. So you had people like Dick Garwin who don't necessarily favor national missile defense, but who said [that], on the merit of the questions they'd been asked, this was factually true -- that the dangers were greater than we thought, would come faster than we thought, and that we needed to rethink how we did our intelligence estimates.

Even for an awful lot of Democrats, that was a very sobering report. I sense that the debate shifted very significantly among people who pay attention to this stuff afterwards. For most Americans, prior to Sept. 11, the world still wasn't dangerous. But I think that for sophisticated Americans who care about national security, they were more worried after the Rumsfeld commission than they had been before.

[The physicist] Dick Garwin, who you mentioned, has also said he absolutely agrees with what you've just described; but if the second question, if a part of the mandate was whether or not national missile defense was the answer, he wouldn't agree, and it would not have been a unanimous report.

Right. I thought Rumsfeld was very shrewd to recognize that he needed a bipartisan report, and that he needed to limit the questions to the ones that you could get a significant answer to, because those were frankly a big break from the conventional wisdom, the day before he reported it. I mean, he had moved the debate a long way without getting into the next question, which is, if this is all true, what do you do about it?

But remember, you're in a very different debate, if you go back to 1995, when people on the left were saying, "Well, there isn't a threat. We won't have a threat for 15 years. Why would you do this now?" After the Rumsfeld commission, it was now a debate over how you respond to the threat, and Garwin would respond differently. But it's no longer a question among most people about whether or not there's a threat. The question is, what do you do about it?

So the intelligence community includes people on the left, when you're talking about 1995?

There's no question, in 1995, in my judgment, they were responding to a desire on the left for the right answer; and the right answer was, there's no threat. ...

So in 1999 the intelligence community comes out with a new estimate. What does that estimate say?

The world's a lot more dangerous than it was four years earlier. If you notice, by the year 2000, Gore is for some kind of missile defense and the argument now is over scale, speed, rules of engagement, the ABM Treaty. But the argument's no longer about defending yourself.

That's a very big shift in five years, and I think it was a very significant part of what was happening. Those of us who, back with the Contract with America, insisted that this was a fight worth making, felt that we had gained some significant ground in the intervening four years.

I guess that's the whole point of what we've been talking about so far. How this did become, not a debate over "Whether," but more a debate about "How."

... There are still a number of people who would not build this, a number of people who would argue about how to build it or under what circumstances. But what happened is that you get a lot less argument now about how dangerous the world is.

Of course, this was true before Sept. 11. Among people who pay attention and think about national security, there was a gradual agreement that what we were seeing in North Korea, what we were seeing in Iraq, what you see in Syria, a very big chemical weapons program, these are really serious things. These are things that are profound threats to the stability of civilization as we know it. [There was that] sense of the world being dangerous, that the golden era of the post-Soviet warmth was gone. We were beginning to realize that, with weapons of mass destruction, you could be in a more dangerous world.

And of course, to Clinton's credit, he did agree to create the Hart-Rudman commission when I suggested it. With Secretary Bill Cohen's support at the Defense Department, we did set up a three-year project of looking out to 2025. It was a totally bipartisan project. I think the report of that commission further sobered people who pay attention to national security. It made them realize how really complicated the twenty-first century is going to be, and how really dangerous some of these developments are.

Although it seems like the Rumsfeld commission had a major impact on policy, and the Hart-Rudman commission, pre-Sept. 11, sort of sank like a stone. Maybe I'm wrong, but that's my impression.

There were three factors. The media didn't cover it very much, because it wasn't news until Sept. 11, and then we got amazing coverage on Sept. 12. Congress started to cover it very seriously. People like Senator Pat Roberts and Senator Joseph Lieberman were very, very interested. The House Armed Services Committee held hearings on it. The administration stepped in and said, "We'd really like six months to be able to sort this out." We had met with Vice President Cheney, with Condi Rice, with Secretary Powell, with Secretary Rumsfeld, and so they were working a number of issues.

It's no accident that Cheney was chairing a task force on homeland security, part of which -- I won't say all of it came out of Hart-Rudman, but a significant part of it -- came out of the Hart-Rudman report. It's no accident that Director Ridge has proposed changes that are very parallel to the Hart-Rudman commission. That was moving at a sort of leisurely pace until Sept. 11, but it was moving. It was moving in the Defense Department. I think it was moving to some extent at State, and it was certainly moving at the vice president's office.

