Report: Executive Summary – Axis of Influence – World Policy Institute – Research Project


Axis of Influence:
Behind the Bush Administration’s Missile Defense Revival

A World Policy Institute Special Report
by Michelle Ciarrocca and William D. Hartung
July 2002


In his first year and one half in office, President George W. Bush has moved full speed ahead on his campaign pledge to deploy a multi-tiered missile defense system as soon as possible. The Bush administration has not only increased missile defense funding by billions of dollars; it has also turned the international arms control regime upside down by withdrawing from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972. Despite ongoing questions about whether defending against ballistic missiles should be the nation’s top security priority in the wake of the low-tech, high casualty terror attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade Center in September of 2001, the administration’s determination to develop and deploy a missile defense system has not wavered.

While it may be too early to judge whether the Bush administration’s approach of throwing more resources at missile defense and eliminating testing limits will yield better results than the efforts undertaken by prior administrations, it is not too early to raise questions. Deploying an unproven, multi-billion dollar system without fully assessing its costs, capabilities, and likely impacts on patterns of global nuclear proliferation could result in serious long-term damage to United States security. To make sure that doesn’t happen, it is essential that the Bush administration’s ambitious missile defense program be subjected to independent assessments within the Pentagon, in the Congress, and by an outside panel of scientific and technical experts with no economic stake in missile defense development or deployment. Without this oversight, the program is liable to take on a life of its own, driven by ideological imperatives and economic self-interest rather than an objective analysis of how best to protect the United States from a nuclear attack.

Major Findings and Recommendations

Finding 1 – Conflicts of Interest (I): Ties to Major Missile Defense Contractors – The missile defense lobby no longer needs to rely only on its ability to influence the federal government from the outside. Missile defense advocates have staged a virtual friendly takeover of the Bush administration. Thirty-two major appointees of the administration are former executives, consultants, or major shareholders of top weapons contractors. Seventeen Bush administration appointees had ties to major (or soon-to-be-major) missile defense contractors Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon prior to joining the Bush administration, including top policy makers in the White House, the National Security Council, the Pentagon, the Air Force, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration, the State Department and the Justice Department.

Finding 2 – Conflicts of Interest (II): Ties to Corporate-Backed Conservative Think Tanks – The Bush administration has cast an extremely narrow net in seeking to fill national security posts dealing with sensitive issues like missile defense and nuclear weapons policy, relying heavily on a small circle of pro-missile defense, anti-arms control think tanks that don’t even represent the full range of perspectives on these matters in the Republican party, much less the views of experts in Democratic or independent circles. The Center for Security Policy (CSP), a corporate-financed conservative advocacy group with a long history of distorting the facts to make its case for the immediate deployment of missile defenses, boasts no fewer than 22 former advisory board members or close associates in the Bush administration. CSP alumni in key posts include its former chairman of the Board, Douglas Feith, who now serves as Undersecretary of Defense for Policy; Secretary of the Air Force James Roche; Pentagon Comptroller Dov Zakheim; Defense Policy Board chairman Richard Perle; and Defense Science Board Chairman William Schneider. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld is also a long-time friend and financial supporter of CSP, as well as a former board member of Empower America, another well-connected conservative think tank that ran misleading ads against missile defense critics in the 1998 elections.

Finding 3 – Historical Costs Mount: Even before the new spending proposed by the Bush administration is taken into account, missile defense is already one of the most expensive military programs in history. The Pentagon has spent $91 billion on missile defense projects since President Reagan’s 1983 “Star Wars” speech, and more than $143 billion since the early 1960s.

Finding 4 – Missile Defense Budget Soars: Missile defense spending jumped from $5.4 billion in FY2001, the last budget submitted by the Clinton administration, to $7.8 billion in FY 2002, the first budget submitted by the incoming Bush administration – an increase of 43%. Spending on missile defense for the four years of the Bush administration is slated to total $32.7 billion (in constant, 2002 dollars), an 85% real increase over total spending on missile defense during the final four years of the Clinton administration.

