Missile system backers still see threat

Posted: Sunday, October 29, 2000

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The United States' relations with North Korea may be warming but supporters of a missile defense system say it still should be built.

North Korea's leader Kim Jong Il told U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright last week that a long-range ballistic missile fired two years ago was the first and last his country planned to launch. The missile shot out over Japan into the Pacific Ocean and provided impetus for the rapid development of a U.S. antiballistic system.

Fort Greely in Delta Junction and Shemya in the Aleutian Islands are leading choices for the site of a national antiballistic missile defense shield.

Supporters say the United States needs a missile defense even if the North Korean leader started waving the Stars and Stripes while singing ''America the Beautiful.''

''I can't rely on that,'' said Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, when asked Friday about the North Korean leader's statement and apparent abandonment of a long-standing missile-building program.

''Beyond that, the national missile defense was not initiated totally because of the threat from North Korea to our two offshore states,'' Stevens said.

The news from North Korea has not changed his mind or anyone else's in the Senate, Stevens said.

''It shouldn't,'' said Baker Spring, a national security researcher at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Kim hasn't formally committed to anything -- not even a ban on further testing of missiles that might be capable of reaching Alaska, Spring said.

''You can base your entire policy on intentions, but that would be unwise, particularly when you're talking about programs that take many years to develop,'' he said.

John Isaacs, president of the Council for a Livable World in Washington, agreed that more than words need to be forthcoming. However, he said, Korea's shift is quite significant and could justifiably derail the U.S. missile defense system.

''North Korea was the prime country cited over and over again by missile defense proponents,'' said Isaacs.

Politicians, including Alaska's delegation, claimed the missiles could strike U.S. soil in Alaska and Hawaii.

That's all changed now, he said.

''The so-called threat to those states, if you really believed it, which I didn't, came from North Korea, not Iran and Iraq,'' Isaacs said.

Joseph Cirincione, a director of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Non-Proliferation Project, said at a news briefing in Washington prior to Albright's Korea trip that the U.S. missile defense system hung in the balance.

''If the Clinton administration can resolve the North Korean missile program, it will largely, though not completely, solve the missile proliferation problem globally,'' Cirincione said. ''The end of North Korean testing and export of missiles will dry up the major well feeding several key missile programs and eliminate the major justification for a national missile defense system here in the United States.''

But even if North Korea stopped testing and exporting now, it could still pose a threat, Spring said.

''The North Koreans can deploy ballistic missiles at any time if they are willing to accept relatively higher degree of risk'' of missile failure, he said.

Accidental launches from Russia are still a potential problem as well, Spring said.

''The basic requirements for national missile defense are still there,'' he said.

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