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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 49, August 2000

President Clinton NMD Decision

"Remarks by the President on National Missile Defense," Georgetown University, Washington, September 1, 2000; White House transcript.

"At a time [of peace and prosperity] like this it is tempting, but wrong, to believe there are no serious long-term challenges to our security. The rapid spread of technology across increasingly porous borders, raises the specter that more and more states, terrorists and criminal syndicates could gain access to chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons, and to the means of delivering them - whether in small units deployed by terrorists within our midst, or ballistic missiles capable of hurtling those weapons halfway around the world. Today I want to discuss these threats with you, because you will live with them a lot longer than I will. Especially, I want to talk about the ballistic missile threat. It is real and growing, and has given new urgency to the debate about national missile defenses, known in the popular jargon as NMD.

When I became President, I put our effort to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction at the very top of our national security agenda. Since then, we have carried out a comprehensive strategy to reduce and secure nuclear arsenals, to strengthen the international regime against biological and chemical weapons and nuclear testing, and to stop the flow of dangerous technology to nations that might wish us harm. At the same time, we have pursued new technologies that could strengthen our defenses against a possible attack, including a terrorist attack here at home. None of these elements of our national security strategy can be pursued in isolation. Each is important, and we have made progress in each area. …

The principle of deterrence served us very well in the Cold War, and deterrence remains imperative. … The question is, can deterrence protect us against all those who might wish us harm in the future? Can we make America even more secure? The effort to answer these questions is the impetus behind the search for NMD. The issue is whether we can do more, not to meet today's threat, but to meet tomorrow's threat to our security. …

Now, no one suggests that NMD would ever substitute for diplomacy or for deterrence. 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.

The system now under development is designed to work as follows. In the event of an attack, American satellites would protect the launch of missiles. Our radar would track the enemy warhead and highly accurate, high-speed, ground-based interceptors would destroy them before they could reach their target in the United States. We have made substantial progress on a system that would be based in Alaska and that, when operational, could protect all 50 states from the near-term missile threats we face, those emanating from North Korea and the Middle East. The system could be deployed sooner than any of the proposed alternatives. Since last fall, we've been conducting flight tests to see if this NMD system actually can reliably intercept a ballistic missile. We've begun to show that the different parts of this system can work together.

Our Defense Department has overcome daunting technical obstacles in a remarkably short period of time… One test proved that it is, in fact, possible to hit a bullet with a bullet. Still, though 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. Several more tests are planned. They will tell us whether NMD can work reliably under realistic conditions. Critical elements of the program, such as the booster rocket for the missile interceptor, have yet to be tested. There are also questions to be resolved about the ability of the system to deal with countermeasures. In other words, measures by those firing the missiles to confuse the missile defense into thinking it is hitting a target when it is not.

There is a reasonable chance that all these challenges can be met in time. But 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. Therefore, I have decided not to authorize deployment of a national missile defense at this time. Instead, I have asked Secretary Cohen to continue a robust program of development and testing. That effort still is at an early stage. 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. We should use this time to ensure that NMD, if deployed, would actually enhance our overall national security. …

I want you to know that I have reached this decision about not deploying the NMD after careful deliberation. My decision will not have a significant impact on the date the overall system could be deployed in the next administration, if the next President decides to go forward. The best judgment of the experts who have examined this question is that if we were to commit today to construct the system, it most likely would be operational about 2006 or 2007. If the next President decides to move forward next year, the system still could be ready in the same time frame. In the meantime, we will continue to work with our allies and with Russia to strengthen their understanding and support for our efforts to meet the emerging ballistic missile threat, and to explore creative ways that we can cooperate to enhance their security against this threat, as well.

An effective NMD could play an important part of our national security strategy, but it could not be the sum total of that strategy. It can never be the sum total of that strategy for dealing with nuclear and missile threats. Moreover, 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. So 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. We must work with our allies, and with Russia, to prevent potential adversaries from ever threatening us with nuclear, chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction in the first place, and to make sure they know the devastating consequences of doing so. …

A key part of the international security structure we have built with Russia and, therefore, a key part of our national security, is the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed by President Nixon in 1972. The ABM Treaty limits anti-missile defenses according to a simple principle: neither side should deploy defenses that would undermine the other side's nuclear deterrent, and thus tempt the other side to strike first in a crisis or to take countermeasures that would make both our countries less secure.

Strategic stability, based on mutual deterrence, is still important, despite the end of the Cold War. Why? Because the United States and Russia still have nuclear arsenals that can devastate each other. And this is still a period of transition in our relationship. …

Now, here's the issue: NMD, if deployed, would require us either to adjust the treaty or to withdraw from it - not because NMD poses a challenge to the strategic stability I just discussed, but because by its very words, ABM prohibits any national missile defense.

