- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 22, 2010

START lobbying

Director of National Intelligence Dennis C. Blair has been calling members of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence to urge them to support ratification of what the Obama administration is calling the New START, or Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The original treaty was signed in 1991 and expired in December.

Mr. Blair’s lobbying of the senators has raised concerns in the Senate that he may have undermined the traditionally nonpartisan veneer of senior intelligence officials, especially when it comes to critical judgments about whether arms control treaties can be properly monitored for violations.

“Why is Denny Blair lobbying for the treaty?” said one well-placed Republican aide.

Additionally, the effort to garner Senate support for ratification — a two-thirds majority is needed — is being carried out before completion of a major U.S. intelligence estimate by the National Intelligence Council (NIC) on whether the treaty’s verification provisions are adequate.

DNI spokesman Mike Birmingham said: “The only conversations the DNI has had with members of Congress related to the START treaty are discussions about the intelligence community’s role in treaty monitoring. It is not accurate to suggest he would advocate for any position.”

Verification is needed to determine whether the Russians are cheating, and Moscow has a long history of violating arms agreements with the United States, which is documented regularly in State Department reports that mostly have been kept from public or Senate view.

The NIC is the key intelligence analysis unit under Mr. Blair’s office, and its national intelligence estimates have come under criticism after the 2007 estimate that concluded Iran had halted its nuclear weapons program in 2003, despite recent evidence to the contrary.

The New START is a centerpiece of President Obama’s national security policy and, if ratified, would cut U.S. and Russian warhead arsenals to 1,550 and strategic missiles and bombers to between 700 and 800.

The treaty is facing tough scrutiny by Republicans and Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, over concerns about verification provisions, many of which are contained in secret annexes to the treaty.

Administration officials initially said they hoped the treaty could be ratified this year. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said last week that ratification might not occur until early next year.

Many Senate Republicans also have expressed reservations in letters to the president about supporting a treaty that cuts U.S. nuclear forces unless it is accompanied by a robust administration program, with adequate funding, to modernize aging nuclear weapons and related infrastructure.

Iran report shortfalls

Several House Republicans are not happy with the Pentagon’s report to Congress on the Iranian military and want the Defense Department to provide more details on Iran’s regional goals, missile development, armed forces funding and strategies.

Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California Republican and ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, said the report confirms Tehran’s aggressive support for terrorism around the world, highlights its efforts to hide a covert nuclear arms program and offers new details on weapons such as ballistic and cruise missiles.

“Unfortunately, the report failed to include information that is critical to truly assessing Iran’s military capability and future intentions,” Mr. McKeon said. “The Department of Defense failed to provide adequate information on the funding provided to each branch of Iran’s military, the Revolutionary Guards Qods Force or the country’s special operations forces. Additionally, the report lacked specific information about Iran’s regional strategy and military doctrine — and failed to provide a sufficient assessment of Iran’s conventional or unconventional capabilities.”

Mr. McKeon said he is concerned that the report seeks to “downplay” Iran’s militant Islamist ideology. “I question the department’s assessment that the goal of the Iranian strategy is ‘the survival of the regime’ and its ‘ideological goals have taken a back seat to pragmatic considerations.’ This flies in the face of the regime’s efforts to export the ayatollah’s radical religious vision beyond Iran’s borders,” he said.

Rep. Michael R. Turner, Ohio Republican and ranking member of the House Armed Services subcommittee on strategic forces, said the report contradicts the Obama administration’s assessment that the threat of Iranian long-range missiles has receded. The missile assessment was one reason the administration abandoned plans for a ground-based, long-range interceptor site for missile defenses in Eastern Europe in favor of shorter-range defenses, known as the Phased Adaptive Approach.

“Despite the administration’s insistence last September that the long-range missile threat was slower to develop, the administration’s own report confirms that Iran could develop and test an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching the U.S. by 2015,” Mr. Turner said. “Therefore, I remain gravely concerned that the administration’s Phased Adaptive Approach is not designed to protect our homeland until 2020.”

Rep. Tom Rooney, Florida Republican, said the report also highlights U.S. intelligence deficiencies.

“We need more specific intelligence about Iran’s true military capabilities,” Mr. Rooney said. “We cannot underestimate, as this report does, the militant ideology of Iran’s leaders or their desire to do us harm.”

Mr. McKeon and Mr. Turner said they plan to add language in the fiscal 2011 defense bill “to force the administration to develop a comprehensive, long-term strategy to deal with Iran’s nuclear ambitions and military buildup.”

Gay ban debate

Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has taken heat from some Republicans for endorsing an end to the military’s ban on openly gay service members, then endorsing a study to see how open homosexuals will affect combat readiness.

He offered his “personal” opinion before the House and Senate armed services committees to remove the ban, then conceded he does not know what the impact would be.

Turns out, Adm. Mullen had not discussed the matter with combat unit commanders before his headline-making testimony.

Special correspondent Rowan Scarborough asked the admiral’s spokesman whether he had held such consultation with combatants.

“He did no polling or surveying before his testimony. It came from his own personal beliefs,” Capt. John Kirby said in an e-mail.

Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican and ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, is criticizing Adm. Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates for endorsing repeal first, then doing a study to justify it.

At a recent hearing, Mr. McCain said: “You are embarking on saying it’s not whether the military prepares to make the change, but how we best prepare for it, without ever hearing from members of Congress, without hearing from the members of the Joint Chiefs and, of course, without taking into consideration all the ramifications of this law. Well, I’m happy to say that we still have a Congress of the United States that would have to pass a law to repeal ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ despite your efforts to repeal it in many respects by fiat.”

Some Democrats now are pushing for a repeal vote months before the Pentagon is scheduled to finish its study and report to Mr. Gates and Congress.

Gen. James Conway, the Marine Corps commandant, is the only Joint Chiefs member to come out publicly in opposition to repeal. He consulted with unit commanders before providing his testimony.

Missile defense and START

The director of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency told a Senate hearing this week that the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) will not constrain U.S. missile defenses.

Army Lt. Gen. Patrick J. O’Reilly, the agency’s chief, told the Senate Armed Services Committee that missile defenses remain a key element of U.S. national security and “the New START treaty has no constraints on current and future components of the [ballistic missile defense system] development or deployment.”

The treaty bans converting ICBMs or submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launchers to missile defense launchers but allows using the five former ICBM silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California that were converted for ground-based interceptors (GBI) that are currently in place, Gen. O’Reilly said.

The Pentagon did not plan additional ICBM silo conversions at Vandenberg and its hedge for emerging missile threats by finishing a missile field at Fort Greely, Alaska, he said. “Moreover, we determined that if more interceptors were to be added at Vandenberg AFB, it would be less expensive to build a new GBI missile field, which is not prohibited by the treaty,” the general said, adding that converting submarine launchers into missile defense was “unattractive and extremely expensive.”

Gen. O’Reilly said the New START “actually reduces constraints on the development of the missile defense program.”

“Unless they have New START-accountable first stages (which we do not plan to use), our targets will no longer be subject to START constraints, which limited our use of air-to-surface and waterborne launches of targets which are essential for the cost-effective testing of missile defense interceptors against [medium-range ballistic missile] and [intermediate-range ballistic missile] targets in the Pacific area,” he said.

The treaty also will remove limits on space launch facilities for target launches.

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