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Nobel Laureates warn against Missile Defense Deployment

Nobel Laureates warn against Missile Defense Deployment
07-06-2000

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The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) today released a letter to the President signed by 50 American Nobel laureates in the sciences stating that under current circumstances, "any movement toward deployment" of a ballistic missile defense system would be "premature, wasteful, and dangerous."

The letter was drafted by Dr. Hans Bethe. Bethe headed the group that designed the world's first nuclear bombs and was a senior advisor to a number of Presidents on nuclear weapons issues, including the design of ballistic missile defense systems facing countermeasures. He is one of the founders of FAS.

The essential point of the letter is that security benefits of the proposed system are at best uncertain while the dangers incurred by a hasty move toward deployment are large and real. It could undermine hard-won arms control agreements with Russia and frustrate efforts to place further limits on offensive missiles. It could stimulate a Chinese missile buildup and encourage dangerous "launch on warning" strategies. And, by appearing to separate the defense of the US from the defense of Europe, deployment could strain our most valuable security alliance.

The letter underscores the scientific community's skepticism about the technical feasibility of defense systems designed to attack weapons in outer space. A system with a high probability of destroying a weapon in space protected by decoys and other countermeasures faces enormous technical challenges. The test record would not be adequate to justify a decision to deploy the proposed system even if the test planned for July 7 achieves its objectives.

"A rush to deploy this system risks rekindling the Cold War arms race" said Henry Kelly, President of FAS. "While preferable to the massive national system proposed by many of the administration's opponents, this system could dangerously compromise US security interests. No emergency forces a hasty decision," said Kelly, "We urge the President not to make any move toward deployment before carefully considering technical and diplomatic alternatives."

The Federation of American Scientists was founded in 1945 by scientists who built the first atomic bomb. FAS addresses public policy issues created by advances in science and technology.

The letter and additional information on missile defense can be found at www.fas.org.

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