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The Democrat Approach To BMD

US Democratic Senator from Michigan Carl Levin addresses members of the media 13 November 2006 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Photo courtesy of Karen Bleier and AFP.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Nov 14, 2006
Will the new Democratic masters of the U.S. Congress seek to develop ballistic missile defense or kill it stone dead? An important part of the answer emerged Monday when Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., discussed BMD issues in a Washington press conference. Levin looks certain to be the next chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee in the new Democratic-controlled Senate and his views on BMD issues are therefore of pivotal importance.

Levin's many conservative critics charge him with being an unrelenting skeptic and foe of any kind of ballistic missile defense for the United States. However, what emerged from Levin's answers to questions at his press conference was the clear picture of a veteran legislator who wants BMD to work but is skeptical that at its current stage of development it can be relied upon to do so.

Levin made clear that he is determined that every part of the BMD system be carefully tested and evaluated so that the United States does not find itself in the position of being forced to rely upon defenses that have never been adequately tested, or may still be filled with teething troubles, when they are put to the test.

"On ballistic missile defense, we must monitor missile testing and implementation of the legislative requirement for plans to test, evaluate and report to Congress on the operational capability of each block of the BMD system," Levin said.

"We must carefully assess the Department of Defense's efforts relating to acquisition reform, financial management and civilian personnel management, and be prepared to legislate in order to address any issues which we determine," he added.

Levin emphasized that he wanted BMD systems to be deployed that were reliable and effective.

"It's in everyone's interest, regardless of what one's position is or has been on missile defense, that it work," he said.

However, the senator added: "They've not done the operational testing yet that is convincing that it will work."

Levin made clear he remained opposed to committing the U.S. government and armed forces to purchasing and deploying BMD interceptors until their reliability was well-established.

"I think it's a mistake to purchase all of the missiles before we know that they're going to work, and I'll continue to take that position," he said.

"We've purchased enough to test," Levin said. "We ought to stop the purchasing of those missiles now, I believe -- and I'm in the minority in this regard -- till we know that these are operationally effective.

"So I would finish the testing before we complete the buy of the missiles. But again, I'm in the minority on that subject."

Levin signaled that he was not planning to push the U.S. Department of Defense and the Missile Defense Agency to tighten up congressional oversight procedures on BMD development.

One of his questioners noted that outgoing Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld gave the MDA special privileges in terms of its budgetary oversight requirements so that it only had to deliver reports to Congress every two years.

In response, Levin said: "We fought that out a few years ago and lost. We thought that changing the oversight requirements was a mistake, but the majority felt otherwise, and so we gave them a much greater -- much longer -- lease than I believe that any program should have."

However, he continued, "I don't see that we would change that at this point, particularly in light of what Secretary Rumsfeld himself said just ... six months ago, which is that he believes that this has not been operationally tested and that he wants to make sure that this is actually working operationally before it is further deployed."

Levin praised Rumsfeld's recently expressed commitment to intensified testing of BMD systems. The outgoing defense secretary "made a very positive statement in terms of testing a few months ago," the senator said.

"That's one of the things I'll be talking to (Robert) Gates about," he said.

On Nov. 8, President Bush named former CIA Director Robert Gates as his choice to replace Rumsfeld as secretary of defense.

"I hope ... that if Gates is confirmed, that he would feel the same way, even though we keep the same technical laxity or long leash that we put in place a few months ago," the senator said.

Levin most certainly did not speak like an ideologue who wants to strangle BMD in its cradle. Rather, he clearly appeared to favor its development, but a development leavened by a generous dose of the skepticism that his Midwest is famed for.

Source: United Press International

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