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Rogue States and Ballistic Missiles:

Lessons and Prospects

Paper presented before the

Commission To Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to theUnited States

(the "Rumsfeld Commission"), April 1998

by Kenneth R. Timmerman

Director, the Middle East Data Project, Inc.; Publisher,The Iran Brief.
Copyright © 1998, Middle East Data Project,Inc.

One can draw a number of lessons from the public record on howwell we in the United States do the job of preventing ballisticmissile programs (and by inference, other WMD programs andtechnologies) in developing nations, especially in what are nowcalled the "rogue states."

I confess a modicum of responsibility for coining this term whileworking on the professional staff of the House Foreign RelationsCommittee in 1993, when we did a series of hearings on Iran (1), Iraq(2), and North Korea. Some have objected that the term "rogue regime"is too lapidary, in that each of the five countries normally referredto (Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Libya, Cuba) present dramaticallydifferent realities. However, I still believe that from aproliferation standpoint, the term is useful because many of theproblems non-proliferators face with these regimes are remarkablysimilar.

The point of view I will present today, however, is that of anon-government specialist who has had the good fortune of being thefirst Western journalist to have discoursed at length with the headsof Iraq's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs in Baghdad,starting in 19863. I have also spent a great deal of time pokingthrough weapons factories in a variety of developing nations. Andfinally, as a journalist I have spoken at length - and repeatedly -both to Iranian missile designers and to many of their Westernsuppliers, and have followed the arms and technology markets in thatpart of the world for more than fifteen years4.

So what you will hear from me today is a "ground zero"perspective, not a policy pronouncement or an analyst's forensicreconstruction.

I believe we have done the job poorly because we do not get out inthe field often enough. And when we do get out in the field, we go tothe wrong places or listen to the wrong people. Or, even worse, if wedo hear the truth, we are culturally bound to reject it, because itchallenges our basic preconceptions about the ability of Third Worldcountries to do things we have always considered to be our uniqueprovince.

Lesson 1: The U.S. can't seem to keep an eye on more than oneball at a time.

Iraq: In the mid-1980s, the U.S. focused intently on Iraqiprocurement activities aimed at developing a 2000 kilometer-rangenuclear-capable missile, known in the West as Condor-2, which theIraqis referred to as Badr-2000 or Project 395.

Condor-2 was initially intended to grow out of an existingshorter-range missile developed by Argentina with German assistance,the Condor-1. The U.S. government became alarmed when it began todetect major transfers of technology, first to Argentina, byGermany's premier aerospace concern, MBB. As investigators lookedfurther, they discovered that MBB was only the tip of the iceberg,and that major firms across Europe were all contributing to whatbecame known as an joint Iraqi-Argentinean-Egyptian program. Snia Bpdin Italy provided solid-fuel propellant technology; Sagem in Francesold guidance kits; Egypt's Abu Zaabal Specialty Chemical Companyhelped to build the Taj al-Ma'arik solid fuel propellant plant inLatifiyah (al Hillah), while former MBB and Krupp group engineersworking out of Switzerland in the Consen group provided overallprogram management. Even U.S. companies such as Electronic AssociatesInc., Gould, Hewlett Packard, Tektronix, Scientific Atlanta, andWiltron, legally sold equipment to the Saad 16 (known as the Al KindiResearch complex as of 1989), until the U.S. began denying licensesto Iraqi-based facilities known to be involved in Condor-2 in1986.

The U.S. was so obsessed with stopping Condor-2 that the Pentagon,with the blessing of the White House, launched an extraordinary - andinitially successful - diplomatic effort, to create an internationalclub of missile suppliers specifically aimed at stopping Condor-2.Today that organization, the MTCR, has become an exporters cartel,not a control mechanism. But when it was first established in 1985,two years before the MTCR was actually ratified in public, itimmediately set to work to frustrate Iraq's procurement of solid-fuelpropellants and precision guidance kits for the Condor-2.

By all accounts, the MTCR succeeded its initial mission. WhileIraq did manage to set up a solid-fuel propellant plant and topurchase large mixers from Germany for manufacturing the Condor-2boosters, the vigorous international effort led by the United Statesprevented key technologies - especially guidance - from reachingBaghdad. The end result was the Condor-2 never took off.

But here's the rub: while all eyes were on Iraq's solid-fuelprogram, the Iraqis were quietly moving in another direction. In1986, at least two years after the Iraqis realized that the Condor-2was being targeted by the Americans (because of the prosecution inthe U.S. of an Egyptian military attaché involved in procuringcarbon fiber and other material for the missile nose cone), theIraqis launched a crash program to extend the range of theirSoviet-built SCUD-B missiles. In the immediately term, they wantedthe range to hit the Iranian capital, Teheran. Further down the line,they wanted to reach Israel.

