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President Defers Missile Defense System Decision

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 1, 2000 – President Bill Clinton said that while the United States may eventually need a national missile defense system, he will leave it up to his successor to decide whether or not to proceed with plans to develop that system.

“I simply cannot conclude with the information I have today, that we have enough confidence in the technology and the operational effectiveness of the entire NMD system, to move forward to deployment,” Clinton said here Sept. 1, at Georgetown University. “Therefore, I have decided not to authorize deployment of a national missile defense at this time."

Pentagon officials released a press statement by Defense Secretary William S. Cohen immediately following the president's announcement.

“The president’s choice to defer a deployment decision on a national missile defense system to his successor involved many factors," Cohen said. "Central for me, as I have stated publicly, is the importance of sustaining a solid national consensus not only on the need for an NMD system, but on the scope and structure of such a system.

“The president’s statement today underscores the importance of having the next president fully involved in decisions regarding the future of the program before committing the U.S. to a deployment strategy,” Cohen added.

In his address at Georgetown, Clinton said that if the next president decides to go ahead with NMD, the system most likely could be deployed in the original 2006 to 2007 timeframe.

Clinton noted that establishing a national missile defense system is a worthy goal since threats posed to American national security and geopolitical interests – especially from North Korea and certain Middle East countries -- are still very much present a decade after the end of the Cold War.

“Ballistic missiles armed with nuclear weapons do not represent the sum total of the threats we face – those include chemical and biological weapons and a range of deadly technologies for deploying them,” he said.

Clinton said that an effective NMD could play an important part in America’s national security strategy, but "it would be folly to base the defense of our nation solely on a strategy of waiting until missiles are in the air, and then trying to shoot them down.”

NMD would not be a substitute for diplomacy or deterrence, he said, "but such a system, if it worked properly, could give us an extra dimension of insurance in a world where proliferation has complicated the task of preserving the peace. Therefore, I believe we have an obligation to determine the feasibility, the effectiveness and the impact of a national missile defense on the overall security of the United States.”

However, the President noted that NMD testing is still in its early stages and hasn’t proceeded as well as might be desired.

“We’ve begun to show that different parts of this system can work together,” he said. “Our Defense Department has overcome daunting technical obstacles in a remarkably short period of time. … Still, although the technology for NMD is promising, the system as a whole is not yet proven. After the initial test succeeded, our two most recent tests failed – for different reasons – to achieve an intercept.”

Clinton said there are unresolved questions about NMD interceptor booster rockets and whether the system can deal with countermeasures. Several more tests are planned to determine whether NMD can work reliably under realistic conditions.

These challenges may be met over time, Clinton said.

“I have asked Secretary Cohen to continue a robust program of development and testing,” he said. “Only three of the 19 planned intercept tests have been held so far. We need more tests against more challenging targets and more simulations before we can responsibly commit our nation’s resources to deployment.”

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