APS Issues Statement on National Missile Defense Decision

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Publication date: 
16 May 2000
Number: 
52

In April, the Council of the American Physical Society adopted a statement regarding the technical feasibility of the Clinton Administration's proposed National Missile Defense (NMD) system.

An 1998 analysis identified an increased likelihood that potentially hostile nations may have missiles capable of reaching the US sooner than previously anticipated, causing the Administration to accelerate its NMD development program. Legislation passed by Congress and signed by the President last year calls for the US to deploy a limited national system to protect against ballistic missiles as soon as "technologically feasible." President Clinton is scheduled to make a decision within a few months about whether to move forward with construction of a first phase of the system.

The APS statement does not make a recommendation regarding eventual deployment of a missile defense, but questions whether Clinton will have sufficient information about the system's effectiveness, based on the number of flight tests to date, to arrive at an appropriate decision. Other recent reports, including one by the Congressional Budget Office, have raised concerns about the accelerated development schedule, effectiveness, estimated cost, and response of other countries. The CBO report will be reviewed in a subsequent FYI. The APS statement follows:

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"Statement on National Missile Defense System Technical Feasibility and Deployment, adopted by the APS Council on April 29:

"The United States should not make a deployment decision relative to the planned National Missile Defense (NMD) system unless that system is shown - through analysis and through intercept tests - to be effective against the types of offensive countermeasures that an attacker could reasonably be expected to deploy with its long-range missiles. The planned NMD system is intended to defend US territory against tens of long-range ballistic missiles carrying biological, chemical or nuclear weapons. The ability of the NMD system to deal with countermeasures is a key factor in determining whether the system will be able to defend against the threats it is intended to meet.

"A decision on whether or not to deploy the NMD is scheduled for the next few months. The tests that have been conducted or are planned for the period fall far short of those required to provide confidence in the "technical feasibility" called for in last year's NMD deployment legislation.

"This statement implies no APS position with respect to the wisdom of national missile defense deployment and concerns itself solely with its technical viability."