Magazine article Arms Control Today

Rumsfeld Reprise? the Missile Report That Foretold the Iraq Intelligence Controversy

Magazine article Arms Control Today

Rumsfeld Reprise? the Missile Report That Foretold the Iraq Intelligence Controversy

Article excerpt

In recent weeks, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has come under fire for his part in the Bush administration's misuse of U.S. intelligence to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq. But Rumsfeld's tendency to hype selective portions of intelligence that support his policy goals was already familiar to intelligence professionals. They remember his chairmanship of a 1998 congressionally chartered commission charged with evaluating the nature and magnitude of the ballistic missile threat to the United States. As with Iraq, Rumsfeld's work on ballistic missiles often ignored the carefully considered views of such professionals in favor of highly unlikely worst-case scenarios that posited an imminent threat to the United States and prompted a military, rather than diplomatic, response. Just as is likely to be the case with Iraq's weapons of mass destruction (WMD), time has proven Rumsfeld's predictions dead wrong.

The "Report of the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States," chaired by Rumsfeld and released in July 1998, was one of the most influential congressionally mandated reports in recent memory. The presentation of the Rumsfeld Commission report and the unexpected attempt by North Korea to launch a satellite one month later combined to create a political tidal wave that ultimately engulfed one of the most successful arms control treaties in history, the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty. The report also led to massive increases in spending on defenses against ICBMs rather than on domestic spending, other defense priorities, or more urgent defenses against short- and medium-range missiles. Because the Rumsfeld report had such a significant impact on U.S. foreign and defense policy, it is worth checking the report's predictions against current realities.

To do so on the report's fifth anniversary is particularly appropriate because of the report's emphasis on how much the missile threat could grow during a five-year period. The report concluded that any nation with a well-developed, Scud-based missile infrastructure would be able to flight-test an ICBM within about five years of deciding to do so. It further asserted that North Korea and Iran were seeking this capability in order to deliver weapons of mass destruction. Yet, since the report's release, none of the emerging missile states have flight-tested a missile with even half the range of an ICBM. The report that helped kill the ABM Treaty was spectacularly wrong about its principal premise. "Happy Anniversary" greetings are not in order.

The report's central and most clarion warning is contained in the first paragraph of its unclassified Executive Summary :

The newer ballistic missile-equipped nations [North Korea, Iran, and Iraq]...would be able to inflict major destruction on the U.S. within about five years of a decision to acquire such a capability (10 years in the case of Iraq). During several of those years, the U.S. might not be aware that such a decision had been made.1

The report further states that North Korea and Iran place "a high priority on threatening U.S. territory, and each is even now pursuing advanced ballistic missile capabilities to pose a direct threat to U.S. territory." Such language created the strong impression that the five-year clocks of North Korea and Iran were already running. Moreover, the estimate of a five-year timeline from the development decision point to the initial ICBM capability was said to apply not just to the three countries that President George W. Bush would later label the "axis of evil," but to any nation "with a well-developed, Scud-based ballistic missile infrastructure."

The Rumsfeld Commission strongly implied that movement from single-stage, short-range ballistic missiles to multiple-staged ICBMs is a straight-line, relatively rapid, and predictable progression. This notion is both ahistorical and unrealistic. Missile development programs of even the most advanced industrialized states have advanced in fits and starts, encountering serious programmatic setbacks along the way. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.