STATEMENT OF RICHARD PERLE

Resident Fellow, American Enterprise Institute

before the
Committee on Armed Services
U.S. House of Representatives
Washington, D.C., April 16, 1991

Mr. Chairman, I am delighted to appear before the Committee this morning to discuss Patriot and SDI. The juxtaposition of the now famous anti-tactical ballistic missile system called Patriot and the idea of a defense against strategic missiles -- takes us right to the heart of the issue which I would join with this question: Should the United States remain as vulnerable to ballistic missiles in the future as it is today --as vulnerable as Israel was before Patriot missiles were rushed to the defense of Israeli civilians? My answer is an emphatic No! We have been exposed and vulnerable long enough. This nation has the financial and technical resources to defend against ballistic missiles and it's time we got on with the urgent task of developing a system to do so.

In arguing for according high priority to SDI, I am mindful of the importance of maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent to deter a nuclear attack. Unlike many of the opponents of SDI, I do not believe that there is any necessary contradiction between a strategy of deterrence and the development and eventual deployment of strategic defenses. Indeed, properly conceived, I believe that strategic defenses can make a decisive contribution to the continued effectiveness of our deterrent posture. Indeed, it is possible that only strategic defenses can enable us to maintain deterrence without a hopeless and never-ending competition in the further refinement of strategic offensive forces.

Consider for a moment the burden of maintaining an effective deterrent with offensive weapons alone. It would be task so daunting that we would not even attempt it. And we don't.

We long ago realized that undefended offensive weapons could not constitute an effective deterrent. So we have, for many years and in a great many ways, sought to defend our strategic retaliatory forces. We pour tons of concrete around our missile silos and fit them out with shock absorption devices so that they can survive a nearby nuclear detonation. We put missiles on submarines and hide them under the seas so they cannot be found and destroyed. We place aircraft on alert so they can fly away on warning and thus escape attack. We are spending considerable sums -- too much, in my view -- to develop a mobile missile to enhance the survivability of our land-based missile force.

All of these passive defenses are intended to reinforce the strategy of deterrence. Indeed, without them our triad of strategic retaliatory forces would be more of an invitation to attack than a deterrent against it.

The Soviets too believe that strategic defenses play a vital role in promoting their security. In addition to all the passive defenses to which we have resorted, the Soviets have added active defenses on a massive scale. Tbus they have deployed thousands of missiles to defend their national territory against attacking aircraft. And they have deployed a defense against ballistic missiles aimed at defending that portion of their territory that can be covered by the anti-ballistic missile deployment around Moscow--an area that extends

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significantly beyond Moscow itself. And despite the collapse of their economy, they continue to invest massively in their own strategic defense initiative.

Mr. Chairman, it is common sense for us to try to achieve a sensible, practical balance between offensive and defensive forces in the composition of our deterrent. I can see no reason other than the suffocating weight of conventional wisdom for rejecting out of hand the potential contribution to deterrence of active strategic defenses. If it makes sense to move an American missile or hide it or shelter it so that it can survive attack it surely makes sense to shoot down an attacking missile that might otherwise destroy a Minuteman missile in its silo or a Trident submarine in port.

The military forces of nations have always been composed of a mixture of offensive and defensive weapons -- as they are today. There is no historical precedent for the reliance exclusively on offensive weapons -- and for good reason. The balance of advantage between offense and defense is constantly changing, with technology sometimes favoring one, sometimes the other. I believe this is a moment when the costs of assuring a survivable deterrent without resort to defenses against ballistic missiles are likely to be prohibitive, a moment when limited defenses can be cost effective and stabilizing.

It is again common sense that a defense need not be perfect to contribute, even significantly, to our security and to deterrence. There is no perfect defense. There is no perfect offense. And there is no perfect security. Security is a relative thing; and the balance between offense and defense bears significantly on whether we are more or less secure. The notion that only a perfect defense is worth having is perfect nonsense. And yet it is this silly idea that, more than any other, animates the opposition to SDI.

A defense that was only, say, 50% effective against Soviet ballistic missiles, would assure the failure of any preemptive attack on our deterrent. Achieving the same result by investing billions more in our offensive forces would be far less likely to achieve a comparable result. And, if properly deployed, such a partial defense could cover a variety of critical installations in addition to our force of land-based missiles and bomber aircraft.

Mr. Chairman, it is dangerous to the point of irresponsibility to choose to remain utterly unprotected against an accident involving a ballistic missile landing on our territory or a deliberate launch by a third country. I wonder how many of the members of Congress who have opposed the SDI program or voted to slash the appropriation to move it forward would turn out at a hearing called in the aftermath of an accident to explain why, as a matter of high principle, they had thought it dangerous to deploy a defense even against an accidental missile launch.

The obsession with a model of US--Soviet interactions that is not borne out by careful analysis has, for the last two decades, come to dominate our thinking about strategic defenses. That's long enough for a wrong and shallow notion. Those who subscribe to it are terrified that the deployment of even limited U.S. defenses will touch off an uncontrolled arms race with the Soviet Union. Thus they would forgo insurance against an accident in the mistaken belief that even a modest SDI is a greater threat to our security than an accidental or an unauthorized or a third country launch.

This fear that the successful development of ballistic missile defenses would actually worsen our situation and make us less secure never made much sense, even during the long night of the cold war. Now it is preposterous. And given the experience we've just been through -- watching night after night as the Scud missiles fell on Israel and Saudi Arabia -- it is hard to believe that there could still be opposition to the development of a ballistic missile defense that might do for us what the Patriot did for our friends in the Middle East.

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I do not believe, Mr. Chairman, that a perfect or even a near-perfect defense is attainable. But that should not stop us from doing what can be done to develop and deploy those limited defenses that can make deterrence more stable. The argument that SDI isn't worth having if 10% of the missiles get through because 10% of the missiles could do devastating damage misses the point about deterrence entirely.

In my judgment we can do everything of interest in the SDI program with adequate funding and the correct, or broad interpretation of the ABM Treaty. The effort to restrain the President's use of the freedom available to this country under the terms of that treaty is a direct and immediate threat to the potential success of the SDI program. And I believe that many of those who have thus far succeeded in imposing a restricted interpretation on the Department of Defense understand that.

They have thus managed to disguise an attack on strategic defenses as a defense of international law, with consequences fatal to the SDI program.

Thus far President Bush, like President Reagan before him, has chosen to acquiesce in the Congress's usurpation of the President's constitutional responsibility for implementing treaties. One can only hope that the demonstrated effectiveness of Patriot will cause the President to reconsider whether he is wise to allow the Congress to strangle SDI by imposing on him an unduly restrictive view of the strictures of the ABM Treaty.

I confess to having difficulty conceiving of the world in the second quarter of the next century without significant defenses against ballistic missiles. The technology is too promising, and the desire of men and nations to be defended too powerful, to expect that we have halted the march of history with the technology and weapons of the mid 20th Century.

If I am right that strategic defense is what history has in store for us, then I believe that we ought to do what we can to assure that we are not second to acquire it. Because whoever is first may make more of his privileged position than we would like.

Our experience with the Patriot in Desert Storm demonstrates two things: one is that we can intercept ballistic missiles with a high degree of effectiveness. The other is that whatever the theorists now say about the desirability of being vulnerable is out the window when the first missiles start falling. If we are wise we will learn from Israel's close shave and get out of the barber's chair while there is time. Saddam Hussein will not be the last fanatic to get his hands on a ballistic missile. Next time it may carry a nuclear or chemical warhead. And as it whizzes overhead, it will be too late to decide that vulnerability isn't such a good idea after all.

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