Albion Monitor /News

Pentagon Wants New Missle Defense System

by Haider Rizv

U.S. currently spends more than $3 billion a year on research
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Enhanced U.S. efforts to build new missile defense systems could lead to another round of the deadly arms race and nuclear anarchy in the world, defense analysts here say.

Despite an agreement with Moscow that bans further development of missile defense technologies, Washington continues to pursue its multi-billion-dollar plans aimed at developing missile defense systems, these critics add.

Driven by the fear that Russia, or possibly China, might resort to the use of ballistic missiles in the future, the United States currently spends more than $3 billion a year on research and other activities to build a national missile defense (NMD) system. And the country is to spend some $17 billion on the development of NMD in the next five years, informed sources here say.

Despite enormous cost, these systems would be easily neutralized
Proponents claim that once fully developed, NMD would provide the United States with fool-proof defense against any deliberate or accidental long-range ballistic missile attack.

But critics disagree.

"It is a mistaken belief," says Frank von Hippel, Chairman of the research arm of the Federation of American Scientists (FAS), a disarmament advocacy group. "The NMD systems cannot fully protect us from long-range nuclear missiles."

Hippel argues that despite billions of dollars and more than 30 years of research on the system, NMD supporters have failed to show a fool-proof system of protection against nuclear missile attacks could be developed any time in the near future.

Independent experts on technical defense matters say the higher tier of theatre missile defenses that the United States is trying to develop requires effective counter-measures to intercept targets at higher altitudes.

"The NMD system is a counter-productive solution," says David Wright, a senior researcher at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), an independent think-tank and disarmament advocacy group. "Despite enormous cost, these systems would be easily neutralized."

Wright, who has spent several years researching the technical aspects of the U.S. war industry, says that instead of enhancing security and defense, U.S. moves to develop NMD would pose new threats to global efforts towards reducing nuclear dangers.

"The kind of systems the U.S. is trying to develop would not only provoke the Russians to stop nuclear reduction but could also prompt the Chinese to expand their nuclear arsenals," he says, pointing to U.S. efforts to build a theatre-wide high altitude area defense (THAAD) system. THAAD systems are intended to protect large areas -- ranging up to 3,500 kilometers -- from attack by nuclear missiles.

Russia and China are the only countries in the world that have the ability to attack the U.S. mainland with their long-range ballistic missiles, but they currently have no effective systems to counter the missile threat from the United States.

Critics say if Russia chose to deploy missile defenses, Britain, France, and China would resort to similar moves. This would ruin all possibility of nuclear reductions, including efforts to contain the supply of missile technology to countries that are suspected of developing nuclear weapons, these analysts add.

"This is a dangerous scenario," says Steven Fetter, professor of Security and Environmental Policy at the University of Maryland. "This will leave our future generations to live in a world of thousands of nuclear weapons."

Arms control advocates fear that in response to U.S. deployment of NMD systems, Russia might decide to scrap the START 11 Treaty, which requires them to eliminate more than half of their missiles carrying nuclear warheads, about 3,500 in all.

"The defense industry is the real force behind anti-missile programs ... pushing for such dangerous ideas"
Mindful that missile defense plans could complicate matters with Moscow, the United States has been trying to convince Russia to agree to changes in the 1972 Anti-ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty that imposes restrictions on the development of anti- missile systems.

In a joint statement following their recent summit meeting, U.S. President Bill Clinton and Russian President Boris Yeltsin said the Russian leader had "accepted a new understanding of the 1972 ABM treaty that will allow the United States to proceed with limited ballistic missile defenses now under development."

According to the Brookings Institution, a liberal policy think-tank here, the United States has spent about $99 billion on its missile defense programs since 1962.

Observers say the Clinton Administration wants to see anti-missile programs implemented within the bounds of the AMB Treaty, but in the wake of tremendous pressure from the Congress, it might adopt a unilateral stance on building missile defenses.

The administration this year asked Congress to allocate some $3 billion for research and other activities related to the development of NMD systems, but sources say the Republican-dominated Congress is likely to approve $4 billion instead.

While many believe the Congressional enthusiasm is the outcome of fears caused by Iraq's use of Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf war, some analysts point to the ever-increasing influence of U.S. defense contractors.

"Industrial interest in anti-missile programs is eating up tens of billions of dollars," with corporations "pouring money into Congressional campaign coffers," says John Pike, an FAS researcher.

Giant U.S. defense corporations continue to exert their influence on the Congress to reshape the Pentagon's plan. FAS researchers say that in 1995, more than a dozen U.S. lawmakers received more than $135,000 from missile defense contractors.

"The defense industry is the real force behind anti-missile programs," says Wright. "They are the ones who are pushing for such dangerous ideas."

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Albion Monitor May 3, 1997 (

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