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US Missile Defense Plan Draws Criticism - 2001-12-27

The Bush administration announced late this year that it is withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The decision follows two successful tests of a key anti-missile defense system.

The first cheers for the program came in July from the control room on tiny Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific, where a so-called "kill vehicle" interceptor roared off its launch pad and successfully hit a mock warhead fired off earlier from California aboard a ballistic missile.

Reporters following the event on large-screen monitors at the Pentagon heard the cheers and saw a blinding white flash of light captured by an airborne camera at the moment of interception.

A short time later, the head of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, Air Force Lieutenant General Ronald Kadish, appeared at the Pentagon and confirmed the success. "These tests take many weeks to deduce the data but we believe we have a successful test in all aspects at this time," he said.

The $100 million test was the first of two successful intercepts this past year - a reversal of fortunes that heartened experts after two earlier failures.

It was shortly after the second success in December that the Bush administration announced plans to formally withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

President Bush has called that treaty, signed with the Soviet Union, an outdated relic of the Cold War. It barred nationwide missile defenses, leaving both countries vulnerable to attack, a vulnerability seen as a deterrent to war.

But Mr. Bush argues that in the 21st century, there is a need for protection against the threat of a missile attack not from Russia, but from a rogue state like North Korea or Iraq or possibly even a terrorist group.

Still, Russia, along with China and some U.S. allies in Europe, fear the U.S. plan for missile defenses could be destabilizing and trigger a new arms race. Initial Russian and Chinese reaction was unfavorable.

Nevertheless, the Bush administration is pressing ahead.

General Kadish has announced plans for several more tests over the next 18 months. He says a long road still lies ahead in the U.S. effort to develop a reliable, effective missile defense system.

The Pentagon wants to start construction in the new year on a new missile defense test site in Alaska - a site seen as one that would allow more realistic testing. In addition, the Alaska site would ultimately become part of an operational missile defense system.

Part of VOA's Year End Series for 2001