The Clinton administration underestimatedthe technological ability of several ofthe "rogue" states to develop long-rangemissiles and politicized its intelligence estimate.However, missile threats to theUnited States from any one of those statesalso depend on the intentions of that stateand political developments that mightaffect those intentions.
Since early 1999 significant positivepolitical developments have occurred inthe "rogue" states most likely to developlong-range missiles. The United States hasagreed to lift some of the economic sanctionsagainst North Korea--the nation thatwould first have the technological capabilityto threaten the United States with missiles--in exchange for a suspension of itstesting of missiles. North Korea is rapidlyimproving its relations with South Koreaand the West. Iran--the next most capable"rogue" nation in missile technology--ishaltingly liberalizing at home and improvingrelations with its neighbors and theWest. That thaw could eventually lead toimproving relations with the UnitedStates. Iraq's missile capability continuesto be hampered by the effects of wars andembargoes on military technology.
Such positive political developmentswould allow the Bush administration to slowthe development and deployment of a limitedland-based national missile defense. Moretime can be taken to thoroughly develop andtest under realistic conditions the most technologicallychallenging weapon ever built (sofar test results have been mixed). Even if,despite favorable international developments,the threat arises quickly, rushingdeployment of missile defense will ultimatelydelay the fielding and increase the cost of asystem that actually works.