Theater Missile Defense and National Security Strategy

By DeBiaso, Peppino A. | Military Review, November/December 1999 | Go to article overview

Theater Missile Defense and National Security Strategy


DeBiaso, Peppino A., Military Review


Ballistic missiles have become attractive weapons for hostile nations and groups because they serve as tickets to power influence and coercion in regional affairs and regional wars. Their long range, short time of flight, relative low cost and ability to carry a variety of warheads offer unique political and military advantages over other weapons.

IN THE INTERNATIONAL SECURIT environment emerging from the post-Cold War period, any conflict in which the United States becomes engaged could carry the risk of theater ballistic missile (TBM) attack, possibly armed with nuclear, biological or chemical (NBC) warheads. Possession of these weapons would allow aggressors to do what they could not do before-hold at risk vital assets such as capitals, population centers, major ports, air bases and large concentrations@forces with only a small number of weapons and the hinder the US role in international security affairs by affecting its freedom of action in future crises and wars. The risks to US security posed by the growing proliferation of TBMs have focused increased attention on,the requirements for Theater Missile Defense (TMD). This article examines the implications of those risks for defense pj ad describes the development of US TMD policies, capabilities and programs within broader national security strategy for countering threat or use of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction.

Evolving Regional Security Challenges

Since the early 1990s, the international security environment has undergone rapid and unpredictable change. The positive transformation of the EastWest relations resulting from the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War has dramatically reduced the risk of conventional or nuclear war with Russia. At the same time, regional conflicts have intensified. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the "discipline" imposed during the Cold War on latent regional tensions have given way to power vacuums within those areas formerly under Soviet control or influence. New regional,powers have emerged, filling these power voids. In many instances, transformed geopolitical landscape has rekindled or unleashed hegemonic ambitions and tensions based on nationalistic, religious and ethnic factors contributing to greater regional instability and wars.

The rise of regional hostilities and conflicts has been accompanied froliferating ballistic missiles and weapons of mass-destruction. Ballistic missiles have become attractive weapon for hostile nations and groups because they serve as tickets to power, influence and coercion in regional affairs and regional wars. Their long range, short time of flight, relative low cost and ability to carry a variety of warheads offer unique political and military advantages over other weapons. Today over-20 nations have TBMs and more than 20 nations have or aredeveloping NBC weapons.1 Many, of the same nations that are developing or acquiring TBMs are also pursuing NBC weapons. Together, these weapons pose serious regional threats. However, beyond this decade, the military risks associated with these development will likely be exacerbated by the continuing spread of advanced weapon technologies that contributeto improved ballistic missiles. The trend is toward systems of increased range, lethality and sophistication.

North Korea's development of two new longerrange TBMs-the Taepo Dong I and 11, with estimated ranges greater than several thousand kilometers-and Iran's recent efforts to produce ballistic missiles of greater than 1,000-kilometer range are typical of the trend.' Worse, TBM use in regional conflicts is becoming a convention of modern war. Ballistic missiles have been used in six conflicts since 1980. The Iran-Iraq "War of the Cities," Libyan attacks on the Italian island of Lampedusa, the war in Afghanistan, the Iranian attacks against internal dissident camps, the Persian Gulf War and the civil war in Yemen all demonstrated the capability of ballistic missiles to threaten the full range of political and military targets. …

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