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Arms Control for Arms Control Sake

7:50 PM, Jun 24, 2009 • By JAMIE FLY
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While much attention has been focused on the House Armed Services Committee's decision last week to include funding in the fiscal 2010 defense authorization act for the purchase of 12 additional F-22s despite Secretary Gates' efforts to shut down the program, one of the most hotly debated aspects of the Obama administration's defense cuts is turning out to be missile defense, not the F-22.

During the House Armed Services Committee's mark up of the fiscal 2010 defense authorization act last week, Republican attempts to restore funding for missile defense were repeatedly rebuffed by Democrats. The Democratic defense of the administration cuts was led by President Obama's nominee to be Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, Rep. Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), who if confirmed will be the top State Department official responsible for spearheading missile defense negotiations with our allies and the Russians.

Rep. Tauscher and her fellow Democrats rejected five amendments, including a motion by Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) to restore the entire $1.2 billion that the Obama administration cut from the missile defense budget and amendments to fund additional interceptors at Fort Greely, Alaska -- interceptors that would defend the United States from the growing North Korean threat. The administration plans to cut the U.S. missile defense system interceptors in California and Alaska by 35 percent at a time when North Korea is threatening to launch a missile toward Hawaii.

House Republicans were able to make some progress on the issue of the missile defense sites planned for the Czech Republic and Poland. Building on "NATO First" legislation introduced by Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) and Rep. Jim Marshall (D-GA), Republicans inserted language in the authorization act ensuring that unspent funds from fiscal 2009 could still be used for the construction of the European sites. The defense authorization act also now includes language requiring that any alternative to the Czech and Polish sites defends both the U.S. homeland as well as our European allies. This may seem like common sensel, but the alternatives favored by Democrats, including Rep. Tauscher, do not provide for an effective defense of the U.S. homeland.

The European sites also received much attention on the other side of Capitol Hill last week, as Deputy Secretary of Defense William J. Lynn and other Pentagon officials testified in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee. During his statement, Deputy Secretary Lynn noted that "No final decisions have been made regarding missile defense in Europe." This confused several members of the Committee, including Senators McCain, Lieberman, and Sessions, who expressed concern that the Obama administration was turning its back on commitments made to NATO allies.

Given several opportunities to modify his remarks, Lynn repeated his statement that the Czech and Polish sites were one of several options that the administration was considering, implying that the Obama administration might void the agreements signed with both countries by the Bush administration.

This will surely be music to Russian ears as President Obama heads to Moscow in the coming weeks for a summit with Russian President Medvedev. Moscow believes that the Czech and Polish missile defense sites are an American effort to meddle in Russia's backyard and have repeatedly threatened to retaliate if the sites are constructed.

The Obama administration is currently focused on a deliverable for the President's summit and, despite the best efforts of missile defense supporters in the House and Senate, appears to be considering a trade of missile defense for Russian acquiescence on a new arms reduction agreement. As Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) said in a statement released on Wednesday, "'Arms control for arms control sake' is what appears to be guiding these negotiations, and it simply does not work."