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A Look at…Missile Defense
As published in the Washington Post Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen , No location specified, Sunday, June 11, 2000

The United States is developing a national missile defense system that is designed to improve security and stability without triggering a new arms race.

At one time, we considered the Soviet Union our greatest military threat; now Russian and U.S. soldiers are serving together in Bosnia and Kosovo, and we are cooperating to reduce our nuclear arsenals. Today, we face a new threat: Iraq, Iran, North Korea and other rogue countries are attempting to build or buy nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and long-range missiles to deliver them.

Rogue countries do not need long-range missiles to intimidate their neighbors; they've demonstrated that they already have ways to accomplish this goal. Instead, they want long-range missiles to coerce and threaten more distant countries in North America and Europe. Presumably, they believe that even a small number of missiles against which we have no defense could be enough to sway our actions in a crisis.

Consider the dangers of such a miscalculation. If a renegade state mistakenly decided that it could intimidate us by threatening to launch a missile against the United States or an ally, it could trigger a destructive and unnecessary war. Retaliation after the fact would not compensate for the damage done. The planned national missile defense system is designed to counter this threat before one of these rogue state leaders attempts to blackmail the United States into shrinking from protecting our interests, including commitments to our allies. Thus, the United States is developing a missile defense system that would protect all 50 states from a limited attack of perhaps a few dozen warheads.

Later this year, President Clinton will decide whether to proceed toward deployment after analyzing the threat, the program's capabilities, its cost and the strategic interests of the United States and our allies, including the impact on arms control. If he decides to go forward, the president has stated that he would share this technology with our allies. Three aspects of the program will make it clear that the system is purely defensive, not offensive.

First, our proposed system would be too small to defeat Russia's nuclear force or to undermine its deterrence. Russia has approximately 6,000 strategic nuclear weapons today; even under Russia's proposal for future force reductions, it would have 1,500, more than enough to overwhelm a defensive system that is incapable of defeating a large attack because of technical limits and its small number of interceptors. Such a small system would give Moscow no reason to increase its nuclear forces or, indeed, to balk at additional force reductions required by the START II Treaty.

Second, we strongly prefer to develop and deploy our protective system under an updated version of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which has served as a stabilizing factor in our relations with Russia. The treaty allows limited defenses, and Russia today has a limited missile defense system around Moscow. We do not consider that to be an offensive system. Similarly, Russia would have no basis to see our limited system as offensive. The treaty allows amendments to fit new strategic realities. Our proposed amendments would, once mutually accepted, enable us to deploy our system within an arms control framework.

Third, we are taking steps to work with Russia to detect and monitor missile launches, and we are prepared to consider further cooperative action as a supplement to--but not as a substitute for--our defensive program. In the face of new threats, a national missile defense system will discourage attacks against the United States. It will enhance deterrence and improve stability. An America that is adequately defended will be a better ally and a continuing force for peace and stability.