- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 5, 2000

To its list of missed opportunities, the Clinton-Gore administration can now add the abdication of responsibility for national security. In a hastily convened speech Friday morning at Georgetown University timed to coincide with the onset of a major national holiday weekend, President Clinton announced that he would not authorize the deployment of a national missile defense system (NMD). Mr. Clinton made his decision even as he acknowledged that the threat of ballistic-missile attack from nations like Iraq, Iran and North Korea is "real and growing."
The decision was par for the course for the Clinto-Gore administration. Two of Mr. Clinton's first national-security decisions in office were to cancel the Bush administration's Global Protection Against Limited Strikes program and to downgrade the Pentagon's anti-missile research and development programs. The administration repeatedly downplayed the threat from rogue nations until the bipartisan Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States, also known as the Rumsfeld commission, issued its July 1998 unanimous report, which concluded that "the U.S. might well have little or no warning before operational deployment" by rogue states of ballistic missiles that could threaten U.S. territory.
The Rumsfeld commission further concluded that Russia "poses a threat to the U.S. as a major exporter of enabling technologies, including ballistic-missile technologies, to countries hostile to the United States." Nevertheless, in succumbing to the protests of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has refused to modify the obsolete 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, Mr. Clinton rejected the advice of Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who strongly recommended that the president take the initial step of approving the construction of a radar in Alaska.
To meet the goal of deploying a ground-based NMD system by 2005, the radar's construction would have to begin next spring, even as the Pentagon continued to develop and test its anti-missile system. Mr. Clinton, however, insisted that his non-decision "will not have a significant impact on the date the overall system could be deployed in the next administration, if the next president decides to go forward." Well, to borrow a phrase from the president himself, that depends on what the definition of "significant" is. By deciding not to begin construction of the Alaskan radar, Mr. Clinton has indisputably delayed eventual deployment beyond 2005, when North Korea is estimated to be capable of launching an inter-continental missile against the United States.
For his part, Vice President Al Gore, who enthusiastically supported Mr. Clinton's decision, issued a statement declaring, "I would not be prepared to let Russian opposition to this system stand in the way of its deployment." In fact, Russian opposition was the crucial factor in Mr. Clinton's decision.
It is also worth noting that the ground-based system envisioned by the Clinton-Gore administration, while certainly preferrable to no system at all, is far less effective than the sea- and space-based alternatives being actively considered by Republican presidential nominee George W. Bush. Dragged kicking and screaming in 1999 by a bipartisan Congress into pursuing a national missile defense strategy, one of whose principal advocates was none other than Democratic vice presidential nominee Joseph Lieberman, the Clinton-Gore administration embraced the ground-based system because it was the least threatening.
Mr. Bush and his vice presidential running mate, former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney, have declared that the most important criterion for a national missile defense system will be its effectiveness. In a Bush-Cheney administration, Mr. Putin will not be exercising the veto power he demonstrated last week.

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