Tomorrow's threats are today's security issue

Taken from a speechgiven by the President of the United States, Bill Clinton, at Georgetown University, Washington, DC
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The Independent Online

At this moment of unprecedented peace and prosperity - with no immediate threat to our security or our existence, with our democratic values ascendant and our alliances strong, with the great forces of our time, globalisation and the revolution in information technology so clearly beneficial to a society like ours, with our diversity and our openness, and our entrepreneurial spirit - it is tempting, but wrong, to believe there are no serious long-term challenges to our security.

At this moment of unprecedented peace and prosperity - with no immediate threat to our security or our existence, with our democratic values ascendant and our alliances strong, with the great forces of our time, globalisation and the revolution in information technology so clearly beneficial to a society like ours, with our diversity and our openness, and our entrepreneurial spirit - it is tempting, but wrong, to believe there are no serious long-term challenges to our security.

The rapid spread of technology across increasingly porous borders raises the spectre that more and more states, terrorists and criminal syndicates could gain access to chemical, biological or even nuclear weapons, as well as to the means of delivering them - whether in small units deployed by terrorists within our midst, or ballistic missiles capable of hurtling those weapons half-way around the world.

Today, I want to discuss these threats with you, because you will live with them a lot longer than I will. I especially want to talk about the ballistic missile threat. It is real, growing and has given new urgency to the debate about national missile defences, known in popular jargon as NMD.

When I became President, I put our effort to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction at the very top of our security agenda. Since then, we have carried out a comprehensive strategy to reduce and secure nuclear arsenals, to strengthen the international regime against biological and chemical weapons and nuclear testing, and to stop the flow of dangerous technology to nations that might wish us harm.

The principle of deterrence served us very well in the Cold War, and deterrence remains imperative. The question is: can deterrence protect us against all those who might wish us harm in the future? Can we make America even more secure? The effort to answer these questions is the impetus behind the search for NMD. The issue is whether we can do more, not to meet today's threat, but to meet tomorrow's threat to our security.

Since last autumn, we've been conducting flight tests to see if this national missile defence system actually can reliably intercept a ballistic missile. We've begun to show that the different parts of this system can work together.

But I simply cannot conclude, with the information I have before me today, that we have enough confidence in both the technology and the operational effectiveness of the entire NMD system to actually move forward to deployment.

Therefore, I have decided not to authorise deployment of a national missile defence at this time. Instead, I have asked [Defence] Secretary [William] Cohen to continue a robust programme of development and testing. That effort is still at an early stage. Only three of the 19 planned intercept tests have been held so far. We need more tests against more challenging targets, and more simulations before we can responsibly commit our nation's resources to a deployment.

I strongly believe that this is the best course for the United States and, therefore, I also believe that the decision I have reached today is in the best security interest of the United States. In short, we need to move forward with realism, with steadiness and with prudence - neither dismissing the threat we face nor assuming we can meet it while ignoring our overall strategic environment, including the interests and concerns of our allies, friends and other nations.

A national missile defence, if deployed, should be part of a larger strategy to preserve and enhance the peace, strength and security we now enjoy, and to build an even safer world. I have tried to maximise the ability of the next US president to pursue that strategy. In so doing, I have tried to maximise the chance that all you young students will live in a safer, more humane, more positively interdependent world.

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