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New York Times
July 6, 2000

Nobel Winners Urge Halt To Missile Plan

By William J. Broad

A group of 50 Nobel laureates has signed an open letter to President Clinton urging him to reject a proposed $60 billion missile defense system. The group said the plan would be wasteful and dangerous.

"The system would offer little protection and would do grave harm to this nation's core security interests," the laureates wrote before the system's ground-based interceptor is tested on Friday.

All the signers are American citizens or have worked much of their lives in the United States.

The letter, to be sent today to the White House, was organized by the Federation of American Scientists, a group in Washington that opposes the missile plan.

Although laureates occasionally band together in informal groups to address issues, it is unusual for so many to do so. Federation officials said the assembly might be the largest ever.

Hans A. Bethe, a Nobel winner in physics who was a main architect of the atom bomb, helped write the letter and was the first to sign. The others include 21 who won in physics, 11 in chemistry, 14 in biology or medicine and 4 in economics, representing about half of all living American science Nobel winners.

The one-page letter said scientists independent of the Pentagon have long argued that foes could outwit or overwhelm any such attempt at defense. The letter also noted that North Korea, whose missile program is a main reason that the Pentagon wants to build its system, had recently taken steps toward reconciliation with South Korea. "Other dangerous states will arise," the letter said. "But what would such a state gain by attacking the United States except its own destruction?"

The letter also said building such a system could prove dangerous, saying Russia or China might think that a more expansive missile defense was imminent and respond by building more nuclear weapons and readying missiles for "launch on warning."

A spokesman for the Pentagon said the group, although prestigious, had no access to secret information about the proposed system's feasibility or to intelligence on global missile threats.