The Missile Threat


Remark on the 2011 update: No full update has been conducted for this  archive, compiled in 2001 and early 2002. Some broken links have been restored; some documents have been added when newer version became available.

The United States wants to build missile defenses to protect themselves against a perceived threat posed by hostile nuclear threshold states like North Korea, Iran and Iraq, although two other nations – Russia and China – currently present a significant nuclear threat to the American homeland. Russia still maintains massive nuclear forces with long-range strike capabilities, while China is developing the capability to modernize its missile and nuclear forces. The domestic perception of the missile threat by rogue states has been a strong influence on the American missile defense debate during the past decade, and the missile issue has tended to be isolated from its surrounding regional and security context. This perspective has also had another consequence: the reluctance to seek a coordinated approach against the horizontal proliferation of missiles and their component parts.

 
  • Congressional Documents
    Material from the Senate Committees on Armed Services, Intelligence and Governmental Affairs.
  • Research Reports
    Reports on Threat Assessment, the Rumsfeld and Cox Committee Reports and the Space Threat.
 



Threat Analyses from U.S. Intelligence and Pentagon

National Intelligence Estimates

Within the U.S. Executive branch, major threat assessment comes from National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs). This series of documents begins in 1993 and has been produced by the National Intelligence Council, which consists of members of the U.S. intelligence community led by the Central Intelligence Agency. At present the United States identifies three states as potential sources of ballistic missile attack, though it does not claim that any of them has such a capability today. These states are North Korea, Iran and Iraq. All have a history of ballistic missile development, and all have a background of of poor or hostile relations with America and the West. The 1993 and 1995 reports included threat analysis of what was likely to happen. The 1995 NIE concluded that "No country, other than the major declared nuclear powers, will develop or otherwise acquire a ballistic missile in the next 15 years". This evaluation was largely consistent with the 1993 NIE and other intelligence assessments reporting that North Korea would require 10-15 years to develop nuclear capable ICBMs. Conservatives critized this threat assessment and accused the Clinton administration of politically influencing the NIE to downplay an emerging missile threat.

By 1999, the NIE had also included discussion of what could happen, along with the traditional analysis. The new report projected that "the United States most likely will face ICBM threats from Russia, China, and North Korea, probably from Iran, and possibly from Iraq". The report also discusses several other non-strategic threats to U.S. territory, like sea-based short-range and intermediate range missiles or even cruise missiles. Rogue states and terrorists could also use weapons of mass destruction other than missiles. The NIC document made it clear that Russia and China continue to pose major potential threats to the U.S. homeland. Another report, the classified August 2000 NIE, reportedly predicts that China’s strategic arsenal could swell to ten times its present size as a response to NMD.

In sum, the CIA assessment is that the North Korean ICBM threat is imminent while that from Iran is longer-term and that from Iraq is even more limited at this time. In any event, these are the threats which the United States believes to justifiy its enormous investment in ballistic missile defence programs.

Reports to Congress on WMD Proliferation

Another series of documents, although not primarily focused on missiles, is "Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions" which is provided by the Director of National / Central Intelligence.
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions January – December 2010  NEW
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions January – December 2009  NEW
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions January – December 2008  NEW
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions January – December 2007  NEW
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions January – December 2006  NEW
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions January – December 2005 NEW
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions January – December 2004  NEW
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions July - December 2003
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions January - June 2003
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions July – December 2002 (pdf)
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions January - June 2002 (pdf)
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions July - December 2001
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions January - June 2001
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions July - December 2000
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions January - June 2000
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions July - December 1999
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions January - June 1999
  • Report to Congress on the Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventional Munitions January - June 1998
  • Report on Proliferation Related Acquisition January – December 1997
  • July - December 1996 The Acquisition of Technology Relating to Weapons of Mass Destruction and Advanced Conventions/ Munitions

Global Trends

Proliferation: Threat and Response

This series of DoD reports focuses on the military threat posed by the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and delivery systems and addresses the United States' response to counter this threat.

National Air and Space Intelligence Center



Independent Panel Reports

Rumsfeld Commission

The Rumsfeld Report, released on July 15, 1998, concluded that the potential threat of missile attacks by states like North Korea, Iran and Iraq was "broader, more mature and evolving more rapidly" than reported by the intelligence services. The report also highlighted several areas of potential conflict existing between China and the United States. It helped resurrect the national missile defense movement in the United States and paved the way for Congressional approval of the National Missile Defense Act of 1999.

