March 4, 1999
The Administration shares with Congress a commitment to ensuring the
American people are provided effective protection against the emerging
long-range missile threat from rogue nations. That is why we have since
1996 diligently pursued a deployment readiness program to develop a limited
National Missile Defense (NMD) system designed to protect against such
threats. The Administration has budgeted $10.5 billion between fiscal
years 1999-2005 for this program, including the funds that would be
necessary during this period to deploy a limited NMD.
The Administration strongly opposes S. 257 because it suggests that our decision on deploying an NMD system should be based solely on a determination that the system is "technologically possible." This unacceptably narrow definition would ignore other critical factors that the Administration believes must be addressed when it considers the deployment question in 2000, including those that must be evaluated by the President as Commander-in-Chief. If S. 257 were presented to the President in its current form, the President's senior national security advisors would recommend that the bill be vetoed.
The Administration intends to base the deployment decision on an assessment of the technology (based on an initial series of rigorous flight-tests) and the proposed system's operational effectiveness. In addition, the President and his senior advisors will need both to confirm whether the rogue state ballistic missile threat to the United States has developed as quickly as is currently expected and to re-evaluate the cost of deploying an NMD system.
A decision regarding NMD deployment must also be addressed within the context of the ABM Treaty and our objectives for achieving future reductions in strategic offensive arms through START II and START III. The ABM Treaty remains a cornerstone of strategic stability, and Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin agree that it is of fundamental significance to achieving the elimination of thousands of strategic nuclear arms under these treaties.
The Administration has made clear to Russia that deployment of a limited NMD that requires amendments to the ABM Treaty would not be incompatible with the underlying purpose of the ABM Treaty, i.e., to maintain strategic stability and enable further reductions in strategic nuclear arms. The ABM Treaty has been amended before, and the Administration sees no reason why it should not be possible to modify it again to permit deployment of an NMD effective against rogue nation missile threats.
No other nation shall have a veto over the United States' NMD requirements. America's sovereign rights are fully protected by the supreme national interest clause that is an integral part of the ABM Treaty. The Administration, however, does not believe it should issue ultimatums and stands ready to negotiate any necessary amendments to the treaty in good faith.
S. 257 suggests that neither the ABM Treaty nor the objectives for START II and START III are factors in an NMD deployment decision. Enactment of this legislation would clearly be interpreted by Russia as evidence that the U.S. is not interested in working towards a cooperative solution, one that is in both nations' security interests. This would put at risk a successful negotiation on the ABM Treaty and the hard-won bipartisan gains of START. Our common goal should be to achieve success in negotiations on the ABM Treaty while also securing the strategic arms reductions available through START.
The Administration urges the Senate to modify S. 257 to allow a deployment decision to be based on criteria other than just technical feasibility and to reflect the priority that must be attached to these ABM and START objectives.