Western analysts have tended to pooh-pooh the extended SCUDprogram in Iraq, but they miss the point: this is the one thatworked. The Iraqis succeeded in re-engineering the SCUD-B insomething like 18 months - and that's from the start of the programto operational missile launch. It was these extended-range SCUD-Bs,now known as the al-Hussein, that Iraq rained down on Tehran duringthe February 1988 War of the Cities. Their use is credited (alongwith Iraq's extensive use of CW during the campaign to liberate Fao)with convincing Ayatollah Khomeini to throw in the towel later thatyear.

Iran: In Iran, a similar obsession with what was "known"appears to have blind-sided U.S. government policy-makers (and I ambeing kind here) to what was actually going on in the decision-makingcenters and the research labs of Iranian missile programs.

Iran did not have the same problems with range that beleagueredthe Iraqis. Baghdad has always been within range of Iranian SCUD-Bs,without modification. So all during the 1980s, it was assumed thatIran had no strategic interest in developing longer-range missiles.

After the Iran-Iraq war, the U.S. became concerned withIranian-North Korean missile cooperation. Early reports, leaked topress, suggested that Iran had purchased SCUD-C missiles with a rangeof 600+ kilometers. That brought Saudi Arabia, parts of Turkey, andeven Pakistan in reach - but, most people felt, so what?

Then in April 1993, reports started to surface in the New YorkTimes and Jane's Intelligence Review, about a deal concluded betweenIran and North Korea one month earlier to co-develop the Nodong-2, anew missile with a range in excess of 1,200 kilometers and perhaps asgreater as 1,500 kilometers. This would bring Israel into range ofIran for the first time, and received a lot of attention - not onlyfrom the press, but from the White House.

I remember approximately one year later by Martin Indyk, who wasthen the top NSC official dealing with the Middle East, that the U.S.had succeeded in blocking the Nodong-2 program in Iran. This wassubsequently billed as an unintended positive consequence of theU.S.-North Korean negotiations over the North Korean nuclear weaponsprogram.

For more than three years, the word in Washington was that Iran'slonger-range missile programs had been blocked, because we hadsucceeded in cutting off their primary source of technology: NorthKorea.

But guess what: while all eyes were focused on Pyongyang, theIranians were going elsewhere. It was precisely at this point, whenNorth Korean assistance appears to have stopped or at least slowed,in mid-1994, that the Iranians turned in serious fashion towardRussia for the missile needs. This led eventually to two separatefamilies of intermediate and intercontinental ballistic missiles, thefirst of which, the Shahab-3, appears to be ready for productionlater this year. I have chronicled the abysmal failure of the UnitedStates government to wake up to reinvigorated Iranian missileprograms in the Reader's Digest (Jan. 1998) and my own newsletter,The Iran Brief.

I am convinced - and we can discuss this later on - that theClinton administration chose at a political level to push asideintelligence information about the Russian assistance to Iran forlong enough to be unable to prevent the most critical transfers. As aresult, Iran will test-fire its Shahab-3 later this year, and thismissile will be deployed where it can threaten U.S. troops in SaudiArabia and Turkey, as well as Israel, within two years.

Lesson 2: The bad guys are much more skilled than we tend togive them credit for.

Journalists have a term they use to designate nationals of ThirdWorld countries where taxis are cheap, security officials monitoryour day-to-day contacts, and the trains don't run on time: they callthem "rag-heads."

But journalists are not alone in under-estimating the technicalskills, the scientific achievements, or the cultural depth of thenations that today threaten U.S. interests in the Middle East themost, Iran and Iraq.

I can remember vividly long conversations in Baghdad hotels withFrench and German aerospace engineers, who lamented the inability ofthe Iraqis to use the fabulous technology they were putting at theirdisposal. One Frenchman from Aérospatiale claimed the Iraqisregularly tried to blame their lack of success with the Exocetmissiles on factory defects, when in fact the Iraqis were storingthem in open sheds out in the desert. German and Americans Iinterviewed who were selling machine-tools to the Iraqis neverbelieved they would be able to use them to manufacture anything moresophisticated than a dumb steel-bomb. Surprise. The UN SpecialCommission for the Disarmament of Iraq, UNSCOM, found these samemachine-tools in facilities designed to manufacture HEU bomb coresand tungsten-carbide penetrators.

Iraq continues to have at least 10,000 skilled nuclear scientistsand technicians, and tens of thousands more Western-trained engineerswho continue to work on new weapons development.

We think they won't succeed in designing a new intermediate--rangeballistic missile capable without testing? How do you think theIraqis have succeeded in pumping any oil over the past five years? Ithasn't been through massive infusions of Western technology or spareparts. They have the manpower, and the skills, the make-do with whatthey have got. The paradigm is not that of Saudi Arabia or the UAE -or even the oil-spoiled Iraq of the 1970s. The comparison should bethat of Winston Churchill's Britain under Nazi siege.