Finding 5 – Missile Defense Costs Will Force Serious Budget Tradeoffs: Although missile defense currently accounts for about 2% of total Pentagon spending, it is by far the most expensive research and development program in the military budget. According to an internal memorandum by Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, as of mid-2002 the Pentagon had obligations totaling $250 billion to pay for existing weapons programs between FY 2003 and FY 2007, plus an additional $600 billion after 2007 to complete those programs without even counting the long-term costs of missile defense, which have yet to be officially projected beyond 2007. This means that the costs of deploying a multi-tiered missile defense system, which could easily exceed $200 billion over the next decade and one-half, will require one or more of the following major budgetary tradeoffs: 1) Cancellations or deep reductions in a number of Cold War “legacy” weapons programs (beyond the recent decision to cancel the Crusader artillery system); 2) Major Pentagon spending increases beyond those already contemplated; or 3) Substantial tax increases or cuts in non-military programs.

Finding 6 – Technical Problems Continue to Plague Missile Defense Projects: Despite several recent “hits” in highly scripted tests of the ground-based and sea-based elements of a prospective missile defense program, serious technical challenges remain. Tests of the ground-based interceptor continue to use a transponder to guide the kill vehicle to within 400 yards of the mock warhead, an unrealistic “prop” which would obviously not be available in the event of an actual ballistic missile attack. Major components of the final system, ranging from the booster rocket to the proposed X-band radar, are either behind schedule or have yet to be started. The Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency has demonstrated no capability to distinguish realistic decoys from warheads in the weightless environment of space, an essential requirement for the success of the ground- and sea-based midcourse interceptors that are the most highly developed elements of the administration’s proposed multi-tiered system. Systems designed to avoid this problem by destroying long-range ICBMs shortly after they are launched, before decoys have been released, are largely theoretical at this point – key elements of these proposed boost phase systems have yet to be designed, much less developed or tested.

Finding 7 – Special Interests Exaggerating the Threat, Overlooking the Hurdles: The Bush administration’s exaggerated assessment of the ballistic missile threat and its unjustified optimism about the capabilities of its proposed missile defense system are rooted in its undue reliance on former corporate officials and conservative missile defense boosters in the formation of its strategic policy. Now that its former chairman is running the Pentagon, the findings of the 1998 Rumsfeld Commission on the emerging ballistic missile threat to the United States have become the baseline for U.S. assessments of the ballistic missile threat, despite the fact that a key finding of that commission – involving how quickly a hostile nation could develop a long-range ballistic missile – was based in significant part upon briefings supplied by engineers from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and other major defense contractors. This is hardly objective counsel given that these companies stand to gain billions of dollars worth of new contracts from the deployment of a missile defense shield designed to protect against the alleged threat of Third World ballistic missiles. The Rumsfeld Commission’s approach of weaving unlikely worst-case scenarios into a more menacing vision of the ballistic missile threat, rather than taking a practical look at what is likely given existing political, economic, and strategic constraints, is now the rule rather than the exception at the Pentagon. Like their conservative cohorts at the Center for Security Policy and the Heritage Foundation, key Bush administration officials view the technical difficulties involved in building a viable missile defense system through rose-colored glasses. For example, in a television interview conducted on July 24, 2001, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz asserted that “the Navy Theater Wide system is something that works,” even
though that system had yet to be involved in a single intercept test at that point.

Finding 8 – Contractors Are Cashing In: The top four missile defense contractors – Boeing, Lockheed Martin, TRW, and Raytheon – split $6.5 billion in missile defense contracts from 1998 through 2001, which accounted for two-thirds of all missile defense contracts issued by the Pentagon during that time period. If approved by Bush administration regulators, Northrop’s bid to take over TRW will place it in the ranks of the top four missile defense contractors. Since the Bush administation took office, billions of dollars worth of new missile defense contracts have been awarded, including an award to the Fluor Corporation for up to $250 million in work to help establish a ground-based missile defense “test bed” in Fort Greely, Alaska; a $420 million award to Lockheed Martin to develop a radar system for the sea-based midcourse missile defense segment; awards to Boeing and Lockheed Martin to share systems integration work on the multi-tiered missile defense system, which could be worth billions of dollars over the next decade; and a $425 million contract for Boeing and Orbital Sciences to develop an alternative booster for the ground-based midcourse segment of the missile defense system.

