Prepared Testimony by William Schneider Jr. Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Hearing: Missile Threats to the United States

April 20, 1999

Weapon Program: 

  • Missile

Related Country: 

  • Iran
  • North Korea
  • Russia

Mr. Chairman and distinguished Members of the Committee:


It is a privilege to have an opportunity to appear before this committee. I previously served as Under Secretary of State (1982-86), and as Chairman of the General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament. More recently, I served as a Member of the Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States (the Rumsfeld Commission) that delivered its report to the Congress in July, 1998.

The question of proliferation can no longer be thought of as an isolated and far-off potential threat to the United States. The burden of evidence available to the United States government was reviewed by the Rumsfeld Commission and presented to the Congress in July 1998. Among the major conclusions of this Congressionally mandated study are these. The threat to the US posed by these emerging capabilities is broader, more mature and evolving more rapidly than has been reported in estimates and reports by the Intelligence community.

The warning times the US can expect of new, threatening ballistic missile deployments are being reduced. Under some plausible scenarios - including re-basing or transfer of operational missiles, sea or air- launch options, shortened development programs that might include testing in a third country, or some combination of these - the US might well have little or no warning before operational deployment.

Proliferation-related developments can no longer be thought of as an isolated or far-off threat that is of no immediate consequence to US security interests. The surge in the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction during the 1990s has created proliferation as an environmental fact for US national security policy for the next quarter century or more. Moreover, the nature of contemporary WMD and ballistic missile proliferation challenges many of the underlying assumptions of policy including abstention from the defense of US territory from long range ballistic missile attack. This posture is currently required under the provisions of the Anti- Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972. My testimony today will focus on proliferation-related developments in Iran and assess the implications of these developments for US security.

The post-Cold War proliferation process

The process of proliferation since the end of the Cold War is qualitatively different from the process of proliferation prior to the end of the Cold War in 1991. Before the end of the Cold War, Russia was an effective party to the non-proliferation regimes in place. Its interests resided in containing rather than facilitating the spread of the technology of weapons of mass destruction. Multilateral export controls limited the access of potential proliferators to scientific and industrial technology and equipment pertinent to the development and manufacture of ballistic missiles and WMD. The United States and most other governments (apart from China) restricted access to information relating to WMD and ballistic missile technology.

The end of the Cold War brought about stark changes in Russia and its incentives relating to nonproliferation compliance. Export controls - especially multilateral controls largely disappeared as an effective counter-proliferation instrument. Regional rivalries and an interest by regional powers in deterring outside intervention in regional disputes have stimulated an effort to acquire WMD and ballistic missiles.

The existing non-proliferation regime has proven to be ill-suited to the manner in which post-Cold War proliferation has taken place. Proliferators have focused on obsolescent, but functional WMD and ballistic missile technology. Russia has economic and policy incentives to assist Iran and several other countries in acquiring WMD and ballistic missile technology. The absence of export control barriers to scientific and industrial equipment relevant to WMD and ballistic missile development has made such equipment widely available. North Korea's successful development of long-range missiles and WMD has made its program one of the engines of proliferation. Its dispersion of manufacturing knowledge to other nations contributed to making proliferation largely self-sustaining.

The creation of large scale WMD and ballistic missile manufacturing facilities in North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and Pakistan has had several profound effects on the long-term outlook for proliferation.

First, this infrastructure will soon make these nations largely independent of access to technologies from nations such as China and Russia who are now primary suppliers. The major proliferators have insisted on a substantial measure of autarky in WMD and missile production. They are not simply buying WMD and missiles "off the shelf" - they are or will be producers. Proliferation is now on the verge of being a self-sustaining phenomenon.

Second, the size of the infrastructure in place creates an incentive for producers to become exporters. National requirements will be met by a few years of production from the local industrial base. To sustain production, these nations will be obliged to seek export markets. Acquiring ballistic missiles is the least-cost approach to regional power status - an opportunity many nations may seize with very negative confidence for regional peace and stability.

Third, the impact of large manufacturing infrastructures for WMD and ballistic missiles change the scale of the problem from a "few" ballistic missile to hundreds in the next decade, and perhaps thousands after 2010. Several proliferators are profoundly hostile to the United States and its allies.

Proliferation developments in Iran

Iran is well situated to acquire a very substantial WMD and ballistic missile force. Iran's acquisition of SCUD-series ballistic missiles from North Korea during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq conflict helped finance North Korea's development of longer range systems including what is now known as the SCUD-C (700 kin. range), the No Dong (1,300-km. range), and the Taepo-dong 1 and 2 (intercontinental range).

North Korea sold its No Dong missile to Iran where it has been upgraded with Russian assistance. The missile was launched in July 1998 and will be deployed later this year. At a 25 September 1998 military parade in Tehran, President Khatami praised Russia for the assistance it provided to Iran's ballistic missile program. The weapon can deliver a nuclear, chemical, biological, or conventional payload to targets throughout the Middle East, and can reach targets throughout Europe with a biological weapons payload. Moreover, because the missile is mounted on a mobile transporter-erector-launcher (TEL), it can also be readily launched covertly from a merchant ship. The US launched a Polaris missile from a merchant ship in 1962. The former Soviet Union also launched short-range SCUD missiles from surface ships.

The Financial Times (April 16th, 1999) reported on the first launch of Pakistan's Shaheen-1 (600-km range) ballistic missile on April 15th. The technique is well understood. Surface ship launch appears likely to be an alternative launch option for several emerging WMD and ballistic missile states.

