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NMD decision delayed

Mainichi Shimbun, Editorial, 3 September 2000

U.S. President Bill Clinton announced on Friday that he will leave the decision on whether to build a national missile defense (NMD) system to his successor. Clinton decided not to authorize initial construction of the NMD due to his lack of "confidence in the technology and operational effectiveness of the entire NMD system." But a more important consideration, he admitted, was the lack of progress in discussions with China and Russia, and lack of support from the United States' allies.

We applaud Clinton's decision to put off construction of the NMD due to insufficient consultation with the major powers and America's allies. We hope that the new president who takes office next January will also exercise a similar degree of sensitivity and wisdom.

When the third test of a missile interceptor ended in failure two months ago, we pointed out that technology worship would not ensure that international politics would head in a positive direction. We had urged the United States to avoid a hasty decision on deployment, and to pursue the diplomacy needed to foster a dialogue on this issue and build trust with concerned countries.

The NMD would employ the latest technology to destroy the warheads of nuclear missiles fired by "rogue states" such as North Korea. But the United States' construction of an NMD would violate the provisions of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty of 1972 signed by the United States and Soviet Union. So far, Russia has spurned U.S. attempts to amend the ABM Treaty, and China and European countries have also voiced objections.

The ABM Treaty aimed to prevent the United States and Russia from succumbing to the temptation of launching a first strike by limiting the defense capabilities of both sides and has served as the capstone of the nuclear deterrence policy in the postwar era.

The nuclear deterrence framework that has persisted into the post-Cold War era - and continues to pose a threat to mankind and the Earth in the name of global stability - might even be described as immoral. American supporters of the NMD view it as a means of transcending the postwar nuclear deterrence framework.

But if the U.S. attempts to change the status quo unilaterally without the understanding and consent of Russia and other concerned countries, it would inevitably bring about the end of strategic equilibrium. But global strategic stability depends not only on missiles, and early warning and detection systems, but also on political trust. Herein lies the central dilemma of the NMD.

If the United States were to implement a NMD without undertaking the diplomacy needed to foster a dialogue, there is a strong possibility that China would respond by building up its own nuclear arsenal. There would then be a ripple effect on India and Pakistan.

The proper way to save mankind from the balance of terror is to adopt measures that encourage the five official members of the nuclear club to head steadily down the road of nuclear disarmament. The NMD could neutralize the threat of nuclear weapons. On the other hand, it would defy the will of the international community if it simply served to set off a nuclear arms race in Asia.

From the Mainichi Shimbun, Sept. 3, 2000