Clinton passes on NMD decision

Whether to proceed with construction of missile defense program will be up to the next president

President Clinton today sidestepped what could have been one of the most

difficult military decisions of his administration when he announced he

would not authorize the deployment of a national missile defense system

because of questions about the system's technical effectiveness.

The president decided to leave the politically charged decision about

whether to proceed on the first phase of construction of the system to his

successor during a speech on national security issues at Georgetown University

in Washington, D.C. Critics have questioned both the system's technical

feasibility as well as the negative impact it could have on international

missile reduction treaties with Russia.

In a written statement, the White House said Clinton's decision was

based on a lack of "sufficient information about the technical and operational

effectiveness of the entire NMD system."

The United States has been studying the technical aspects of deploying

an NMD system — widely known as "Stars Wars" — since the Reagan administration.

The NMD system would consist of a series of networked ground-based radar

systems and early warning satellites designed to detect the launch of an

intercontinental nuclear missile.

However, Congressional criticism of the proposed system had mounted

during the last few months, particularly after a technical glitch caused

a July 7 test to fail.

The Pentagon has spent $5.5 billion on research and development of the

proposed NMD system since 1991. DOD estimated that the final cost will be

$20 billion when the 100 intercept rockets are completed in 2007. However,

some observers have estimated the total cost of the program at $60 billion.

Secretary of Defense William Cohen, who has been a longtime supporter

of deploying a limited system to defend against emerging missile threats

from Iraq, Iran and North Korea, said that despite the president's decision

testing will continue.

"I have noted on many occasions that several emerging threats warrant

the deployment of an effective missile defense program as soon as technologically

feasible and I will work closely with my successor on providing all appropriate

information," said Cohen. "In the meantime, we will aggressively proceed

with the developmental testing program and also continue our consultations

with the Congress, our allies and with Russia."

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