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House Panel Demands NATO Pay its Share of Missile Shield Cost

A House of Representatives subcommittee on Thursday called for European NATO states to pay their share of the cost of a planned ballistic missile shield and approved withholding some U.S. funds for the effort until such financial commitments are made, Reuters reported (see GSN, April 23).

The House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee voted unanimously to keep back one-fourth of U.S. dollars approved for specific expenditures associated with the planned regional missile defense system until European allies specify what they will contribute to the trans-Atlantic effort.

The 28-member alliance agreed in late 2010 to pursue a European shield against feared ballistic missile attacks from the Middle East. The Obama administration's "phased adaptive approach," which involves the gradual fielding by 2020 of increasingly advanced missile interceptors in Poland and Romania and on missile destroyers docked in Spain, forms the core of the NATO program. However, European states are also to enhance and connect their own antimissile systems under the effort.

The measure approved on Thursday is included in the GOP-controlled House's defense authorization legislation for the fiscal year that begin on Oct. 1. If the proposal makes it out of the House, it would still have to pass out of conference committee with the Democrat-led Senate. The upper congressional chamber is anticipated to begin drafting its own version of the defense bill in May. It is not yet apparent where the White House stands on the measure.

In a Thursday Roll Call commentary, subcommittee Chairman Michael Turner (R-Ohio) said Washington cannot financially shoulder the entire cost of European missile defense, "especially not if it means neglecting the missile defense of the American people."

Turner objected to the European missile shield's "enormous" cost, particularly during period when Washington must scale back the federal deficit. The total price tag of the allied project is not yet clear, in part due to the lack of a clear understanding on just what will be contained in the missile shield, an Armed Services Committee report says.

The legislation requires the White House to solicit "prefinancing" that would enable NATO countries to be reimbursed down the road for the antimissile elements they provide to the alliance, Reuters reported.

President Obama would have option of waiving the spending restriction if he concluded that spending all of the previously approved budget for the project was necessary to ensuring U.S. security.

The Strategic Forces Subcommittee also approved language that would require the Defense Department to explore establishing a third missile interceptor site somewhere on the East Coast under the homeland Ground-based Midcourse Defense system. The new silo-based interceptors would primarily be aimed at defending against future long-range ballistic missiles that Iran is feared to be developing (see GSN, April 26).

The White House is anticipated to object to a third GMD site as extraneous. Subcommittee Ranking Member Loretta Sanchez (D-Calif.) said she would like to see an "informed debate" on the matter when the House Armed Services Committee considers the defense authorization legislation on May 9 (Jim Wolf, Reuters, April 26).

The subcommittee voted to increase GMD spending by $357 million, a figure that includes $100 million to examine three East Coast bases as potential hosts for the third interceptor site, Defense News reported. Total GMD spending for fiscal 2013 would be $1.3 billion.

Sanchez expressed skepticism about the spending level while the Pentagon works to resolve issues that have led to failed trials of the GMD system, which encompasses 30 interceptors deployed in Alaska and California.

The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency budget proposal for the coming fiscal year is $7.8 billion. That figure does not encompass antimissile spending contained in the armed services' budget requests (Kate Brannen, Defense News, April 26).

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