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Bush rolls out missile defense system

First interceptors to be deployed by 2004

From John King
CNN Washington Bureau

Bush is following up on a campaign pledge to deploy a missile defense system.
Bush is following up on a campaign pledge to deploy a missile defense system.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush announced plans Tuesday to deploy within two years the first phase of a limited system designed to protect the United States against a ballistic missile attack.

The initial deployment will serve as a "starting point" for an expanded system that still is being developed, Bush said in a written statement.

"Throughout my administration, I have made clear the United States will take every measure necessary to protect our citizens against what is perhaps greatest danger of all -- the catastrophic harm that may result from hostile states or terrorist groups armed with weapons of mass destruction and the means to deliver them," Bush said.

The initial system will consist of ground-based interceptor missiles based at Fort Greeley, Alaska. The interceptors are designed to destroy any long-range missiles fired at the United States or conceivably at a U.S. ally.

Officials say the plan calls for the first battery of interceptors to be deployed by 2004, with an additional battery scheduled to be in place within a year or two of that.

In addition, a system designed to destroy short-range and medium-range missiles would be deployed aboard Navy ships equipped with the advanced Aegis radar system.

White House press secretary Ari Fleischer said the decision was prompted by the success of recent missile defense tests.

Three of the eight missile defense tests since 1999 have failed, including the most recent one on December 11. But Fleischer said "sufficient progress" has been made since testing began to justify the deployment.

"You have to look at it in the totality of all the tests which allowed them to take this step," he said.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called the system "limited" but "better than nothing."

"I think that anyone who thinks about it understands that if you're at the leading edge of technology, you're going to learn and gain knowledge both by our successes and also by your failures," Rumsfeld said.

As part of the system, Great Britain said it has been asked by the United States to upgrade some early warning radar systems. Denmark and Greenland also have been asked to assist with the deployment of radar and other tracking systems critical to the missile defense system.

'Star Wars defense'

Bush made missile defense a key promise of his 2000 campaign, and early in his administration he was sharply criticized by many Democrats, Russia, China and several key European allies for pushing to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972 so he could pursue the program.

Ultimately, an accord was reached with Russia on the ABM treaty, and the international criticism quieted considerably. Withdrawing from the ABM treaty was a critical step, because the treaty specifically prohibited testing and deployment of missile-defense systems.

Moscow expressed "regret" Wednesday at Bush's decision to deploy the missile defense plan, saying the move could lead to a new arms race. (Full story)

The goal of a missile defense shield dates to the Reagan administration, when the program was labeled by some as "Star Wars" and at times has included talk of space-based systems.

China has been critical of deployment of U.S. warships with missile defense capabilities in Asia, and even more critical of discussion in the United States about whether to sell Aegis-equipped warships to Taiwan and possibly include Taiwan in any U.S. missile defense program.

The United States has not approved such a sale to Taiwan but has said it would consider it down the road depending on the political and military situation.

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