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Anti-Missile System Won't Work

Clinton proposal resurrects Star Wars failure

John Pike
USA Today 27 January 1999

Bill Clinton's new missile defense plan has the same fatal flaw as Ronald Reagan's Star Wars program it won't work. Fifteen years, one war, over a dozen failed tests and $60 billion later, you would think that folks would start to catch on that shooting down high-speed missiles is a lot easier in the movies than real life.

Since Ronald Regan announced his Star Wars vision in 1983, the USA has expended over $60 billion on missile defense research, half again as much as we spent on the Stealth Bomber, without producing a single usable weapon. This lavish expenditure has yielded a measly fifteen flight tests of technology less sophisticated than needed for national missile defense. A grand total of two of these fifteen tests actually succeeded in hitting the incoming missile, and every test since 1992 has failed. The Army's THAAD interceptor, which was supposed to be operational by now, has failed in five consecutive attempts to hit even slow Scud missile targets.

This miserable performance comes as no surprise when one recalls the dismal performance of the Patriot missile in the 1991 Gulf War. Patriot looked good on TV, but even the Army later admitted that it missed more Scud missiles than it hit.

In 1991 Saddam Hussein had other Scud missiles, tipped with poison gas warheads, that he did not use. He knew that if he did, the American response would annihilate his regime. Despots such as Saddam are cruel, and at times reckless. But Saddam clings to power not through carelessness or stupidity, but through a strong instinct for self preservation.

The USA spends over $30 billion each year maintaining and modernizing thousands of nuclear weapons. Even Saddam understands that we could be provoked into using these weapons, with devastating consequences.

In 1972 we signed the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in recognition of our inability to construct workable anti-missile systems. We are no closer to a workable system today. It is surely too soon to junk the ABM Treaty and risk throwing away the other arms control agreements that will reduce the number of potentially accident-prone Russian nuclear weapons. And all the attention diverted to the Star Wars debate will simply detract fromt he far more urget matter of the President's new initiatives for responding to terrorist threats.