As I'm sure you know, there are critics who say that the 1999 intelligence estimate was the one that reflected political pressure, when it came out as more "Rumsfeldian," as one person I've talked to said.

Sure. I think in a free society the question ought to be, what are the facts? I mean, is it a fact that North Korea has a nuclear weapons program or not? Is it a fact that Syria has a chemical weapons program or not? Is it a fact that a recent defector said they had been in 20 different sites in Iraq trying to develop weapons of mass destruction in the last year? Is it a fact that last year the largest number of missile tests in the world were Scuds fired by Iraq?

You can go down the list, and you should be able to have a fact-based debate about national security. Sadly, most of the facts are pretty grim; they're not happy facts.

Although I think that a lot of the people who see the world as grimly as you just described it, would put attack by an ICBM lower on that list.

I think it's lower on that list, but I think the consequences are horrendous. You know the odds are very high you're not going to be hijacked in an airplane. But the next time you fly, you're going to go through all sorts of security to get on a highly secure airplane with a pilot's door that's now secure, with a whole new set of rules. And we're spending lots and lots of and lots of money over an airplane.

Now if an airplane is that big a deal, what is the loss of Los Angeles? People who understand weapons of mass destruction are truly worried that somebody like Kim Jong Il in [North] Korea or Saddam Hussein in Iraq are going to end up with a weapon of mass destruction on the end of a missile that can be delivered 28 minutes later, and that they're crazy enough to do it.

You have to say to yourself, as an insurance policy, how much would you like to be able to convince them not to try because you could stop it? And how much do you want to have the hearings after it's over with [about] why did we lose a city? I'm on the side that says, let's skip the hearings, because all the people who are currently against it are going to say, after it happens, oh, yeah, they were really for it, too. ...

I've written about terrorism since 1983. The Hart-Rudman commission warned about weapons of mass destruction in our cities in March, before Sept. 11. Now that we're getting away from Sept. 11, the same tired voices are going back to the same sense of, "Gee, this is too dangerous, this is too radical. It's not really that necessary." All I can say is, one morning there's going to be genuine risk of losing an American city. I'd like to see us stop that, rather than lose the city.

So what do you say to people who claim that our intelligence is watching these places?

Our intelligence is consistently wrong. Our intelligence was wrong about North Korea -- our intelligence was shocked when they got the Iraqi information. The Iraqis were much closer to a nuclear weapon than we thought. The Iraqis had much more chemical weapons than we thought. The Iraqis had much more biological weapons than we thought. The intelligence community was shocked, or surprised, by the Indian nuclear test.

How often do you have to go down the list of surprises to suggest that very hard-working, very decent people can be right 95 percent of the time, and the 5 percent they're wrong can kill you? So I start from the premise -- I want to make sure that, if the intelligence is wrong and if the opponent is not rational, that we don't lose Los Angeles. I'm willing to pay a premium to not lose Los Angeles.

Now my opponents are arguing basically that the premium is too expensive, or that it's unnecessary. I think it's a little bit like not insuring your house. Maybe you're right and maybe it'll work. But if you lose your house, it's a huge, huge loss. And if you lose a city, it's a human tragedy on a scale -- three thousand people died on Sept. 11. We could lose a quarter of a million to a million people to a weapon of mass destruction. We just need to really ask ourselves, given how we felt on Sept. 11, isn't it worth a little preparation to try to avoid that happening on a grand scale?

I want to take you back to the launch in 1998 of the North Korean missile. Talk to me about that and the effect that had on the missile debate.

Particularly, it had an impact because among those of us who are concerned about North Korea, we'd been very skeptical about the whole Clinton administration effort to engage the North Korean dictatorship, which is probably the most secret dictatorship on the planet. We know less about North Korea after 52 years of studying it than I think any other regime in the world.

We have been very concerned that the North Koreans weren't slowing down their development, that they're just lying to the Americans and the Japanese and the South Koreans and cheerfully going on doing whatever they were doing, much of it underground, not susceptible to satellite. Almost none of it [is] broadcast, so you can't pick it up with all the fancy things that the National Reconnaissance Organization has.

