Dispelling the Missile-Defense Myth

I was disappointed to read the opinion-page article " 'Defend America Act' Is Not the Right Nuclear Defense," June 18.

For years, missile-defense opponents have evaded serious debate on the need to protect our nation against missile threats by focusing discussion on the limitations of a space-based, Reagan-era "star wars" system. The author perpetuates the mythical notion that this is the only option we have to provide a missile defense by falsely equating the Defend America Act with a "star wars" sequel. In reality, the Defend America Act calls for the deployment of a missile-defense system capable of protecting the United States from only a handful of ballistic missiles.

Defending against a limited threat does not require a multilayered, space-based system, and the bill does not mandate the deployment of such a system. According to Pentagon officials, we can provide this kind of defense from a single site at minimal cost - while remaining fully in compliance with the 1972 Antiballistic Missile Treaty.

With Russian soldiers underfed, underpaid, and highly demoralized, there is an increased threat of an accidental or rogue launch of a ballistic missile. Similarly, power companies recently cut off the power to a Russian military base - a base that is also the strategic command center for Russia's nuclear-weapons arsenal. North Korea's development of a missile that may be capable of striking American cities soon after 2000 is yet another potential threat.

We are already aware that China has sold ring magnets to Pakistan and that Russian accelerometers were intercepted en route to Iraq. Additionally, Russia is actively marketing to foreign countries converted, mobile SS-25 ballistic missiles as space-launch vehicles for satellites. If one of these long-range SS-25 missiles falls into the wrong hands, a rogue nation may be capable of attacking US cities.

We do not have to spend "tens of billions" of dollars to defend against these threats. The Congressional Budget Office released a new report estimating that deployment of a limited national missile-defense system by 2003 can be done for as little as $4 billion and as much as $13 billion. The US has already spent billions of dollars on missile-defense research, and many technologies are now mature and ready to be put into place.

If we wait until a rogue nation obtains a missile before we decide to deploy a missile defense, there is a real chance that it may be too late. With the lives of millions of Americans at stake, this is not a risk that the Republican Congress is willing to take.

Rep. Curt Weldon (R)


Seventh District, Pennsylvania

Justice in Rwanda

The opinion-page article "Rwanda's Refugee Crisis Is Unique," July 2, notes the "desperation" of policymakers in seeking solutions to this vast displacement of more than 1.5 million persons. Yet it does not adequately explore an approach that deserves more study and consideration: a screening program to identify the leaders of the 1994 genocide who currently inhabit the camps.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, in coordination with staff of the prosecutor's office of the international tribunal and human rights groups, should consider segregating those identified as having led the genocide and providing them with a fair opportunity to rebut a preliminary finding of culpability.

The legal authority for this proposal is quite clear under the international refugee treaties. A refugee may be excluded from protection if "there are serious reasons for considering that" he or she has committed a "crime against peace, a war crime, or a crime against humanity" or "is guilty of acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations." Genocide clearly meets this standard. The US government, for example, developed criteria and procedures to exclude from resettlement Cambodian asylum seekers who were involved with the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s and '80s. Moreover, Canadian adjudicators have had considerable recent experience in applying the treaty-based exclusion clauses. These experiences could be a resource in the design of an approach with respect to Rwanda.

Arthur C. Helton

New York

Director of Migration Programs

Open Society Institute

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