|MISSILE DEFENSE POLITICS|
September 1, 2000
President Clinton says he does not have enough confidence in the technology to authorize the construction of a national missile defense system. Jon Kyl (R-Az) and John Pike discuss the president's decision.
JIM LEHRER: Reaction to President Clinton's announcement,
from Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona, a member of the Senate
Intelligence and Appropriations Committees, and John Pike, director
of the Space Policy Project at the Federation of American Scientists.
Senator, was the President right to delay this decision?
|The president's decision|
SEN. JON KYL: Jim, I don't believe so. I think the President was wrong for several reasons: First of all, there is an implication that we don't have to worry because implied is that there's no immediate threat. But his own Secretary of Defense Bill Cohen has made it clear as he put it that the threat threshold has been met. That means that it's important to get this system deployed as soon as possible. Now the President, by his decision today, has guaranteed that we will not have the ability to protect the American people from ballistic missile attack until 2006 or 2007 at the earliest, as he said. But we could have deployed the system as early as 2005 if we were to begin construction of the important radar site early next year. That's in Alaska, which has a very short construction season, as you know. And that's why we have to begin that process now. The development of the missile will take longer. He's right about that. But you need to do both of these things at the same time. So by the time the missiles are ready, the radar and other facilities are also ready.
JIM LEHRER: Do you challenge... Senator, do you challenge the President's basic statement that the technology has not been proven yet that the system would work?
SEN. JON KYL: No, I think there's a subtle difference here. The President suggested, without saying so, that we're not sure whether it will ever work. Well I think that the expert opinion is that it can work. It will work. It simply is a matter of time. It is true that not all of the tests have been fully successful. And therefore, it may be that the missiles themselves in the so-called kill vehicles will not be ready by 2005. It may be 2006. But we know this for sure: If they are ready by 2005, we still won't be able to deploy, based on the President's decision, because he is now guaranteed that the radar site won't be ready until 2006 at the earliest.
JIM LEHRER: You have to have the radar site in order for the kill vehicles to be... to work.
SEN. JON KYL: In order to hone in on the enemy missile, you have to know where it is in order to kill it, that's correct.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Mr. Pike, did the President do the right thing or do you agree with Senator Kyl?
JOHN PIKE: He did absolutely the right thing. A year ago they basically said they were going to decide on the basis of do we need it? Will it work? Can we afford it? And is it going to create more problems than it is going to solve? And by all four of those criteria, a decision to deploy right now would have been premature. They've had three tests; two of them have failed. The threat appears to be receding because North Korea has at least for the time being agreed not to test its long-range missiles. Everyone agrees it's going to cost tens of billions of dollars. And recently the intelligence community concluded that if we go ahead with national missile defense, the Chinese are probably going to deploy 200 nuclear weapons aimed at America, rather than the 20 that they have today.
JIM LEHRER: So when the President made a reference to we need to do some diplomatic work, that's what he was talking about, right, Russia and China?
JOHN PIKE: Absolutely because right now the countries that have nuclear weapons that could devastate our society are Russia and China. North Korea doesn't have them. And obviously we have to make sure that we are not creating more problems than we're solving by leading the Russians not to reduce their arsenal or, as the President pointed out, causing the Chinese to build up their arsenal and setting off an arms race in South Asia with India and Pakistan following.
JIM LEHRER: I want to come back to the diplomatic thing with Senator Kyl in a moment, but what about Senator Kyl's point at that at least the President could have done today is at least go ahead with the radar station because if you don't have the radar, no matter what happens on the other vehicles, it isn't going to work?
JOHN PIKE: The President I gather made his decision on the basis of the assessment of the Pentagon that the interceptors are simply not going to be ready by 2005. You need to start the radar four years before the missile interceptors are going to be ready after the test problems they've had over the last year, delays in the booster rocket for the interceptor; it was clear that the actual interceptors aren't going to be available until 2006 or 2007. So there was no reason to start deploying the radar next year when it would be coming online a year or two before there would be any interceptors for it to guide.
|A nuclear threat towards the U.S.?|
JIM LEHRER: What about that, Senator?
SEN. JON KYL: Well, I think that Mr. Pike is inferring what the President's decision is based on without knowing. I don't know either. I suspect there were some politics involved in this and a fear of offending the Russians. With respect to the matter of the Chinese, I want to make it clear, the Chinese are proceeding anyway, so what we do and what the President does with respect to his decision on deploying national missile defense is not affecting the Chinese plans at all. In any event, it's precisely the kind of nuclear blackmail that the Chinese have engaged in that creates a necessity for us to proceed. Remember, it was Chinese military officials who said when the United States began to send a fleet to the Taiwan Straits to let the Chinese know that they couldn't forcibly take Taiwan, the Chinese military officials were the ones who said we think in the long run that Los Angeles is more important to you than Taiwan, meaning of course we could send our missiles over to Los Angeles. Now what Mr. Pike would have us do is leave ourselves defenseless against that kind of nuclear blackmail. That's the kind of threat that we have got to defend ourselves against and we have got to do it as soon as possible. We can't wait another seven or eight years.
JIM LEHRER: Mr. Pike?
