1992 Congressional Hearings
Intelligence and Security


Robert Gates
Director, Central Intelligence Agency

Testimony Before
House Armed Services Committee
Defense Policy Panel

27 March 1992

During the last three and a half months some disquieting trends have been evident. Unrest is worse, for example, in parts of the former Soviet Union than when I last stood here before you. Conflict is deepening between Soviet successor states such as Armenia and Azerbaijan. While the CIS has helped cushion the collapse of the Soviet empire, it is facing increasing strains that it may not survive. It is not hard to find other disquieting news:

-- Ukraine has suspended the transfer of tactical nuclear weapons to Russia for dismantling.

-- Ratification and implementation of the CFE treaty appears increasingly complex and problematic.

-- Arms races are heating up in the Middle East and Southeast Asia, among other regions.

-- Despite significant -- and costly -- counternarcotics achievements, narcotics trafficking shows no sign of abating.

-- The disastrous explosion in Buenos Aires shows that international terrorism is still of grave concern.

On the other hand, I can point to some positive developments and trends, as well:

-- White citizens in South Africa voted strongly in favor of continuing political reforms. A cease-fire is in effect in El Salvador, and the prospects that the contending factions can work out their differences peacefully have improved. Democracy has begun to make progress even in Albania and Romania. The unrest in Yugoslavia has abated, if perhaps only temporarily.

-- Transforming centrally planned economies into market economies continues to be wrenching and destabilizing. But the worst predictions -- about massive starvation, hypothermia, and large scale civil unrest in Russia, for example -- have so far failed to materialize. And Yeltsin is still holding firmly to the course of economic reform.

THE MIDDLE EAST AND PERSIAN GULF If in the next few years it again becomes necessary to deploy U.S. combat power abroad, the strategically vital region encompassing the Middle East and Persian Gulf is at the top of the list of likely locales.

IRAQ: WEAKENED BUT STILL FORMIDABLE Operation Desert Storm greatly reduced Iraq's ability to conduct large-scale offensive military operations. The U.N. sanctions have impeded Saddam's efforts to reequip his forces. Preoccupied with defending the regime and putting down local insurgencies, the Iraqi military is currently capable of conducting only small-scale offensive operations with limited objectives.

Nevertheless, the size and equipment of Iraq's military forces remain formidable, especially in comparison with those of most of its neighbors. Let me give you some figures:

-- Iraq's ground forces number about two dozen divisions, though they are on the whole smaller and much less capable than the prewar divisions. The army still has more than 3,000 armored personnel carriers, 2,000 tanks, and 1,000 artillery pieces.

-- We believe Iraq also retains some mobile Scud missile launchers and as many as several hundred missiles.

-- The Iraqi air force probably still has about 300 combat aircraft, though many are not operational. Because the air force has been grounded for over a year, it would need at least a month of intensive training and maintenance to become even minimally combat-ready.

-- Although a large quantity of Iraqi nuclear-related equipment has been identified and destroyed, we suspect Iraq has managed to hide some equipment from the U.N. inspectors. And, of course, Iraq's nuclear scientists and engineers retain their expertise.

-- Baghdad surrendered thousands of chemical munitions, tons of chemical agents, and considerable production equipment, but we believe the regime still has more of everything -- more precursor chemicals, more bulk agent, more munitions, more production equipment.

-- The regime never admitted having a biological weapons program and never surrendered any toxins or weapons. But we know the Iraqis had such a program, and we are convinced they have been able to preserve some biological weapons and the means to make even more.

HOW LONG TO RECOVER? The restoration of Iraq's defense industries is one of Saddam's main postwar goals. Notwithstanding U.N.-imposed inspections and sanctions, Iraq claims to have partly repaired nearly 200 military-industrial buildings and to be in the process of repairing many others. We can confirm independently that significant reconstruction has been taking place at least two dozen military-industrial sites.

Limited production of artillery and ammunition has resumed at some weapon production facilities damaged during the Gulf war. Despite these efforts, total arms production will remain significantly below prewar levels as long as sanctions remain in force and inspections continue.

If the sanctions were removed, we estimate it would take Iraq at least three to five years to restore its prewar conventional military inventories. Long before then, Iraq's forces could be strong enough to threaten its neighbors.

More important, however, is how fast we think Iraq could restore its special weapons capabilities. We believe Baghdad has been able to preserve significant elements of each of its special weapons programs. Once it is free to begin rebuilding them, its scientists and engineers will be able to hit the ground running.

-- The nuclear weapon development program would need the most time to recover, because much of the infrastructure for the production of fissile material would need to be reconstructed. (This judgment would be reinforced if equipment at certain only recently identified nuclear research sites is destroyed, as U.N. inspection teams have demanded.) The time Iraq would need to rebuild its nuclear capability could be shortened dramatically if it could somehow procure fissile material from abroad.

-- Much of the chemical weapons production infrastructure would have to be rebuilt before the Iraqis could reestablish the prewar level of production. However, we believe they could quickly resume limited production of such weapons using covert stocks of precursor chemicals, undeclared chemical process equipment, and unfilled munitions.