After a good deal of controversy about the emerging missile threat, the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States had been appointed by Republican missile defense supporters. The commission was established largely because some members of Congress were dissatisfied with the 1995 National Intelligence Estimate. Headed by former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, the panel assessed the missile threat to the U.S. as well as the capability of the intelligence community to warn policymakers of new threats.

International events added force to the findings of Rumsfeld Report. On July 22, Iran tested its Shahab 3 missle, which is capable of reaching Israel, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. On August 31, 1998, North Korea launched a new, three-stage version of the Taepodong 1 missile, for the first time demonstrating a missle with multiple-stage separation. Few intelligence agencies had foreseen that Pyongyang had already achieved this capabilty sufficient to strike targets throughout Japan.

Democrats countered the Rumsfeld Report with the publication of an open letter by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Shelton. Shelton reiterated that the military was still confident in the intelligence community's capability to provide necessary awareness of an ICBM threat to the United States.

Rumsfeld chaired not one, but two, major advisory panels, although only the first one received much attention. The second Rumsfeld panel warned that the United States may face a devastating sneak attack against U.S. satellites orbiting the planet. The report warns that the United States was highly dependent on satellites, and that the means to disrupt or destroy its space systems had become accessible to countries or groups hostile to the United States. The report urged the administration to reduce the country's vulnerability by developing 'superior space capabilities'.

GAO Review and Gates Panel

As a reaction against the controversial findings of the National Intelligence Estimate of 1995, the General Accounting Office (GAO) took the NIE under review. GAO concluded that the main statement of the NIE were indeed overstated. While GAO said that the report had analytical shortcomings, another Congress-initiated review reached a different conclusion. The independent, non-governmental panel headed by former CIA-Director Robert M. Gates concured with the general conclusions and time lines estimated in the NIE, although identifying a number of method problems.

Cox Committee Report

The May 1999 Cox Committe Report stated that the China had stolen classified information on U.S. thermonuclear weapon technology since the late 1970s and used this information for modernizing its own nuclear arsenal. According to the report, this proliferation of weapons technology know-how out of U.S. research laboratories "almost certainly continue to the present." China also stole or otherwhise achieved advanced missile and space technology and assisted to the missile and space programs of Iran, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and North Korea.


Congressional Documents

Foreign Relations Committee

Senate Armed Services Committee

Testimonies before the SASC on missile defense technology and costs

Select Committee on Intelligence

Assesses U.S. intelligence activities and programs and submits proposals for legislation and reports to the Senate.

Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs


Research Reports

Threat Assessment

  • In the wake of 11 September, where does missile defence fit in security spending priorities? Debate between Keith Payne and Joseph Cirincione, NATO Review, Winter 2001/2002 (pdf)

    WMD Threats 2001: Critical Choices for the Bush Administration, Michael Barletta (ed.), CNS Occasional Papers, May 2001 (pdf only)
    Collection of papers prepared for the March 2001 meeting of the Monterey Nonproliferation Strategy Group that covers a wide range of WMD proliferation issues and provides guidance for the Bush administration.

  • Combating Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear Terrorism: A Comprehensive Strategy, Executive Summary, Frank Cilluffo, Sharon Cardash, Gordon Lederman, Center for Strategic and International Studies, May 2001 (pdf)
    The threat of CBRN terrorism against the U.S. homeland is serious, and U.S. military superiority in itself is no longer sufficient to ensure the safety of the U.S. national security planning must be broadened to encompass CBRN counterterrorism.


  • The Rogue State Doctrine and National Missile Defense, Ivan Eland with Daniel Lee, March 29, 2001 (also pdf)
    The Clinton administration underestimated the ability of several Third World countries to develop long-range missiles. Other measures, as diplomacy with North Korea and embargoes against Iraq, would enable the Bush administration to slow the development and deployment of a limited land-based national missile defense.

  • The Missile Threat from North Korea, Iran, and Iraq and the Rationale for National Missile Defenses, Anthony Cordesman, January 21, 2001 (pdf)
    As is the case with North Korea, the seriousness of the Iranian missile threat is insecure, although most experts believe Teheran to pursue the development of long-range missiles and of nuclear and biological warheads. There is no way to predict what kind of threat Iran may develop against the U.S. over the next 10-25 years.

  • The Rise and Decline of Rogue States, Thomas Henriksen, Journal of International Affairs, Spring 2001 (pdf)The U.S. must recalibrate its policies to take account of the changing realities of rogue states. A new administration must acknowledge that arms control treaties will not be effective against rogue states which ignore international legal codes. The U.S. instead must redouble diplomatic efforts to halt rogue state patronage of Russia and China.

