DATE=6/19/2000 TYPE=U-S OPINION ROUNDUP TITLE=DEBATE ESCALATES OVER U-S MISSILE DEFENSE NUMBER=6-11881 BYLINE=ANDREW GUTHRIE DATELINE=WASHINGTON EDITOR=ASSIGNMENTS TELEPHONE=619-3335 CONTENT= INTRO: As the date nears for President Clinton to decide whether to begin building a limited nuclear missile defense system for this country, the editorial debate intensifies. We get a sampling now from __________ in today's U-S Opinion Roundup. TEXT: The United States, concerned about missile attacks from so-called rogue nations, is contemplating building a limited missile defense system, but the issue has many critics, both in this country and abroad. Russia's leaders say this could put the United States in violation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which both nations have ratified. Editorial writers are debating the pros and cons of a new missile defense system: Those who support the U-S proposal say the risk is growing of a missile attack by a so-called rogue state - such as North Korea, despite last week's friendly summit, or Iran, Iraq or someday, possibly, Libya. The launch of even a few missiles with nuclear or biological warheads could do huge damage to this country, the thinking goes, so a limited anti-missile defense is justified. Opponents, even those who agree with the rationale for such a defense system, fear it is beyond the current scientific capability of this country -- at any price. In an admitted oversimplification, they liken the task of trying to shoot down attacking missiles to trying to hit a bullet flying through the air with another bullet. They suggest it is too difficult, especially when an enemy missile could be expected to deploy decoy devices to confuse anti-missile weapons. The controversy moves The Boston Globe to suggest that more independent research needs to be done before the president makes his fateful decision. VOICE: The Clinton administration ought to appoint a committee of distinguished, independent scientists to determine if the Pentagon and defense contractors have been rigging flight tests to conceal fatal flaws in a proposed national missile defense system. At stake is not only the scientific integrity of the process for evaluating the interception of missiles outside the atmosphere, and not only the 60-billion-dollars that stands to be wasted on an anti-missile technology that, in the words of Nira Schwartz, a whistle-blowing former senior physicist at TRW Inc. "does not work, will not work, and cannot work." ... Senator John Kerry summed up the folly of deploying such a dubious missile shield last week in the Senate: "Just think: We could expend billions, upset the strategic balance, initiate a new arms race, and not even get a system that withstands remarkably simple, inexpensive countermeasures." TEXT: In Washington State, The Seattle Times is also worried about risking a new nuclear arms race if the United States goes ahead with its anti-missile shield project. VOICE: President Clinton's talk of deploying a national missile defense overstates the reliability of available technology and risks a new arms race. His announcement that he will decide this fall only makes sense with an eye toward the November presidential election. Beyond trying to outflank Republicans, he has needlessly alarmed enemies and allies, and confounded scientists and military planners. [Mr.] Clinton's 2001 budget supports continued research on a national missile defense system, which is wholly appropriate, and completely consistent with the 1972 U-S - Russia Anti- Ballistic Missile Treaty. Research and limited testing are allowed, deployment is not. What the president proposes is a prohibited radar system in Alaska, backed by 20 interceptor missiles at first, and eventually 100. At the higher number, a reliable working system is designed to stop 20 missiles. All of it is problematic ... [and] difficult ... because the proposed system relies on hit-to-kill technology, not explosives. A missile must hit its target to destroy it, so four missiles are typically fired to knock down one. ... Focusing on a land-based, anti-missile defense is a serious distraction from the biological, chemical and nuclear hazards that can cross our borders in car trunks, aboard container ships or by cruise missile. The U-S does not have a missile defense system that works. Scientists are saying those being tested are fatally flawed. ... The matter is best left to the next president. TEXT: To the Midwest, where the Cleveland (Ohio) Plain Dealer worries about how such a system would upset the balance of power, and could overturn the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with the then Soviet Union. VOICE: President Bill Clinton, a recent convert to the idea of a missile defense system, faces what might be the most significant decision of his presidency: ... Should he order the start of the early-detection radar installation, or should that decision be left to the next occupant of the Oval Office? Administration lawyers, paid to find the answer the president wants, read the ... Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty ... to say he can surely pour the concrete pad [in Alaska's Aleutian Islands] upon which the radar would sit without violating the agreement. ... but they admit they do not know the exact point at which the United States would violate the nearly 30-year-old landmark agreement. So [Mr.] Clinton sits at the arms- control table with what his vice president and would-be successor, Al Gore, might call a "risky" hand. TEXT: The New York Times calls the White House lawyers' interpretation of the treaty "strained," and adds: VOICE: The White House should reject their advice in favor of a more straightforward approach, postponing any construction decision until the serious technological and diplomatic questions surrounding the current missile defense program have been satisfactorily resolved. That approach ... would allow the United States to make sure it was using the most reliable defensive technology while doing minimal harm to arms control. TEXT: Nebraska's Omaha World-Herald wants a system, but one that definitely works. VOICE: A missile defense system in some form ought to be feasible and ought to exist. The seriousness of the threat of a missile attack by a rogue state can't be known ... [but] the devastation would be almost too horrible to contemplate. We are not, however in favor of a sham -- a system that isn't up to the job and costs possibly 60-billion dollars... TEXT: That concludes this sampling of comment on the pending decision by President Bill Clinton to start construction on parts of a controversial limited missile defense system for the United States. NEB/ANG/WTW 19-Jun-2000 15:57 PM EDT (19-Jun-2000 1957 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .