DATE=5/30/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=MISSILE DEFENSE-TWO NUMBER=5-46402 BYLINE=ED WARNER DATELINE=WASHINGTON CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: The debate in the United States over ballistic missile defense concerns both its technology and its strategic impact. Supporters are sure it will work; critics say it will not. Supporters contend it is crucial to protect the United States against rogue states that may eventually acquire long-range nuclear missiles. Critics say that threat is much exaggerated. In this second segment of a three-part series, V-O-A's Ed Warner reports on the debate. TEXT: The confidence of supporters of ballistic missile defense is matched only by the skepticism of opponents. Jack Spencer, defense and national security analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington research group, is fully confident: /// Spencer Act /// I feel we are technologically able right now to move ahead with missile defense. The only thing stopping us now is a policy decision. Once the policy is made to go forward with missile defense, and all the constraints on testing and developing all missile defense systems are lifted, then our scientists and technicians can move ahead, applying technologies that exist today to field the most effective ballistic missile defense system. /// End Act /// Barry Blechman -- Chairman of the Stimson Center, another Washington research group -- has his doubts about a large-scale system, but is confident a more modest one will work: /// Blechman Act /// The technology is maturing to the point where we can defend ourselves effectively and reliably against very small missile threats, the kind of threat that could be posed by North Korea or Iran in the not too distant future. It is better to defend yourself if the technology is at hand than to try to deter an attack, which is the way we deal with a much larger Russian force. /// End Act /// As one who has closely studied nuclear weapons issues, Mr. Blechman says continuing to rely on deterrence in an increasingly fragmented world with a variety of irrational rulers is highly dangerous. Still, skeptics of missile defense point out that deterrence has worked and ask why should it not work in the future. Does a country want to commit suicide by launching a missile at the United States, they ask. Retaliation would be swift and massive. It would be a crazy act, says Kurt Gottfried, chairman of the Union of Concerned Scientists and professor of physics at Cornell University: /// Gottfried Act /// We would know before it landed where it came from. We have satellites that have missile launch information within less than a minute of launch with very high reliability. So using other means of delivery -- say a cruise missile launched from a merchant ship from a few hundred miles offshore -- would be much more accurate, and we might not know who did it. /// End act /// The missile threat is overblown, says Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment in Washington. He points out that the number of long-range missiles in the world has been reduced by half in the last 15 years. He says a mere handful of states are trying to develop such weapons, and adds that it is a very demanding technology. Even more demanding is the technology to defend against them: /// Cirincione Act /// It is simply too easy for an adversary to fool or to overwhelm the kind of land-based system the president wants to deploy. It attempts to find and target warheads in the cold of outer space when they are surrounded by hundreds of decoy objects. It is a very, very difficult mission. I personally doubt that the system can ever be made to work, even though preliminary test results might indicate that we can do some of the simple tasks. /// End act /// Many physicists emphasize the difficulty of distinguishing among decoys such as dozens of aluminum-coated balloons, only one of which carries a nuclear warhead. Theodore Postol, a weapons expert and physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M-I-T), charges the U-S Defense Department has deliberately covered up test results showing an inability of the system to detect decoys. The Defense Department says Mr. Postol lacks the information to make such a charge. There is pressure to deploy the system before it has been proved to work, says Professor Gottfried. He notes proponents insist: "We have to learn to crawl before we run:" /// Gottfried Act /// That is a fine description of a research and development program, but it is not a description of a deployment program. You do not put a plane into the deployed air force if you are not sure it is going to be able to land after it takes off. You only do that after you have gone through enough testing to make sure the pilot will come back alive -- in peacetime. I'm not even talking in wartime. /// End Act /// Jack Spencer responds that the scientists are not being very scientific when they condemn the system for test failures to date: /// Spencer Act /// They call it a failure because it missed the warhead. Now granted, it did miss the warhead, but that was only the second in a series of 19 tests. What we are talking about is a very complex system. It has to be tested many times. There will be more misses, but with each test you learn and you learn and you learn. /// End Act /// But critics ask if the lesson will ever be learned. (Signed) NEB/EW/JP 30-May-2000 13:39 PM EDT (30-May-2000 1739 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .