Friday, March 19, 1999

Missile defense OK
is victory for Inouye

Bullet The issue: Pushing development of a national missile defense system
Bullet Our view: The need cannot be ignored

HAWAII'S Daniel Inouye was among the leaders in the struggle to win Senate approval of a national missile defense system. The upper house's approval of a bill to commit the Pentagon to building a national defense against limited ballistic missile attack "as soon as technologically possible" came on a lopsided 97-3 vote, but that tally doesn't tell the whole story.

The House of Representatives followed the Senate, voting 317-105 to approve a bill committing the government to a missile defense system.

In past years Inouye and his Hawaii colleague, Daniel Akaka, were among only a handful of Democrats supporting the cause.

Both Inouye and Akaka were concerned that Hawaii is especially vulnerable to missile threats from rogue nations in Asia, particularly North Korea. Moreover, U.S. policy on missile defense excluded Hawaii and Alaska -- which no representative of Hawaii could tolerate.

An important factor in the victory was President Clinton's withdrawal of a long-standing threat to veto the measure. Clinton had budgeted $10.5 billion for the missile defense program over the next five years but had not wanted to make a decision until June 2000 on whether to deploy such a system.

Democrats said an amendment pledging that the United States would continue to seek nuclear weapons reductions in Russia and agreement not to scrap the 1972 anti-ballistic missile treaty, among other changes, made the legislation acceptable to Clinton.

However, it is obvious that disclosures of North Korean missile tests and Chinese nuclear espionage changed the political climate.

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, chairman of a commission investigating the problem, said that from 25 to 30 nations now have, or are in the process of trying to obtain, ballistic weapons capability.

"It's not an accident that these countries are spending a great deal of money" in developing such weapons, Rumsfeld said.

Democrats seemed eager to defuse criticism on national security grounds that could figure in the next election campaign. Democratic leaders told the White House they did not know if they could sustain a veto this year.

To be sure, the mandate to build an anti-missile system "as soon as technologically possible" does not mean anytime soon. The Pentagon figures the earliest a system could be ready is 2005, and given the history of the program's struggles that date seems improbably early.

The system now envisioned is designed to stop a single missile or just a few, probably fired at the United States accidentally or by a rogue nation. That's a far cry from former President Reagan's sweeping "Star Wars" proposal, and there is considerable doubt that even the more limited system would be effective.

But even a limited missile defense is worth pursuing. True, terrorists can attack by other means. But when potential enemies equip themselves with missiles that can strike American cities, the United States must try to defend itself.


Leasehold conversion

Bullet The issue: Should leasehold conversion law benefit wealthy condominium owners?
Bullet Our view: This case should prompt second thoughts about the law

WHEN extension of the mandatory conversion law to leasehold apartments was being debated, opponents argued that it would merely benefit one category of middle-class or affluent people -- condominium owners -- over another -- landowners.

The City Council approved the extension in 1991, requiring owners of the land under apartment buildings to sell the land to the condo owners. Previously the law applied only to single-family homeowners. Now the Council is seeing the consequences, and some members don't like them.

The case at hand involved the proposed condemnation by the city of the land under a condominium unit at the plush Kahala Beach apartments. Last year the City Council approved condemnation of the land under 25 other units in the same apartment complex.

The owners of the condo are Martin and Mary Anderson. He is a prominent local attorney. They own several properties elsewhere but no other fee-simple property on Oahu, which appears to qualify them under the mandatory conversion law.

Councilmembers John DeSoto and Donna Mercado Kim objected to the condemnation, arguing that the Andersons were too wealthy to receive condemnation benefits. Kim said the law's purpose was to benefit people "who had no property, who had no homes, who were in danger of losing their only home."

DeSoto said he believed the law was intended to help "those who had never owned a piece of property."

Councilman Duke Bainum countered that the law does not disqualify people on the basis of their economic status. Would the police refuse to respond if a rich person was robbed, he asked.

In this case, the landowner is the Bishop Estate, which certainly can't be considered poor. However, despite the huge controversy over its trustees' conduct, it is a charitable trust with an important mission -- education of Hawaiians. Some of the owners of the land under other condominiums are not particularly wealthy. As in the case of the Andersons, some of the condo owners seeking condemnation are.

This case should provoke second thoughts about the advisability of government using its condemnation power to intervene in these disputes. The condo owners are not always poor and exploited.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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