  • A Rogue by Any Other Name: The Adjustable Language of Foreign Policy, Mark Strauss, Carnegie Endowment, December 15, 2000

  • Toward a National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, Advisory Panel to Assess Domestic Response Capabilities for Terrorism Involving Weapons of Mass Destruction (Gilmore Commission), Second Annual Report, December 14, 2000
    The specter of terrorism in the U.S. is an urgend national issue that requires synchronization of efforts among the federal, state, and local levels.


  • Assessing the Cruise Missile Puzzle: How Great a Defense Challenge? David Tanks, Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, October 2000
    Reviews cruise missile proliferation trends and outlines current U.S. programs to deal with the emergence of a significant cruise missile threat in the fairly near future.


  • Assessing the Assessment: The 1999 National Intelligence Estimate of the Ballistic Missile Threat, Joseph Cirincione, CNS Nonproliferation Review, Spring 2000 (pdf)
    It is incorrect to infer from the latest 1999 NIE a rising missile threat to the United States. It rather reflects a lowering of previously established intelligence agency standards for judging threats, driven by the pressure to justify a decision to deploy a national missile defense system.

  • The Rogue States: No Clear and Present Danger, John Pike, Journal of the Federation of American Scientists, Vol. 53, No. 4, July/August 2000 (?)

  • The Ballistic Missile Threat Evolves, Joseph Cirincione, CEIP Proliferation Brief, September 10, 1999

  • Beyond Containment-Engagement: Strategies toward "Rogue States" and Other Countries of Concern, Woodrow Wilson Center, March 1999 (pdf)
    Focusses on how to respond to the challenge posed by rogue states such as Iran, Iraq, and Libya, as well as other countries of concern such as Serbia, Nigeria, and Burma.


  • Planning a Ballistic Missile Defense System of Systems, An Adaptive Strategy, David Gompert and Jeffrey Isaacson, RAND Issue Paper 1999
    An NMD system should not be based upon current threat perceptions but also be adaptable to future threats that are currently unknown. The article suggests a strategic rationale for a missile defense and examines strategies for managing the ABM Treaty, Russia, China, and strategic offensive forces.

  • The New Missile 'Threat' Gap, Spurgeon Keeny, Arms Control Today, June/July 1998
    The best defense against future missile threats by rogue states is not an effort to deploy expensive, unproven defenses, but rather to pursuit measures to reduce the materialization of these threats, such as the MTCR and the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

  • Rogue States, Noam Chomsky, Z-Magazine, April 1998
    There are legitimate ways to react to many threats to world peace. But no state has the authority to make its own determinations on these matters. Dealing with rogue states, the United States and also the UK should act in accord with their laws and international treaty obligations.

Rumsfeld Report

  • What We Did, Richard Garwin, Member of the Rumsfeld Commission, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November/December 1998
    The Rumsfeld commission did not say that an ICBM threat would actually emerge in the next ten or five years or even less but judged that certain nations have the capacity to develop ballistic missiles if they assign a sufficiently high priority to their missile programs and fund them fully. However, analysis of the missile threat should be clearly differentiated from analysis of the response to that threat.
  • What they didn't do, Lisbeth Gronlund and David Wright, Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, November/December 1998
    Argues that the Rumsfeld Commissions findings and recommendations are misleading, dealing with what is merely possible, not what is likely to occur.
  • How Soon Might the US Face a Threat from Ballistic Missiles? Proliferation Roundtable at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, September 17, 1998

Cox Committee report

Space Threat

  • Lost in Space: The Misguided Drive Toward Antisatellite Weapons, Michael Krepon, Foreign Affairs, May/June 2001
    The Rumsfeld commission argues that the United States needs weapons for space warfare because it is now both more vulnerable in and more dependent on space. But if the U.S. seeks protection through unilateral initiatives, American allies and potential adversaries will view this not as a legitimate reaction toward a certain threat, but as the hubris of imperial overstretch.

  • Commission Warns U.S. Space Assets Vulnerable, Wade Boese, Arms Control Today, March 2001

  • Space Wars, Daniel Smith, Center for Defense Information, February 2001
    Current satellites swinging around the Earth perform important military and civilian functions, but none can attack other objects in space or damage any potential target on the Earth's surface. Implied in the second report of the Rumsfeld Commission is the need to develop anti-satellite weapons. A verifiable and enforceable international convention is necessary that prohibits testing and placing in orbit objects that are capable of damaging other objects in space or on the surface of the Earth.