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Gates, Levin Likely To Differ On Missile Defense Purchasing

By | December 4, 2006

      In a 65-page response to questions from members of Congress, Robert Gates, the president’s nominee to become the next defense secretary, takes a sharply different view from the incoming leader of the Senate Armed Services Committee on the issue of missile defense.

      At a press conference shortly after the Democrats won control of the Senate, Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), said that the nation should test the missiles it has before purchasing any more. By contrast, citing potential threats from North Korea and Iran, Gates wrote to lawmakers that the U.S. needs some capability right away. “Defenses with a limited operational capability, at least initially, are better than no defenses,” he said.

      “I understand the administration’s policy is to develop and deploy a missile defense capability at the earliest possible date,” he wrote.

      “I am told that efforts are underway through continuous testing, to ensure that these defenses are capable of intercepting missiles that threaten our homeland, deployed forces and friends and allies.”

      When asked by members of the Senate whether he believes placing a ground-based missile defense site in Europe is in line with near-term priorities, Gates responded that the administration is to deploy the best technologies to ensure threats to the United States and its allies can be intercepted. He added that he expects to “delve in this matter with greater detail and with some urgency” if he is confirmed.

      The issue of missile defense spending is likely to surface again during his confirmation hearings scheduled to starttomorrow, according to a congressional aide, especially given Pentagon plans to cut spending for missile defense by $7 billion over its future years defense plan.

      Attempting to balance competing demands for immediate wartime spending alongside long-term security goals will be an immediate priority for Gates, if he is confirmed. But his response to Congress offered few clues to how he would do so, saying that he would “familiarize” himself with the key details about the budget “on an urgent basis.”

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