Published on Saturday, September 2, 2000 by Reuters
Despite Allies Relief, US 'Star Wars' Saga Far From Over
by Elaine Monaghan
Anyone who thinks the world has heard the end of U.S. arguments for a National Missile Defense (NMD) because President Clinton said on Friday he would leave the issue to his successor should think again.

His announcement reflected a realization that months of trying to persuade Russia to amend a Soviet-era pact not to build a system to shoot down each other's missiles had failed -- but only for this administration, analysts said.

A payload launch vehicle carrying an anti-missile interceptor is launched from Meck Island in the Kwajalein Missile Range for a planned intercept of a ballistic missile target over the central Pacific Ocean in this Jan. 18, 2000 file photo. The target vehicle was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., and was not destroyed after the "kill vehicle" failed to separate from the booster rocket. President Clinton has decided to leave to his successor the tough decision on beginning deployment of a national defense against ballistic missile attack, two senior administration officials said. The president announced his decision in a speech Friday, Sept. 1, 2000, at Georgetown University. (AP Photo/Department of Defense, file)
``In essence, what he has done is bought time to discuss with the allies and with the Russians and the Chinese how one ought to proceed, and that's significant,'' said Ivo Daalder, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

``On the other hand, it would be a mistake to believe that this is the end of the NMD saga. The proverbial can has been kicked down the road,'' he said.

He said he expected whoever took over from Clinton in January to ``proceed with a vigorous development and possible deployment'' of NMD, a system to shoot down missiles. Its creation was prompted by concerns about programs in North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

Democratic candidate Vice-President Al Gore said he would try to build a consensus abroad on a limited system to shield U.S. territory -- though like Clinton, he said failure to do so would not stop him if the threat required it.

This would mean getting Russian agreement to update the U.S.-Soviet Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty of 1972, which is seen as the cornerstone of arms accords.

It was designed to stop precisely this kind of system being built for fear it would encourage the other side to build more missiles to overcome the shield.

Clinton and Gore argue their NMD is not aimed against Russia and that it is necessary because of the new threats emerging in other countries in the post-Soviet era.

Republican contender George W. Bush , who favors a much broader land- and sea-based system, said he welcomed the opportunity to act where Clinton and Gore had failed to lead by ''developing and deploying effective missile defenses to protect all 50 states and our friends and allies.''

Europeans Relieved, Russia And China Cautious

European allies were clearly relieved at Clinton's decision after months of worrying about what might happen if Clinton decided to go ahead with the shield without Moscow's consent.

NATO called it ``prudent.'' Germany said it was ``wise.''

Analysts said Clinton opened the door to months of talks with Moscow and Beijing, which have always been vociferously against NMD for fear it would neutralize their defenses.

Russia's Interfax news agency quoted a senior Russian defense ministry official as saying his announcement showed ''elements of a constructive approach.'' Press Counselor Zhang Yuanyuan at the Chinese embassy welcomed the chance for Washington to ``listen to the views from other countries, including from U.S. allies in Europe, to arrive at a wise decision and not deploy NMD.''

Russia and China tapped into European fears that it could destabilize the delicate balance of arms control agreements to push their argument against NMD.

``But they would be mistaken to believe that they have won'' in their campaign to stop NMD altogether, Daalder said.

In the short-term, the Clinton announcement should take the heat out of bilateral meetings at the United Nations Millennium Summit in New York next week, where he is due to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday and is likely to see Chinese President Jiang Zemin.

The issue will also be the theme of discussions between Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Georgy Mamedov in New York on Monday.

It will also feature in Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, also at the U.N., on Tuesday.

Copyright 2000 Reuters Limited