Ballistic Missile Defense: An Administration Perspective

By Bell, Robert G. | Strategic Forum, July 1995 | Go to article overview

Ballistic Missile Defense: An Administration Perspective


Bell, Robert G., Strategic Forum


Conclusions and Definitions

Note:

Before one delves into any defense issue one must first begin with the underlying question: "What is our strategy?"

What the Clinton Administration is doing with regard to strategic offensive systems provides an instructive context for what we're now trying to do on the strategic defensive side.

To begin with, the Clinton Administration believes, fundamentally, that deterrence still matters.

Why? Is it because we think that Russia is going to attack us today, tonight, tomorrow, next week, next month? No, of course not. We're working very hard--across the board--in many areas, not the least of which are arms control, denuclearization and the Nunn-Lugar initiatives, to make sure that we continue to strengthen strategic stability and assist Russia in its democratic and economic reforms.

But, a strategic partnership with Russia is not a "for sure" conclusion yet. Thus, it is fundamental to this Administration's strategy that we are hedging against the requirement to reconstitute strategic deterrence in full form.

This hedging strategy drives many decisions, and each of them carries a price tag. These include:

* a Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) that established a requirement for 3,500 strategic warheads, with a premium on the flexibility to upload and reconstitute.

* a decision to keep the ICBM leg of the triad, to modernize the Minuteman III, and to keep three Minutemen wings deployed in ICBM silos.

* a decision to complete the D-5 Trident missile purchase, keep 14 Trident boats, and backfit the D-5 into 4 of those 14 submarines to make sure we have 14 D-5 armed Trident boats.

* a decision to ask Congress for a very challenging stockpile stewardship program, to make sure that our nuclear weapons are reliable, safe, and mission-capable absent full-scale nuclear testing.

* a decision to commit this Administration to solving the tritium problem.

* a decision to spend a lot of money on START verification and monitoring of Russia's strategic offensive modernization.

If you don't think maintaining a deterrent hedge matters; if you think it's "over, over there;" that Russia could never again constitute a nuclear threat to the United States, and all we have to deal with are missile threats from regional outlaw regimes, then you can take a different approach and you can save a lot of money.

But that's not what the Clinton Administration thinks.

ABM Treaty Remains Important

In this context, I would argue that the ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty matters as well.

Why is that? Well, it is axiomatic that we must include, as part of our calculation of the sufficiency of deterrence, the threat we will face on the other side in terms of defenses. Without the ABM Treaty, we would require more RVs (Re-entry Vehicles) than the 3,500 level set in START II. So the ABM Treaty is key to our ability to ask the United States Senate to ratify this Treaty.

And if you believe we should go below 3,500, and we're continuing to discuss that question within the Administration now, then the ABM Treaty matters even more.

Furthermore, within the limits of the Treaty itself you have to ask yourself what are the defenses that STRATCOM would have to confront and penetrate if we ever had to retaliate; not just the 100 authorized ABMs, but the thousands of SAMs that could be upgraded and, increasingly, the whole new possibility of dedicated Russian Theater Missile Defenses (TMDs).

So does that mean, then, that what we want to do is expand the ABM Treaty and transform it through some sort of aggressive outreach effort into a "TMD Treaty," to capture and eliminate any strategic defensive threats from Russia below the level of their authorized ABMs?

Of course not. The ABM Treaty is not a "TMD treaty." Does that mean "anything goes," though? …

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