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Bush Pushes for Missile Defense for All 50 States

Politics: Texas governor, joined by ex-GOP top policymakers, calls for cuts in offensive nuclear arms. He says security is no longer based on 'balance of terror.'


WASHINGTON — Surrounded by Cold War veterans, Texas Gov. George W. Bush on Tuesday called for a new post-Cold War arms policy based on an extensive missile defense system combined with reductions in offensive nuclear weapons.

The presumptive Republican nominee said that he would support an antiballistic missile system capable of protecting all 50 states from attack by rogue nations or accidental launches, accompanied by what he said would be deep cuts in the nation's strategic nuclear arsenal.

As Republican luminaries ranging from retired Gen. Colin L. Powell, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, to former secretaries of State Henry A. Kissinger and George P. Shultz looked on, Bush suggested that an effective missile defense system would allow him to reduce nuclear weapons, even if the Russians refused to do the same.

"The Cold War logic that led to the creation of massive stockpiles on both sides is now outdated," Bush said. "Our mutual security no longer depends on a nuclear balance of terror."

Nevertheless, Bush's call for a far more extensive missile defense system than the one being tested by the Pentagon places him in the center of a growing transatlantic controversy.

For different reasons, both Russia and Washington's European allies oppose any change in the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which clearly prohibits both the sort of system advocated by Bush and the far less ambitious plan under consideration by the Clinton administration.

Moscow has expressed concern that a new U.S. missile defense would upset the delicate 40-year-old policy of mutually assured destruction that kept peace between the United States and the Soviet Union. Most European NATO countries oppose an American missile defense because they fear that if U.S. leaders felt safe from missile attack they would be less concerned about the fate of Europe.

Kissinger, who negotiated the 1972 ABM pact, endorsed Bush's defense plan.

Technology Is Still Unproved

The technology itself, to shoot down missiles from the sky, is controversial and unproved. The Clinton administration will decide later this fall whether to go forward with a modest, land-based system that has already failed in several tests.

Clinton is trying, so far without success, to persuade Russia to accept amendments to the ABM Treaty permitting the limited system. Even if Moscow changes course and accepts Clinton's proposals, it would be unlikely to endorse Bush's plan. The treaty permits either party to abrogate it, but that would be a very drastic remedy, which would raise questions about all arms control agreements.

Arms control experts said Bush's approach might erode stability in a post-Cold War era in which Russia, China, France, Britain, India and Pakistan possess nuclear weapons.

Vice President Al Gore's aides immediately attacked Bush's proposal as "irresponsible." They continued their efforts to paint Bush as too inexperienced to handle the nation's affairs abroad, a tact they have turned to increasingly in recent days as Bush has focused on foreign policy.

Gore supports the Clinton administration's vision of a limited missile defense system based in Alaska. He also supports the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, which Bush opposes. The Senate last year refused to ratify the pact.

"Abrogating the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty for an untested 'Star Wars' system and opposing the comprehensive test ban treaty is irresponsible and unrealistic," said Doug Hattaway, a spokesman for Gore, the presumptive Democratic nominee. Bush "may have surrounded himself with foreign policy heavyweights, but his irresponsible agenda shows he lacks the depth to keep America safe and secure."

Bush said he would direct the Pentagon to conduct a thorough review of the U.S. offensive missile arsenal and recommend a level of post-Cold War armaments. He implied that the number would be below the levels called for in the START II Treaty, which required the countries to reduce their arsenals to between 3,000 and 3,500 warheads.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff recently warned that it would be dangerous to cut warheads to the 1,500 level suggested by Russia for START III negotiations, which are expected to begin later this year. The U.S. objective for START III is to reduce warheads on both sides to between 2,000 and 2,500.

Bush's top foreign policy advisor said it was "conceivable--though unlikely" that his proposed review would recommend a level below 1,500.

Bush also said it was too early to spell out the shape or cost of his missile defense plans but said he would pursue all options, including a space-based system improved from the controversial "Star Wars" model envisioned by former President Reagan.

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