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Press Releases

NMD Debate in Congress Heats Up As Lott, Lugar Introduce New Bills


Craig Cerniello

AS THE 105th session of Congress began in January, the debate about whether the United States should deploy a national missile defense (NMD) system intensified. On January 21, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott (R MS) and Assistant Senate Majority Leader Don Nickles (R OK) announced that the Republican agenda in the Senate this legislative session would consist of national missile defense along with 10 domestic policy initiatives. The "National Missile Defense Act of 1997," introduced that day by Lott and 25 co sponsors, requires the United States to deploy an NMD system by the end of 2003—a similar, though scaled down, version of last year's highly contentious "Defend America Act."

The Clinton administration's so called "3 plus 3" program, on the other hand, requires the United States to develop the elements of an NMD system by 2000, at which time it will evaluate the ballistic missile threat to its territory and be in a position to deploy a system by 2003 if necessary (see ACT, March 1996). If the missile threat has not materialized by 2000, then the United States will continue developing and refining its NMD system, maintaining a rolling three year deployment capability, until a rogue nation threat justifying such a decision has been identified.

In an attempt to bridge the gap between Lott's NMD proposal and the administration's program, Senator Richard Lugar (R IN) introduced the "Defend the United States of America Act of 1997" on January 21. The bill requires the United States to develop an NMD system which is capable of being deployed by the end of 2003. It also calls for a congressional vote in 2000 on whether to deploy the system.

 

The Lott Bill

The National Missile Defense Act states that it is U.S. policy to deploy an NMD system by the end of 2003 that "is capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate)," and that "could be augmented over time to provide a layered defense against larger and more sophisticated ballistic missile threats if they emerge." This language is similar to that contained in the "Defend America Act of 1996," sponsored by former Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R KS) and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R GA). The Dole Gingrich bill was withdrawn from House consideration in May 1996 when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the NMD system would incur acquisition costs between $31 billion to $60 billion through 2010 (see ACT, May/June 1996).

Aware of the influence the CBO estimate had in shaping last year's debate, the National Missile Defense Act deliberately tones down some of the key language contained in the Defend America Act in an attempt to reduce costs. Whereas the Dole Gingrich bill called for the deployment of a NMD system that could provide a "highly effective" defense against "limited, unauthorized, or accidental ballistic missile attacks," the Lott bill only requires that the system be capable of defending against limited missile attack. Furthermore, the Lott bill only states that the NMD system "could" rather than "will" be augmented over time to provide a layered defense against more sophisticated missile threats.

The National Missile Defense Act also scales down the elements of the NMD system. Under the Lott bill, the NMD system will consist of an interceptor system; fixed, ground based radars; space based sensors; and battle management, command, control and communications. The Dole Gingrich bill, however, envisioned a much more elaborate interceptor system that included one or a combination of ground based and sea based interceptors; space based, kinetic energy interceptors; and space based, directed energy systems.

Nevertheless, the National Missile Defense Act retains some important provisions that were included in the 1996 Defend America Act. For instance, Lott's legislation "urges" the president to pursue negotiations with the Russians to amend the ABM Treaty to permit deployment of the NMD system, and requires the United States to consider withdrawing from the treaty if these negotiations have not succeeded within one year of the bill's enactment. Moreover, the Lott bill states that it is U.S. policy "to seek a cooperative transition to a regime that does not feature an offense only form of deterrence as the basis for strategic stability."

 

The Lugar Bill

Lugar's legislation attempts to find a middle ground between the administration's NMD approach and the more ambitious Republican proposals. During his January 21 remarks to the Senate in which he introduced the bill, Lugar said, "I hold the view that the ABM Treaty does have, or can be made to have, sufficient flexibility or elasticity to accommodate certain kinds of national missile or theater missile defense systems. By the same token, I reject the notion that we can only achieve the types of theater missile defense or national missile defense we need by outright abrogation of the ABM Treaty."

The Lugar bill directs the secretary of defense to conduct a "research and development program" to develop a single site NMD system that can be deployed by the end of 2003. The system will be "designed to protect the United States against limited ballistic missile threats, including accidental or unauthorized launches or attacks by Third World countries."

In addition, the bill requires Congress to make a decision concerning deployment of the NMD system during 2000. The deployment decision will be based on five factors: the projected ballistic missile threat to the United States in 2000 and beyond; the projected cost and effectiveness of the system based on available technology and testing results; the projected cost and effectiveness of the system if deployment were deferred for one to three years while additional development continued; arms control factors; and an assessment of U.S. preparedness in defending against an attack involving nuclear, chemical or biological weapons.

The Lugar legislation also mandates that the NMD system be compliant with the ABM Treaty. In this connection, the system will consist of fixed, ground based battle management radars; up to 100 ground based interceptor missiles; as necessary, space based adjuncts permitted under the treaty; and, as necessary, large phased array radars that are located on the periphery of the United States and oriented outward. The bill also urges the president to pursue discussions with Russia on possible amendments to the ABM Treaty that would allow for more effective defenses, such as a return to the original treaty provision permitting ABM deployment at two sites. However, it does not require the United States to consider withdrawing from the ABM Treaty if these negotiations do not succeed within one year.

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