|MISSILE DEFENSE POLITICS|
August 24, 2000
In the second of a two-part series, Jeffrey Kaye of KCET, Los Angeles, looks at the politics behind building a national missile defense system.
GWEN IFILL: Now, part two in our series on national missile defense. President Clinton will soon make a decision on the deployment of such a system. Two weeks ago we looked at the perceived threat, and whether it was technologically feasible to build a defense system. Tonight, the politics. Jeffrey Kaye of KCET, Los Angeles, reports.
JEFFREY KAYE: This is Shemya Island, a windy, isolated patch of land at the tip of the Aleutian chain, in Alaska. It's known for its sea urchins and its air force base, but it also features prominently in an international debate over U.S. military plans. Shemya, according to the Pentagon, is a perfect site for a radar system that could track warheads launched from North Korea, then guide U.S. interceptor missiles to smash into them, destroying them in outer space. If President Clinton gives the go-ahead, construction of the Shemya radar would begin next year, as the first step in building a U.S. national missile defense system. In the U.S., there's been debate over whether a missile system will work or whether it's big enough.
And overseas, there has been a growing drumbeat of opposition. Many foreign leaders argue that a U.S. missile defense system would provoke an arms race and challenge historic understandings built on deterrence and international treaties. French President Jacques Chirac said building the system would "retrigger a proliferation of weapons, notably nuclear missiles." German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder said, "Everything that goes in the direction of proliferation is a bad direction. I'm skeptical." And the chief of foreign policy for the European Union, the former head of NATO, Javier Solana, said recently, "If the decision on deployment is taken without agreement with Russia and without help from European leaders, it will be very badly taken." They, along with the Russians and Chinese, worry that an American missile defense system would give the U.S. global military dominance. But if it's to be built, allied concurrence is essential, because radars will have to be stationed in Greenland and Great Britain, as Secretary of Defense William Cohen explained recently.
WILLIAM COHEN: In order to have a technologically effective system, we need to have the support of our allies. If we don't have the support of our allies with respect to forward-deployed x-band radars, you will not have an effective technologically reliable system.
|Relations with Russia|
JEFFREY KAYE: And Cohen said the allies' support is likely to depend on the Russian reaction. The allies want to maintain good relations with Russia, which opposes a U.S. missile shield.
WILLIAM COHEN: So you can't get the support of the allies unless you at least try to work it out with the Russians. The Russians may see this as an opportunity to simply promote dissent and try to exploit that dissent, and therefore preclude the United States from moving forward. I think what we have to do is persuade our allies we are acting responsibly, we're dealing with the Russians.
JEFFREY KAYE: Cohen and other missile defense advocates say that despite foreign opposition, the system is crucial for U.S. defense. They argue that North Korean missiles could be ready to be launched against the U.S. by 2005. And they say if work isn't started soon, the system won't be operational by then, and the U.S. will be vulnerable. They also worry about the capability of Iran and Iraq to threaten the United States with long-range missiles. Beyond self-defense, U.S. military planners have another purpose for a missile defense system. With it, the United States military would be able to act overseas without facing the threat of a missile attack on its own soil, according to U.S. Defense Department Undersecretary Jacques Gansler.
JACQUES GANSLER, Undersecretary of Defense: By having this defense system, the United States is more likely to come to the aid of our allies in third world conflicts, regional conflicts, because they will not be able to deter us from entering by threatening to launch a missile against us. If we have a defense capability, then we can say, "well, we can still go into that region and help you, in a conflict that you might have in your local region." If we didn't have a defense capability, they may be able to deter us enough from coming in.
JEFFREY KAYE: This capability worries some foreign leaders concerned that the U.S. won't be deterred from military intervention. The Chinese and Russians also suspect that as part of a major military build-up, the U.S. intends eventually to build a much wider missile defense system than the one now planned. They fear that by using a missile shield in combination with weapons like new Stealth aircraft, sensors in space, and precision munitions, America would be able to strike first with nuclear weapons, then defend against a missile retaliation. Sha Zukang, China's top arms negotiator, expressed his concern at a recent United Nations conference.
SHA ZUKANG (Translated): Today, a superpower which rampantly intervenes in other countries' internal affairs and willfully resorts to force is continuously improving its overwhelming first strike nuclear capability. On the other hand, it also spares no efforts in developing an advanced missile defense system capable of neutralizing any counterstrike launched by a small- or medium-sized nuclear weapon state after sustaining a nuclear first strike.
|Dominant single country|
JEFFREY KAYE: John Steinbruner of the University of Maryland says some foreign governments suspect the U.S. of deviousness.
JOHN STEINBRUNER: We're proposing to add this system on top of an offensive capability that's already superior to anyone else's. And it's that relationship between defense and offense that causes the problem. We should not be surprised that people are not comfortable with the United States or anyone else aspiring to be the dominant single country. Everyone wants equitable standards of security.
JEFFREY KAYE: John Holum, the senior advisor for arms control at the State Department, says the U.S. has not forsaken deterrence. He rejects the notion that a U.S. Missile defense system is a way to achieve global military dominance.
JOHN HOLUM: I know this argument comes up, but I don't think it's a broad license for the United States to engage unilaterally. This is not an abandonment of deterrence. Deterrence works in two ways. It... you can convince the other side that the cost of attacking would be overwhelming. You also want to convince them that the benefit of attacking is negligible. What this would do is persuade a country like North Korea that an attack on the United States would be both fatal and futile, so it would reinforce deterrence.
