Years from now, December 17, 2002 is likely to be remembered as a major milestone in American defense policy. On that date, the White House officially unveiled its intention to pursue the imminent deployment of a National Missile Defense (NMD).
The President's plan, entailing a commitment to field an initial sea- and land-based anti-missile capability in 2004-2005, remains a long way from fruition. Yet its implications can hardly be overstated. With its deployment decision, the Bush administration has redefined the terms of the decades-long missile defense debate. At one end of the spectrum, NMD has at long last moved to center stage as a concrete American defense priority. At the other, and largely unnoticed, missile defense is emerging as a critical foreign policy tool.
It is this second role that is likely to shape American policy, both at home and abroad. Recent events hint at an unprecedented consensus regarding the need for missile defense among American allies in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. As a result, Washington now possesses an extraordinary opportunity to translate its newly-reinvigorated plans for NMD into a vehicle for international engagement.
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President Bush's landmark December 17th directive was made possible by the pivotal decision a year earlier to abrogate the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. That agreement, signed in 1972 by then-President Richard Nixon and Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, enshrined the concept of mutually assured destruction (MAD) as the cornerstone of the Cold War political dialectic. At the core of this doctrine was the dangerous premise that the key to international stability rested in a shared vulnerability to nuclear annihilation. And the ABM Treaty, with its sweeping prohibitions on the deployment of anti-missile defenses, was its embodiment.
The corrosive effects on American security were far-reaching. From the moment of its inception as a result of the 1969-1972 Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), the ABM Treaty served to severely constrain any U.S. movement toward practical defenses against long-range ballistic missiles. And while forward-thinking strategists who perceived the illogic of shared defenselessness warned against the immorality of MAD, the paradigm - once entrenched - proved hard to uproot. It was not until the presidency of Ronald Reagan that the United States began to rethink the "balance of terror" that had grown to dominate its Cold War relationship with the Kremlin. But even the Reagan administration's response, the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), operated within, and ultimately fell victim to, the constraints imposed by the Treaty.
Nor did the last gasp of the Soviet Union spell the end of MAD. Rather, the revived possibility of an American missile defense capability was quickly squelched by the newly-inaugurated Clinton White House, which opted to use the issue as a bargaining chip for a better relationship with Russia. Thus, despite the demise of the Soviet Union (and, therefore, the effective end of the ABM Treaty under international law), U.S. officials made clear early on to the Yeltsin government in Moscow that they would continue to honor the Treaty's terms. The resulting political priorities in Washington stunted movements toward missile defense throughout the 1990s, notwithstanding the promising advances in anti-missile technologies that had been made in intervening years.
From the start, however, the Bush administration adopted a fundamentally different approach. In stark contrast to the Clinton administration, then-candidate Bush in 2000 pledged to build "effective missile defenses, based on the best available options, at the earliest possible date." And subsequently, as president, he officially gave notice to Russian President Vladimir Putin in December 2001 of his intention to withdraw from the ABM Treaty. Six months later, marking the agreement's official end, President Bush ushered in the post-ABM Treaty world by reiterating his commitment "to deploying a missile defense system as soon as possible to protect the American people and our deployed forces against the growing missile threats we face."
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The threats mentioned by the President, in fact, were not new. In 1998, growing congressional concern over international proliferation had spurred the creation of the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, colloquially known as the Rumsfeld Commission. Chaired by then-future Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the blue-ribbon panel assembled an all-star team of experts and policymakers in an effort to provide what had until that point been sorely lacking in the U.S. public policy debate - an accurate accounting of the danger posed by ballistic missiles.
The Commission returned several sobering conclusions: that the efforts of hostile countries to acquire missiles and weapons of mass destruction "pose a growing threat to the United States, its deployed forces and its friends and allies;" that this threat was "broader, more mature and evolving more rapidly than has been reported in estimates and reports by the Intelligence Community;" and that as a consequence "the warning times the U.S. can expect of new, threatening ballistic missile deployments are being reduced."
