President's Statement on National Missile Defense Last Friday, President Clinton delivered a 3,400 word address at Georgetown University explaining his decision not to move ahead with the deployment of a limited National Missile Defense (NMD) system. In addition to diplomatic issues and other considerations, the President discussed the operational effectiveness of the proposed system. Selections from his speech follow.
After introductory remarks, the President stated, "At this moment of unprecedented peace and prosperity, with no immediate threat to our security or our existence, with our democratic values ascendant and our alliances strong, with the great forces of our time -- globalization and the revolution in information technology so clearly beneficial to a society like ours, with our diversity and our openness and our entrepreneurial spirit, at a time 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 hurling those weapons halfway around the world."
After discussing his administration's efforts to reduce the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the President stated, "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 threats to our security.
"For example, there is the possibility that a hostile state with nuclear weapons and long-range missiles may simply disintegrate, with command over missiles falling into unstable hands. Or that in a moment of desperation, such a country might miscalculate, believing it could use nuclear weapons to intimidate us from defending our vital interests or from coming to the aid of our allies or others who are defenseless and clearly in need. In the future, we cannot rule out that terrorist groups could gain the capability to strike us with nuclear weapons if they seized even temporary control of a state with an existing nuclear weapons establishment.
"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."
He later discussed the present status of the NMD testing: "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. And I am proud of the work that Secretary Cohen, General Shelton and their teams have done. 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 tests 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."
After remarks concerning strategic stability, the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, and an emerging missile threat, President Clinton stated, "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 interests of the United States."
Richard M. Jones