JEFFREY KAYE: But Russia believes a delicate balance would be upset because the planned U.S. missile defense system would violate the antiballistic missile, or ABM. Treaty. That 1972 agreement, signed by Soviet President Leonid Brezhnev and U.S. President Richard Nixon, prohibits nationwide missile defenses. The intent was to stop a spiraling offensive-defensive arms race. The Clinton administration wants to renegotiate the treaty-- something Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, opposes. Putin's government has agreed to reduce its nuclear arms, but he says if the U.S. deploys a national missile defense system, Russia will not shrink its nuclear arsenal. Igor Ivanov is Russia's foreign minister.
IGOR IVANOV (Translated): Further reductions in strategic offensive weapons can only be considered as closely complimentary to the preservation of the ABM Treaty. The historic importance of that instrument lies in the fact that it opened the way toward far- reaching reductions in strategic offensive weapons on a stable and transparent basis.
JEFFREY KAYE: Critics say a U.S. defensive shield might encourage hostile nations to acquire even more long-range weapons to try to overwhelm U.S. missile defenses. Their fears were reinforced by a classified national intelligence estimate. According to newspaper reports, the estimate says China will probably expand its nuclear arsenal from 20 to 200 warheads in response to the U.S. deploying a missile shield. John Pike of the Federation of American Scientists opposes a missile defense system because of the potential, in his view, of an arms race.
JOHN PIKE: The Chinese are looking at the plan. They are saying to themselves, "we have about 20 long-range missiles that can get to America. The Clinton administration plans to build a system that can intercept about 20 missiles. We are the only country that has just exactly the number that this system is designed to counter. This thing looks like it's aimed at us." Other countries gauge their standing in the world by what countries like China and Russia are doing, and if these countries are not building down their arsenal or they're building up their arsenal, other countries are going to follow suit.
JEFFREY KAYE: In talks with foreign leaders, U.S. officials have tried to ease fears of an arms race by stressing the limited nature of the planned missile defense system as well as the U.S. goal of reducing nuclear arms.
WILLIAM COHEN: The characterizations of the United States being a hegemon, someone who is determined to dominate the world and to contain and dominate China, is simply untrue.
|Election year factors|
JEFFREY KAYE: While Clinton administration officials are defending their plan abroad as a modest system, they are facing election year criticism from Republicans who argue the plan is too limited.
CONDOLEEZZA RICE: It is time to move beyond the Cold War.
JEFFREY KAYE: At the Republican National Convention when speakers promised to build up U.S. military strength, the only weapons system advocated by name was national missile defense.
GOV. GEORGE W. BUSH: At the earliest possible date, my administration will deploy missile defenses to guard against attack and blackmail. Now is the time... Now is the time, not to defend outdated treaties, but to defend the American people.
JEFFREY KAYE: The Republican missile defense plan is much more ambitious than the one President Clinton supports. Unlike the Clinton plan, which would be limited to using land-based missiles to attack incoming warheads in space, the Bush version would use various weapons systems -- which might include missiles from land and sea, as well as lasers in space -- to shoot down warheads soon after they lift off. Richard Perle, a former Pentagon official during the Reagan administration, now an advisor to Governor Bush, says Bush is unconcerned about the ABM treaty. Bush believes the U.S. should withdraw from the treaty so that the best available technologies can be explored without constraint.
RICHARD PERLE: The Bush ballistic missile defense would be quite different from anything the current administration seems prepared to propose. First, he would instruct our technical community to look at the best and most effective technologies, without regard to whether they are limited or prohibited by the ABM treaty. The Soviet Union no longer exists. Russia is not an enemy of the United States. The idea that the balance between our offensive and defensive forces should be determined in consultation with a successor that is not an enemy, when we have other enemies who are not parties to any agreement, really makes no sense.
VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE: I will keep America's defense strong. I will make sure our armed forces continue to be the best equipped, best trained, and best led in the entire world.
JEFFREY KAYE: Presidential candidate Al Gore did not mention national missile defense at the Democratic National Convention, though his party's platform echoes the Clinton administration's plans and intention to have a functioning system by 2005. However, unlike George W. Bush, al gore wants to preserve the ABM treaty with modifications.
VICE PRESIDENT GORE: The ABM treaty remains the cornerstone of strategic stability in our relationship with Russia. It prevents either the Russians or ourselves from deploying defenses pervasive and powerful enough, assuming anyone can solve the engineering problems, to neutralize the deterrent of either side.
JEFFREY KAYE: Pike believes that both major parties support missile defense for domestic electoral reasons.
JOHN PIKE: Missile defense is one of the very few things that the Republican Party can agree on in the field of foreign policy. Both interventionists and isolationists like it. The Republicans want to campaign on missile defense. The Democrats want to campaign on other issues. And so they basically embraced the Republican missile defense position in order to make it go away in the campaign.
JEFFREY KAYE: Voters evaluating Bush and Gore on the basis of missile defense have a choice only in terms of the scale and cost of their plans. The administration's plan is expected to cost $60 billion by 2015. The Bush campaign doesn't have a cost estimate for its more ambitious proposal.
SPOKESPERSON: Five, four, three, two, one...
JEFFREY KAYE: But as to the basic question of whether the U.S. should even have a missile defense system, the domestic debate doesn't approach the heated political reaction from overseas.