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from:
Time.com

Why 'rigged' missile test may help Clinton

June 9, 2000
Web posted at: 10:35 AM EDT (1435 GMT)

(TIME.com) -- The good news for "rogue states" is that the easiest way past America's vaunted missile shield may be to simply release a couple of inflatable toys and tin cans along with the warhead.

*  RELATEDTime.com
TIME Magazine
Bush Does His Vision Thing on Arms Control
 

The New York Times reported Friday that Pentagon documents reveal that the military's tests of the proposed $60 billion missile system are designed to allow the interceptor "kill vehicle" to hit its target despite a basic flaw -- its inability to distinguish between a real warhead and decoys that would be routinely deployed in any missile attack.

Scientific critics such as MIT's Dr. Theodore Pozol, who worked on the Reagan administration's missile defense plans, say that no existing technology is capable of overcoming that flaw.

President Clinton's decision on whether to proceed with the project was to be based, in part, on the results of three tests of the system, the third of which is expected to be held next month -- after the first of these tests failed, the Pentagon lowered the bar by deploying simpler and fewer decoys in the second, which succeeded. Although Pentagon officials said they were adopting a walk-before-you-run approach to developing the system, critics point out that future tests outlined in the document actually get easier.

"They're setting these tests in ways that increase the chances of success," says TIME Pentagon correspondent Mark Thompson. "It's like if you dig a groove into a bowling lane and then roll the ball down that groove and knock down all ten pins. What have you really proved?"

Advocates and critics of the proposed missile defense scheme have clashed over everything from the extent of any missile threat from "rogue states" to the system's costs and its implications for global arms control. But all of that becomes somewhat academic if the system simply doesn't work, which a number of critics and observers believe is the case.

One advocate who may be somewhat relieved by the emerging storm over the testing program is Clinton. Although he's backed the politically popular National Missile Defense plan, he's been unable to coax the Russians into accepting a renegotiation of the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty that forbids its deployment, leaving Washington facing the choice of backing off the system or tearing up a key arms control agreement. When he first endorsed the system in principle, Clinton punted that issue three years forward, pending the outcome of tests. And even though his self-imposed deadline may now be upon him, gaping holes in the testing regime may create just the political cover he needs to leave the dilemma to his successor.

Copyright © 2000 Time Inc.


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