IN THE NEWS #437 - Anti-Missile Defense System

By George Grow

This is Steve Ember with the VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS.

The United States Senate voted Thursday not to require expanded testing of a system to defend the nation against missiles. Tests would have been required against measures other countries might use to try to fool the system. The senator who proposed the tests argued the need for what he called "honest, realistic testing." But the Senate rejected the measure by a vote of fifty-two to forty-eight.

There have been three tests of the proposed anti-missile system. Two failed, including the most recent test one week ago. Officials launched a device that was supposed to destroy a missile over the Pacific Ocean. The device, called a "kill vehicle," never left its rocket.

All this is a smaller version of an anti-missile system first proposed by President Ronald Reagan. The idea came to be known as "Star Wars."Since Nineteen-Eighty-Three, American scientists have been trying to develop defenses against a nuclear attack. Work on the project has never been completed. Support in Congress weakened after there was no more threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

But congressional support for a national missile-defense system has grown in recent years. Members of Congress say the system is needed to stop missiles from nations like North Korea, Iran or Iraq. They warn that such countries may be able to attack the United States as early as Two-Thousand-Five.

Engineers say decisions must be made soon for the anti-missile system to be ready in five years. They say work must start by early next year. President Clinton has said he will decide in the next few weeks if the system is to be built. It could cost as much as sixty-thousand-million dollars.

Critics say enemy countries would look for better ways to attack the United States. Leading scientists and peace groups oppose the missile-defense system. So do Russia and China. Even some American allies say it would violate the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The United States and the Soviet Union signed that treaty in Nineteen-Seventy-Two.

President Clinton leaves office in January. Several members of Congress has urged him to let the next president decide if the United States should build a missile-defense system. Republican Senator Chuck Hagel says a delay would permit more careful examination of the issue, including the effect on foreign policy.

A leading Democrat in the Senate, Joseph Biden, also supports delaying a decision. He says breaking the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty would only increase the spread of nuclear weapons in the world.

This VOA Special English program IN THE NEWS, was written by George Grow. This is Steve Ember.

Voice of America Special English