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U.S. Pushes Missile Defense Despite Allies' Opposition

The policies of the USA are moving rapidly to escalating the arms race. Fear, greed and politics are the prime movers toward this irrational decision that endangers life.


November 6, 1999

U.S. Pushes Missile Defense Despite Allies' Opposition


WASHINGTON -- The administration said Friday that it could go ahead with a national missile defense system, even if it meant withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty over Russian objections.

"We will not permit any other country to have a veto on actions that may be needed for the defense of our nation," Walter Slocombe, undersecretary of defense for policy, said Friday in a speech at the Center for Strategic International Studies.

The first deployment -- 200 missile interceptors and a radar station in Alaska -- would break the ABM treaty, which strictly limits the number, type and placement of defensive missiles in Russia and the United States. That would require renegotiating the treaty, which Moscow has been resisting.

Friday, Russia won support for keeping the treaty intact from many of Washington's allies and friends in a largely symbolic vote at the United Nations. A Russia-sponsored resolution opposing any new missile defense system that "attempts to undermine or circumvent the ABM Treaty" won a lopsided committee vote of 54-7, with all of the members of the European Union either voting with Russia or abstaining.

Next summer Clinton will decide whether to begin deploying a $10 billion missile system. This revamped "star wars" network, which is designed to knock down incoming enemy missiles, is not large enough to be aimed at Russia or any other major nuclear power. Instead, it is meant to protect all 50 states from small missile attacks from countries like North Korea.

In his speech Friday, Slocombe said that in the next 15 years, North Korea, Iran and possibly Iraq were "likely to be able to field intercontinental-range missiles that could deliver chemical, biological or nuclear weapons against the territory of the United States."

Slocombe said the administration believed that Moscow would eventually agree to modify the treaty, clearing the way for the United States to deploy the missiles.

But in the past month, since the U.S. military successfully tested a crucial element of the missile network, Moscow has repeatedly demanded that the treaty be preserved, even taking its campaign to the United Nations.

While insisting that the administration remains committed to the treaty, Slocombe argued that Russia shares some responsibility for recognizing that rapid technological changes and new political realities require changes in the treaty.

Several European countries have raised questions privately and publicly about the wisdom of threatening to withdraw from the treaty, which has been the basis for nearly every nonproliferation agreement.

Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer of Germany said in Washington on Thursday that he believed the administration's willingness to consider abandoning the ABM treaty was based on political calculations in the upcoming presidential elections. Otherwise, he said, it could mean a change in the U.S. policy of promoting disarmament.

"Everyone should think very carefully about the results of scrapping the treaty," he said. "Is it better to have Russia in the framework and under the control of international treaties or not? Yes or no?"

The ABM treaty bars the United States and Russia from building nationwide systems, allowing each only one site for limited defenses. Until recently the United States had its small, limited system in North Dakota, but tore it down in anticipation of deploying a new nationwide system in Alaska.

Russia has retained its anti-ballistic missile system of radars and missiles built around Moscow during the Soviet era. On Wednesday, Russia announced that it had tested a short-range interceptor missile for that system, an act several Pentagon officials interpreted as a warning against further American testing of its new system.

The Pentagon has scheduled two more tests of the system for the spring, before the president makes his decision in June. Though those are to be followed by 16 more tests, weapons experts doubt that the first three tests will provide enough information to make a sound judgment.

"By next summer we will have no technical basis on which to make a very serious decision about whether this system is ready to go," said Tom Collina, director of arms control at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

He argued that such a decision should not be made in the heat of the political campaign for president.

"The stakes are too high," he said. "If we pull out of the ABM, the administration is inviting the collapse of other treaties. Both sides still refer to ABM as the cornerstone for stability and arms control."


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