Former defense official says Bush wants missile system

Posted: Sunday, April 01, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A former Reagan defense official and state officials say President George W. Bush has indicated he will go ahead with a national missile defense system, and at least a part of that system could be based in Alaska.

''He wants to build defense systems,'' said Henry Cooper, who served as director of the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization under former President George Bush and as President Ronald Reagan's chief negotiator on defense and space talks.

With that in mind, the head of the Alaska National Guard, Brig. Gen. Phil Oates, is preparing plans to provide his troops the technical expertise and training to help operate and maintain the defense system. And Gov. Tony Knowles has appointed a ''missile defense coordinator'' to make sure Alaska workers and contractors get a piece of the action.

The prospects of an increasingly dangerous world populated by rogue nations powered with nuclear arms were discussed Friday by panels of defense experts, officials and journalists in a seminar sponsored by the Institute of the North, Commonwealth North and other groups.

Former Gov. Wally Hickel, the institute's founder, kicked off the talks in a 15th-floor banquet room of the Hilton Anchorage Hotel.

Development of the national defense system stalled during the Clinton years. There were doubts about the viability of the ''hit and kill'' technology needed for one missile to track and knock another from the sky. Russia and America's European allies objected that building the system would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed with the former Soviet Union in 1972.

Cooper said Friday the treaty never made sense to him and makes even less since North Korea launched a missile over Japan in 1998. The treaty bars the U.S. from locating defensive missiles anywhere except North Dakota, and a defense system in North Dakota wouldn't protect Alaska, Hawaii or American interests in the Pacific.

''This treaty is really a major stumbling block,'' Cooper said, adding that he thinks the president should have no qualms about dispensing with it. Cooper said the United States should engage Russia in talks to modify the treaty, perhaps invite that nation to join in a defense network, but be ready to walk away if the conversation isn't productive.

Cooper said he believes Bush and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will move ahead as soon as key positions in the Defense and State departments are filled. All but the top layer of jobs in those key agencies remain occupied by Clinton appointees, Cooper said. ''Rumsfeld wants to have his people, his lieutenants, execute the program.''

Cooper said he favors a ''global defense'' program using satellites and naval vessels, but that he doesn't object to the Alaska-based surveillance and launch facilities that might be located on Shemya Island, at Fort Greely or at Clear Air Force Base.

Wherever the system is built, expediency is key, according to Cooper and Oates, commander of the Alaska Guard and commissioner of the state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.

A go-ahead must come within weeks if barges are to be scheduled for Shemya this summer, they said. And the president's proposal needs to reach Capitol Hill soon to be included in spending plans for the next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Once thought likely to be in place by 2005, the missile defense system now probably can't be operational before 2006. Some defense experts believe nations like North Korea could pose threats to the United States as soon as 2003.

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