This stark assessment underscored a mature reading of post-Cold War international developments. Primarily, that the implosion of Washington's principal Cold War adversary, the Soviet Union, had also freed third world nations from the rigid confines of bipolarity, leading to multiple proliferation threats and emerging adversaries. Also significant was the unspoken lesson of the 1991 Gulf War, watched by a host of aspiring regional powers in the Middle East and Asia - that the capability to deter the United States stemmed from the possession of chemical, biological or nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.
The Commission's predictions were borne out some four weeks later, to the surprise and chagrin of the American intelligence community, by North Korea's sudden launch of its Taepo-Dong intercontinental ballistic missile over Japan. And North Korea was hardly the only worry. Pyongyang's ominous advances were being replicated, albeit on a smaller scale, by countries like Iran, Iraq, Syria and Libya, all of which sought significant ballistic missile capabilities. The efforts of these nations, in turn, were perpetuated and bolstered by the proliferation activities of "supplier states" like North Korea, Russia and China.
Technological responses, meanwhile, lagged far behind. From its early days in office, the Clinton administration had broken ranks with its predecessors, opting to refocus on the ABM Treaty as the "cornerstone" of strategic stability. This devastated domestic missile defense efforts, by then aimed at creating a system of interoperable ground-, sea- and space-based defenses. While work on limited, "theater" missile defense concepts continued, broader projects potentially at odds with a strict interpretation of the Treaty were systematically curbed.
Thus, under the guidance of then-Secretary of Defense Les Aspin, in the early 1990s the Defense Department proceeded to "take the stars out of Star Wars," gutting key programs relating to space-based interception and satellite technology. Even the so-called "Aegis option," the Navy's mobile, ship-based missile defense initiative, struggled with unsteady funding and political inattention. This despite the fact that by the late 1990s the program had yielded some 50 Navy cruisers outfitted with the Aegis ship warfare system, requiring only minor modifications to be ready for missile defense duties.
It was not until 1999 that the Clinton administration, under fire from Congress, reluctantly moved toward a skeletal, ABM Treaty-compliant missile defense. Yet even then, the prognosis was far from encouraging. With prohibitive cost expenditures and years of contemplated feasibility studies, actual deployment remained uncertain at best.
This was roughly the missile defense situation facing President Bush as he entered office in January of 2001. His subsequent decision to withdraw from the ABM Treaty marked the first concrete step in his campaign pledge to protect the United States from ballistic missile attack, and the beginning of a new world for missile defense.
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Apart from the United States itself, no other country felt the ramifications of the President's decision more than Russia. From early on, critics of missile defense had railed against ABM Treaty withdrawal, warning alternately of a potential collapse in international "strategic stability," a souring of the new U.S.-Russian relationship, and a revived arms race with Moscow. In point of fact, the Bush Administration's decision provoked none of these developments. Rather, the Kremlin, while expressing regret over the White House's decision - which it termed a "mistake" - offered only muted criticism of U.S. policy and of America's revived plans for NMD.
That measured response in and of itself constituted a historic reversal. For much of the previous century, Moscow had sought wherever possible to limit U.S. defenses. This strategy, manifested both through diplomatic efforts to bind Washington to the doctrine of mutually assured destruction and through the USSR's own quiet deployment of a comprehensive national missile defense, were informed by concern over the inevitable erosion of Soviet (and subsequently Russian) deterrence in the face of a serious American anti-missile capability.
If anything, these worries have become more acute in recent years. The country's turbulent post-Cold War political and economic climate has yielded a widening crisis in the Russian military, one that has buffeted the backbone of Moscow's nuclear posture - the Strategic Rocket and Nuclear Forces. And while the Kremlin has gone to great lengths to insulate them from the disarray and disorder now endemic to its military, there can be little doubt that these units are today much the worse for wear.
Adding to the equation is the residual anti-Americanism that pervades Russia's military establishment. Despite sweeping changes in other branches of the Russian government, and notwithstanding repeated Kremlin pledges of military reform, the upper echelons of the country's armed forces have seen little change over the past decade. It is there that the clearest vestiges of Cold War-era antagonism to the United States remain and continue to color Russian approaches to cooperation with Washington.
