President Clinton warned congressional Republicans Wednesday that their plan to move ahead immediately with a system to shield the nation from missile attack could waste billions in a misguided attempt to thwart a threat that is “more than a decade away.”
“I think we should not leap before we look,” he told graduates at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, arguing that an anti-missile system built today “could be obsolete tomorrow.”
Republican leaders in the House had scheduled a vote today on a plan to deploy a national missile system by 2003, but decided late Wednesday to postpone action in the wake of a Congressional Budget Office report estimating the basic system would cost $10 billion and later stages could total anywhere from $31 billion to $60 billion by 2010. House proponents said they needed more time to address the cost issue and educate wavering members about the need for missile defense.
Republicans, including presumptive presidential nominee Bob Dole, contend a national system is urgently required to guard the United States from long-range missiles - the kind of threat posed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, but which national security planners now judge more likely to come from “rogue nations” such as North Korea or Libya.
But the U.S. intelligence community has concluded rogue states are unlikely within the next 15 years to develop missiles capable of reaching the continental United States, particularly if denied outside assistance.
Clinton has advocated a go-slow approach that would spend about $3 billion over the next five years to research and develop a protective system, but would put off until 1999 or later a decision on whether to build it.