World security experts discuss missile defense

by Alice Gomstyn | 11/9/99 6:00am

Several experts in world security discussed the United States' policy on defense-related issues and the possible implementation of a comprehensive ballistic missile defense system during a panel presentation of International Security in Election 2000 last night.

Speaking at the event was Ambassador James E. Goodby, a 35-year U.S. Foreign Service Officer, Jesse James, the executive coordinator of the "Committee on Nuclear Policy" for The Henry L. Stimson Center, and Jack Mendelsohn '56, the vice president and executive director of The Lawyers Alliance for World Security.

All three speakers were in agreement that the creation of a comprehensive ballistic missile defense system would be an unfavorable move on the part of the United States.

According to Mendelsohn, nations such as China would see the deployment of missile defense by the United States as, "an invalidation of their deterrent relationship with the United States."

Currently China has 20 warheads pointed at the United States, Mendelsohn said. Since the United States does not currently have a defense system capable of intercepting these warheads, the Chinese government can feel reasonably secure in its military readiness in regards to the United States.

If missile defense is deployed, the Chinese government, in turn, will likely increase the number of warheads pointed at the United States, Mendelsohn said.

"In the end, I would submit that missile defense is an ill-conceived response to an unspecified threat," Mendelsohn said.

The speakers also stressed the significance of Russia in terms of future global security.

"I think one of the most transcendentally issues our next president will have to face is what to do with Russia," Goody said.

According to Goody, Russia poses a serious threat to the United States because it is the only country with an amount of nuclear weapons sufficient to destroy the entire nation.

Despite its weak economy and high rates of crime and corruption, Goody said that Russia is still a force to be reckoned with.

"If it succeeds in making a transition to democracy then our major worry will be World War III," Goody said.

The speakers were pessimistic about the possibility of lowering the number of nuclear weapons possessed by both the United States and Russia.

Despite a promising summit between Russian President Boris Yeltsin and President Clinton over the summer during which nuclear disarmament was discussed, the talks yielded little action, according to James.

"Word on offensive reductions between the U.S. and Russia are not encouraging," James said.

The speakers also agreed that Congress' rejection of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was another major hurdle in world-wide nuclear weapons reduction.

"The vote down of CTBT sent a unilateralist message to the world," and set a poor example for India and Pakistan -- two countries which have recently become nuclear-capable, James said.

Each speaker gave a five-minute lecture. Afterward, members of the audience were free to ask questions of the panel.

Topics discussed during the question and answer session included the expansion of NATO, the current administration's stance on missile defense and the possible formulation of criteria in regard to U.S. military intervention in troubled areas of the world.

About 25 students and professors gathered for the panel, which was in the Hinman Forum at the Rockefeller Center.

The presentation was jointly sponsored by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Center, The Dickey Center for International Understanding and LAWS.

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