At times, these factors have conspired to make Russian policy appear distinctly schizophrenic. This duality was visible in January 2003, when - even as the Russian Foreign Ministry floated a draft political agreement on missile defense with Washington - a high-ranking officer of the Russian General Staff was warning publicly that U.S. missile defense plans constituted a threat to Russian security. Yet overall, officials in Moscow tend to acknowledge the existence of concrete areas for cooperation. Even before the Bush administration's abrogation of the ABM Treaty, both countries had begun cooperative work on an early warning center designed to monitor unauthorized ballistic missile launches. Since that time, this cooperation has expanded to include a broad array of bilateral initiatives, ranging from joint threat assessments to reciprocal visits to missile defense facilities.
The new dialogue is underpinned by a significant change in Russian strategy, if not attitude. While they doubtless remain concerned about its possible effects, policymakers in Moscow appear to have come to grips with the fact that an American missile defense capability in one form or another has become inevitable. Kremlin efforts therefore now center around how best to capitalize on U.S. initiatives. Russian officials, foremost among them President Putin himself, understand full well that cooperation can yield concrete benefits, including technological advances and outside assistance in early warning/airspace monitoring. Perhaps even more significantly, engagement possesses a distinct political advantage for Moscow, giving it a greater ability to shape - and potentially limit - the nature of American defenses.
Thus, while the White House should prudently remain wary of Russian-imposed limits on the scope and direction of U.S. efforts, as well as keep close watch over the Kremlin's newly-minted plans for an international missile defense coalition of its own, the Bush administration has the comfort of knowing that pragmatism is likely to shape Moscow's contemporary calculus. This, in turn, indicates the possibility of cooperation on an array of initiatives, ranging from short-range missile tracking to the potential deployment of space-based capabilities oriented against countries like China or North Korea.
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Missile defense has also quietly risen to the forefront of American strategy in the Middle East. With Israel, U.S. missile defense ties date back to the 1980s, when Jerusalem's worries about regional proliferation prompted it to enlist in SDI as an international partner. Since then, this dialogue has blossomed into a partnership that includes cutting-edge projects like the Arrow theater missile defense system, high-energy lasers and boost-phase interception concepts.
Yet until recently, Washington's vibrant ties with Jerusalem were very much the exception rather than the rule. Even as joint efforts with Israel continued and expanded during the 1990s, the Clinton administration had spurned opportunities for a similar dialogue with other potential regional partners, foremost among them Turkey. This narrow focus, in turn, served to squelch prospects for larger cooperation, despite an emerging consensus on ballistic missile dangers among Western-oriented countries in the region.
Fortunately, the Bush administration now appears to be working actively to reverse this trend. In the fall of 2002 and the spring of 2003, as part of their preparations for war against Iraq, American policymakers took steps to bolster both Israeli and Turkish defenses, holding consultations in Ankara about the creation of a "Patriot Shield" to protect against Iraqi missiles. Even more far-reaching has been Washington's quiet approval of Turkey's incorporation into regional U.S. anti-missile efforts, a fact that has yielded a reinvigorated dialogue between Israeli and Turkish officials about the feasibility of a joint missile shield to protect their two countries. And talks are also progressing on a role for Turkey in European defenses, one that could make Ankara responsible for developing early warning systems for a NATO missile defense architecture.
Farther afield, serious opportunity is likewise emerging with India. Faced with an increasingly volatile regional equation, dominated by rising Chinese adventurism and a long-standing Sino-Pakistani missile partnership, policymakers in New Delhi have begun earnest efforts to acquire ABM capabilities. This includes not only movement toward the development of indigenous defenses, but also a strategic dialogue with their newest international partner - Israel. India has opened consultations with Jerusalem about the possibility of a joint Indo-Israeli anti-missile program, and Indian officials have been lobbying heavily, both in Washington and in Jerusalem, to acquire the Arrow.
These moves, in turn, are likely to be further facilitated by a recent defense-industrial development. In January of 2002, The Boeing Company and Israel's government-owned Israel Aircraft Industries signed a joint memorandum concerning co-production of the Arrow in the United States. Now finalized, this agreement paves the way for the export of the Arrow to other U.S. allies as part of Washington's missile defense initiative. None of this has been lost on Jerusalem, which has already begun serious efforts to persuade Washington to share missile defense technologies with potential regional partners like Turkey and India.
