President Bush's hopes for a missile defense system got a big boost Saturday when the Pentagon staged a successful test of key technology. A missile interceptor successfully hit a mock nuclear warhead over the Pacific Ocean.
President Bush was at his presidential retreat outside Washington when a flash of light far away over the Pacific signaled the successful test. An interceptor sent into space from a tiny Pacific island neatly hit its target, an intercontinental-range missile with a mock warhead launched minutes earlier from an air force base in California. It was the first test of new technology that could become a key component of a missile-defense network. Earlier tests of other elements produced mixed results, two failed and one succeeded.
The President says he is convinced a system can and should be built. He says the nature of the security threat facing the United States has changed since the end of the Cold War, and old treaties just do not fit anymore. But Russia, China and some NATO allies think otherwise, and warn of a new arms race.
Meanwhile, the notion of spending billions to develop missile defense has drawn some criticism on Capitol Hill. Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Senator Joseph Biden said on the Fox Television Network, that the test results are good news, and the Pentagon deserves congratulations. But he indicated he has lingering doubts about the president's proposal to speed up development of a missile defense system.
"Some of us are a little skeptical and some of the people in the scientific community are very skeptical," he warned. "They think this is a way in which to find an excuse to break out of the ABM [anti-ballistic missile] treaty." The top Republican in the Senate is far more enthusiastic about the president's proposal. Mississippi Senator Trent Lott also appeared on the "Fox News Sunday" program.
"You are talking about security here of my grandchildren, and I feel very strongly about this issue," he exclaimed. "We should put this right at the top of the agenda" he added, "and not allow it to be pushed aside by Democrats who really do not want to put the money into defense that is needed for the future security of our children."
The ongoing controversy over missile defense is sure to come up next weekend when President Bush meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both will be in Italy for the annual summit of the world's leading industrialized nations.