It is also generally recognized that the United States and other developed countries will continue to possess the political, economic, military, and technological advantages—including through National Missile and Theater Missile Defense systems—to reduce the gains of adversaries from lateral or "side-wise" technological improvements to their capabilities.
^ Threats to Critical Infrastructure. Some potential adversaries will seek ways to threaten the US homeland. The US national infrastructure—communications, transportation, financial transactions, energy networks—is vulnerable to disruption by physical and electronic attack because of its interdependent nature and by cyber attacks because of their dependence on computer networks. Foreign governments and groups will seek to exploit such vulnerabilities using conventional munitions, information operations, and even WMD. Over time, such attacks increasingly are likely to be delivered by computer networks rather than by conventional munitions, as the affinity for cyber attacks and the skill of US adversaries in employing them evolve. Cyber attacks will provide both state and nonstate adversaries new options for action against the United States beyond mere words but short of physical attack—strategic options that include selection of either nonlethal or lethal damage and the prospect of anonymity.
Information Operations. In addition to threatening the US national infrastructure, adversaries will seek to attack US military capabilities through electronic warfare, psychological operations, denial and deception, and the use of new technologies such as directed energy weapons or electromagnetic pulse weapons. The primary purpose would be to deny US forces information superiority, to prevent US weapons from working, and to undermine US domestic support for US actions. Adversaries also are likely to use cyber attacks to complicate US power projection in an era of decreasing permanent US military presence abroad by seeking to disrupt military networks during deployment operations—when they are most stressed. Many countries have programs to develop such technologies; few have the foresight or capability to fully integrate these various tools into a comprehensive attack. But they could develop such capabilities over the next decade and beyond.
Terrorism. Much of the terrorism noted earlier will be directed at the United States and its overseas interests. Most anti-US terrorism will be based on perceived ethnic, religious or cultural grievances. Terrorist groups will continue to find ways to attack US military and diplomatic facilities abroad. Such attacks are likely to expand increasingly to include US companies and American citizens. Middle East and Southwest Asian-based terrorists are the most likely to threaten the United States.
Weapons of Mass Destruction. WMD programs reflect the motivations and intentions of the governments that produce them and, therefore, can be altered by the change of a regime or by a regime's change of view. Linear projections of WMD are intended to assess what the picture will look like if changes in motivations and intentions do not occur.
Short- and medium-range ballistic missiles, particularly if armed with WMD, already pose a significant threat overseas to US interests, military forces, and allies. By 2015, the United States, barring major political changes in these countries, will face ICBM threats from North Korea, probably from Iran, and possibly from Iraq, in addition to long-standing threats from Russia and China.
Weapons development programs, in many cases fueled by foreign assistance, have led to new capabilities—as illustrated by Iran's Shahab-3 launches in 1998 and 2000 and North Korea's Taepo Dong-1 space launch attempt in August 1998. In addition, some countries that have been traditional recipients of missile technologies have become exporters.
Sales of ICBMs or space launch vehicles, which have inherent ICBM capabilities, could further increase the number of countries that will be able to threaten the United States with a missile strike.
The probability that a missile armed with WMD would be used against US forces or interests is higher today than during most of the Cold War and will continue to grow. The emerging missile threats will be mounted by countries possessing considerably fewer missiles with far less accuracy, yield, survivability, reliability, and range-payload capability than the strategic forces of the Soviet Union. North Korea's space launch attempt in 1998 demonstrated that P'yongyang is seeking a long-range missile capability that could be used against US forces and interests abroad and against US territory itself. Moreover, many of the countries developing longer-range missiles assess that the mere threat of their use would complicate US crisis decisionmaking and potentially would deter Washington from pursuing certain objectives.
Other means to deliver WMD against the United States will emerge, some cheaper and more reliable and accurate than early-generation ICBMs. The likelihood of an attack by these means is greater than that of a WMD attack with an ICBM. The goal of the adversary would be to move the weapon within striking distance by using short- and medium-range missiles deployed on surface ships or covert missions using military special operations forces or state intelligence services. Non-missile delivery means, however, do not provide the same prestige, deterrence, and coercive diplomacy associated with ICBMs.
| ^ WMD Proliferation and the Potential for Unconventional Warfare and Escalation |
The risks of escalation inherent in direct armed conflict will be magnified by the availability of WMD; consequently, proliferation will tend to spur a reversion to prolonged, lower-level conflict by other means: intimidation, subversion, terrorism, proxies, and guerrilla operations. This trend already is evident between Israel and some of its neighbors and between India and Pakistan. In the event of war, urban fighting will be typical and consequently, civilian casualties will be high relative to those among combatants. Technology will count for less, and large, youthful, and motivated populations for more. Exploitation of communal divisions within an adversary's civil populations will be seen as a key to winning such conflicts—increasing their bitterness and thereby prolonging them.