For the rest of us, the missile firing said, how much more proof do you want? Go back and look at the 1995 estimates and tell me, when did the CIA think the North Koreans would fire a missile of that range? It wasn't in 1998; it was a lot later. Once again, what does that tell you about how dangerous it is to rely on intelligence estimates?

Those of us who are worried found this to be proof that you ought to be worried. I frankly don't understand why our friends who aren't worried can watch somebody like Kim Jong Il fire a missile of that size and say, "Oh, well, it really doesn't matter." If that doesn't matter, I mean, what will convince them?

But in fact the missile failed -- the third stage fizzled, never got into the atmosphere.

OK, so they fired a missile which was clearly powerful enough to go all the way across Japan, which is clearly large enough to have carried a nuclear warhead to any point in Japan. But they didn't launch a satellite. Now, I would just suggest to you that if in 1998 they could do that, and if you know they're selling the missiles to the Iranians -- there was footage on the North Korean television of the Iranians visiting the missile factory with Kim Jong Il on a sales trip.

Again, I come back to it. Yes, you can find every excuse to not believe that that was a bigger missile than people thought they had. It worked enough to threaten all of Japan and all of South Korea. There was every reason to believe that, at some point in the next few years, they will have a missile that can reach at least part of the United States.

We also know that they absolutely are working on weapons of mass destruction. Now I have no reason to believe they're not doing that, and the president himself has said that. By the way, the North Koreans allow no inspectors into the areas that we're worried about. So in that setting, it strikes me, I can't understand somebody who wouldn't worry about North Korea.

But didn't we deliver some very tough messages after that launch?

And they just ignored them.

They've continued to test?

They've continued to develop things on a variety of fronts. We have every reason to believe that they are developing missile launch facilities dug into mountains. We have every reason to believe that they are continuing to work at developing nuclear weapons. In fact, as I said, President Bush himself has said that we have every reason to believe that they're not in compliance with the agreements and do not allow inspections.

Sept. 11 -- critics of national missile defense said that this proved that we were pursuing the wrong policy. Why would you need a missile defense if you've got a terrorist who hijacks an airplane or can get a suitcase bomb or send anthrax through the mail? So what's the argument for missile defense post-Sept. 11?

I think the sad answer is, you need it all. The sad answer is, you live in a dangerous world where you have active opponents who hate you and want to kill you. You had better be prepared to stop the local terrorist, you better be prepared to stop the cruise missile, you better be prepared to stop the ship-launched relatively short-range missile. And you better be prepared to stop the ICBM, because whichever one you can't stop may be the one they use.

You have to do all of them. That's why I'm for a strong intelligence system and a strong defense system and a strong homeland security agency.

We live in a much more dangerous world than people believe. We have opponents who are much more determined and much smarter than we tend to give them credit for. We live in a world where weapons of mass destruction are getting easier and easier to get and cheaper and cheaper to build, and I find that very frightening. We ought to be very serious about thinking through, if you hated Americans and you wanted to get your way, what would you do? And then we better block every single avenue, because you can't pick and choose; your enemies won't let you.

So regarding national missile defense against ICBMs, how do you deal with the technological problems that seem to exist, [like] spotty test results, people who are even critical of the tests themselves?

It was absurd for the Clinton administration to try to build an anti-missile defense, because they established every possible inhibition to getting it to work. If you'll notice since the Bush administration came in they've had [three] consecutive successes in early tests, and I think they'll have a lot more successes.

I think you have to do a couple things. You have to decide you're going to probably kill the missile on launch. [That] means, whether you use predators or other devices, you're going to want some method of being able to go after the missile in the first two or three minutes after it's launched, before it gets to launch warheads and gets to be more complicated.

Then you're going to want to try to kill it after launch when it's in the first phase, just entering space. But you're going to want to have a series of layers like this, because you want to make sure that you maximize your chance of getting it. Again, we're talking about, for the next 20 years or 25 years, a system that can stop, say, at most, 10 or 12 missiles. I don't think you need to worry about much more than that. But I do think you have to worry about a variety of states that are going to be able to buy that kind of equipment at some point in the not-very-distant future.

One of the phases you're talking about is so-called "boost phase."

