Washington (AFP) July 16, 2000 - US presidential hopefuls voiced their views on US missile defenses Sunday, with Democratic Vice President Al Gore seemingly cautious and Republican Governor George W. Bush gung-ho over defense policy that may now be decided by the next president.
Top lawmakers and others have urged President Bill Clinton to let his successor decide the fate of a proposed anti-missile shield following the failure of the latest Pentagon test of anti-missile technology on July 8.
Asked if he agreed the decision should be delayed, Gore declined to comment.
"I'm not going to forestall President Clinton's judgment on that question. That's his judgment to make," he said on NBC's Meet the Press.
"The lessons that came out of the recent test have to be analyzed and understood," Gore said.
"There are legitimate questions that are raised and I think it can benefit from an intensive review."
Pentagon plans call for deployment of a targeting radar and 20 interceptors in Alaska by 2005, with another 100 missiles by 2007, in a 60 billion-dollar program to guard against possible missile attacks by so-called "rogue nations."
However, in last weekend's technology test, the Pentagon failed to shoot down one missile with another, leading to warnings by key senators that a national missile defense (NMD) system was not yet technologically feasible.
Critics of the proposal say the potential for such attacks has been exaggerated and that the shield could destabilize US ties with Russia and China and violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) treaty signed by Russia and the United States.
"It's only responsible to investigate whether or not it's possible to protect our nation against that kind of threat without re-igniting the arms race with Russia or starting a new one with China," Gore said.
"We don't want to discard the ABM treaty and trigger the chance of a renewed arms competition," he said.
However, Bush called for expanded anti-missile research and a "full-scale effort" to put a deterrent in place, in an interview with ABC's "This Week."
"When I am president, I'm going to have a full-scale effort to make sure we develop an anti-ballistic missile system that will shoot down somebody else's missiles that will reflect the true threat facing America and our allies," the Republican governor of Texas said.
Bush called for expanded research into anti-missile technology and decried limitations imposed by the ABM treaty.
"Under the current ABM Treaty, we are not allowed to test sea-based systems. We are not allowed to test sensors off of satellites. So it makes it very hard for us to be able to deploy the most effective systems."
Bush said a system that intercepts rockets immediately after launch might be more effective than the missile defense system recently tested by the Pentagon, which is designed to intercept a long-range missile as it re-enters the atmosphere en route to its target.
"Why would we want to put a system in place that doesn't work? You've got to understand that recent failed test was a failure of old technology, not new technology," Bush said.
In the early hours of July 8, the Pentagon launched a target missile from California, then an interceptor missile from a Pacific atoll, but the interceptor missed the target missile.
The Pentagon says the program is needed by 2005, when US intelligence services estimate that North Korea is likely to have long-range missiles capable of striking the United States.
Russia, China and European countries are opposed to the US missile defense shield, because they believe it could upset international arms control regimes and give too much power to the United States.