U.S. Weighing Ballistic Missile Threats

By Williams, Robert H. | National Defense, January 2000 | Go to article overview
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U.S. Weighing Ballistic Missile Threats

Williams, Robert H., National Defense

As U.S. policy makers struggle to forge viable national and theater anti-ballistic missile defenses, a host of actual and potential foes either are perfecting or acquiring weapons of mass destruction, according to U.S. intelligence reports.

These so-called "rogue" regimes, such as North Korea and Iran, are aggressively acquiring the means to deliver terror weapons on key targets in the American heartland, according to unclassified intelligence analyses. Estimates just developed suggest that within the span of 15 years, an unprecedented number of unfriendly states will possess intercontinental ballistic missiles and a deadly array of chemical, biological and nuclear payloads.


In Asia and the Middle East, during the last 18 months, an alarming pace of development has been noted:

North Korea already possesses a limited intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capability and is working on an advanced system.

Iran, using North Korean technology and Russian technicians, has flight-tested the Shahab 3 missile that has a range of 1,300 kilometers.

China, late last year, tried out its DF-31 mobile ICBM, which reportedly can hit targets in a radius of 8,000 kilometers.

Pakistan has tested its 1,300-kilometer range Ghauri missile that allegedly was developed with the help of North Korea.

And India has a 2,000-kilometer medium range ballistic missile that is called the Agni II.

Libya, Sudan, and Syria

Among other nations seeking to develop long-range missiles or acquire weapons of mass destruction are Libya, Sudan, and Syria, according to estimates by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). Syria has stockpiled Sarin nerve gas and is developing a solid rocket production capability. Analysts said Syria also is working on even more toxic and persistent nerve agents.

The primary suppliers of this mega weapon technology include Russia, China, North Korea, and several western nations that continue to provide spare parts for dual use equipment and related material and scientific equipment. Russian technology exports and assistance remain strong, and it is believed that North Korea may move to increase missile sales in the years ahead, thus compounding an already bad situation.

Exacerbating the problem of missile proliferation is a trend by some nations that have received outside help to share this technology and engage in cooperative development projects with similarly situated states. On this point, a report by the CINs nonproliferation center said:

"Countries determined to maintain weapons of mass destruction programs over the long term have been placing significant emphasis on insulating their programs against interdiction and disruption. Many of them are trying to reduce their dependence on imports by developing indigenous production capabilities. Although these capabilities may not always be a good substitute for foreign imports-particularly for more advanced technologies-in many cases, they may prove to be adequate."

The CIA believes North Korea has the capability of delivering weapons of mass destruction on Alaska, Hawaii and the western United States. The CINs report suggested that Iran would be able to hit "many parts of the United States" within the next 10 years. Iraq may possess an ICBM within 10 to 15 years.

While the headlong rush to acquire ballistic missiles has emerged as a cardinal concern, experts point out that non-ballistic missile delivery systems, including cruise missiles, in the short-term almost certainly would offer greater accuracy and reliability. These alternate systems also would be far more efficient in delivering biological and chemical agents.

This immediate threat was graphically described in a hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

"Foreign non-state actors," said Robert D. Walpole, a national intelligence officer for strategic and nuclear programs at the CIA, "including some terrorist or extremist groups, have used, possessed, or are interested in weapons of mass destruction or the materials to build them.

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