Mullen Strongly Backs Missile Defense Program; Voices Concern On China
Admiral Sees Iran As “Aggressive, Destabilizing;” He Backs European BMD
The United States needs a ballistic missile defense (BMD) shield to guard against attacks involving missiles tipped with weapons of mass destruction, and the multi-layered shield already offers a “viable” defense, according to the nominee to be the top-ranked uniformed officer at the Pentagon.
“I am a supporter of having a ballistic missile defense” system, Adm. Michael Mullen, the Navy chief of naval operations, told the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).
President Bush nominated Mullen to be chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
SASC members probed Mullen for hours on his views concerning Iraq, saying repeatedly they appreciated his candor on that and other issues. He received friendly backing for confirmation of his nomination from many SASC members, and the Senate later confirmed his nomination. Senators also provided warm support for the nomination of Marine Corps Gen. James Cartwright to be vice chairman of the joint chiefs.
Aside from testifying before the SASC, Mullen also provided written answers to written questions from senators on the panel.
In response to one query, Mullen said that he does support full testing of BMD systems. “Thorough testing is critical to operational effectiveness, and, if confirmed [as the Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman] I will continue my commitment to testing as the [BMD] system evolves,” he said.
“I believe that operationally realistic testing is necessary to demonstrate and determine the operational capabilities and limits of the [BMD system], and to improve its operational capability.”
At the same time, Mullen made clear that he doesn’t wish to see BMD systems forced to ace every conceivable test, such as shooting down target missiles, before U.S. forces deploy any of those BMD systems.
Rather, testing and deployment should be concurrent. “I believe the United States has a viable initial operational capability, and we are maturing the system toward a full operational capability,” according to Mullen.
He spoke as North Korea has developed missiles with longer ranges, and has tested a nuclear weapon. Also, Iran has fired off multiple missiles in a single test; launched a missile from a submerged submarine; and continued to produce nuclear materials despite strong objections from developed nations and the United Nations.
Meanwhile, China has 900 radar-guided missiles aimed toward the straits separating China from Taiwan, and also is developing longer-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) able to strike targets anywhere in the United States.
BMD Needed ASAP
“In view of the threats we face today and will face in the future, I believe the United States should deploy components of the ballistic missile defense system as soon as they become available even as we improve their operational effectiveness,” Mullen said.
While some Democrats in Congress have said some BMD systems aren’t fully effective, or are still in technology development work, and therefore funding should be reduced to those programs, Mullen defended the BMD system.
“Due to our continuing successes with [the BMD system], I remain confident in our initial operational capability and its continued maturation,” he said.
He pledged to work on testing of BMD systems, along with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, the Missile Defense Agency, the armed services and combatant commands, “to ensure that operationally realistic testing is accomplished.”
He also pledged to consult combatant commands as to their requirements for BMD.
One SASC question noted that an existing defense authorization act requires the Department of Defense to assign a priority to developing, testing, fielding and improving BMD systems including the Ground-based Midcourse missile Defense system (GMD), the Aegis ship-based system, the Patriot PAC-3 system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system, and sensors to support them.
Asked what steps he would take to ensure all this comes to pass, Mullen assured senators that if the Senate confirms him, he would work with Gates, MDA, the military services and combatant commands “to ensure the development, testing, acquisition, fielding and improvement of effective near-term missile defense capabilities to meet the threats that we face today and will continue to face in the future.”
He also commented in detail about nations that might challenge the United States.
On Iran, for example, he was asked whether the Iranian missile development or nuclear programs threaten the United States.
European BMD Plan
“I am concerned that these programs potentially threaten our allies and U.S. interests in the [Middle East] region,” Mullen said. “Iran’s continued sponsorship of regional terrorism coupled with [its] quest for a nuclear capability reinforces the importance of continued deterrence mechanisms including theater ballistic missile defense,” Mullen stated.
That backs U.S. plans to install a GMD shield in Europe — a radar site in the Czech Republic and interceptors in silos in Poland — that would demolish any missiles launched from Iran or other Middle Eastern nations against targets such as European countries, U.S. forces there, or the United States.
Some House and Senate Democrats led a move to cut President Bush’s request for funding of the European BMD system, however.
Mullen indicated such a shield is needed.
“I am concerned with Iran’s aggressive posture and destabilizing activities,” Mullen wrote.