Such developments signal a growing opportunity for a durable coalition in the Middle East. For the Bush administration, which has yet to articulate a concrete vision for regional missile defense, capitalizing on them should be a top priority.
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Similarly, an expanded agenda for cooperation is also becoming visible across the Atlantic. Notwithstanding the very public disagreements that have recently roiled Washington's relationship with Paris and Berlin, a broad missile defense consensus appears to be steadily emerging in Europe.
This change is profoundly significant, particularly given Europe's historically rocky relationship with the missile defense idea. During the Cold War, policymakers in Europe had grown to embrace the principle of mutual vulnerability enshrined in the ABM Treaty as a cardinal tenet of international stability. And the Soviet Union's collapse did not substantially alter Europe's approach. Throughout the 1990s, officials in Paris, Berlin and Brussels still tended to view with alarm any U.S. movement toward NMD, which they deemed both damaging and divisive. Conceptually, they worried that an American missile defense capability could unravel the delicate skein of bilateral arms control relationships that had replaced the stability of the bipolar Cold War order.
Today, however, this attitude appears to have far less purchase. While opponents of missile defense have now predictably rallied in opposition to the Bush administration's efforts - which critics like London's Guardian newspaper have contemptuously dubbed "Son of Star Wars" - European governments seem to be moving decisively in the opposite direction.
This about-face is driven by two factors. First, unlike previous American administrations, which often focused on domestic missile defense to the exclusion of international allies, the current one places a premium on international cooperation. As part of this focus, Washington initiated an unprecedented public relations campaign in the summer of 2002 to unite European allies around the concept of a "Europe-wide" missile defense. Beginning in July, Administration envoys from both the State Department and the Department of Defense conducted an ambitious 12-country tour of NATO partners in Central and Eastern Europe, lobbying each for its endorsement of, and participation in, Washington's vision of a layered global missile shield.
The results of this outreach have been nothing short of spectacular. The Blair government in England, for one, has subscribed to an extensive program of joint initiatives in response to American inquiries, authorizing use of the Fylingdales radar base in northern England for expanded missile monitoring and commencing discussions over future sea-based missile defenses. Denmark has adopted a similar position. While at this writing a formal verdict on cooperation is still forthcoming from the country's ruling Liberal party, lawmakers in Copenhagen have made no secret of their intention to support American plans. As part of this predisposition, Denmark has signaled its willingness to permit the U.S. use of Greenland's Thule radar base, and is now actively engaged in promoting the issue to the semi-autonomous colony's new nationalist home rule government. In turn, these moves have been echoed in Eastern Europe, where countries like Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have signaled their willingness to assist the United States in a broad range of anti-missile initiatives, ranging from early warning duties to the deployment of terminal-phase defenses.
Second, and perhaps even more critical, has been the growing convergence of threat perceptions between the U.S. and Europe. Over the last several years, European officials have begun to take note of the increasingly unmistakable signals emanating from Tehran, Damascus and Tripoli regarding missile and WMD development. As a result, many European capitals are now largely in accord with Washington over the danger posed by a number of aspiring Middle Eastern missile states.
Two recent events underscore this newfound agreement. The first, a high profile meeting of NATO defense ministers in Brussels in the summer of 2002, yielded an unprecedented consensus regarding the ballistic missile threat to Alliance member nations. In the wake of the meeting, Secretary General Lord George Robertson confirmed publicly that NATO had identified Iran, Iraq, Libya, and Syria as dangers to "the safety and security of the people who live in the countries that are members of the alliance."
The Partnership's subsequent November summit in Prague marked the second. In addition to dramatically expanding NATO's scope and reach with the induction of seven new members, the meeting also marked a major step forward in Europe's maturity with regard to missile defense. The Prague Declaration, the summit's defining document, emphasized that NATO had reached an Alliance-wide commitment to examine responses to a "full range of missile threats."
The new prominence accorded to missile defense on the European agenda is noteworthy. It is also likely to prove durable, as NATO grapples with its primary "post-Prague" challenge - protecting its newly-expanded borders from emerging threats in the Balkans, Central Asia and the Middle East. The resulting convergence of interests highlights what amounts to an unprecedented opportunity for trans-Atlantic engagement.
