Canton Respository

July 14, 2001

Sawyer, Regula split on missile defense proposal

WASHINGTON — President Bush’s announcement that he is pressing forward with development of a missile defense system, starting with a test scheduled for tonight, is drawing mixed reviews from lawmakers in Ohio

Rep. Thomas Sawyer, D-Akron, is skeptical of the plan, which could include missiles or lasers based on land, ships and airplanes. Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Bethlehem Township, is more open to it.

Sen. George Voinovich has been briefed on missile defense but has not taken a position on it, beyond voting in the past to fund pre-development tests of the system, his spokesman Scott Milburn said.

Sen. Mike DeWine and Rep. Bob Ney, R-St. Clairsville, were not immediately available to discuss missile defense.

Regula expressed little concern about the administration’s warning that development of the system will, within months, violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

“First of all, I don’t think the treaty is terribly relevant in 2001 because, of course, you have a lot of rogue nations that are developing nuclear capability and this changes the dynamics” from the time when nuclear weapons were only possessed by the largest nations, including the United States and the Soviet Union, Regula said. Today, he added, “We’re not sure what China has. We’re not sure what Iraq might have.”

Sawyer, however, is wary of violating the treaty, which he said has produced “an extraordinary period of strategic weapons stability and actual reductions.”

The deployment of a defense system could touch off another arms race as other nuclear powers scramble to develop countermeasures, such as decoys designed to fool a missile defense, according to Sawyer. While it is questionable the defensive system would be effective, it could give a potential adversary “great incentive to launch before our defenses become operational,” he said.

Though he is open to negotiating changes in the treaty that would accommodate an intelligent missile defense, Sawyer faults Bush for vagueness in describing what he has in mind.

Regula, however, counters that “we have to develop some type of capability to deal with the potential for a rogue nation to launch a missile and we all know what the devastation of nuclear weapons would be.”<P>
That does not mean he has signed on to the Bush plan, which could be blocked by Congress’ authority to withhold funding.

“I don’t know all the intimate details of it,” said Regula, a member of the House majority who sits on the Appropriations Committee. “I support the idea that we need to be exploring capability. I think it’s a problem he just simply can’t ignore.”