|FAS Public Interest Report
The Journal of the Federation of American Scientists
Volume 54, Number 3-4
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Sharing Missile DefenseBy Les AuCoin and Robert Sherman
Some commentators have recently suggested that President Bush offer to negotiate a missile-defense sharing arrangement with Russia and China.
Sharing missile defense is not a new idea. During the Star Wars debate of the 1980s, Reagan Administration spokesmen talked of sharing missile defense with the Soviet Union _ at a time when any computer with more than 32K memory was subject to national security export controls. In House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee hearings, we repeatedly invited Administration witnesses to state which missile-defense technologies they were prepared to share. The response was, invariably, a prompt shift into mumble mode.
Eventually the Reagan Administration allowed that it wouldn't actually share the technology, but might permit the Soviet Union to "share the protection" of missile defense. Presumably that meant that if American missiles were launched against the Soviet Union, we would use the American missile defense to shoot them down. Even in the surreal world of the missile defense debate, the giggle factor on that one was prohibitive, and talk of sharing went away.
There are several reasons why sharing fails to pass the straight-face test.
Begin with the technology any National Missile Defense (NMD) must contain. Even if it is totally ineffective, NMD will certainly incorporate our most advanced military technology, much of which will be applicable to other military systems.
Will we _ should we _ be willing to give the Russian and Chinese militaries such a major boost? It is incumbent upon advocates of NMD-sharing to spell out specifically which leading-edge technologies they are willing to share and why. Don't hold your breath waiting for them to do it.
The absurdity of NMD-sharing hasn't declined with time or with the end of the Cold War. On the contrary, it may be acquiring a grim new overtone.
According to some respected defense analysts, China will become a major military threat to the United States in about 20 years. This may be nothing but hype, but for the moment let's assume these analysts are right.
Today, Chinese military technology trails ours by decades. Are there any circumstances in which we should intentionally assist the Chinese military to close the technology gap? None are apparent.
To their credit, NMD advocates usually don't propose NMD-sharing as strategically merited. They merely offer it as an overtly political gimmick for political purposes. As such, it is fully consistent with the fundamental nature of NMD itself.
The problem with political gimmicks is that at some point they turn into real hardware that costs real money and has a real national security impact.
President Bush came to office carrying ideological baggage that threatens to undermine the military security of the United States. In the case of NMD, the strategic penalty will probably be seen as Russia and China respond by augmenting their nuclear offensive forces above the levels they would otherwise have, and as our relations with our allies become increasingly strained. All of that notwithstanding, it is unlikely that external reality will cause this Administration to question its NMD stance. Domestic political ramifications of national security decisions are on the White House radar screen with an intensity that national security itself cannot match.
But internal contradictions will be more difficult to avoid. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is committed to revolutionizing conventional capabilities of the US military, but now he finds that the funds to do it are not going to be available, and the shortfall is largely created by NMD. Missile defense is already the largest item in the defense budget. If past patterns hold, missile defense costs will escalate rapidly and dramatically. It must be dawning on Mr. Rumsfeld that he can have real-world defense capability upgrades to his conventional forces, or he can have National Missile Defense; he cannot have both.
Les AuCoin (D-Or.) served on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee (1983-1992) where he chaired an investigation of National Missile Defense. Robert Sherman is Director of the Nuclear Security Program at the Federation of American Scientists, and was AuCoin's national security staffer.