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Lawmakers Urge More Testing, NATO Involvement In European GMD

By | September 24, 2007

      Three members of Congress urged more testing of the Ground-based Midcourse missile Defense (GMD) system before it is deployed in Europe, and also said NATO should not only advise the United States on the GMD plan, but should "play a key role in future decision making" about deployment of the missile shield.

      Backers of the GMD proposal say that if approval were required from every NATO nation before the GMD system could be built, ground never would be broken.

      The members are Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Armed Services Committee strategic forces subcommittee, and Reps. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.).and Mike Turner (R- Ohio), subcommittee members.

      Earlier this year, the Tauscher subcommittee slashed all funding that President Bush had requested for the start of work toward installation of GMD silos with interceptors in Poland. The system also would involve installation of a radar in the Czech Republic.

      However, the Senate Appropriations Committee took a much different approach, cutting just $85 million of funds for the overall planned system, both the Czech and Polish elements. Neither nation as yet has agreed to host any GMD system.

      It remains to be seen what level of European GMD funding will emerge from a House-Senate conference committee to work out differences between House and Senate versions of the separate defense appropriations and defense authorization bills for the fiscal year 2008 that begins a week from today.

      Bush and Pentagon leaders wish to build the GMD system to protect Europe, American troops there and the United States homeland against missiles launched from Middle Eastern nations such as Iran.

      Iran has launched missiles in a multiple liftoff test, launched a missile from a submerged submarine, and is producing nuclear materials that it claims would be used for electrical power generation, but which many Western leaders suspect would be used to build nuclear bombs.

      The three lawmakers commented in a statement they released after they returned from a European tour involving the GMD proposal, visiting Brussels, Warsaw, and Prague where they discussed missile defense activities and the Bush proposal to deploy missile defense assets in Europe.

      Russia has charged that the U.S.-operated GMD system would threaten Russia, because the GMD interceptors could knock down Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

      U.S. military leaders say that’s wrong, because the GMD interceptors would be geared to take out missiles from the Middle East, and in any event would be too slow to take down Russian ICBMs. Also, there would be just 10 of the interceptors, while Russia has hundreds of warheads on hand.

      On one point, the lawmakers said they wish any missile defense system installed in Europe to be defensive and indivisible.

      "We strongly support working, on a bipartisan basis, with our NATO allies to defend against the mutual threats we face," the lawmakers said. "Over the coming months, we look forward to working with the [Bush administration] and our NATO allies to develop a system that is defensive, indivisible, and deters future threats."

      As well, the lawmakers say that if the GMD system is installed in Europe, that it should be fully integrated with a European system aimed at shorter-range missile threats. "Any future U.S. system must be able to work together with the missile defense system that NATO is currently developing," the lawmakers stated.

      "During our trip, we met with many key officials and came away more certain than ever that the security of our alliance must be indivisible," the lawmakers asserted. "The goal of missile defense systems deployed to Europe must include providing protection for NATO allies, and NATO must play a key role in future decision making. Furthermore, any future U.S. system must be able to work together with the missile defense system that NATO is currently developing."

      The subcommittee, in its version of the defense authorization legislation, adopted a general policy of favoring more advanced ballistic missile technologies such as the Aegis sea-based system over other systems still in development, and systems still at least partly in development such as GMD.

      "We must also have a high degree of confidence that any future missile defense system deployed in Europe works effectively," the members of Congress stated. "In our view, this requires more robust testing of the ground-based, midcourse-defense system."

      And that likely would entail, meanwhile, giving the program less money.

      The three lawmakers don’t deny that Europe needs protection from enemy missiles, and don’t deny that Iran is dangerous.

      "The Iranian short- and medium-range missile threat to NATO is here and now, and a longer-range threat missile could emerge in the future," the lawmakers conceded.

      But rather than say that the United States must move quickly to protect Europe against longer-range Iranian missiles, the lawmakers said NATO should hasten its move to protect Europe against shorter-range missiles.

      "NATO must accelerate its efforts to protect Europe against this threat," the lawmakers stated.

      They had little agreement, however, with Russian complaints about the GMD system.

      NATO should push Russia to cease those attacks, the U.S. legislators said.

      NATO, they asserted, "must make clear to Russia that these systems, and any future longer-range system deployed in Europe, are defensive and not aimed at a perceived threat from Russia.

      "We also believe Russia’s recent statements on the proposed European deployment have been unhelpful. Russia does not have a veto over U.S. or allied security. However, engagement with Russia on possible missile defense cooperation is important, and we encourage the [Bush administration] to continue these discussions."

      The administration approach thus far has been to enter into bilateral negotiations with the Czech Republic and Poland. Again, backers of the GMD plan say it never will be built if the United States must coax every European nation to approve it.

      But the three members of Congress said European governments, and populaces, should become more involved in whether and how the GMD system is formed.

      "To date, the European parliaments and publics have not been effectively engaged in this debate," the lawmakers stated. "More robust efforts are required in this area. Poland and the Czech Republic are strong allies of the United States, and we support efforts to further deepen our relationship with those nations."

      During the visit, the three members of Congress met with senior U.S. and allied officials including NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer; Gen. John Craddock, Supreme Allied Commander-Europe; Polish Foreign Minister Anna Fotyga; and Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek.

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