Party politics and Republican pressure for deployment (1997–2001)
Clinton began 1997 in much the same way as he had 1993, determined not let ballistic missile defence undermine his wider domestic and international policy agendas. Although the debate had moved forward – most notably thanks to the Republican takeover of Congress and the president’s 3+3 plan – the president was still in control of policy. Clinton remained unconvinced that neither the technical capability, or in the case of national missile defence, the military and strategic necessity, required anything different from what his administration was currently pursuing, although funding would continue for the development of both tactical and national missile defence technologies during his second term. Moreover, and although Clinton would be confronted by a hostile Republicanled Congress, Democrats in both Houses remained loyal to the president, and appeared to have little interest in an expanded BMD programme. As a result, it was assumed that Clinton would continue to prioritise his arms control agenda internationally, while at the same time developing a BMD capability in case it might be needed at some point in the future. A combination of various different pressures would push the US and the Clinton Administration into a greater acceptance of BMD during this period. In fact, this is one of the few phases in the post-Cold War era where policy evolved roughly in sync with developments in the international system. Both Clinton and the Democrats relaxed their opposition to BMD in 1998 following the North Korean missile test and the Rumsfeld Report, and both would become far more concerned about combating the apparently growing missile threat during 1999 and 2000. It was in this context that the 1999 Missile Defense Act was signed into law and the Clinton Administration strove to find a balance between BMD and the ABM Treaty. The result was that although Clinton did not make the final step towards deployment – due primarily to a mixture of diplomatic and technological issues in 2000 – the contours of the debate had moved appreciably closer towards acceptance of a national ballistic missile defence system. This period raises a number of interesting questions. First, why did Clinton pursue a missile defence plan that appeared to be at odds with his wider policy agenda and looked set to contravene the ABM Treaty? Second, why did Clinton, alongside Democrats in Congress, stand against deployment in 1997 and 1998, and then agree to it in principle in 1999? Finally, why did the politics of the
missile defence deployment debate appear so out of sync with the technology needed to perform the tasks being outlined, especially in 1997 and 1998? In order to understand these questions it is important to look at the interplay between domestic, international and technological influences, and at how these combined to produce the complicated policy outcomes described above.