Monday, May 12, 2008

Highlights of House and Senate Committee Action on Missile Defense

There’s been a lot of action on missile defense funding in Congress over the past two weeks. The Senate Armed Services Committee and the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee completed their mark-ups of the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2009 on April 30 and May 7, respectively. In what follows I will highlight the most important budget recommendations, and then conclude with my analysis of these recommendations.


S. 2787

Under the leadership of the Chairman Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL), and Ranking Member Jeff Sessions (R-AL), the Senate Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee mark-up added more than $270 million for near-term missile defense capabilities. The Subcommittee offset these funding additions, and provided offsets for other high priority programs, with reductions to lower priority or longer term missile defense programs, including, for example, the Airborne Laser (ABL), the Multiple Kill Vehicles (MKV) program, the Kinetic Energy Interceptor (KEI) program, and $10 million (the full requested amount) for the proposed Space Test-bed.

In addition, the Subcommittee fully funded the administration’s $720 billion budget request for the proposed European missile defense deployment. However, use of these funds for construction or deployment of a European missile defense system is prohibited until two conditions are met: (1) the European government gives final approval (including parliamentary approval) of any deployment agreement negotiated with the United States; and (2) 45 days have elapsed after Congress receives the report required in the FY 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, which requires an independent assessment of the proposed European deployment and a second independent analysis of missile defense options in Europe before site construction and activation can begin.

The mark-up also limits the use of funds for acquisition or deployment of the interceptor planned for Europe until the Secretary of Defense certifies that the interceptor has demonstrated a high probability of accomplishing its mission in an operationally effective manner.

Finally, S. 2787 requires the next administration to conduct a full review of U.S. ballistic missile defense policy, strategy, and related matters.

The Subcommittee’s markup was approved by the full Senate Armed Services Committee on April 30 and is slated to go to the Senate floor sometime later this month. The full text of the mark-up has yet to be released


H.R. 5658

Under the leadership of Chairwoman Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), and Ranking Member Terry Everett (R-AL), the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee mark-up authorized $10.1 billion dollars for missile defense programs, $719 million below the administration's request, but $212.6 million dollars above the current level. The mark-up provided $8.6 billion dollars for the Missile Defense Agency, a reduction of $719 million from the request, but roughly equal to current year funding.

Unlike the Senate Armed Services Committee, Tauscher’s Subcommittee chose to cut the administration’s $720 billion budget request for the proposed European missile defense deployment by $232 million. According to Tauscher, “The subcommittee made these cuts so that the third site can move forward far enough to determine if it’s the right platform to protect the American people….But not so far that we make long-term commitments to an untested system that doesn’t have the blessing of the host nations.”

In the same vein as the Senate Armed Services Committee, the House Panel extends the limitations contained in the FY 2008 National Defense Authorization Act on the availability of funds for the procurement, construction, and deployment of missile defenses in Europe. The mark-up also directs (1) the MDA Director and the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation to submit a jointly agreed plan for the testing of the European GMD component and (2) the Secretary of Defense to develop a comprehensive plan for setting future missile defense force structure and inventory requirements.

The full House Armed Services Committee could consider H.R. 5658 as early as next week, and the bill could appear on the House floor sometime during the week of May 19. The full text of the mark-up has yet to be released.


Analysis

First, the good news. Though critics of missile defense would like to see Congress drastically slash the approximately $10 billion that is annually devoted to missile defense, the current political environment is simply not amenable to such drastic cuts. Given this reality, all told, the actions taken in the Senate and in the House will come as reasonably good news to critics of the Bush administration’s missile defense plans, particularly its proposal for the deployment of interceptors in Poland and an accompanying radar in the Czech Republic.

While proportionally smaller than the reduction for FY 2008, Tauscher’s decision to lower the funding for the European deployment (last year it cut $160 million from the administration’s initial $310 million request) is once again an encouraging development. Ranking Member Everett vowed to fight the cut, though it doesn't seem likely that he will be able to significantly reverse it either in the full Committee markup or on the house floor.

The Senate and House Panels are also to be commended for continuing to condition the procurement, construction, and deployment of missile defenses in Europe on, among other requirements, final approval (including parliamentary approval) from the Czech and Polish governments and a certification from the U.S. defense secretary that the system would work “in an operationally effective manner.” These restrictions are likely to further delay the Bush administration’s deployment plans in light of the fact that (1) the signing of a U.S.-Czech treaty on missile defense has been delayed, (2) Poland and the U.S. continue to butt heads over Polish demands for support if it wants to place 10 missile interceptors in the country, and (3) both the Polish and Czech governments are likely to encounter strong resistance once they bring to their agreements with the U.S. to their respective legislatures and publics.


The bad news is that the Senate Armed Services Committee fully funded the Bush administration’s proposed European deployment. MDA praised the decision, calling it “a clear, unequivocal statement by the Democratic-controlled United States Senate that reflects endorsement of missile defense deployment.” While funds could still be cut by an amendment on the Senate floor or in conference, the Senate Panel’s decision is a significant setback, since last year the Committee cut the administration’s European request by $85 million.

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