Strategic Weapons: November 3, 1999

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President Clinton had promised a decision on starting a National Missile Defense System by June 2000, just in time for it to be a major campaign issue in the presidential elections. Republicans in Congress plan to force the President to stick to his deadline instead of (as White House rumors hint) delaying it until December. The problem is the 1972 treaty with the USSR, which (in its present form) blocks any meaningful kind of defense. President Clinton has always insisted that any changes to this treaty be approved by the Russians, who have pointedly insisted that they will never agree to anything. Republicans (who never liked the treaty) insist that it is void since it was signed with the USSR, a country that (technically) no longer exists, but Democrats insist that Russia is the successor to all Soviet treaties. If Clinton goes ahead with the missile defense plan, Russia and China will probably resume nuclear weapons tests, ruining 20 years of arms control (a result that Republicans regard as a good thing) and sending Al Gore's candidacy into the dumpster. If Clinton refuses to build the system, however, he hands the Republicans a ready-made issue that Democrats are soft on defense. The most likely result? President Clinton will announce that due to the delays with THAAD and the possibilities of emerging technology, the decision should be delayed and made by the next president. It is unclear if the American people can be made to feel passionately on this issue, but delaying a decision (or deciding not to go ahead) would fly in the face of the Administration's own estimates of likely aggressor nations and their capability to build missiles.--Stephen V Cole

Russia's new Topol-M missile was specifically designed to have a "short boost-phase burn time" to make it difficult to spot and track when it is launched.--Stephen V Cole

 


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