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US Senators Express Contrasting Views on Missile Defense - 2001-07-31

In its fourth attempt to hit a ballistic missile with another missile in space, the United States succeeded. The test was limited, but Republicans were encouraged to move ahead with the anti-missile program, while Democrats remain doubtful and want to cut its funding. During a recent U.S. Senate hearing, contrasting views were sharply expressed.

The successful test is a boost for the whole anti-missile program, said Lt. General Ronald Kadish, director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization. "We certainly have moved the problem of missile defense from invention, which is very difficult, into one of engineering. In that sense, we are making tremendous progress. But the testing we have done to date is part of a longer journey to pull these things together."

Republican Senator Jesse Helms noted that skeptics say a resourceful enemy could outwit any defense. In the first instance, it could build enough missiles to overcome the defense.

General Kadish, replied that a layered defense may be the answer to that. "A layered system attacks in the boost phase, in the mid-course phase, and potentially in the terminal phase, and should we be able to build it as we envision, would be a counter-counter measure," he said. "If we are able to take attacking shots at each one of those phases and multiple shots within those phases, it is a much more successful defense, and in the end the counter-measure problem is diminished."

Democratic Senator John Kerry said that although he favors a limited missile defense, he cannot understand why a so-called rogue nation, Iran or North Korea, for instance, would launch a nuclear missile against the United States when it would face instant retaliation and indeed obliteration.

Senator Kerry said, that being the case, he was disturbed that the Bush Administration seemed to be abandoning the theory of mutual assured destruction. "It is absolutely inconceivable," he said, "that we have, in fact, moved away from mutually assured destruction because all adversaries that hold nuclear weapons that could be fired at us will still have sufficient numbers of warheads that they will overwhelm the limited system you are contemplating deploying."

Douglas Feith, undersecretary of defense for policy, replied that mutual assured destruction is basically a relic of the Cold War. It worked as a theory then, but is not relevant today. "That entire concept of mutually assured destruction is related integrally to the hostile relationship that existed between the United States and the Soviet Union," he said. "The United States and Russia now do not have a relationship that is hostile in any degree at all."