Published on Friday, September 1, 2000 by Reuters
Clinton Leaving Missile Defense To Successor
by Steve Holland
WASHINGTON - President Clinton will announce on Friday that he will leave a decision on whether to deploy a national missile defense to his successor, U.S. officials said.

Clinton, who leaves office on Jan. 20, will say in a speech at Georgetown University that he has decided against taking steps to begin building an anti-missile radar in Alaska, which would be the first step in deploying a missile shield, the officials said on condition of anonymity.

At issue is the proposed $60 billion construction of a high-technology shield against ballistic missiles, which is designed to be operational by 2005 to protect against the possibility of missile attacks from states like North Korea, Iran and Iraq.

Clinton's decision effectively delays the 2005 deployment date because, to meet the schedule laid out by the Pentagon, the first contracts for the radar would have to be awarded by December to allow building to begin next spring.

His action leaves a missile defense system to be debated on the campaign trail between Vice President Al Gore , the Democrat who has backed Clinton's decisions on it, and Republican George W. Bush, who wants to deploy a larger system than contemplated by Clinton as soon as possible.

Russia and China bitterly oppose a U.S. missile defense. Moscow has refused to agree to amend the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and has said it would stop nuclear arms cuts under other treaties if Washington broke the ABM accord.

A U.S. official said Clinton made his decision after thoroughly reviewing recommendations from his senior advisers, including Defense Secretary William Cohen, and took into account threat, cost, technical feasibility and overall impact on national security, including arms control.

Missile Defense Not Dead

The decision to delay putting out contracts for a radar station on Alaska's remote Shemy Island does not mean a missile defense is dead, another official said.

``That doesn't mean we're not going forward. There's going to be further testing. But it's not beginning (now),'' the official said.

John Isaacs, president of the Council for a Livable World and a well-respected arms control expert, said the decision by Clinton was ``a triumph of prudence over politics.''

Following spectacular test failures and delays with components of the system, including a booster rocket firing the interceptor into space, he said: ``It is now clear that the 2005 deadline will slip a couple of years.''

``This technology would not be ready for prime time,'' he added.

Clinton, who had earlier been cool to the project, signed Republican-initiated legislation last year making it U.S. policy to deploy a national missile defense when it was technically feasible.

In the final days before his decision, sharp differences had emerged among top officials over how far initial work could go on a missile defense system before violating a 1972 arms treaty with Russia.

Clinton said last year he would announce this summer whether he was going ahead with a plan to deploy a system including 100 interceptors based in Alaska linked with a complex land and space-based radar detection system.

But a series of test failures as well as an inability to persuade Russia to accept changes to the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty and opposition from NATO allies have cast doubt on the project.

A $100 million test in July failed when a warhead failed to separate from its booster rocket and intercept a dummy warhead over the Pacific Ocean.

A previous U.S. test was successful in October 1999, but a subsequent second test in January failed.

There have been growing calls in Congress and from national security specialists in Washington for Clinton to delay making a decision on deploying the controversial system until it had been more thoroughly tested.

In July, Defense Secretary Cohen confirmed that Clinton has backed off his commitment last year to make a decision on NMD deployment and would simply decide whether to keep the timetable open for possible deployment by 2005.

Copyright 2000 Reuters Limited