The Pentagon challenged Congress yesterday to capitalize on last weekend’s successful missile-defense flight test by approving President Bush’s request for a 57 percent increase in anti-missile development to $8.3 billion next year.
“This weekend’s test shows the potential for success,” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz told the Senate Armed Services Committee, whose Democratic chairman opposes Mr. Bush’s full-throttled test schedule. “Let us not fail because we did not adequately fund the necessary testing or because we artificially restricted the exploration of every possible technology.”
“The ability to defend the American people from ballistic missile attack is clearly within our grasp, but we cannot do so unless the president has Congress’ support,” he testified.
Mr. Wolfowitz’s testimony, his second appearance within a week before the same panel on the same topic, touched off another Republican vs. Democratic debate on the president’s intention to abandon the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty if Russia refuses changes to it. The treaty prohibits missile-defense deployments and some of the planned tests the administration wants executed over a Pacific Ocean test range in the next two years.
“If we are to build on this weekend’s accomplishments, we must move beyond the ABM Treaty,” Mr. Wolfowitz said of the Cold War pact between the United States and the Soviet Union, made at a time when fewer than 10 nations possessed ballistic missiles. Today, the number is 28, including adversaries such as North Korea, Iran and Iraq.
Committee Chairman Carl Levin, Michigan Democrat, seemed unimpressed by the argument. Senate sources say Mr. Levin wants the committee to slash Mr. Bush’s request and distribute the money to programs benefiting military personnel.
“We should be mighty cautious before ripping up an arms-control treaty in order to try to meet the highly unlikely threat of North Korea using a missile against us,” he told Mr. Wolfowitz, “unlikely because if they launched a missile against us, it would lead to their immediate destruction.”
Mr. Wolfowitz also played the diplomatic card in trying to persuade the committee. The Bush administration is in intensive discussions to convince Moscow to amend the ABM Treaty to allow more aggressive testing. A “no” vote from Congress, Mr. Wolfowitz argued, would embolden Russian President Vladimir Putin to rebuff Mr. Bush at upcoming meetings in Genoa, Italy, and Crawford, Texas.
“I would urge Congress not to give the Russians the mistaken impression that they can somehow exercise a veto over our development of missile defenses,” Mr. Wolfowitz said.
Responded Mr. Levin, “No one I know of is willing to give Russia or anyone else a veto over our actions. But Russian reaction to a unilateral breach of an arms-control agreement is relevant to our security and could leave us a lot less secure.”
The Pentagon is assembling a team of experts to determine which types of tests would violate the treaty. One clear violation will come when a new $750 million test bed of radar and interceptor silos becomes operational in Alaska, perhaps as soon as 2004.
The new testing regime calls for sea- and land-based interceptors to knock down warheads in their midcourse (as in Saturday’s test) and incoming phase. There will also be research into airborne and space-based lasers that would knock out a missile in the boost phase.
In Saturday’s $100 million test, an exoatmospheric kill vehicle (EKV) was launched by a prototype booster from the Ronald Reagan Missile Site in the Marshall Islands and sent 140 miles above the Earth. There, the EKV used its own sensors and data from ground radar to intercept a dummy warhead launched on an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.