April 7, 2000

April 7, 2000 | News Releases on Missile Defense

Don't Delay Missile Defense Decision, Analyst Says

WASHINGTON, APRIL 7, 2000-President Clinton should ignore calls to delay a decision, scheduled for later this year, on which missile-defense system the United States should deploy, because any deferment "will merely push back the day when Americans can be protected from missile attack," a new Heritage Foundation paper says.

Some of those calling for a delay argue that more testing is needed to demonstrate that a national missile defense can even work. But according to Heritage Research Fellow Baker Spring, the technology has already been proven through tests of missile-defense programs such as the Patriot PAC-3 and the president's ground-based system. A deployment decision would effectively answer those who have voiced concerns about its feasibility, Spring says.

Others, such as presidential candidate George W. Bush, have recommended a delay because of a mistaken belief that future administrations would be bound by President Clinton's choice of architecture-for example, that the next president couldn't change to a sea-based system if the White House opts for a ground-based system. But the National Missile Defense Act simply requires the United States to field a missile defense system "as soon as is technologically possible," Spring says, and future presidents would be well within the law to alter any decision made this year.

A deployment decision would also dispel the myth that the United States must continue to abide by the terms of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty, Springs says. The treaty was signed with a country, the Soviet Union, that ceased to exist in 1991, and neither Russia nor any former Soviet state can legally act in its stead. Even if the treaty is still considered valid, Spring says, the United States has been disregarding it ever since the National Missile Defense Act was enacted last July, because the treaty forbids national missile defense.

The White House is aware of Russia's legal standing and the treaty's prohibition of national missile defense, according to Spring, which is why President Clinton and newly elected Russian President Vladimir Putin have been engaging in "informal diplomacy" to revive the ABM treaty. "The president appears to be more interested in saving the treaty than in fielding an effective national missile defense," he says. But as Spring cautions in a related paper, any attempt to amend the treaty with Russia-which would have to be ratified by the U.S. Senate-will only limit the ability of the United States to defend itself against missile attack.

Spring says the terms being discussed would subject the United States to a host of unreasonable restrictions, including a requirement that any U.S. national missile-defense system be impotent against Russian ICBMs. But as Spring explains, this would make it impossible for the United States to destroy many long-range missiles capable of striking its territory. "The Senate should stop this charade," Spring writes. "Otherwise, it will find itself facing a situation similar to the debate over the flawed Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, which it was forced to reject."

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