Missile Defense and NATO Security

By DeBiaso, Peppino A. | Joint Force Quarterly, October 2008 | Go to article overview
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Missile Defense and NATO Security


DeBiaso, Peppino A., Joint Force Quarterly


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Armed with weapons of mass destruction (WMD), the global proliferation of ballistic missiles is introducing more widely the means of modern strategic warfare that were once the purview of only a small number of countries. This transformation in the security environment raises new questions for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on the strategic implications of defending its territory against ballistic missile attack. During the recent summit in Bucharest, Romania, the Alliance acknowledged for the first time that missile defense can make a contribution to protecting NATO territory, including its populations, from attack. Consequently, NATO is undertaking an intensive examination of the issues associated with a comprehensive continental defense against ballistic missiles to enable it to counter future military risks.

Emerging Security Environment

The threats to the security of the United States and its NATO allies have changed significantly since the early 1990s and the demise of the Soviet Union. A broader and more complex range of challenges confronts the Alliance today. Prominent among these are the proliferation of destructive technologies, such as nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons and the ballistic missiles to deliver them at great distances. Ballistic missiles capable of carrying WMD have become the weapon of choice for an increasing number of states who view them as low-cost, high-impact arms capable of offsetting Western military advantages. And the danger they pose is expanding in Northeast and South Asia, as well as the Middle East. In the 1970s, at the height of the Cold War, nine nations possessed ballistic missiles. Today, more than 20 states have these weapons. Furthermore, these missiles are undergoing improvements in range, accuracy, mobility, and ability to carry a variety of conventional and unconventional warheads. Over the past decade, in addition to the roughly two dozen states operating short-range ballistic missiles (up to 1,000 kilometers [km]), the number of countries with medium-range (1,000-2,500 km), intermediate-range (2,500-5,500 km), or intercontinental-range (greater than 5,500 km) ballistic missiles has increased from five to nine. Not only has the number of nations possessing ballistic missiles been growing, but this group also includes some of the most dangerous regimes, such as North Korea and Iran.

North Korea has an ambitious ballistic missile development program and is a major exporter of missiles and missile technology to other countries, including Iran, Syria, and Pakistan. North Korea has long possessed a large arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) and medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs). Through the 1990s, it was also able to develop or acquire the technologies for ballistic missiles capable of striking other continents. In August 1998, it tested the three-stage Taepo Dong 1 missile in an attempt to orbit a satellite. The missile's third stage failed, but not before it flew long enough to prove that North Korea had the basic technologies necessary for longer range ballistic missiles. Pyongyang is now developing several such longer range weapons, including a new intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) with a range estimated at 2,500 km. In July 2006, North Korea conducted seven widely publicized launches. It successfully fired six theater-class SRBMs and MRBMs, demonstrating the capability to conduct salvo strikes against U.S. forces in the region, as well as South Korea and Japan. The seventh missile, the Taepo Dong 2 space launch vehicle/intercontinental ballistic missile, was flown for the first time. The Taepo Dong 2, capable of carrying a nuclear payload, could reach much of the Asia-Pacific region and parts of the United States when operational. Although the Taepo Dong 2 failed shortly after launch, the test made clear the significant program North Korea has under way to build ever more sophisticated missiles with global reach.

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