Monday, February 15, 1999

grows for anti-
missile net

North Korea's shot prompts a
U.S. call for a defensive system

By Pete Pichaske
Phillips News Service


WASHINGTON -- The Taepo Dong missile fired by North Korea over the Pacific Ocean six months ago has become the latest shot heard 'round the world.

The missile shot has kindled a hot debate in Washington over defending the nation against a missile attack from a rogue nation -- especially the two states most vulnerable to such an attack, Hawaii and Alaska.

The Clinton administration, in a dramatic shift, has proposed spending $6.6 billion over five years on a system that can detect and shoot down enemy missiles.

"There is a threat, the threat is growing, and it will pose a danger not only to our troops overseas but also to Americans here at home," Defense Secretary William Cohen said last month when previewing the budget proposal.

Cohen said the administration now agrees with those who have warned for years that unfriendly nations like North Korea will be able to hit U.S. territory sooner than expected -- perhaps within the next five years. A high-level report included that warning six months ago, and noted Hawaii and Alaska are particularly vulnerable.

In Congress, meanwhile, lawmakers have introduced proposals urging the Pentagon to speed up plans for a defense system they say is too slow in taking shape.

The Senate Armed Services Committee passed a bill last week that calls for a system "as soon as technologically possible."

Leaders of the House Armed Services Committee have introduced a bill to make a national defense system official U.S. policy.

Hawaii's lawmakers, more attuned to a threat than those elsewhere, have been among the most consistent Democratic supporters of the sometimes controversial anti-missile systems. Last year, for example, Sen. Daniel Akaka and Sen. Daniel Inouye were among only four Democrats in the Senate to vote to speed up deployment of such a system. The proposal failed.

Inouye, in addition, for years has campaigned for more spending on missile defense.

In the House, meanwhile, Rep. Neil Abercrombie, D-Honolulu, is one of about 60 sponsors of the bill committing the nation to a national missile defense that would protect all 50 states. Previous systems have not included either Hawaii or Alaska.

"The situation is of particular concern to Hawaii and our Pacific neighbors because of our proximity to regional hot spots," Abercrombie said in a statement.

"While the capabilities of North Korea and other ballistic missile-equipped nations do not, for the present and near future, match those of U.S. systems for accuracy or reliability, they are or may soon be able to inflict major destruction to Hawaii and other parts of the United States."

While Abercrombie, Inouye and others warn of surprise attacks from rogue nations with unstable leaders, others say those attacks are so unlikely, and the technology needed to counter them so expensive and faulty, that a missile defense system is senseless.

"I'm predisposed to defense systems that work and, based on the test record to date, anti-missile defense systems have a hard time hitting anything," said John Pike, a defense analyst for the Federation of American Scientists, a Washington think tank specializing in arms-control issues. Of 15 tests carried out on an anti-missile defense system in the past 15 years, he said, all but 13 failed.

Critics argue that the best defense is deterrence -- the threat of a massive counterattack that has worked against foes ranging from the former Soviet Union to Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

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