Yes. When the missile first starts up, it's very slow; it's very vulnerable. It has lots and lots of chemicals in it that are inclined to blow up. If it has more than one warhead, they're all still connected to the missile, so you get all of them at one time. It's far and way the easiest way to kill a missile.

As you said, it would have to happen in the first several minutes of flight. Let me just go through some of the questions people have raised. In that case, there would be no time for the president to be notified?


That doesn't trouble you?

I think we could establish a doctrine that said that we know where your ICBM sites are and if we see a launch on our satellites, we have an automatic instruction to kill the launch, so please don't launch. If you're going to launch a space launch, tell us in advance, so we know you're launching a satellite. But if you launch without warning, you should expect us to kill your missile before it gets more than a half-mile or a mile up.

What states, what countries, would boost-phase defenses protect us against?

First you worry about the places the president characterized as the "axis of evil." You worry first about North Korea, Iraq and Iran. You worry in some circumstances about the Chinese making a demonstration effect. If there's a serious confrontation over Taiwan, I think it's conceivable the Chinese would launch one missile to say to us, in effect, "Back out, this is our national territory." I think it's very important that we not have that happen.

I also just worry, though, when you have as many missiles as we've had sitting around for as long as we have, and you have systems that get as underpaid as the Russians were a few years ago -- they're in better shape now -- but there was a period there when I know of at least one occasion when the entire missile team left the silo, went to a local village for a party and didn't show up for three days. They were drunk. This was literally a real story. This is not some Tom Clancy novel.

I worry that you could some day have an accidental launch of one missile, and I think it's really important to be prepared in that kind of a situation. But I would stay start with being worried about North Korea, Iraq, Iran. [I'd worry about] Syria, not so much with ballistic, but with theater-level missiles, which is, I think, a much more serious threat than people think. Those would be the first four I'd worry about.

As I understand it, in the example of China, with launching on purpose, so to speak, and Russia, perhaps an accidental launch, we can't get close enough for boost phase to work against either of those two countries.

It would certainly be hard, although you don't know, if in the next five or eight years you have directed energy weapons and laser pulsing systems that could actually do that from space. It's very possible that you're going to get anti-boost-phase systems in the next five or ten years that are virtually instantaneous, that move at the speed of light.

And they're deployed in space?

They'd be deployed in space. .... How can you seriously argue, if the risk is losing an entire city, that you wouldn't defend it from space? What is the sanctity of space that outweighs the sanctity of a million lives? If I could have a satellite in space that guaranteed that you could stop a missile in the boost phase, and as a result you didn't lose Los Angeles or Atlanta or Washington, I would think that was a pretty good trade.

You're pre-empting the people who are worried about the weaponization of space?

If you didn't have the weaponization of Earth, I'd be against the weaponization of space. Look, this whole argument starts with a very simple premise. Do you think it is possible that a weapon of mass destruction could go off over an American city? Now, if you don't, everything else we're going to talk about is nuts -- it's crazy, and don't do it.

But if the history of the human race is such that you think it is possible we could literally lose a city -- remember how horrified we were at losing 3,000 people -- then to say to me, "I'd rather run the risk of losing a half million people in San Francisco than put a satellite in space" -- that strikes me as almost beyond comprehension. You can't have a debate with that person. I mean, these are two value systems that are antithetical.

Well, a number of people that I've talked to say that, were they as convinced as you are that the technology will eventually work -- and these are people who are so-called skeptics -- that they would support this. One of them even said, "almost at any cost." But [he said] that's not the choice we face. We don't have something that technologically is going to be able to do what is being advertised.

I would urge every skeptic to read a wonderful book called The Invention That Changed the World, which is the history of the radar labs at MIT, and was called the "radiation" lab -- not radar - "radiation" lab. [The book] takes you from the initial discovery of radar through winning the Second World War. At any point in that time, a skeptic could have said, "I don't believe we'll be able to do the next thing." But the next time you use your microwave oven, which was originally called a radar range, OK, just remember not only did we invent it, we made it so commonplace that it warmed up your coffee.

I look at people who doubt our ability to create this, and I think, what century are you living in? For the last 250 years, humans have been increasingly good at inventing science and technology that accomplished things. Arthur C. Clarke once said, "If a famous scientist tells you something can be done, he's almost certainly right. If he tells you something can't be done, you don't have a clue," because the record of famous scientists being wrong is so constant.