The Financial Times noted that the Shaheen-1, with a one metric ton (2,200 lbs.) payload "could be launched from a naval vessel." Such a development may reflect Pakistan's effort to develop a counterpart capability to India's surface ship-launched ballistic missile program.. Modern commercial technology (e.g. INMARSAT telecommunications and Global Positioning System navigation satellites) diminishes the significance of the primary operational limitations of sea based ballistic missile systems in the past -- communications with the ship and positional accuracy.

The use of surface ship launched ballistic missiles may be especially attractive to Iran. Iran tends to employ non-Iranian nationals for some of its international terrorist operations. For example, Iran has often used personnel from several states in the Middle East region to diminish the risk of accountability for supporting international terrorist operations. The option of a covert launch provides another alternative for Iran to both extend the geographic reach of its ballistic missile force while diminishing the risk of retaliation against its own territory.

Iran continues to develop long-range ballistic missiles as well. Iran has acquired rocket engines and advisory support from Russia that will permit it to develop intercontinental range missiles able to reach the United States from Iran. As the technology for these systems is mature (the liquid fuel propulsion system is derived from the Germany's World War II V-2 program), little testing is required. This phenomenon was reflected in North Korea's development of the No Dong missile. The missile was successfully flown in May 1993, and has been in series production since then. Large numbers have been produced, and based on observed evidence, is quite reliable. The No Dong is used as the first stage in North Korea's Taepo-dong 1 missile - successfully launched in a trajectory over Japan in August 1998. The Taepo-dong I missile is capable of reaching US territory with a biological weapons payload; the Taepo-dong 2 will be able to reach the United States with a nuclear payload. North Korea has stated publicly that it intends to export its ballistic missile systems. Iran, as a buyer of its SCUD- series missiles as well as the No Dong missile is a plausible candidate for the Taepo-dong missile system as well.

Implications of Iran's ballistic missile program for the US

Iran will begin deployment of its variant of the No Dong medium range ballistic missile, the Shahab 3 later this year, and will augment its inventory of SCUD missiles. As the missile is not accurate enough to be usefully employed with a conventional warhead, it is likely that it will be used with an unconventional warhead - biological, chemical, and nuclear.

The details of its weapons program are not known, but as deployment of the Shahab 3 is imminent, it is likely that Iranian authorities have already identified the missile's warhead(s). Iran employed missile delivered lethal chemical agents in its 1980-88 conflict with Iraq. Even without foreign assistance, Iran is capable of missile delivery of anthrax or smallpox-derived biological weapon payloads in bulk form. A more effective mode of biological agent delivery using sub- munitions may also be available to Iran. The technology for sub- munition delivery of biological agents is at least four decades old. A sub-munition system for biological agents was developed by the United States in the late 1950s. Missile-delivered sub-munitions filled with biological agents were extensively developed and produced by the former Soviet Union, and continue to be available today in Russia. Access to nuclear weapons is dependent on Iran's ability to acquire special nuclear material. Foreign acquisition of such material is unlikely to be observed by the United States. We learned from experience in the 1980s that Pakistan obtained a tested nuclear weapon design and a significant quantity of special nuclear material (highly enriched uranium) from China. This development permitted Pakistan to acquire a nuclear capability without a necessity to conduct a nuclear test (though Pakistan did so in 1998 in response to India's nuclear testing).

The Shahab 3 poses a threat to US forces and allies deployed in the Middle East region and to Europe if a biological weapons payload is used. If the Shahab 3 is covertly deployed on a merchant ship, it can then be employed against US territory. Provisions of the ABM Treaty prevent the United States from deploying missile defenses against this threat. The proposed National Missile Defense system is designed to have no capability to intercept ballistic missiles with a range of less than 2,000 miles to comply with the Treaty. Treaty provisions preventing the use of theater missile defenses in a national missile defense mode preclude theater missile defenses (such as Patriot).

Iran's ballistic missile force is poised for rapid growth. Russian assistance to Iran has intensified since mid-1998. Iran's production of the No Dong completes the building blocks for multi-stage long- range missiles. Iran possesses the SCUD missile - the second state of the Taepo-dong I ballistic missile. The Taepo-dong I ballistic missile has intercontinental capabilities with a biological weapons payload. North Korea has successfully demonstrated that it is able to implement missile stage separation - the enabling capability for intercontinental-range missile development. If it shares this technology with Iran - perhaps North Korea's largest and most loyal customer - the range of targets Iran could hold at risk will grow significantly.

It is likely that Iran will continue long-range multi-stage ballistic missile development, although some missile flights will be disguised as "space launches". This option is attractive for Iran in creating ambiguity about its military missile development program. Only software and payload changes are required to shift from a civil "space" launch to a military missile. Moreover, any missile with sufficient energy to deploy a payload into an orbit around the earth has a capability to deliver a payload to a target on the surface of the earth at intercontinental range.

In this regard, a new channel for proliferation may soon emerge if Russia obtains relief from existing arms control limitations on the number of space launch sites it can create outside of its own territory. Most of the ICBMs developed, manufactured, and deployed by the former Soviet Union are used in modified form for space launch applications. The proliferation of such activities could create yet another path for the proliferation of long-range ballistic missiles.

The ABM Treaty in its present form poses an obstacle to an important policy objective of the United States - deterring Iran from making further investments in long-range ballistic missiles. Further, the provisions of the Treaty prevent the United States from deploying missile defenses against the two most plausible forms of ballistic missile threats available now or will soon be available to Iran - covert sea-launched missiles, and land-based ICBMs.