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Monday, June 12, 2000

Kauai range has key
role in missile defense

Bullet The issue: The Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai is playing an important role in missile defense testing.

Bullet Our view: This mission should protect the facility from Pentagon base-closure efforts, which is important for Kauai's economy.

The Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai was in danger of becoming a victim of the Pentagon's base-closing program a few years ago. No more. The range has become the primary test facility for the Theater Ballistic Missile Defense program.

With missile defense a controversial but prominent item on the national defense agenda, the Kauai facility should be in business for quite a few years. This is important for Kauai's economy because the facility is a major employer.

Besides the economic impact, Hawaii has a particular concern with missile defense because North Korea has reportedly developed a missile with the range to strike the islands.

Last week the Navy conducted what it called the most complex missile test exercise in history at the missile range. The test was described as a milestone in the missile program, designed to shoot down missiles aimed at ships or troops ashore. Its primary purpose was to test the ability of warships to track missiles and set up firing solutions through a computer program.

Of course, missile defense is not a done deal and its critics are campaigning vigorously to keep the more ambitious intercontinental system from deployment.

One accusation is that the flight tests have been rigged to hide the fact that the system cannot distinguish between enemy warheads and decoys. Two critics charged that the Pentagon substituted simpler and fewer decoys after the system failed to distinguish between warheads and decoys in its first two flight tests.

But was this a matter of rigging the tests to ensure successful results? Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, the program director, denied there was any deception. He said the program would produce weapons that could shoot down crude warheads launched by inexperienced powers such as Iran, Iraq or North Korea.

There are also strong objections that missile defense could spur China and perhaps other powers to step up their missile programs in order to have the ability to overwhelm a defense system.

However, Russian President Vladimir Putin hinted in his meeting with President Clinton that Moscow might be willing to reach an accommodation on the missile defense issue.

Clinton intends to make a decision on deployment of the program this year but it might be wiser to leave that decision to the next president. Whoever wins the presidential election will have to consider both the technical feasibility and strategic complications of deployment. It would be folly to deploy a system that didn't work or that triggered a backlash that nullified its effectiveness. But a workable system that would not destabilize the world might be possible.

Meanwhile missile defense development is keeping the Pacific Missile Range busy.

Hope for progress
on campaign spending

Bullet The issue: Senate approval of a campaign-spending reform measure requiring more disclosure offers hope for eventual passage.

Bullet Our view: This is one reform proposal that doesn't seem to have problems with free speech rights and would represent an improvement.

SOME proposals for campaign spending reform could run afoul of free speech rights. But the measure that was the subject of votes in Congress last week doesn't seem to have that problem and would be valuable.

The proposal, to impose disclosure requirements for donations and spending on secretive political organizations, was narrowly defeated in the House after a similar bill won passage in the Senate. However, the 216-202-vote rejection came after the GOP House leadership agreed to permit a vote on similar legislation by the end of the month.

The current campaign has seen a proliferation of groups that would be affected by the reforms. Some support Republicans, others Democrats. Unlike these new groups, parties and political action committees register with the Federal Election Commission, which requires them to disclose their donors and spending. The proposed reforms would close this loophole.

Prospects for eventual passage seem fairly bright. The House leadership in the past has voiced support for more disclosure. The prospective presidential nominees of both major parties, Vice President Al Gore and Gov. George W. Bush, favor the idea.

The Senate attached its measure to a defense spending bill after turning back a Republican effort to kill the measure. Fourteen Republicans joined most Democrats in keeping the proposal alive on a 57-42 vote.

Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Russell Feingold, D-Wis., and Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., who helped lead the effort, argued that the victory will build momentum for broader efforts to overhaul the campaign finance system.

"This is not the end. This is the beginning," said McCain, who, with the others, has worked for years on campaign finance reform.

Opponents argued that the measure should cover other nonprofit organizations that provide political issue messages. Under current law, they also are not required to name their donors. But unlike the groups affected by the proposed reform, they must release their tax returns to the public and face limits on their political activity.

Probably the issue-message groups should also be required to identify their donors. But even without their inclusion, this proposal represents a step forward in campaign spending reform.

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John M. Flanagan, Editor & Publisher

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A.A. Smyser, Contributing Editor

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