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Saturday, 8 July, 2000, 12:29 GMT 13:29 UK
Analysis: Test failure fuels scepticism
Test of the US missile defence system
Spectacular, but test failures are eroding support for the system
By the BBC's Jon Leyne

It is a strange feature of this missile test that it suits many people that it failed.

President Clinton is widely believed only to have started the programme for political reasons.

The Republicans want it, and the Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore is seen as vulnerable on defence issues.

The missile shield being tested is designed just to protect the United States from a limited missile attack from what used to be called "rogue states" - particularly North Korea.

But around the world there is a fear even such a limited aim could endanger the nuclear balance.

Russia has refused to agree to change the anti-ballistic missile treaty - which bans exactly this kind of system in order to maintain a balance of terror.

New arms race

There is a danger that China could respond by increasing its small nuclear arsenal, with further repercussions in Pakistan and India.

The European Nato allies are sceptical of the technology, doubtful of the threat, and fearful of the diplomatic repercussions.

Even Mr Clinton's Republican opponents, who do believe in a missile shield, say the system being tested is deeply flawed.

'Kill device' of the proposed missile defence system
Many of the project's backers are losing faith

So this failure gives President Clinton good reason to delay a decision on deploying the multi-billion dollar system.

Most likely he will just agree to the building of a new radar system on a remote north Pacific island which is needed if the schedule for the whole system is to be met.

The tough questions could then be left to after the presidential elections in November, when things could look very different.

But whatever the immediate problems with the technology, for true believers the dream of a missile shield is still seductive. It is an issue that refuses to go away.

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See also:

06 Jul 00 | Asia-Pacific
US missiles: China's view
07 Jul 00 | Media reports
Text of scientists' anti-missile letter
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Hard bargaining at the Kremlin
01 Jun 00 | Europe
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28 Jan 00 | Asia-Pacific
US-China military ties 'on track'
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16 Dec 99 | Asia-Pacific
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