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Thursday, 13 September, 2001, 17:59 GMT 18:59 UK
Missile defence: Will plans be revised?
An early US missile defence test
Missile defence is aimed at "rogue nations" like Iraq
By the BBC's defence correspondent Jonathan Marcus

The dust has barely settled in New York and Washington, and it is still far too early to draw lessons about how to prevent similar attacks in the future.

The Bush administration had already embarked upon a fundamental defence review when it entered office. And there is no doubt that these latest attacks will influence that process.

The attacks in New York and Washington will prove that America was right to feel vulnerable

Critics of the controversial plans for missile defence claim that the horrific attacks in Washington and New York demonstrate that such a system would be irrelevant.

But, strange as it may seem, recent events are unlikely to dent President Bush's insistence that missile defence is essential to protect the United States in the future.

Increased threat

There is no doubt that long-range missile technology is spreading around the world.

But the case for missile defence rests just as much upon a perceived vulnerability, and a sense that some groups or countries will use whatever means they can to wreak havoc in America's cities.

The attacks in New York and Washington will confirm this world view. They prove that America was right to feel vulnerable.

US Patriot missile
US anti-missile systems played a major role in the war with Iraq
And the supporters of missile defence will argue that while this time the weapon was a hijacked passenger airliner, in the future it could be a nuclear or chemical-tipped missile.

Critics will say that this is all just irrelevant to the real challenges faced by the United States.

They will point to the huge price tag for a missile defence system - assuming that it can be made to work at all.

They will argue, as they already have done, that limited funding could be better spent.


This debate is likely to grow in the weeks and months ahead.

The President's Democratic Party opponents on Capitol Hill are already threatening to hold up development money for the project.

There are clearly those who claim that missile defence represents a serious blow to the whole idea of arms control

It is a debate about priorities as much as principle. There are clearly those who claim that missile defence represents a serious blow to the whole idea of arms control.

But others say that even if there is a potential missile threat, there are many other ways in which American cities can be attacked: better, they say, to spend money on intelligence resources or counter-terrorism.

The defence debate in Washington - like so much else - will never be quite the same again.

See also:

03 Sep 01 | Americas
US briefs China on missile defence
13 Jul 01 | Americas
Q & A: Son of Star Wars
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