So I would just say I'd rather gamble on science and technology; my friends would rather gamble on lawyers and diplomats. I think the historical record is pretty decisive. The countries that rely on lawyers and diplomats get killed. Countries that rely on science and engineering tend to win.

Even though scientists and physicists say -- moving on to the next phase, the midcourse phase -- that this problem of discriminating between decoys is just impossible to solve; that we've been working on it for 40 years now?

I'm not certain it's impossible to solve, given the level of computational power we now have. But I'm also certain that, as you go through this process, if you had to, you'll find more and more ways, if you had to take out all the decoys as the actual warhead. ... In fact, a shotgun response, they said, "OK, I can't discriminate. I'll take out everything that comes in." But you can't afford to do that if you define the system as a very, very expensive one-shot, one-kill, very complex system.

That's why a lot of other efforts that have gone on over the last 20 years, which were outside the framework the Clinton administration would consider, are often rejected. But I think that you may end up where you have a system that consciously works on having a very broad defense in-depth, and if necessary, killing all the decoys.

By the way, I accept the fact, yes, it is true if you measure the investment cost, the other side can build decoys cheaper than you can build missiles. I'd make two counters. The first is all these people who told us you don't have to worry about the Iranians and the Iraqis and the North Koreans because none of them are going to have ICBMs, they're now telling you, not only are they going to have ICBMs, they're going to have ICBMs with Russian and Chinese-quality decoys.

I never said we ought to try to stop a Russian first strike or a Chinese first strike. I said, give me an old, dumb, simple, single-warhead North Korean missile, and I'll give you a threat large enough that's worth killing, because it'll take out a city. So they don't want to defend against that, because that's doable; they know it's doable, and that kills their case.

Well, I guess the argument I've heard, I would put it in a little different way -- which is, if one of these countries is smart enough to develop an ICBM, then they're smart enough to do the decoys.

We don't have any proof of that. I mean, MIRVing and decoys, in the 1970s and 1980s, were very high technology. ... I'll play cynic, or skeptic, rather. You show me a North Korean test with decoys so good that they're indistinguishable -- and what the standard was here, it wasn't just decoys; it was decoys which mimicked a warhead. So our critics have now gone from saying, "They can't do it, it's not really a threat, it's many years away," [to] "But by the way, if they do it, they're going to do it with the brilliance of the United States and the Soviet Union after 35 years of investment, and they will be equally good at decoys the day that they can do it." That's an enormous jump.

What that would do, frankly, if you thought it was true -- and I think they'd probably have to test it to have confidence in it -- I think you would dramatically increase your focus in boost-phase kills. You'd say you've now convinced me you really are a threat, and I'll guarantee you I'll kill your missile the second it starts to move, because you just couldn't tolerate the risk.

Finally, what about terminal phase?

It's the hardest problem. It's the least desirable. ... Again, there are two ways to measure cost. One is against alternative budget, and the other is against human casualties and the cost of recovering a city. If you could develop a reasonable terminal phase, you might do it. You certainly want to do it at the theater level for troops and for people who are -- for airfields, for ports. But I would personally like to never see missiles get that close. I mean, I think that's really dangerous. I'd much rather kill them as far away -- kill them over there -- than have them kill us over here. The farther over there I can get them, the safer I feel.

Several people, former members of the military, have told us that they want a theater defense that works. They want the next generation of Patriots to actually protect the men and women in the field. But [they tell us] that the focus on defending against ICBMs is taking away from the attention to a program that is closer to technologically working, and more what the men in the military have told me that they want.

I was for a much bigger defense budget, because we ought to do both. We ought to be able to defend our young men and women in the Middle East, and we ought to be able to defend our allies in Tel Aviv or Paris or London, and we ought to defend Americans in Washington and Atlanta and Los Angeles.

You have to have a seamless global defense system, or you can assume your enemy will be smart enough to use the one thing you don't cover. You have to do all of those. But I'm not very sympathetic to the idea [that], in a world where you see people trying to get long-distance weapons, we ought to say to Saddam, "Well, we can sure stop you here if you try to hit us in Saudi Arabia. But now if you decide to hit us in the U.S., we're defenseless."

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