U.S. missile defense system could backfire, report says

Responses from abroad called threat to stability

May 19, 2000|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON - The U.S. intelligence community is writing a report warning the Clinton administration that construction of a national missile defense system could trigger a wave of destabilizing events around the world and possibly endanger relations with European allies, a U.S. intelligence official said yesterday.

The National Intelligence Estimate will sketch an unsettling series of political and military ripple effects from the proposed U.S. deployment that would include a sharp buildup of strategic and medium-range nuclear-armed missiles by China, India and Pakistan and the further spread of missile technology in the Middle East.

A supplement to the highly classified report will note that the threat of attack from North Korea has eased since the fall, when North Korea in effect froze its ballistic missile testing program in response to U.S. overtures.

Outside critics long have argued that the proposed national missile defense could backfire, diminishing national security and global stability. But the CIA-led analysis and updated threat assessment is the first official evaluation of how the system could generate dangerous new threats.

Decision expected in fall

The administration has pledged to decide this fall whether to proceed with an initial base of 100 "interceptor" missiles in Alaska, backed by ground-based phased radar stations and satellite-based infrared sensors, in a system designed to shield the continental United States from a limited missile attack.

Proponents of the system argue that North Korea, Iran or Iraq might threaten U.S. territory with intercontinental ballistic missiles someday. Critics respond that the threat is exaggerated, the anti-missile technology is unproven and that deployment would undermine crucial arms control and nonproliferation regimes.

China's reaction feared

CIA analysts believe that Russia would accept U.S. arguments that no system could protect against the number of missiles that Moscow could launch and that its deterrent thus would be preserved. But China has only 20 CSS-4 intercontinental ballistic missiles in vulnerable silos and the analysts say that, after a U.S. deployment, Beijing would conclude that it had lost its deterrent force - and act accordingly.

"We can tell the Russians that [the missile defense] won't affect the viability of their deterrent force," the intelligence official said. "I don't know how we can say that to the Chinese with a straight face."

If the U.S. system is built, the CIA believes, China would install multiple independent nuclear warheads on its missiles for the first time to be able to overwhelm any missile shield. Beijing has possessed the technology for more than a decade but has not used it.

In addition, Beijing is deemed likely to build several dozen truck-based DF-31 missiles, which it first tested last year, to create a force more likely to survive attack. It would probably add such countermeasures as booster fragmentation, low-power jammers, chaff and simple decoys to confuse or evade U.S. interceptors.

The intelligence official said that Russia and China would increase proliferation, including "selling countermeasures for sure" to such nations as North Korea, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Moreover, the official said, India is deemed likely to increase its nuclear-armed missile force if it detects a sharp buildup by China, its neighbor and longtime rival. That, in turn, likely would spur Pakistan, India's arch-enemy, to increase its nuclear strike force, the official said.

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