JOHN PIKE: If it is going to cost us $60 billion to defend against a threat of 20 missiles, then when the Chinese build 200, we're going to spend $600 billion. This is simply the formula for the arms race that we thought that we had ended when the Cold War ended. And it's obviously the reason that we need to be proceeding very cautiously here to make sure that we're not creating more problems than we're solving.
SEN. JON KYL: Jim, I hope everyone realizes those numbers just cited were purely fanciful.
JOHN PIKE: The numbers that... The threat numbers, the 20 warheads and the 200 warheads are from the intelligence community.
SEN. JON KYL: I'm on the Intelligence Committee. And I can assure you that there has never been anyone that suggested that because of the Chinese threat, it would cost us $600 billion to deploy this system. That's simply fanciful.
|JIM LEHRER: Senator Kyl, on the diplomatic thing, how did
you interpret what the President said about we've got a diplomatic thing
to do too in addition to developmental work?
SEN. JON KYL: Well, he is right, although I lay part of the blame at the feet of the President because for many years he was telling the Russians and Chinese and our allies look, the United States should not deploy a national missile defense. That would be destabilizing. Then because of the Rumsfeld Commission Report, which confirmed a threat, because his own defense secretary confirmed a threat, and because his own Pentagon confirmed that, yes, we had a robust plan here to get this done, he then decided to move forward. Shouldn't be surprised that both allies and the Russians were very confused and frankly very anxious because he had been telling them all this time that the deployment of such a system was not a good idea. Then he had to backtrack and said you shouldn't worry too much about it. It will be all right. The truth of the matter is that we have a lot more work to do with the Russians. We have got to assure them we mean no ill will with them. And the kind of system that we are planning to deploy would have essentially no effect with respect to a Russian strategic program. This is designed to deal with the North Koreans, the Iraqis, the Iranians, countries like that, and, frankly, China if China should become too belligerent, vis-à-vis the United States
|Can a National Missile Defense system ever work?|
|JIM LEHRER: Mr. Pike, come back to the basic question here.
Do you believe that a national missile defense system can ever work?
JOHN PIKE: I don't think that it can ever be made to work with sufficient reliability that the President would really trust it in a time of crisis.
JIM LEHRER: Any President?
JOHN PIKE: I don't think so. I'll tell you what. Let's put it to the test. If all of the supporters for national missile defense will stay here in town while we fire an armed nuclear weapon at Washington to see whether it will work to demonstrate to the world that it will work and that our political leadership trusts that it will work in a live fire test like we do with all of our other weapons, then I'll believe that it is reliable and that we'll trust it. But until we put it to that test, until Senator Kyl is prepared to sit knowing that the a hydrogen bomb is heading his way and the only thing standing between him and being vaporized is national missile defense, I don't think that people will believe that we believe that it works.
JIM LEHRER: Senator Kyle?
SEN. JON KYL: Well, the world needs to believe that this system would work. But here's the alternative. A country like Iraq - let's say -- decides to loose a nuclear missile against London or against the United States. The President then has this option: Do we unleash our nuclear deterrent, our nuclear weapons, and incinerate everything and everybody in Iraq and frankly in surrounding territory because of a decision of one man, Saddam Hussein? Or should we have another choice -- a choice of defending the American people so that we don't have to resort to that kind of last resort? I'd rather believe that we can develop the national missile defense and have that option in our arsenal. And I believe that by the time, if we get along with it, by the time we need that defense, we will have demonstrated with sufficient certainty to the rest of the world, that it work for that to be our real effective deterrent.
JIM LEHRER: Do you have a problem with that, Mr. Pike?
JOHN PIKE: Saddam Hussein as the President pointed out today, was deterred from using chemical weapons in the Gulf War because he knew that we would retaliate. Deterrence worked during the Cold War and unavoidably given the possibility that missile defense could fail, we're going to continue to rely on deterrence, regardless of what else we do.
JIM LEHRER: So you don't think it's either or
JOHN PIKE: The question is whether missile defense is going to make deterrence more difficult to calculate and whether it's going to result in us having more nuclear weapons pointed at us, the intelligence community assessment is that we're going to get into an arms race with the Chinese.
JIM LEHRER: Senator.
SEN. JON KYL: It is a gross exaggeration. That's not the conclusion of the "intelligence community." There are some who believe that that might occur. It doesn't have to occur, and one of the reasons it doesn't have to occur is that the United States can take an entirely different approach, the kind of approach that Governor Bush, by the way, would take to international relationships here -- first of all, assuring our allies that if we're able to deploy a national missile defense, we'll have much better flexibility in helping to defend them from the kind of regional threats that are probably the most likely threat in the near term; and then secondly, dealing with countries like Russia to assure Russia to the same effect. And there may even be some ways that we can cooperate with a country like Russia to ensure Russia that this kind of system is not one that is designed to defeat their military objectives but rather these rogue states. By the way, with respect to Iraq, remember after the war, unfortunately, some U.S. officials confirmed the fact that we would not have released U.S. nuclear retaliation on Iraq. And I think that certainly casts a significant degree of doubt on the effectiveness of the ultimate weapon, our U.S. nuclear deterrent, in the case of rogue nation threats. That's not a moral response. We should not have to rely on that response, especially if we have the technology at hand to defend the American people.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Gentlemen, we have to leave it there. Thank you both very much.