While Iran does not feel the same pinch as Iraq as a general rule,the Revolutionary Guards thrive on a similar siege mentality. Theyhave trained tens of thousands of weapons designers over the past 15years, and have demonstrated a high level of skills both in resolvingtechnical problems, and in beating Western embargoes.

Lesson 3: Our export control system is not merely broken; it isnonexistent.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, we had tools and a relatively solidinternational consensus in preventing the leakage of Westerntechnology to the Soviet Union through the mechanism of COCOM.Following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait, the Bush administrationattempted understandably to adapt COCOM to deal with the emergingproliferation threat. While to many in Europe, this smacked of a U.S.damage-control effort, they nevertheless went along in the beginningbecause they also recognized the dangers of countries such as Iran orIraq equipped with WMD.

The dramatic shift in emphasis that began in September 1993 underthe Clinton administration to dismantle COCOM, while favoring exports to China, was seen by our allies as the first everU.S. action that actually corroborated paranoid fantasies that hadsurfaced periodically over the years that the United States saw COCOMas a means of obtaining commercial advantage over European orJapanese suppliers.

This proved fatal to COCOM; and the organization was dismantledunilaterally by the Clinton administration on April 1, 1994.

Since then, our former COCOM allies have maintained nationalcontrols on high-tech exports to the rogue states - and in the caseof Germany, they have been very effective. But the U.S. has shownthat the lure of exports will get the better of national controlswhenever large commercial contracts are at stake (viz., China). Theresult has been largely a self-fulfilling prophesy. Those who calledexport controls a "wasting asset" in 1992 - William Perry, AshtonCarton, and Mitchel Wallerstein, the three co-authors of a seminarstudy by the National Academy of Sciences - were all appointed tosenior positions by President Clinton and used their new powers toabolish those controls, regardless of their effectiveness.

We can bemoan the results all we wish. But the result is that ournonproliferation toolbox today is virtually empty.

In a funny way, the Clinton administration has recognized this.When it became imperative to further restrict Iran's access toAmerican technology - because critical dual-use items were slippingthrough - the administration decided in May 1995 to decree a totaltrade embargo, knowing they couldn't enforce a selective tighteningof export restrictions.

The ultimate downside to this situation is the erosion of anyinternational consensus for control regimes. The administration hascontributed to this by inviting known proliferators - Russia andBrazil come first to mind - into regimes such as the MTCR.

To fill this policy void, the Pentagon invented"counter-proliferation."


My predictions are bleak, based on what we know from the UNSCOMinspections in Iraq, and what I know from my own reporting onIran.

• Iraq has maintained a broad-based missile productioncapability, within the 150-km range-limit imposed by UN SecurityCouncil Resolutions. It is clear that Iraq has designed new missileswith a much longer range. Without second-guessing our intelligenceexperts about existing missiles and launchers the Iraqis have hiddenfrom UNSCOM, it is also clear that Iraq will be able to jump-start anew production program within months, if not weeks, of the end of UNsanctions.

• Iran will succeed in deploying the Shahab-3 within he next18 months. This will bring Israel into range for the first time, aswell as U.S. staging areas in Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Further downthe line, Iran may succeed in developing the Shahab-4, with anestimated range of 2000 kilometers, and is known to be working on asecond family of solid-fuel ICBMs capable of reaching Western Europeand the east coast of the United States. While those missiles arefurther out, the speed with which the Iranians developed Shahab-3(approximately 5 years from the initial Nodong agreement with NorthKorea to the anticipated test-launch of a production missile laterthis year) should give us pause when we try to estimate a targetdeployment date for these missiles.

Given our demonstrated inability of preventing proliferation inthese two rogue states, I believe we are in a race with time to seewhether our adversaries will succeed first in developing these newmissiles, or whether we will be capable of fielding limited theatermissile defenses to deter them.


1 "U.S. Security Policy Toward Rogue Regimes," Subcommittee onInternational Security, International Organizations and Human Rights,House Committee on Foreign Affairs, July 28 and Sept 14, 1993; ISBN01-16-043984-1, printed in 1994; with attachments on U.S. dual useexports to Iran.s

2 "Iraq's Nuclear Weapons Capability and IAEA Inspections inIraq," Joint hearing before the Subcommittees on Europe and theMiddle East and International Security, International Organizationsand Human Rights of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, June 29,1993, ISBN 0-16-041691-4. Includes a Staff report written by KennethR. Timmerman, "Iraq Rebuilts Its Military Industries."

3 I chronicled the Iraqi weapons program in The Death Lobby: Howthe West Armed Iraq, Houghton Mifflin, 1991 (also available as aBantam paperback in the UK and in various foreign languageeditions).

4 See in particular, Kenneth R. Timmerman, "Missile Threat fromIran," Reader's Digest, January 1998; and various issues of ournewsletter, Iran Brief.

The Middle East Data Project, Inc., is a private corporationengaged in the analysis of strategic trade to countries ofproliferation concern that contracts to private and governmentclients and publishes a monthly investigative newsletter, The IranBrief.