- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 14, 2009

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

COMMENTARY:

The core mission of our government has always been to protect the homeland from all possible external threats. However, despite daily warnings about another possible North Korean Taepodong-2 long-range missile launch and growing proliferation fears after Pyongyang’s Memorial Day nuclear test, the Obama administration has called for a $1.2 billion cut to missile defense in its 2010 budget request. Specifically, the administration reduces funding for and curbs deployment of national missile-defense capabilities designed to protect the United States.

We hope diplomacy and the engagement of rogue leaders would prevent us from ever needing a national missile-defense system. Yet we saw Kim Jong-il walk away from Six-Party engagement talks, defy international community warnings and challenge a U.N. Security Council resolution by following through on his provocative threat of a nuclear test and missile launches. A comprehensive missile-defense system to protect the United States and our allies from a ballistic missile fired in anger or by accident is a smart and indispensable insurance policy.

The defense budget increases funding for theater missile defenses, which are important capabilities in protecting our forward-deployed troops and allies from shorter-range missiles. However, with a $1.2 billion cut, we have been forced to trade national missile defense for more theater missile defense. Setting up such a false choice between the defense of our homeland and defense of our forward-deployed troops and allies is not a wise policy. Both are necessary, and both could have been funded adequately without such deep cuts.

It is equally troubling that such serious decisions apparently were made without sufficient analysis and planning. Significant policy and program changes were made in this year’s defense budget, before the administration’s completion of its missile-defense policy and strategy review and the Pentagon’s major defense review - the Quadrennial Defense Review.

We also must ask how the threat has changed to warrant such reductions in national missile defense - from a planned deployment of 44 Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) System interceptors in Alaska and California to defend against North Korean and Iranian missile threats to 30 interceptors and cancellation of missile field No. 2 in Alaska. All intelligence-community threat assessments provided to the House Armed Services Committee, including the recent report from Wright Patterson Air Force Base’s National Air and Space Intelligence Center, titled “Ballistic and Cruise Missile Threats,” indicate a growing threat to the United States. Recent North Korean and Iranian events substantiate this point.

Funding cuts in an unproven system might be debatable, but the GMD national missile-defense program has been tested and is operational. We should complete the deployment of the remaining interceptors and missile field No. 2 as originally envisioned and planned. Stopping short of full funding now may handicap the overall capabilities of the system. Last week, during a visit to Fort Greely, Alaska - a key site for the GMD system - Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told reporters he had not ruled out adding to the number of interceptor missiles if the threat from rogue states develops faster than the administration anticipates. Given the increasing threat and uncertainty surrounding North Korean and Iranian intent, how can the administration be so confident that we can curtail deployment at this time?

Less than one-fifth of 1 percent of the overall defense budget is spent on these national missile-defense capabilities. Yet if the administration’s cuts are sustained, we stand to lose more than 11,000 jobs across the country. The advanced technologies of the GMD system demand skilled laborers, craftsmen and engineers. Components and services are provided by both small and large companies in Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Utah, Virginia and Washington.

It’s hard to escape the sense that the administration is signaling a willingness to place our country at risk and good American jobs in jeopardy in exchange for relatively small budget savings. The Obama administration may be willing to accept this increased risk to the United States homeland, but, as I see it, this proposition is simply unacceptable.

Rep. Michael R. Turner, Ohio Republican, is the ranking member of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.

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