- The Washington Times - Friday, July 7, 2000

Sometime this evening the Pentagon will launch a Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The rocket will be carrying a dummy "enemy" warhead and a decoy, both of which will be released five minutes after the Minuteman II is launched. A space satellite will detect the launch and notify a national missile defense battle management center on Kwajalein Island more than 4,000 miles away in the Pacific Ocean, where another rocket will be launched 20 minutes later, this one carrying a 121-pound "hit-to-kill" anti-missile weapon. If all goes according to plan, about 15 minutes after it is launched, the defensive weapon, traveling 15,000 miles per hour, will collide with the target warhead 144 miles above the earth, rendering it into harmless space dust.

This will be the third test in a planned series of 12 tests that will not be completed until 2003. The first test successfully intercepted the warhead in October, and the second test failed in January during its final five seconds. Based in part on the third test, President Clinton expects to make a decision during the fall whether to move forward toward deployment of a land-based national missile defense system initially based in Alaska and later expanded to North Dakota.

The administration has been negotiating with the Russians trying to get their approval to amend the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty to permit a land-based system that would initially field 20 Alaska-based interceptor missiles by 2005 and 250 interceptors by 2011. Russia has so far refused to amend the ABM Treaty, and the Clinton-Gore administration has been extremely reluctant to abrogate unilaterally the ABM Treaty, which both the president and vice president consider to be the "cornerstone of strategic stability."

It would be a mistake to amend the ABM Treaty in such a way that only a relatively inferior missile defense system could be deployed. Far more preferable would be the abrogation of the anachronistic ABM Treaty, which would allow the United States to pursue the most promising technologies.

It would also be a mistake, irrespective of how tonight's test fares, to delay a decision to move toward deployment of the land-based system. Even if the test fails, Mr. Clinton should authorize the Pentagon to begin construction of a radar-guidance system that would be built on Alaska's Shemya Island. The Pentagon does not expect completion of the radar until 2005, a crucial year because, according to last year's National Intelligence Estimate, North Korea could develop a ballistic missile capable of reaching the United States by then.

In addition to the land-based ABM system, the Clinton administration or its successor should also begin development of a more promising sea-based ABM system, which would have the capability of destroying an enemy's ballistic missile during its "boost" phase, when it is much easier to target (and destroy over the territory of its country of origin).

Providing the American people and their allies with the most reliable and comprehensive defense is far more important than continuing to pledge fealty to a treaty that exposes America to the irrational impulses of crazed dictators or hate-filled mullahs brandishing weapons of mass destruction.

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