USIS Washington 

21 January 1999


(But deployment is not planned before the year 2005)  (960)
By Wendy S. Ross
USIA White House Correspondent

Washington -- A member of the National Security Council staff has
confirmed that the United States is developing a limited national
missile defense system to counter possible threats from rogue states.

Robert Bell told a January 21 White House briefing that the United
States is concerned "with the recent accelerated trends in the threat"
relating to long-range missile capability in the programs of rogue
states, particularly North Korea and Iran -- "missiles that have the
potential to reach our homeland if launched."

North Korea, in its three-stage missile test last year, he said,
"tried but failed to put a satellite in orbit." But, Bell noted, that
test demonstrated a rudimentary technical capability to move a missile
to ranges that could threaten Hawaii.

In addition, North Korea is exporting its missile capability. "We
cannot assume that if North Korea perfects a three-stage ICBM capable
of striking the American homeland with a meaningful military warhead
... that North Korea will not seek to sell that capability to other
states," he said.

Bell made clear that the missile defense program the United States is
now developing is different from the so-called "Star Wars" system
President Ronald Reagan proposed in 1983.

Reagan was talking about "an extremely capable and robust space-based
total shield defense.... He was projecting the vision of a defense
that could stop tens of thousands of incoming warheads from a
determined adversary like the Soviet Union."

According to Bell, the current effort is to develop "an extremely
limited" land-based defense that designed primarily to provide defense
from a rogue state "that gets a handful of missiles that it tries to
blackmail us with or use against us in a crisis."

He said that "for the last three years the United States has been
committed to the development by the year 2000 of a limited national
missile defense system."

Bell noted that Defense Secretary Cohen has announced "a restructuring
of this program that would orient the developmental efforts towards
fielding the system in the year 2005, instead of 2003 as previously
envisioned, assuming a go-ahead deployment decision were to be made in
the summer of the year 2000."

But he said that "no decision has been taken on whether to proceed
with deployment." This decision, he said, will not be made until the
year 2000 or later, "at which we will again assess our evaluation of
the threat, review the program, in terms of its technology, its
maturity, and program risk as of that date."

Bell said that when the President's next six-year budget for the
Pentagon is presented to Congress in a few weeks, it will include
nearly $7 billion "to cover the contingency that we decide on

Adding this money "does not represent a change in policy," he said.
"We are adding this money to protect the deployment option in the
event a decision is made in the year 2000 or later to field this
system," Bell said.

"I want to emphasize this point," he said. "No decision has been taken
on whether to proceed with deployment. A decision on whether to deploy
a limited national missile defense will not be made, as I said, until
the year 2000 or later," when, Bell said, "we will again assess our
evaluation of the threat, review the program in terms of its
technology and its maturity and program risk as of that date,
assessing flight tests that we hope to have conducted by that date,
and further refine our cost estimate."

He also pointed out that all issues involving a national defense
missile program must be addressed within the context of the ABM
(Anti-Ballistic Missile) Treaty.

"The ABM Treaty remains in the view of this administration a
cornerstone of strategic stability and the United States is committed
to continued efforts to strengthen the treaty and enhance its
viability and effectiveness," he said.

Bell said the development of this limited national missile defense
system is in full compliance with the ABM Treaty, but deployment "may,
or may not," require modifications to the Treaty.

"We have not made a proposal to negotiate ABM amendments, as some have
reported, because as Secretary Cohen reported yesterday, we have not
yet made determinations as to what specific amendments might be
required to accommodate the various options that are being considered
in the Pentagon with respect to the final architecture of this
defensive system," Bell said.

"The Secretary did not threaten to withdraw from the Treaty, as has
been reported. The Secretary merely noted that the ABM Treaty as in
the case with every arms control treaty retains a clause that gives
that option," Bell said.

The United States has been in touch with the Russian government at
every level throughout the development of this limited missile defense
option, Bell emphasized, and he said Secretary of State Albright will
discuss the proposal with Russian officials on her upcoming trip to

Earlier in the day, White House Press Secretary Joe Lockhart told
reporters that the United States continues "to work in good faith to
amend the ABM Treaty to provide any necessary modifications in the
current restrictions. The development of the deployment will be
continued to be carried out in strict compliance with the Treaty."

He said President Clinton has sent a letter to Russian President Boris
Yeltsin "just to fill him in on the budget announcements we have been
making over the last few weeks," and to reassure Yeltsin that the
United States remains committed to the ABM Treaty, and remains
committed "to staying engaged on any modifications that may need to be