Finding 9 – Jobs and Income Generated by Missile Defense Programs Will Be Highly Concentrated: Despite contractor claims of the potential economic stimulus provided by missile defense spending, contracts to date have benefited only a handful of states and communities. For the four years from 1998-2001, 91% of missile defense contract awards went to just four states – Alabama, California, Virginia, and Colorado. Even allowing for subcontracting and the geographic expansion of the missile defense network once key systems move into the production stage, missile defense will by and large be a “boutique” program in which relatively small numbers of highly sophisticated systems are produced in a few key areas (for example, the $11 billion Airborne Laser Program is thus far slated to produce only 7 aircraft). The vast majority of states that help foot the bill for missile defense will see little or nothing in the way of jobs or income flowing from the program.

Finding 10 – Giving and Getting: Campaign and Lobbying Expenditures by Top Missile Defense Contractors: The big four missile defense contractors (Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and TRW) have made a total of $7.5 million in PAC and soft money donations in the 1999/2000 and 2001/2002 election cycles, while spending $74 million on lobbying during that same time span. Top recipients of weapons contractor largesse in recent election cycles include Rep. Curt Weldon (R-PA), an avid missile defense booster who sponsored the amendment that created the 1998 Rumsfeld Commission on the ballistic missile threat and serves on the advisory board of the Center for Security Policy; Senator John Warner, the ranking Republican on the Armed Services Committee, who recently led the fight to restore over $800 million in proposed cuts in the Bush administration’s proposed budget for missile defense; and Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), whose Defend America PAC draws heavily on donations from missile defense contractors clustered in and around the Army missile command in Huntsville, Alabama. On the Democratic side of the aisle, long-time missile defense supporter Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut has been a major recipient of donations from weapons contractors in the past two election cycles.


  1. Independent scrutiny of the cost and performance of the proposed missile defense system and its key components is essential to avoid misguided choices and potential conflicts of interest. Now more than ever, the proposals made by the Union of Concerned Scientists and other missile defense skeptics for the establishment of an independent panel of technical experts to monitor the costs and capabilities of the missile defense program is essential. From the integral role of companies like Lockheed Martin and Boeing in structuring the Missile Defense Agency’s testing program to the significant number of former executives of missile defense contractors holding key positions in the Bush administration, the need for unbiased analysis has never been greater. Internal checks and balances within the government – such as regular reviews of key elements of the missile defense program by the Pentagon’s independent testing office and provision of detailed budget and performance data to Congress – should be restored as well. In keeping with the need for transparency and independent analysis, the Missile Defense Agency’s decision to shroud key tests in a veil of secrecy should be rescinded.
  2. In consultation with the Congress, the administration should formulate a comprehensive plan for protecting the United States and its allies from attack by weapons of mass destruction. Special emphasis should be placed on nuclear weapons, because of their immense destructive power. Priorities should be set based on the likelihood of each particular form of attack, its potential impact, and the availability of alternative methods of preventing or reducing the odds of such an attack. In the context of this “nuclear threat prevention” approach, missile defense would be just one element among many, including programs to destroy excess U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons, and to neutralize or secure materials that can be used in the production of a nuclear weapon; diplomatic initiatives designed to cap the nuclear and ballistic missile programs of problem states like North Korea; programs to improve the monitoring of ports and border crossings to prevent the smuggling of nuclear weapons or nuclear materials into the United States; and cooperative efforts to strengthen the enforcement capabilities of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Chemical and Biological Weapons conventions. In the context of a comprehensive assessment of the threats posed to the United States by weapons of mass destruction, it will be incumbent upon supporters of rapid deployment of a costly missile defense system to explain why this element of a defensive/preventive strategy should receive priority in terms of time, energy, and resources, when the U.S. government’s own top intelligence analysts on the ballistic missile threat have repeatedly noted that a ballistic missile is the least likely method a hostile nation would use to deliver a weapon of mass destruction to a target in the United States.

Contact the Authors at:
Arms Trade Resource Center
World Policy Institute at the New School
66 Fifth avenue, 9th floor
New York, NY 10011
tel. 212.229.5808
Michelle Ciarrocca, ext. 107,
William Hartung, ext. 106,


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