What we should want is to both explore the most effective defenses possible, not only for ourselves, but for all other law-abiding states, and to maintain our strategic stability with Russia. Thus far, Russia has been reluctant to agree, fearing I think, frankly, that in some sense, this system or some future incarnation of it could threaten the reliability of its deterrence and, therefore, strategic stability. Nevertheless, at our summit in Moscow in June, President Putin and I did agree that the world has changed since the ABM Treaty was signed 28 years ago, and that the proliferation of missile technology has resulted in new threats that may require amending that treaty. And again, I say, these threats are not threats to the United States alone. Russia agrees that there is an emerging missile threat. In fact, given its place on the map, it is particularly vulnerable to this emerging threat. In time, I hope the United States can narrow our differences with Russia on this issue. The course I have chosen today gives the United States more time to pursue that, and we will use it. …

Apart from the Russians, another critical diplomatic consideration in the NMD decision is the view of our NATO allies. They have all made clear that they hope the United States will pursue strategic defense in a way that preserves, not abrogates, the ABM Treaty. If we decide to proceed with NMD deployment we must have their support, because key components of NMD would be based on their territories. The decision I have made also gives the United States time to answer our allies' questions and consult further on the path ahead.

Finally, we must consider the impact of a decision to deploy on security in Asia. As the next President makes a deployment decision, he will need to avoid stimulating an already dangerous regional nuclear capability from China to South Asia. Now, let me be clear: no nation can ever have a veto over American security, even if the United States and Russia cannot reach agreement; even if we cannot secure the support of our allies at first; even if we conclude that the Chinese will respond to NMD by increasing their arsenal of nuclear weapons substantially with a corollary, inevitable impact in India and then in Pakistan.

The next President may nevertheless decide that our interest in security in 21st century dictates that we go forward with deployment of NMD. But we can never afford to overlook the fact that the actions and reactions of others in this increasingly interdependent world do bear on our security. Clearly, therefore, it would be far better to move forward in the context of the ABM Treaty and allied support. Our efforts to make that possible have not been completed. For me, the bottom line on this decision is this: because the emerging missile threat is real, we have an obligation to pursue a missile defense system that could enhance our security.

We have made progress, but we should not move forward until we have absolute confidence that the system will work, and until we have made every reasonable diplomatic effort to minimize the cost of deployment, and maximize the benefit, as I said, not only to America's security, but to the security of law abiding nations everywhere subject to the same threat. I am convinced that America and the world will be better off if we explore the frontiers of strategic defenses, while continuing to pursue arms control, to stand with our allies and to work with Russia and others to stop the spread of deadly weapons.

I strongly believe this is the best course for the United States, and therefore the decision I have reached today, is in the best security interest of the United States. In short, we need to move forward with realism, with steadiness, and with prudence, not dismissing the threat we face, or assuming we can meet it, while ignoring our overall strategic environment, including the interests and concerns of our allies, friends and other nations. A National Missile Defense, if deployed, should be part of a larger strategy to preserve and enhance the peace, strength and security we now enjoy, and to build an even safer world. …"

White House Fact Sheet

'National Missile Defense,' White House Fact Sheet, September 1.

"… President Clinton announced today that the NMD program is sufficiently promising and affordable to justify continued development and testing, but that there is not sufficient information about the technical and operational effectiveness of the entire NMD system to move forward with deployment.

In making this decision, the President considered the threat, the cost, technical feasibility and the impact overall on our national security of proceeding with NMD. He considered a thorough technical review by the Department of Defense as well as the advice of his top national security advisors. …

Last August, the President decided that the initial NMD architecture would include: 100 ground-based interceptors deployed in Alaska, one ABM radar in Alaska, and five upgraded early warning radars. This approach is the fastest, most affordable, and most technologically mature approach to fielding an effective NMD against the projected threat. It would protect all 50 states against emerging threats from both North Korea and the Middle East and is optimized against the most immediate and certain threat, North Korea.

On July 23, 1999, President Clinton signed into law H.R. 4, the 'National Missile Defense Act of 1999,' stating that it is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as technologically possible an effective NMD system. The legislation includes two amendments supported by the Administration: the first making clear that any NMD deployment must be subject to the authorization and appropriations process, and thus that no decision on deployment has been made; the second stating it is the policy of the United States to seek continued negotiated reductions in Russian nuclear forces, putting Congress on record as continuing to support negotiated reductions in strategic nuclear arms, reaffirming the Administration's position that missile defense policy must take into account important arms control and nuclear non-proliferation objectives. …

The Clinton Administration has spent approximately $5.7 billion on NMD, and budgeted an additional $10.4 billion in FY 2001-2005 to support possible deployment of the initial NMD architecture. Our current estimate for developing, procuring and deploying our initial system…is around $25 billion (Fiscal Years 91-09). But to put that in perspective, it represents less than 1 per cent of the defense budget over the coming six years. …"

Comment & Reaction

Defense Secretary William Cohen: "The President's choice to defer a deployment decision on a National Missile Defense system to his successor involved many factors. 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 US to a deployment strategy. I support this approach. I have noted on many occasions that several emerging threats warrant the deployment of an effective missile defense program as soon as technologically feasible and I will work closely with my successor on providing all appropriate information. In the meantime, we will aggressively proceed with the developmental testing program and also continue our consultations with the Congress, our allies, and with Russia."

