A prominent Republican senator on Tuesday suggested the United States should pursue a missile defense system capable of fending off Russian attacks, which has not been the policy of the Bush or Obama administrations, the New York Times reported (see GSN, May 19).
Senator Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) criticized the two nations' proposed arms control treaty at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing for essentially in his view imposing limits on a future U.S. shield that would make it incapable of intercepting Russian-launched missiles.
"Obviously, we’re agreeing to keep our missile defense to the point where it does not render their weapons useless," DeMint said.
The single missile-defense demand on Washington in the pact would prohibit the U.S. military from inserting interceptors into existing ICBM silos. The Defense Department had already abandoned the idea due to the high cost, with the Pentagon's missile defense chief asserting that it would be less expensive to construct new interceptor silos (see GSN, May 3).
The treaty recognizes "the existence of the interrelationship between strategic offensive arms and strategic defensive arms," and Moscow unilaterally has reserved the right to withdraw from the pact should the United States develop its missile defenses beyond a certain point.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Michael Mullen gave their support to the pact and said it would not curtail any U.S. plans for missile defense.
Former President George W. Bush called for creating a missile defense system that could counter the limited number of weapons nations like Iran could be expected to launch. His proposal did not call for the capability of fending off the thousands of warheads Russia has in its arsenal.
"The system is not designed to deal with Russia’s capacity to launch multiple rockets," Bush said in April 2008. His administration had planned to deploy 10 missile interceptors in Poland and a radar base in the Czech Republic, which would complement sea-based defenses and those deployed in California and Alaska.
President Barack Obama in his revised 2009 proposal for European missile defense adhered to the same defensive aims.
DeMint's comments could be indicative of a Republican plan to criticize the "New START" treaty on the basis that it does not permit missile defenses that would counter Russia, according to the Times.
"Is it not desirable for us to have a missile defense system that renders their threat useless?" he said.
Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) responded that such a capability could result in a new arms race between the two nuclear powers.
Gates took the same view, saying, "that, in our view, as in theirs, would be enormously destabilizing, not to mention unbelievably expensive."
Later in the day DeMint wrote that "with his response, Senator Kerry proved why Americans have a hard time fully trusting the left to put American interests first in foreign affairs." He did not address the stands of Bush and Gates on the matter (Peter Baker, New York Times, May 19).