DATE=1/19/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=U-S MISSILE DEFENSE NUMBER=5-45272 BYLINE=DAVID GOLLUST DATELINE=WHITE HOUSE CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: This week's failed test of a U-S missile interceptor over the Pacific has again focused attention on the controversial Pentagon program to develop a limited system to protect the United States against long-range ballistic missile attack. President Clinton has promised a decision by this summer on whether to deploy such a system, which has strong support in Congress but is opposed by Russia and China and even some U-S allies. V-O-A's David Gollust has this report from the White House. TEXT: The first full-scale test of the system last October was considered only a partial success. And Tuesday's failed intercept - attributed to a faulty sensor - adds a new element of doubt as the Clinton Administration moves toward its promised decision on deployment expected in June. The proposed National Missile Defense System - or N-M- D - is intended to protect the United States from potential attack from a nuclear-tipped missile fired by a so-called "rogue" state, or a weapon launched in error by one of the existing nuclear powers. Though less ambitious than the now-abandoned "Star Wars" project from the Cold-War era, the new system, which would be operational in 2005, is hardly less controversial. Its congressional supporters say that any U-S administration would be negligent in not to trying to deal with the "rogue" missile threat. But opponents contend it will not work, and will - among other things - undermine relations with Russia, which contends that the U-S system would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile, or A-B-M, treaty. While the debate swirls, senior administration officials are non-committal about what President Clinton's decision might be. At a university foreign policy seminar this week, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said it is a complex mix of technical, financial and political concerns: /// ALBRIGHT ACTUALITY /// Technology, the feasibility of it, is obviously a part of it. But also the threat, the cost, and its effect on our national security, including how it affects arms control agreements. So there are a number of criteria on which this decision is going to be based. And I think it's very important for everyone to understand that the A-B-M treaty has been a cornerstone of our arms control process. If one were to go forward with the N-M-D, then obviously there would have to be some adjustments. /// END ACT /// The Clinton Administration has made overtures to Moscow on amending the A-B-M treaty to accommodate the program, which U-S officials stress is not aimed at neutralizing Russia's still-formidable nuclear arsenal. But the Russian response has been chilly, and new acting President Vladimir Putin, in particular, has been outspoken in his opposition to treaty changes. But leading Republicans insist the need for limited missile defense outweighs concerns about the A-B-M treaty or Russia's feelings. In an interview Sunday on the C-N-N (Cable News Network) program "Late Edition," Texas Governor George W. Bush - the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination in national polls - said Moscow should not have a veto over the U-S program: /// BUSH ACT /// I think it's very important for our country to explain to the Russians that in the post Cold War era, the threat of accidental launch or the threat of a launch of a rogue nation will destabilize parts of the world. And therefore we must amend the A-B-M treaty so that we can deploy theater-based anti-ballistic missile systems. And if they don't agree in a reasonable period of time, I'm going to make it clear I'm going to withdraw. /// END ACT /// Mr. Bush gets support from conservative U-S defense analysts, among them Baker Spring of Washington's Heritage Foundation. He told V-O-A as many as 20 countries around the world could either develop or purchase nuclear weapon and long-range missile capabilities in the coming years, including Iran, Iraq and North Korea - which has already tested a three- stage missile. Mr. Spring says he thinks any Russian response to a U-S deployment decision would be limited to verbal condemnation: /// SPRING ACTUALITY /// I'm not afraid of a crisis with them. I think they could at a rhetorical level react negatively as they have to date. But I certainly don't think that the reaction from the Russians or the Chinese today would be any more of concern to me than what the Soviet reaction was when President Reagan announced the initiation of the Strategic Defense Initiative program in 1983. We got a lot of very, very negative rhetoric saying that they would never do arms control. But in the end they ultimately signed both the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987 and the START treaty with the Bush Administration in 1992 with no specific curtailing of the Strategic Defense Initiative program. /// END ACT /// However, John Isaacs, president and arms control spokesman for the liberal Council for a Livable World, says the Clinton Administration has placed itself in a political bind by promising a deployment decision by June, when only limited testing data on the N-M-D program will be available. And he says the issue creates a real risk of confrontation with Russia at a critical time in its political development: /// ISSACS ACTUALITY /// If the United States proceeds with National Missile Defense without a prior agreement with Russia on arms control and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, I think we risk a crisis with Russia, as well as China, as well as with our NATO allies. It would be one more example, following the defeat of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty last fall, of the United States going alone, regardless of the feelings or the interests of a lot of other countries. So I think it would be a foreign policy disaster if we went ahead at this point, particularly without prior agreement with the Russians. /// END ACT /// Mr. Isaacs says an N-M-D decision should be left to the next administration and after more of the planned 19 tests of the system are conducted and analyzed. He says the threat of rogue missile attack is "exaggerated," and that deploying a faulty system that is not going to work would be - as he put it - "worse than futile" and a waste of money. (Signed) NEB/DAG/TVM 19-Jan-2000 17:42 PM EDT (19-Jan-2000 2242 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .