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HR 4 -- 03/17/99

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March 17, 1999

H.R. 4 - National Missile Defense Policy Bill
(Rep. Weldon (R) PA)

The Administration shares with Congress a commitment to ensuring the American people are provided effective protection against the emerging long-range ballistic missile threat from rogue nations. That is why we have diligently pursued since 1996 a deployment readiness program to develop a limited National Missile Defense (NMD) system designed to protect against such threats. The Administration has budgeted $10.5 billion between Fiscal Years 1999-2005 for this program, including the funds that would be necessary during this period to deploy a limited NMD system.

Nonetheless, the Administration strongly opposes H.R. 4 as reported for two key reasons. First, the bill suggests that a decision to deploy an NMD system has already been made. Second, it does not make clear that the NMD would be limited and focused on protecting the United States against rogue state ballistic missile threats, as opposed to a calculated large-scale attack by an existing nuclear power.

The Administration will consider the deployment question in 2000, based on a number of critical factors, including those that must be evaluated by the President as Commander-in-Chief. The Administration intends to base the deployment decision on an assessment of the technology (based on an initial series of rigorous flight-tests) and the proposed system's operational effectiveness. In addition, other factors that will be evaluated are whether the ballistic missile threat to the United States from rogue states has developed as quickly as is currently expected and the cost of deploying an NMD system.

Finally, a decision regarding NMD deployment must also be addressed within the context of the ABM Treaty and our objectives for achieving future reductions in strategic offensive arms through START II and START III. The ABM Treaty remains a cornerstone of strategic stability, and Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agree that it is of fundamental significance to achieving the elimination of thousands of strategic nuclear arms under these treaties.

The Administration has made clear to Russia that deployment of a limited NMD that requires amendments to the ABM treaty would not in any way challenge the underlying purpose of the ABM Treaty, i.e., to maintain strategic stability and enable further reductions in strategic nuclear arms. The ABM Treaty has been amended before, and the Administration sees no reason why it should not be possible to modify it again to permit deployment of an NMD effective against rogue nation ballistic missile threats. No other nation shall have a veto over the United States' NMD requirements. America's sovereign rights are fully protected by the supreme national interests clause that is an integral part of the ABM Treaty. The Administration, however, does not believe it should issue ultimatums, and stands ready to negotiate any necessary amendments to the treaty in good faith.

H.R. 4 could be read as suggesting that neither the ABM Treaty nor our objectives for START II and START III are factors in an NMD deployment decision. Enactment of this legislation could be interpreted by Russia as evidence that the U.S. is not interested in working towards a cooperative solution, one that is in both nations' security interests. This would put at risk a successful negotiation on the ABM Treaty and the hard-won bipartisan gains of START. Our common goal should be to achieve success in negotiations on the ABM Treaty while also securing the strategic arms reductions available through START.

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