Clinton Delays Decision On National Missile Defense System

By Jim Burns | July 7, 2008 | 8:26 PM EDT

( - Saying it's the best course and in the best security interests of the United States, President Bill Clinton announced Friday he is delaying a decision to deploy a National Missile Defense system. That decision, according to Clinton, will be left up to the next President.

Clinton announced the decision during a foreign policy address at Washington's Georgetown University.

"Though the technology for NMD is promising, the system as a whole is not proven. After the initial tests succeeded, our two most recent tests failed for different reasons to achieve an intercept. Several more tests are planned. They will tell us whether NMD can work reliably under realistic conditions. Critical elements of the program such as the booster rocket for the missile interceptor have yet to be tested," the President said.

Clinton thinks too many questions about NMD have yet to be resolved, especially those affecting countermeasures to the system.

"In other words, measures by those firing the missiles to confuse the missile defense into thinking it is hitting a target, when it is not," Clinton explained. "There is a reasonable chance that all these challenges can be met in time. But I simply cannot conclude with the information I have today that we have enough confidence in the technology and the operational effectiveness of the entire NMD to move forward to deployment. Therefore, I have decided not to authorize deployment of a National Missile Defense at this time."

"Instead, I have asked [Defense] Secretary [William] Cohen to continue a robust program of development and testing. That effort still is at an early stage. Only 3 of the 19 planned intercept tests have been held so far. We need more tests against more challenging targets and more simulations before we can responsibly commit our nation's resources to deployment. We should use this time to insure that NMD, if deployed would actually enhance our overall national security," Clinton said.

Clinton's decision means the 2005 target date for completion of NMD will be delayed for at least a year.

Russia objects to the NMD program because it believes the missile defense would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty.

"We should not move forward until we have absolute confidence that the system will work and until we have made every reasonable diplomatic effort to minimize the cost of deployment and maximize the benefit not only to America's security but to security of law-abiding nations everywhere." Clinton said.

Vice President Gore, in a statement, said he agreed with Clinton's decision.

"The President's decision allows time for additional testing of our NMD system. I welcome the opportunity to be more certain that these technologies actually work together properly. As the president said, there are 16 additional intercept tests already scheduled. Passage of more time also allows for more clarity about the costs of the system," Gore said.

"If I am elected president," Gore continued, "I would also plan to use the extra time created by President Clinton's decision for a serious bipartisan dialogue about defensive systems aimed at establishing a consensus that clearly does not exist at the present time."

Gore's opponent in this year's presidential race, Texas Republican Governor George W Bush, said he will do things differently if elected president.

"As president, I intend to develop and deploy an effective missile defense system at the earliest possible date to protect American citizens from accidental launches or blackmail by rogue nations. Today's announcement that President Clinton will leave this unfinished business for the next president underscores the fact that for seven years, the Clinton-Gore administration has failed to strengthen America's defenses," Bush said.

Bush continued, "President Clinton and Vice President Gore first denied the need for missile defenses, then delayed. Now they are leaving this important unfinished business for the next president, and I welcome the opportunity to act where they have failed to lead, by developing and deploying effective missile defenses to protect all 50 states and our friends and allies."