FAIRBANKS (AP) -- U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden opened hearings Tuesday into national security threats and how to respond to them, and he led off by questioning the wisdom of building a system to stop enemy missiles when the military has described them as the least likely threat.
Two Bush administration officials told Biden at the Washington, D.C. hearing that the missile threat nevertheless should be met. The United States should get out of or modify the treaty that constrains its ability to do so, they said.
Under the administration's missile defense plan, Fort Greely near Delta Junction is the prime candidate to host rockets designed to knock down incoming enemy warheads. Land clearing and road improvement work at Fort Greely could start as early as next month using money already approved by Congress. The administration has asked for more money to start building at least five silos there next summer.
Biden, D-Del., is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relation Committee. He took over from Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., when Senate control shifted to Democrats last month.
John Bolton, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, told the committee that the ABM Treaty was signed when no countries outside the United States and the Soviet Union had nuclear missiles. In such a situation, the treaty made sense.
Two things have changed, he said. First, the Soviet Union is gone and its successor, Russia, is in no way an enemy. Second, numerous other countries, including a few openly hostile toward the United States, are developing intercontinental ballistic missiles armed with weapons of mass destruction.
Biden said the military Joint Chiefs of Staff's own assessment ranked attack by ICBM as the least likely threat facing the United States.
Proponents also justify a missile defense system as a way to stop other countries from effectively threatening nuclear attack on the United States if it intervened in some overseas conflict.
Biden, repeating arguments he has offered in presentations to private groups over the past few months, declared that idea ''preposterous.''
The problem, he said, is that no missile shield will provide 100 percent protection to U.S cities. He got the other witness on the day's opening panel, Gen. Ronald Kadish of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, to confirm that for him.
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