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In Asia, in much the same way, a growing endorsement of missile defense has begun to take root in response to mounting regional threats. Two factors, North Korea and China, have contributed considerably to this trend. Since the fall of 2002, North Korea's admission of an active, clandestine nuclear program - and its subsequent decisions to eject international inspectors, withdraw from the 1968 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and rescind a self-imposed 1999 ban on ballistic missile testing - have fomented an unexpected crisis on the Korean Peninsula. These moves have eloquently highlighted the inadequacies of conventional arms control instruments, like the 1994 "Agreed Framework," and underscored the need for Pyongyang's neighbors to possess defenses capable of addressing its potential aggression.
Increasingly, China has also begun to loom large in the calculus of regional nations. In the summer of 2002, the Defense Department's long-awaited report on Chinese military power outlined in stark terms the growing regional threat posed by the People's Republic. China, the study made clear, is in the throes of a massive ballistic missile modernization program - one intended to give it dramatically greater reach in Asia.
Together, these trends have breathed new life into prospects for Asian missile defense. This past winter, Japanese officials officially relayed to the Pentagon their government's willingness to commence active joint missile defense development. The move signaled an important victory for the White House, which for years had prodded Tokyo to intensify cooperation beyond simple research. As the country's daily Yomiuri astutely pointed out, Japan's reversal of policy had everything to do with its efforts to cope with a nuclear, ballistic missile-equipped North Korea.
Similar worries are also spurring Seoul to speed up its dialogue with Washington. South Korea recently commissioned the U.S.-based Lockheed Martin Corporation to supply Aegis ship warfare systems for its Navy, a deal that will make it the fifth country in the world to field the Aegis. This purchase, much like Tokyo's about-face, reflects a growing anxiety over the DPRK's rapidly expanding capabilities.
At the same time, Beijing's steady militarization of the Taiwan Strait - manifested in part through a major missile build-up on its eastern seaboard - led lawmakers in Taipei to place growing emphasis on the need for missile defense. Already, Taiwan has authorized a crash program to develop both land- and sea-based domestic defenses - a vibrant effort that today includes such projects as the 200-kilometer range "Sky Bow II" missile interceptor and a domestic "mini-Aegis" fighting ship built around Taiwan's homegrown Chenkung-class frigate. Taiwanese officials are also increasingly looking to Washington for assistance, bidding to procure the advanced Patriot system, the PAC-3, as a supplement to indigenous theater missile defenses, and lobbying heavily to acquire American Aegis-capable Arleigh Burke-class destroyers for its navy.
This budding coalition underscores an important development - the emergence of missile defense as a cardinal tenet of Asian security. The resulting consensus in Seoul, Taipei and Tokyo gives a significant boost to the Bush administration's vision of a regional missile shield to protect Asian allies.
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In December, the President outlined plans for an "initial set of missile defense capabilities" over the next two years. The Bush administration should have every reason to feel optimistic about its chances for success. Already, the Pentagon's programs, at long last unconstrained by the ABM Treaty, have begun to chart significant advances. In November, the Navy marked its third consecutive intercept of an incoming medium-range missile, highlighting both the practicality and versatility of its already-existing "Aegis option."
Ground-based defenses have also surged forward; despite the failure of its most recent flight test in December, the Defense Department has had a string of successful interceptions over the past two years, underlining a real and growing domestic anti-missile capability. These and a slew of related projects - ranging from the Air Force's Airborne Laser to the Army's PAC-3 - increasingly give the lie to critics who now question NMD's technical feasibility, rather than its ideology.
But deployment at home is only part of the equation. In his landmark announcement, the President emphasized that work on domestic defenses would be mirrored by a larger strategy designed to protect allies abroad. Just as importantly, it is becoming clear that this view is shared by American partners in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. Given this unique opportunity, the effort outlined in the Administration's deployment directive should constitute merely a prelude to the construction of a truly global missile defense coalition. When it decides to do so, the United States is likely to discover that the sky is the limit.