The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) conducted its first full system test of the national missile defense (NMD) system on 7 July 2000. However, this $100 million failed missile test did not escape criticism and protest.

More than 120 people gathered at the front gate of the Vandenberg Air Force Base to exercise their first amendment rights on Saturday, 1 July 2000. Organizations that supported the event included: American Friends Service Committee (Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo), Atomic Mirror, California Peace Action, Global Network Against Weapons & Nuclear Power in Space, Green Party (Santa Barbara/San Luis Obispo), Green Peace, Grey Panthers, Guadalupe Catholic Worker, Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, Peace & Environmental Council (San Luis Obispo), San Luis Obispo County Environmental Toxic Coalition, and Santa Cruz Center for Non-Violence.

In the week leading up to the test, activists also held a vigil, coordinated by Greenpeace, at the front gate. Additionally, members of Greenpeace and the Santa Cruz Resource Center for Non-Violence infiltrated the military base and the Arctic Sunrise, a Greenpeace vessel, entered the “hazardous zone” in waters off the California coastline in attempts to stop the missile from being launched. Almost a dozen activists were arrested during the activities.

Other protests were also held throughout the US and the world to say no to the weaponization of space and a new arms race. Messages of solidarity were sent from Argentina, Australia, Fiji, the UK and many cities in the US, demonstrating broad consensus to halt plans to deploy the controversial anti-missile system.

Late in the evening on 7 June 2000 PDT, after a two hour delay, a target missile, carrying a warhead and a decoy, was launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California. Approximately twenty minutes after the target missile lifted off, an interceptor missile carrying a model “exoatomospheric kill vehicle,” designed by Raytheon Corporation, was launch from Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific Ocean and was directed toward the target, using data collected from the system’s radars. However, the “hit to kill” weapon fired from Kwajalein Atoll did not separate from the second stage of its liftoff rocket. Of the three tests that have been conducted, two have failed. The Pentagon has scheduled 16 more tests of the system in the next five years.

The Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO) claims that the NMD system is needed to protect the US from incoming Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles that would be launched by “states of concern” such as North Korea. The estimated cost to deploy the system by the year 2005 is $60 billion. However, a report released in late June by the Welch Panel, an independent team of scientists, outlined the probability of the systems failure due to time and schedule constraints.

The deployment of a national missile defense system would violate the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty between Russia and the US. The treaty is viewed as the cornerstone of arms control efforts and amendment or abrogation of the treaty will pose serious threats to international relations. After the failed missile test, Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov announced that President Vladimir Putin will try to persuade President Clinton to stop deployment of an anti-missile defense system during the G-8 summit, being held in Okinawa, Japan from 21-23 July. President Putin has also offered to reduce Russian and US nuclear arsenals to 1,000 to 1,500 on each side under a new START III agreement.

On 22 June 2000, China attacked the proposed US national missile defense (NMD) system saying it would turn outer space into a “battlefield” and jeopardize global stability. China has also voiced opposition to amending the ABM Treaty. Both Russia and China have called for negotiations to ban the weaponization of outer space, but the US has refused to engage in any such discussions.

President Clinton recently made a decision to defer a decision on deployment to the next presidential administration.* Plans for future non-violent demonstrations at Vandenberg Air Force Base and around the world are already being planned to continue voicing grassroots opposition to the deployment of any anti-missile system. The relentless pursuit by the US to deploy a national missile defense system that threatens to initiate a new nuclear arms race must be stopped. Rather than developing new technology that undermines global security, the US should uphold the commitments it has made in international law to eliminate its nuclear arsenal.