Monday, August 25, 2008

Missile Defense Monitor: How the conflict in the South Caucuses is impacting Congressional views on missile defense

Last week, I noted that some Republican lawmakers have indicated that they intend to use Russia’s invasion of Georgia to overturn the funding and construction restrictions imposed by the Democratic-led Congress on the Bush administration’s proposal to place a missile defense system in Europe.

According to CQ’s Josh Rogin, Senate Republicans are already all but declaring victory:

Appropriators and Armed Services panels in both the House and Senate had conditioned funding for the European sites on four major elements. They include ratification of the agreements by the Czech and Polish Polish parliaments, which could occur by the end of the year; a required analysis of alternatives by an independent research group, which was was completed and sent to Congress in July, and certification by Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates that the missile defense system can actually shoot down incoming missiles.

“Every objection has been addressed and every demand raised by the Democrats has now been met,” said Senate Armed Services panel member James M. Inhofe , R-Okla. “It is now left to Congress to act swiftly in fully funding the European site.”

Added one Senate GOP aide: “Republicans will think they have a very strong hand now. They’re argument will be that NATO wants it, Poland wants it, the Czech Republic wants it, so why don’t the Democrats want it?”
Except that every objection has not been addressed and every demand raised by the Democrats has not been met. First, neither the Czech nor the Polish parliaments have approved the agreements. While parliamentary approval appears likely in Poland (both the government and the lead opposition party support the deal), Czech parliamentary approval remains in doubt. Czech officials hope to submit the agreement to the Czech parliament sometime in November, although some analysts maintain that the deal will not be voted on until 2010.

Second, someone should duly inform Senator Inhofe that the system has yet to be tested. According to an October 2007 report by Dr. Charles McQueary, the Department of Defense's Director, Operational Test & Evaluation “the effectiveness of the European assets cannot be assumed.” A robust test program of the system consisting of at least three flight tests is necessary for any determination of operational effectiveness.

The Missile Defense Agency hopes to complete all three tests by 2010. Yet tests of the existing U.S.-based system have frequently been delayed, in some cases for many months. In addition, given that only 7 of the previous 13 tests of this system have been successful, more than three tests could be required to confirm the system's operational effectiveness.

Encouragingly, House Democrats appear to be standing firm. In the words of House Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairwoman Representative Ellen O. Tauscher (D-CA):
The events in Georgia have nothing to do with the interceptors the U.S. is considering deploying in Poland, and Congress believes that this system is untested and fails to defend against current and emerging threats….Congress will not be funding an untested system, period.”

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