-- Because it doesn't take much equipment to make biological warfare agents, we estimate the Iraqis could resume production within weeks. They have retained microbial fermentation equipment and pathogen cultures; we remain convinced they also have a stockpile of biological weapons.

-- Finally, we judge that the Iraqis could soon restore their capability to produce Scud-type missiles, though they might need some help from abroad.

WHAT IF SADDAM WENT AWAY? How might Iraq's internal politics and external behavior change if Saddam Hussein left the scene?

As Saddam's decades of repressive rule demonstrate, he will do whatever it takes to cling to power. No succession mechanism is in place, nor are there any obvious candidates to replace Saddam -- Iraq is one of those countries where being the number-two man is unnerving, not to say life-threatening.

Consequently, we judge that if Saddam left the scene, it would be because of a coup or other violent act. How likely this is to happen, I cannot say, though we have evidence that Saddam's power base is shrinking and that dissatisfaction with his leadership is growing even among his core supporters -- chiefly, among Iraq's Sunni Muslims.

A likely successor to Saddam would be someone from the current, Sunni-Arab-dominated ruling circle -- someone who shares Saddam's perspectives, especially his belief in the political efficacy of ruthless violence. Such a successor might think pretty much like Saddam. Even so, whoever Saddam's successor is, he would lack a broad power base and could face immediate and serious challenges from other contenders. A successor regime might be a little less hardnosed, both toward Iraqi Shiites and Kurds and toward Iraq's external adversaries. While it would continue efforts to restore Iraq's military capability, it might shift some resources from military to civilian reconstruction. The new regime could anticipate a quick end to the U.N. sanctions as well as recognition and support from the international community. In the short run, then, Iraq might present a lower threat to its neighbors. Still, any successor to Saddam is likely to share his regional aspirations, and over the longer term we could expect Iraq to try to regain its position as the dominant Arab military power.

If a successor regime begins to have trouble maintaining Iraq's unity or territorial integrity, its immediate neighbors, particularly Iran, Turkey, and Syria, will be strongly tempted to intervene. They all fear that an unstable Iraq would threaten their own national interests and might lead to an undesirable shift in the regional balance of power. None wishes to see Iraq break apart into independent Kurdish, Shiite, and Sunni states.

IRAN'S REARMAMENT PROGRAM While Iraq struggles to recover from the Gulf war, Iran is determined to regain its former stature as the preeminent power in the Persian Gulf. Tehran's reformulated national security policy has three main goals:

-- Guarantee the survival of the regime. -- Project power throughout the region. -- Offset U.S. influence in the Middle East. To achieve these goals, Iran has undertaken diplomatic measures to end its international isolation, is purchasing weapons from a variety of foreign suppliers, and is developing a capability to produce weapons of mass destruction. During the period 1990-94, Iran plans to spend $2,000 million in hard currency each year on foreign weapons.

-- Already, Tehran has purchased significant numbers of advanced warplanes and antiaircraft missiles from Russia and China. It has bought some extended-range Scud missiles from North Korea and is building a factory to manufacture its own.

-- As part of its upgrade of naval forces Iran has also contracted to buy at least two Kilo-class attack submarines from Russia.

-- Even after Operation Desert Storm, Iraq still has three times as many armored vehicles as Iran. To reduce that gap, Tehran is attempting to purchase hundreds of tanks from Russian and East European suppliers.

-- We judge that Tehran is seeking to acquire a nuclear weapon capability. Barring significant technical input from abroad, however, we believe the Iranians are not likely to achieve that goal before the year 2000.

-- Although extensive and improving, Iran's chemical weapon program remains relatively crude. Nevertheless, we expect Iran to develop chemical warheads for its Scud missiles within a few years.

-- We also suspect that Iran is working toward a biological warfare capability.

IRAN AND THE ARAB STATES Tehran is rebuilding its military strength not only to redress the military imbalance with Iraq but also to increase its ability to influence and intimidate its Gulf neighbors -- though in the near term Tehran's desire to reduce U.S. involvement in the region will probably lead it to court the Gulf states rather than bully them.

Tehran is also trying to improve its relations with Arab states outside the Gulf, stressing Muslim solidarity and Islamic principles. In countries with Islamic opposition movements, Iran hopes to increase its influence among local fundamentalists without damaging its relations with these governments. For example, in Algeria, Tehran wants to maintain ties with the new regime but continue its political and financial support for the Front for Islamic Salvation, which the Algerian government is in the process of banning. Trying to have it both ways has been difficult: Algiers recalled its ambassador in Tehran recently to protest Iran's continued support for the Front.

Iran's growing support of radical Palestinian groups may bring it closer to some Arab states, such as Libya. This support reflects Tehran's antipathy toward Israel, which it regards as both a U.S. ally and a strategic threat. We expect Iran to continue to strongly oppose the peace process and probably to promote terrorism and other active measures aimed at undermining progress toward Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.

Tehran's main surrogate in the Arab world will continue to be the radical Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah, which is the leading suspect in the recent bombing of the Israeli Embassy in Argentina. To ensure that its links to Hezbollah are preserved, Tehran will be careful to stay on the good side of the Syrian government, which controls access to the territory occupied by Hezbollah.

