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Jamie McIntyre on stepped up missile defense tests

CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre  

The Pentagon says it will greatly increase the frequency of major missile defense tests as it aims to deploy a working missile shield between 2004 and 2008. CNN Military Affairs Correspondent Jamie McIntyre elaborates on the issue.

Q: Is there a consensus in the Pentagon that a missile defense shield can or should be developed? Or is this primarily politically driven?

McINTYRE: There's a pretty broad consensus that missile defense technology can work and is worth developing. The question for most of the military has always been: At what price? How much scarce money will go into missile defense as opposed to other urgent needs?

At the moment with the current budget levels, I think the general feeling is that just about the right amount of money is going toward missile defense. But some are skeptical: If the Bush administration is proceeding with a multi-layer missile defense that involves not only ground-based interceptors but also sea-based systems, an airborne laser and space-based lasers, then down the road that can add up to a substantial amount of money and begin competing with some of the other urgent needs, such as pay benefits, training, ammunition and conventional weapons.

Q: What is the final cost likely to be?

McINTYRE: Nobody knows. The administration is investing more than $8 billion this year to develop missile defenses.

The system the Clinton administration was developing was estimated to cost from $30 billion to $60 billion. With the Bush administration talking about a multi-layered approach that would be much more robust, the estimates exceed $100 billion. It could potentially be very, very expensive.

Critics argue that even if the system works, it's not worth the money because the more likely threat from terrorists or rogue nations is not from ballistic missiles, but from bombs or chemical weapons or a nuclear weapon delivered in a suitcase.

Q: Is the United States on its own in development of the missile defense system or are other countries helping?

McINTYRE: The United States eventually hopes to get the cooperation with some of its allies, particularly with the placement of radars to help track potential missiles from adversaries. But right now this is a U.S.-only project.

Way down the road -- we're talking 10, 15, 20 years from now -- there may come a point when the United States may ask some of its friends to allow interceptor missiles to be based on their territories to make the system more effective.

Q: What is the likelihood that this could become an international missile defense system and not just a national missile defense system?

McINTYRE: The Bush administration has stopped calling it national missile defense. Officials refer to it now as just missile defense, and they insist it will protect not just the United States but also U.S. allies, particularly in Europe.

There are two things the United States wants to do to ease the concerns of allies: One, negotiate an agreement with the Russians so the ABM treaty doesn't have to be scrapped. Two, extend the missile shield so that it protects America's allies being threatened by ballistic missiles from the Middle East or other regions.

Q: How does the administration react to critics who say the missile shield will begin a new arms race?

McINTYRE: They dispute it would result in any arms race. First of all, they say Russia already has thousands of nuclear weapons, and the Russia economy is in such poor shape that Russia really doesn't have the money to pour into new nuclear weapons. They argue that this very limited defense really doesn't affect Russia at all, and it is unlikely that Russia would increase its nuclear weapon production.

China is another story. It has a much smaller number of nuclear weapons, and it is building up its arsenal, as well as its conventional military forces, at a pretty steep rate. But the administration argues that China is going to do that regardless of a missile defense system.

So the administration says missile defense is not going to lead to a new arms race. In fact, they argue the opposite -- that having a missile defense may dissuade some countries from investing in ballistic missiles.

• U.S. Department of Defense

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