1996 Congressional Hearings
Intelligence and Security

Statement for the Record
by John E. McLaughlin
Vice Chairman, National Intelligence Council
for Hearings of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence
4 December 1996

Emerging Missile Threats to North America
During the Next 15 Years

Good morning Chairman Specter and other members of the Committee. I appreciate the opportunity to brief the Conmittee on the Intelligence Community's assessment of long range missile threats to the United States. My remarks are based on the National Intelligence Estimate "Emerging Missile Threats to North America During the Next 15 Years" that was released one year ago this week. I will outline the key judgments of that study and comment on the process that generates NIEs in general and this one in particular. I would note that the focus of that estimate was an emerging threats from countries other than Russia and China.

I will also respond to those criticisms most frequently leveled against this particular estimate. In this open forum I an obviously constrained in what I can say about our intelligence sources and methods, I would be glad to most with you in closed session, where we can provide a more detailed assessment. But I would like to say here that after a year of criticism, we still regard this Estimate as a sound intelligence product -- one that clearly reports results of analytic work in response to the questions of those who requested the NIE. Its judgments are still supported unanimously by Intelligence community agencies and their analysts.

Looking at the Estimate...

Mr. Chairman, let me begin with some brief remrks on the missile forces of Russia and China before I turn to the bulk of the judgments in the Estimate dealing with other countries. Although this Estimate did not deal with Russia and China in any detailed way, we were asked to address the possibility of accidental or unauthorized launch from those countries.


Despite dramatic political changes over the last six years, Russia continues to maintain a strategic force capable of delivering thousands of nuclear warheads against the United


States. START I has resulted in a numerically smaller force, but Russia retains its strategic capabilities and continues strategic force modernization programs, albeit within the constraints of a greatly weakened economy.


The Chinese force of nuclear tipped ICBMs is small by US and Russian standards and will retnain so for the foreseeable future. Many of China's long-range systems are probably aimed at the United States. China plans to update this force with new missiles and, unlike the Russians, to increase the number of missiles deployed. Possible future improvements are to include a mobile ICBM.

Unauthorized Launch

In this NIE, the Intelligence Community reaffirmed earlier assessments that the current threat to North America from unauthorized or accidental launch of Russian or Chinese strategic missiles is remote, so long as Moscow and Beijing maintain current security practices. As the Estimate also noted, however, the Community remains concerned that a severe internal crisis in either country could compromise their nuclear command structures.

Other Nations

Nearly a dozen countries other than Russia and China have ballistic missile development or production programs. In the view of the Intelligence Community, these programs are intended to serve regional goals. Making the change from a short or medium range missile--that could pose a threat to US troops located abroad--to a long range ICBM is a major technological leap.


The key judgments of the estimate I noted above are as follows:

First, we believe North Korea is developing a missile, which we call the Taepo Dong 2, that could have a maximum range capability sufficient to reach Alaska. The missile may also be capable of reaching some US territories in the Pacific and the far western portion of the 2000 km-long Hawaiian Island chain.

Second, the Intelligence Community judges that in the next 15 years no country other than the major declared nuclear powers will develop or otherwise acquire an intercontinental ballistic missile that could threaten the contiguous 48 states or Canada.

Third, any country with an indigenously developed space launch vehicle--for example, France, Japan, Israel or India--has the technical capability to develop an ICBM within five years if so motivated.

We are likely to detect any indigenous program to develop a long-range ballistic missile many years before deployment.


Fourth, foreign assistance can affect the pace of a missile program. Since specific technological assistance is difficult to predict, the potential for foreign assistance introduces some uncertainty into our predictions of timelines. Our assessments allow for the acquisition of some foreign technology by the countries of interest.

Fifth, we expect no country that currently has ICBMs will sell them. Each of these countries has agreed to adhere to the MTCR, and transfer of an ICBM would show blatant disregard for the MTCR Regime. Also, exporting countries probably would be concerned that the missiles might be turned against them.

Sixth, we examined worldwide development programs for cruise missiles because of the possibility of their being launched from forward-based ships. By 2005, several countries, including some potentially hostile to the United States, prqbably will acquire land-attack cruise missiles to support regional goals. We believe that an attack by cruise missiles launched from ships off the coast would be technically feasible, but unlikely.

Let me conclude these comments on the Estimate itself with mention of the time frame of the study. During the formative stages of this NIE, the time frame was a topic for discussion. A convromise was reached at 15 years -- 20 years being too speculative, and five or ten years not being of sufficient value to the acquisition community.

Uncertainty of course grows as we project more distantly into the future. As we have seen in recent years, world politics can change quite rapidly. But because ICBM programs move slowly, and because the technological base and economic resources of potentially hostile countries are all limited, we have concluded in the NIE that these countries are highly unlikely to deploy ICBMs within 15 years.

The fact that we project out 15 years does not mean that we can safely dismiss this subject until well into the next century. This is one of the highest priorities for the Intelligence Community. Our analytical work will continue. We expect to monitor developmentss, pursue collection, produce additional studies, and bring to the attention of the President and the members of Congress new intelligence information and analysis on this important subject.

The National Estimates Process...

I have discussed what the NIE said. Let me spend a few minutes outlining how the NIE process works. A national intelligence estimate is the Intelligence Community's most authoritative projection of future developments in a particular subjet area. It is prepared by the National Intelligence Council with the participation of all relevant agencies of the Intelligence Community, and it contains the assessments and judgments of these agencies. Each NIE is discussed and approved at a meeting of the most senior members of the Intelligence Community.

The process for producing NIEs is directed particularly at ensuring the presentation of all viewpoints. We do not impose consensus; in fact we encourage each of the participating agencies to express their views. Major differences of view are included in the main text. Lesser reservations are expressed in footnotes.

The estimate on which I based my testimony today is no exception. It is the most authoritative current statement on the subject by the Intelligence Community. Moreover, the key judgments I outlined were free of contention.

It is worth pausing, though, to mention some of the dilemmas we face in producing National Intelligence Estimates. How we deal with those dilemmas often affects how readers react to an Estimate, and I suspect that has been the case with this Estimate, in particular.



In closing, let me briefly give you our perspective on three of the specific criticisms registered over the last year. By far the most serious accusation we have heard is that the conclusions of the Estimate were politically influenced, that we, in essence, took our orders from someone in the political arena rather than "calling it as we see it". This is the most serious charge you can level at a professional intelligence officer, and I cannot let the occasion pass without rejecting it in the strongest terms. I can state categorically that there was no attempt by Administration officials to shape or modify the judgments in the Estimate at any time.

A second, and presumably related criticism is that we have reversed assessments of recent years without sufficient justification. This, too, is unfounded. To be sure, some projections of missile developments were changed by a few years, but this was in response to new information. Moreover, the general nature of the judgment about ICBM developments in this Estimate is consistent with government assessments published in 1993 and later, including one published by the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization in July, 1995. 1 also note that the GAO review of the Estimate concluded it is not inconsistent with two NIEs published in 1993.

And finally, there is the criticism that the Estimate did not address threats to all of the United states, particularly Alaska and Hawaii. Yet the second key judgment of the estimate clearly describes the threat to Alaska and Hawaii. with regard to most of the matters discussed in the Estimate, however, the threat to Alaska or Hawaii is no greater than to the rest of the US and therefore is not spelled out separately.

This concludes my testimony Mr. Chairman, and I will be glad to take the Committee's questions.