IRAN AND THE NEW ISLAMIC REPUBLICS Tehran considers developments in the region to its north to be vital to its national interests. It wants both to fill the void caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union and to prevent the United States and regional rivals, such as Turkey, from gaining dominant influence there. Tehran's diplomatic efforts to improve its own influence in the new Islamic states of the region have included sponsoring them for membership in various regional and international organizations.

In addition, Tehran is trying to forge cultural and religious ties to the new republics. It remains to be seen how successful Tehran will be, given that these peoples are mostly Turkic, not Persian, and mostly Sunni Muslims, not Shiites.

We see no evidence of Iranian efforts to subvert the secular governments of the new states or to alienate them from Russia and the other non-Muslim members of the CIS. For now, at least, Iran seems to want to preserve amicable relations with Russia, which has become a major source of its arms. Furthermore, Iran must be cautious about instigating instability along its northern border, lest nationalist sentiment be aroused among its own Azeri and Turkmen minorities. Indeed, with regard to the conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Tehran has tried to exert a moderating influence on the Azerbaijani government.

THE KOREAN PENINSULA Since initialing agreements on Nonaggression/Reconciliation and the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula last December, North and South Korea have engaged in a series of negotiations and discussions, some at a very high level, to implement the accords. These discussions have achieved some concrete results, particularly the formation on 19 March of a Joint Nuclear Control Commission with a mandate to set up bilateral inspections of nuclear facilities.

For the most part, however, the two sides have so far produced a framework for but not the substance of reconciliation. They remain far apart on critical issues, such as frequency, thoroughness and basic ground-rules for nuclear inspections. They also have major differences about the people-to-people exchanges and military confidence-building measures called for in the reconciliation agreement.

THE THREAT FROM THE NORTH The North maintains enormous ground forces just north of the Demilitarized Zone. They are in formations optimized for a sudden, massive strike southward toward Seoul. In recent years, these forces have increased their mobility and flexibility, improving their capability to threaten prepared defenses. They considerably outnumber the opposing Southern forces in both men and weapons. Notwithstanding the recently signed Korean nonaggression pact, until these forces go away, the threat they present is real and serious.

It is not a question of fearing an attack from the South. The South Korean forces are deployed to defend Seoul. They present no countervailing threat to North Korea -- and Pyongyang knows it.

I don't want to exaggerate this threat. North Korea's armed forces suffer from many deficiencies. Their training and, consequently, combat readiness are questionable. They have weaknesses in air defense and logistics. They could not count on much if any support from erstwhile allies.

Furthermore, as Operation Desert Storm demonstrated, U.S. airpower is highly effective against massed ground forces. The prospect that South Korea would receive extensive combat air support as well as other support from U.S. forces is a potent deterrent, even to forces as strong as those North Korea has concentrated along the border.

NORTH KOREA'S NUCLEAR WEAPON PROGRAM Pyongyang has been building an infrastructure that, without input from abroad, will be able to produce weapons-grade fissile material from scratch. It has domestic uranium mines. At Yongbyon it has constructed two nuclear reactors whose sole purpose appears to be to make up plutonium. One of these reactors has been operating for four years; the second, much larger reactor, may start up this year. Nearly completed is another facility at Yongbyon that will be able to reprocess reactor fuel to recover the plutonium.

Last December, North and South Korea negotiated an agreement-in-principle for a nuclear-free peninsula. Each side has committed itself not to "test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy or use" nuclear weapons. Both sides also agreed not to have nuclear reprocessing or uranium enrichment facilities. There are grounds for questioning the North's intentions, given that it has not yet even admitted the existence of, much less declared, the plutonium production reactors and reprocessing facility at the Yongbyon nuclear research center.

Moreover, verification procedures remain to be worked out -- agreement was reached only this month that a joint committee should be formed to do that. The validity of the North-South nuclear accord depends on the inspection regime Pyongyang ultimately accepts.

We believe Pyongyang is close, perhaps very close, to having a nuclear weapon capability. Where North Korea is concerned, moreover, we have to worry not only about the consequences for stability in Northeast Asia if it acquires nuclear weapons, but also about the possibility that Pyongyang might put nuclear materials and related technologies on the international market. In the past, the North Koreans have been willing to sell anything that could earn hard currency.

TRENDS UNFAVORABLE TO THE NORTH The straitened economic circumstances in the North, coupled with uncertainties associated with the looming dynastic changes of leadership in Pyongyang have led the North Koreans to modify their confrontational strategy toward the South, as well as toward the United States, Japan and the United Nations. Tensions between North and South have decreased somewhat, though the actual military threat to the South has not changed significantly.

We expect that many of the North's military advantages over the South will erode throughout this decade, largely because of decreasing support from the North's traditional allies, coupled with its continuing economic problems.

Nevertheless, in the near term we could be entering a more dangerous period: -- North Korean strategists could recommend an attack on the South while the North retains its substantial edge in numbers of men and weapons.

-- Difficulties in maintaining and modernizing Pyongyang's conventional forces could reinforce the North's determination to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

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