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Lieberman, Sessions Fight for Missile Defense Funding

5:01 PM, Oct 5, 2009 • By MICHAEL GOLDFARB
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When Under Secretary of Defense Michèle Flournoy testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on September 24, she said that in order for Secretary Gates to support the new missile defense architecture in Europe, he had to be reassured that "we are going to continue the development of the two-stage GBI [ground-based interceptor] as a technological hedge" in case the SM-3 family of interceptors face setbacks or the Iranian ICBM threat develops sooner than expected.

Despite the administration's support for continued development and testing of the two-stage GBI, the chairman's mark of the FY10 defense appropriations bill reduces funding for testing of the two-stage GBI by $151 million, which would risk postponing or cancelling a pair of two-stage missile tests. These tests were intended to both prove out the two-stage version of the GBI, and support modernization of the three-stage GBIs that are currently deployed in California and Alaska.

Senators Lieberman and Sessions have proposed an amendment that would allow the Missile Defense Agency to use up to $151 million of funds provided for in the FY09 or FY10 defense appropriations acts for a long-range missile defense system in Europe to support the continued development or testing of the two-stage GBI program. It would also fence funding for the two-stage program that the Secretary of Defense supports, and require a report detailing specific options when Congress addresses this issue in the coming year.

Senator Obama attacked missile defense as an "unproven technology," and President Obama killed the European site for the system on the grounds that his "new approach will provide capabilities sooner, build on proven systems and offer greater defenses against the threat of missile attack than the 2007 missile defense program." And now Democrats are trying to make sure those systems stay unproven by cutting funding for testing.

On Thursday, Senators Lieberman and Sessions took the floor to argue for their amendment restoring that funding.

Senator Lieberman:

Bottom line, this [amendment] acknowledges on my part the disappointment at the decision the administration has made. It doesn't try to turn it around, but says OK, under the new administration program we are going to do at least as good, maybe a little better, at protecting Europe and the Middle East, but we are going to do worse at protecting the United States of America from a long-range missile, which the Iranians particularly are working so hard to develop. So let's at least keep testing this missile we have got, the ground-based interceptor, as a hedge so we are ready in case these other alternatives don't work, to put it in the ground in Europe or perhaps in the east coast of the United States to give the American people the two lines of defense they deserve against an Iranian long-range missile, and thereby to close what will now be a ballistic missile defense gap for the United States of America that will otherwise develop in the middle of the next decade and go on, in my opinion, for at least 3 years.

Senator Sessions:

So what about our ground-based interceptors and GMD system that we have been working on for 30-plus years, spent over $20 billion on, that was planned to implant 44 interceptors in Alaska-most of them in Alaska and some in California? That has been cut from 44 to 30. What about the plan to deploy 10 in Poland and Europe to give us redundancy and protect Europe? Zeroed out. So this is not just a little nibbling away in missile defense. This is an erroneous policy that makes me nervous. Because we have a system that is ready to go forward. We stop it. We promise we are going to have a new system out here 10 years from now. There's many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. I am not sure whether we will ever get that done waiting on some new system to come along.

Senate sources tell THE WEEKLY STANDARD that debate on the amendment will resume Tuesday.