- The Washington Times - Friday, July 14, 2000

Republican senators Thursday beat back Democratic efforts to delay implementation of the National Missile Defense program and authorized $1.9 billion for development of the system.
They defeated a Democratic amendment by a 52-48 vote. Three Republicans Sens. Susan Collins of Maine, James M. Jeffords of Vermont and Olympia J. Snowe of Maine joined all 45 Democrats in support of the amendment.
The defeated measure would have required the Pentagon to test the system against all possible countermeasures to the program, including warheads surrounded by decoys.
"This amendment is an unprecedented effort by the Senate to micromanage a weapons system testing program," said Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi Republican, and a leading missile defense proponent.
"In no other program has the Senate tried to legislate in this way, to dictate to the Department of Defense how a classified national security testing program should be conducted."
He said adequate measures are already in place to ensure that the missile system is properly designed and tested to account for any potential counteraction.
"There is no need for a third layer of requirements, levied in an overly broad statute, to deal with some vague technical notions that someone, somewhere, has imagined," Mr. Cochran said.
Democrats, however, said moving forward with the system without even more tests than those scheduled would harm, rather than increase, U.S. security.
"A Senate that is misled by blind faith in a missile system that cannot defend America is as pitiful as a $60 billion missile system that can be misled by a cheap decoy," said Sen. Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, who offered the defeated amendment.
Mr. Durbin said that to prove the effectiveness of the defense shield, it was necessary to test it against countermeasures used to disguise incoming warheads and confuse missiles launched to destroy them. Those could include decoy balloons and nuclear warheads shrouded in cooled metal, he said.
A panel of prominent U.S. scientists that opposes the system recently said warheads could be enclosed in cool shrouds or placed in balloons with numerous empty balloons deployed with them, making it impossible for the U.S. missile to select the right target.
Mr. Durbin's amendment also required an independent review team convened by the defense secretary to assess whether enough tests are conducted to assure the effectiveness of the system before it becomes operational.
"If the fate of Americans will truly hang in the balance, we owe this nation, and every family and every mother, father and child, our very best effort in building a credible effective deterrence," Mr. Durbin said.
Sen. Paul Wellstone, Minnesota Democrat, had a harsher view of the National Missile Defense system, calling it "make-believe" and an "illusion."
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota said simply, "I can't imagine that we would want to build something that didn't work."
The National Missile Defense system, scheduled for deployment in 2005, is designed to defend the United States from intercontinental-range ballistic missiles armed with nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.
The Defense Department has conducted three tests of the system, failing twice. On Saturday, a missile test failed when the nonexplosive "kill vehicle" did not separate from the second stage. As a result, the interceptor fired from an island in the Pacific Ocean failed to hit a target warhead fired minutes earlier from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
In October, an interceptor missile successfully slammed into a target, but in a January test, a coolant problem caused it to miss.
The Pentagon plans to conduct 12 to 15 flight tests before the $60 billion system is ready.
A final recommendation to President Clinton on whether to proceed with deployment of the national missile defense system will be made in three to four weeks, said Defense Secretary William S. Cohen.
Mr. Cohen said he will carefully analyze all the information about the developing program, which would include 20 to 100 interceptors based in Alaska, along with satellite sensors and ground radar. The recommendation must be made this year if the Pentagon is to meet the tight deadline of having a system in place by 2005 when North Korea is expected to have the capability of hitting the United States with a long-range missile, Mr. Cohen said.
Mr. Cohen said this week that the failed test was not a major setback and that he could still recommend going ahead with the project.
"The failure here was not the failure of the most sophisticated elements of it," he said. "That's something that's not fatal to the program, and so I would reserve the judgment until I get all the way through the analysis," he said.
Democratic and Republican senators earlier this week urged Mr. Clinton to press ahead with a missile defense system and let his successor decide whether to deploy it.
"President Clinton, notwithstanding this disappointment [of the latest failed test], ought to decide to at least keep the process moving forward," Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, Connecticut Democrat and a member of the Armed Services Committee, told interviewers on "Fox News Sunday."
The missile system funding is part of the defense authorization bill for fiscal 2002 funding that passed by a 97-3 vote. The bill authorizes $310 billion for defense, $4.5 billion more than President Clinton requested, and a 4.4 percent increase over last year's funding.
"This sends a strong message throughout the world that America is committed to remaining strong and leading in the cause of freedom and human rights," said Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican and chairman of the Armed Services Committee.
The bill includes a 3.7 percent pay raise for military personnel, effective Jan. 1, and improves military health care by allowing veterans age 65 and older to buy prescription drugs at discount prices.

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