At the same time, he hopes this threat can be met without use of force. “I support current international and regional diplomatic and financial measures to counter Iranian behavior now to preclude confrontation in future,” he continued.
One nation that has opposed U.S. plans for a European-based missile shield against Iranian weapons is Russia. Its leaders at various times have threatened to bomb any GMD installation that is built in the Czech Republic and Poland, and to aim ICBMs toward European cities (reminiscent of the Cold War days).
Mullen urged a cooperative approach toward Russia.
“I believe it is essential that we continue to encourage the Russian government to cooperate in addressing the emerging threat to both our nations from the proliferation of ballistic missiles and weapons of mass destruction,” Mullen counseled. “This includes missile defense and enhancing counterterrorism cooperation with Russia.”
On its part, Russia has offered to have one of its radar sites made part of the U.S. GMD system, which Bush said was an “interesting” offer. But U.S. military leaders say the Russian-controlled radar in Azerbaijan would be inadequate to spot, track and help kill Iranian missiles.
Wary Of China
Mullen is wary of China and its gargantuan military buildup, in which the most populous nation is procuring cutting-edge aircraft, four new classes of submarines, advanced surface ships, and an array of missiles.
“China is a rising power in the world,” Mullen wrote. “We should have no doubts about that.”
Some military analysts say that China may some day engage in military conflict with U.S. forces.
Mullen noted that a Pentagon assessment, the Quadrennial Defense Review, estimates that “China has the greatest potential to compete militarily with the United States and field disruptive technologies that could, over time, offset traditional U.S. military advantages.”
While Mullen didn’t cite specifics, China earlier this year proved it could attack U.S. space assets, using a ground-based interceptor missile to hit and demolish an aging Chinese weather satellite. Also, China has a substantial force of cyber warriors who could wreck havoc on U.S. communications and computer systems, especially in the civilian realm. And China is capable of using a nuclear missile to create an electromagnetic pulse, or EMP, over much of the United States, which would cripple U.S. electrical generation, computer systems, the financial network, commercial activities, transportation systems and more.
The key question, however, is why China is using immense sums of money amassed in foreign trade with the United States and other nations to purchase all that hardware.
One possible explanation might be the determination of Chinese leaders to force Taiwan to capitulate and submit to rule by Beijing. In that instance, Mullen noted that the United States insists that China not take the island nation by force. And he observed that China claims as its territory some islands in the South China Sea.
He noted that “China has refused to renounce the use of force against Taiwan and its sustained military buildup across the Strait risks disrupting the status quo.”
But this isn’t the entire picture, and other elements are worrisome.
For example, when Taiwan is just 100 miles from Chinese shores, why does China need to acquire a blue-water navy capable of distant missions, and long-range aircraft as well?
“While China’s near term focus appears to be on Taiwan, long-term trends suggest China is building a force scoped for operations beyond Taiwan,” he told the senators.
Mullen hinted that perhaps it might be a desire for China to control its long sea lanes. It exports goods around the world, sending $230 billion-plus more goods to the United States annually than China buys from American firms. And China, in producing those goods, devours enormous amounts of raw materials and fuel (petroleum and coal) from suppliers across the globe.
Chinese leaders “recognize their growing economic interdependence with the rest of the world,” Mullen wrote. “Their economic development depends on an assured supply of energy and other natural resources.”
However, some military analysts note that the U.S. Navy long has protected sea lanes around the world, so why would Chinese leaders feel they too must take on that task?
Beyond the unknown of just why China is building a long-range force, Mullen noted that the enormous Chinese military buildup is attracting worried attention from other Pacific Rim nations, some of which are embarking upon their own arms buildups.
“Many of China’s neighbors are watching Chinese military modernization and adjusting their plans and expenditures” accordingly, Mullen stated.
He fears this could escalate from an arms race into open military hostilities.
“Conflict between China and its neighbors could potentially erupt over disputed territories, resource rights or energy,” Mullen wrote.
He pledged to work to build personal relations with his counterparts in the Chinese and Russian military establishments.
The nominee also cautioned that one shouldn’t become too alarmed at the rising might of the People’s Liberation Army and PLA Navy.
But he is concerned that China is so secretive — it spends multiple times more on defense than it admits — and doesn’t openly reveal just why it is buying all those planes, ships, submarines and missiles.
“We should not exaggerate the challenge we face from a modernizing China and a modernizing military,” Mullen wrote. But at the same time, “We need China to be much more transparent than has occurred thus far.”