(First appeared as an Editorial in EE Times)

June 17 2000

Rick Merritt

Vice President Al Gore should show he knows what technology is best used for by taking a stand in favor of scrapping the National Missile Defense program. As an early advocate of commercializing the Internet, Gore should realize that the billions it ultimately could cost to deploy the system would be better spent elsewhere.

The Pentagon is pressing for the antimissile program in an accelerated effort to erect a technology force field against threats from countries, such as North Korea, that it believes could have the capacity to launch missiles against the United States by 2015. Gov. George W. Bush has come out in favor of the program.

The missile-defense program ultimately calls for deploying some 29 satellites, nine X-band radar stations, and five new communications centers to control some 250 interceptor missiles, at a total cost of $48.8 billion, according to an April Congressional Budget Office report. The plan took a direct hit itself on July 7 when the third of 19 planned tests to hit a missile with a missile failed, largely because of mechanical problems with the interceptor rocket.

The recent failure has put the focus on what technology can and can't do, instead of what technology should and shouldn't be used for. This effort is likely to become a money sinkhole that reignites a global arms race, making even less safe a world in which some say there are already as many as 36,000 nuclear weapons.

For a tiny fraction of the project's budget, you could build a world-class technical university in Pyongyang to train a generation of young people in semiconductor and communication design. That could be just one brick in a larger program to use technology to unite people rather than divide them.

Will Gore or anyone else take such a radical stand? Political analysts already say President Clinton has backed the missile-defense program, partly to give Democrats political cover against the charge they're soft on defense. If Gore really needs the anti-missile program as a political force field, then we need another candidate who better understands the real power of technology to resolve problems.

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