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European Ballistic Missile Defense Plan: Congress Debates Pros And Cons

By | May 7, 2007

      A hearing by two House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) subcommittees provided a capsule condensation of the long-running debate over U.S. plans to install a ballistic missile defense (BMD) system in Europe, with Democrats questioning its cost and reliability, and Republicans saying that rising Middle East missile threats mandate a European defense installation, asap.

      President Bush and Missile Defense Agency leaders have proposed expanding the ground-based midcourse missile defense (GMD) system now in Fort Greeley, Alaska, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., to a third site in Europe: a radar in the Czech Republic, and interceptor silos in Poland.

      A House Armed Services Committee (HASC) panel proposed killing funds for the site in Poland. (Please see full story beginning on page 1.)

      Senior Bush administration officials appeared before the HFAC panel as witnesses to cite a string of successes in GMD system tests, backed by supportive comments from some Republican lawmakers on the foreign affairs body.

      On the other side of the dispute, the Democrats’ case against the European BMD system was laid out in prosecutorial fashion by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), who alleged that tests of the GMD system have been unrealistic, with some marred by failure.

      “The tests have been rigged … and nonetheless [there was] failure after failure,” he said.

      Sherman also raised the often-advanced critics’ argument that those attacking the United States would be far more likely to smuggle in a nuclear or other weapon of mass destruction to annihilate an American city, rather than delivering a nuke or WMD atop a ballistic missile.

      Further, Sherman complained that the European site in the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, 2008, would require $310 million, and more later. (The HASC subcommittee would cut about half of that.)

      And, Sherman asserted, plans to install missile defense facilities in Europe have become “a severe irritant in our relations with Russia,” which claims the American BMD interceptors would threaten Russian ICBMs.

      However, a witness, Daniel Fried, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, asserted that Russian complaints are unfounded, asserting that “there is no threat” to Russia in the planned U.S. European BMD site, adding, “I think the Russians understand that.”

      Sherman also demanded to know why, if the proposed system would protect Europe from enemy missiles, is Europe not contributing money to the system.

      Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.), assailed the proposed European BMD system because, he said, it wouldn’t protect Israel from missiles launched by Iran. It also isn’t designed to counter short-range missiles of the type that many Muslim terrorists fire into Israeli civilian population centers, he noted.

      The administration witnesses, however, noted that the European system is designed to protect nations in Europe, and U.S. troops there.

      Wexler also asked why the United States isn’t planning to negotiate and gain approval of NATO for the European BMD installation, in addition to pursuing the present plan of negotiating with the Czech Republic and Poland.

      Supporters of the Euro BMD plan say the reason is that NATO approval would require unanimous approval by member nations, an unlikely eventuality.

      While some Democrats in Congress clearly wish to cut funding for ballistic missile defense systems because it is uncertain they will work, one congressman asked how cutting funds for BMD development will help ensure that those systems ever will work?

      Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) noted that 15 of the last 16 ballistic missile defense tests were successful. But “it will not work if we do not fund it.”

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