Source: Statement of Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen, US Department of Defense Press Release 533-00, September 1.

State Department spokesperson Richard Boucher: "The President's decision not to commit now to deployment of a national missile defense will give us more time to press ahead on several diplomatic fronts. The decision to continue development and testing of a national missile defense system, but not commit this country to deployment until we can be confident in its technical and operational effectiveness, will enhance the security of all Americans. We are working hard with other countries to counter the proliferation of missiles and missile technology, including efforts to end the missile programs in North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. These efforts have our highest priority. We will also continue to work with Russia on our ideas for further reductions in nuclear forces, and for updating the [ABM Treaty]… As we proceed we are consulting closely with our NATO and Pacific allies on the new threats and on our strategy to counter these threats through non-proliferation diplomacy and military deterrence, and development of the capacity to add a limited missile defense system."

Source: Presidential Decision on National Missile Defense, statement by Richard Boucher, US State Department, September 1.

Vice-President Al Gore: "I agree with the President's decision to defer the decision to deploy a National Missile Defense for the next administration. Now that he has made his decision, I feel free to express myself on the subject.

The United States faces the real possibility that countries such as North Korea or Iran will succeed in acquiring weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles able to deliver these weapons at intercontinental range. Of course it is possible that North Korea or Iran might at some point change their intentions and remove this threat. We should be alert to such possibilities, but they are not in our grasp at this moment.

The NMD system which the Clinton-Gore Administration has under development is meant to be deployed in a timely way, and is explicitly designed to handle the type of threat that we could expect if our estimates are realized and we have to face a small number of deployed Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles with Weapons of Mass Destruction warheads.

The President's decision allows time for additional testing of our NMD system. I welcome the opportunity to be more certain that these technologies actually work together properly. As the President said, there are 16 additional intercept tests already scheduled. One could decide to proceed with deployment at any point along that process, once fully convinced that the technologies are ready. Passage of more time also allows for more clarity about the costs of the system.

The President's decision also allows the next President time to conduct updated discussions with other countries. As regards the Russian Federation, I think it important to state what my approach would be if I am the next President. I respect the Russians, concerns and would want the opportunity to persuade them that the NMD system would never become a threat to them. I would be prepared to work hard to persuade the Government of the Russian Federation to modify the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. And, I would also look for very creative approaches for joint US-Russian responses to a threat that can be aimed at either one or both of us. But, at the end of the day, I would not be prepared to let Russian opposition to this system stand in the way of its deployment, if I should conclude that the technologies are mature enough to deploy and are both affordable and needed. I would also work to persuade the Chinese that a US NMD system is not intended to threaten them, and to allay the concerns of our allies. However, as President, I would oppose the kinds of missile defense systems that would unnecessarily upset strategic stability and threaten to open the gates for a renewed arms race with Russia and a new arms race with China including both offensive and defensive weapons.

It would be my objective as President to avoid such an outcome. Instead, I would aim for another round of deep negotiated reductions to levels agreed between the United States and Russia at the Helsinki summit. If the Russians wish to reduce unilaterally below that level for economic reasons they certainly can and should. But for the United States to go lower requires a thorough reexamination of the official nuclear doctrine which to this point guides our military in its planning. As President, I would initiate such a review and engage deeply in the process.

I have said before that the Senate's rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was an act of massive irresponsibility damaging to the security interests of the United States, and I repeat that if elected President I will immediately revive the ratification process and seek to rally the full force of American public opinion behind it. If I am elected President, I would also plan to use the extra time created by President Clinton's decision for a serious bipartisan dialogue about defensive systems aimed at establishing a consensus that clearly does not exist at the present time. Of course, if I became convinced of a need to act I would propose moving forward whether or not it has been possible to establish this consensus, but it would clearly be in the nation's best interest if we could do so."

Source: Statement by Al Gore On National Missile Defense, September 1; campaign website, http://www.algore.com.

Governor George W. Bush: "As President, I intend to develop and deploy an effective missile defense system at the earliest possible date to protect American citizens from accidental launches or blackmail by rogue nations. Today's announcement that President Clinton will leave this unfinished business for the next President underscores the fact that for seven years, the Clinton-Gore administration has failed to strengthen America's defenses. President Clinton and Vice President Gore first denied the need for missile defenses, then delayed. Now they are leaving this important unfinished business for the next President, and I welcome the opportunity to act where they have failed to lead by developing and deploying effective missile defenses to protect all 50 states and our friends and allies."

Source: Statement By Governor George W. Bush Regarding President Clinton's Announcement On A National Missile Defense System, September 1; campaign website, http://www.georgewbush.com.

© 2000 The Acronym Institute.

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