Dems express alarm at Trump missile defense plans

Dems express alarm at Trump missile defense plans
© Greg Nash

The top Democrats from the House and Senate Armed Services committees on Thursday indicated they were alarmed by the Trump administration’s new missile defense plans, and urged the president to avoid policies that could spur another Cold War and waste critical resources.  

Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One House panel approves 3B defense policy bill House panel approves 3B defense policy bill MORE (D-Wash.), the chairman of the House panel, called on the administration to “avoid missile defense policies that will fuel a nuclear arms race,” following President Trump’s unveiling of the Missile Defense Review.

The document highlights new ways of deterring weapons from Russia, China, Iran and North Korea including building up the U.S. missile stockpile and introducing new technologies.

“Strategic stability is an essential component of U.S. national security, and it does not serve our long-term interest to take steps that incentivize Russia and China to increase the number and capability of their nuclear weapons,” Smith said in a statement. 

Trump in his speech seemed to allude to the administration’s decision in October to pull the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty with Russia. 

The nuclear deal, signed by the two countries during the Cold War, bans all land-based missiles with ranges of 310 to 3,420 miles and includes missiles carrying both nuclear and conventional warheads. The original ban between Moscow and Washington resulted in 2,692 missiles being destroyed.

“We are committed to establishing a missile defense program that can shield every city in the United States and we will never negotiate away our right to do this,” Trump said.

But Smith said he was “gravely concerned” by Trump’s move “to withdraw us from international arms control agreements, dismiss allies, and expand the role of nuclear weapons in U.S. defense policy, which could further siphon funding from much-needed budget priorities and exacerbate a new nuclear arms race.”

In addition, Smith called on the administration to prioritize dollars for “programs that are reliable and rigorously tested before they are deployed,” rather than “rushing to buy and deploy unproven missile defense systems.”

“It is common sense to insist on this principle when it comes to programs that protect the American people and our allies, particularly in the context of the growing North Korea threat,” Smith said.

Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedTop voting machine manufacturer urges Congress to make paper records required Top voting machine manufacturer urges Congress to make paper records required Democrats ask Fed to probe Trump's Deutsche Bank ties MORE (D-R.I.), the top Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, backed Smith’s sentiment on spending, warning that Washington doesn’t “have unlimited resources, so we must weigh investments among competing national security priorities.”

Missile defense is “not a magic bulletproof shield and it comes with a considerable price tag,” Reed said in a separate statement.  

 Reed also threw shade at Trump’s demand for $5.7 billion to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexican border — an issue that has sent the government into a partial shutdown for a record-setting 27 days.

“Listening to national security experts, and the President’s own remarks, it seems clear that an effective high-tech missile defense system is a higher national security priority than building a wall across the southern border,” Reed said. 

Trump in his speech also touted several new technologies the administration will seek to invest in, including hypersonic weapons and putting missile interceptors in space, science that is still years away from being perfected. 

“We will focus on developing new technology, not just investing more money into existing systems,” Trump said at the Pentagon earlier Thursday. “The world is changing and we’re going to change much faster than the rest of the world.”

The president said the administration’s upcoming fiscal year 2020 Pentagon budget request will call for investment in a space-based missile defense layer, something that he claimed would ultimately “be a very, very big part of our defense and obviously of our offense.”

Smith, in turn, criticized the review’s space interceptor plans as a potential waste of resources, saying that the technology “has been studied repeatedly and found to be technologically challenging and prohibitively expensive.”

House Armed Service’s ranking member Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryOvernight Defense: Pompeo blames Iran for oil tanker attacks | House panel approves 3B defense bill | Trump shares designs for red, white and blue Air Force One House panel approves 3B defense policy bill House panel approves 3B defense policy bill MORE (R-Texas), meanwhile, offered positive reviews for the report.

“The United States faces an unprecedented range of serious and complex threats. Those include the threat of missile attack by rogue states against the Homeland as well as our friends and allies. The Missile Defense Review confirms the seriousness of that threat as well as the urgent need to continue developing and deploying a defense against it,” Thornberry said in a statement. 

And Rep. Mike TurnerMichael Ray TurnerHouse defense bill sets stage for contentious nuclear debate Overnight Defense: Officials approved sending Saudis nuclear technology after Khashoggi killing | Space Command pick warns of challenges ahead | Lawmakers clash over bill blocking low-yield nukes Overnight Defense: Officials approved sending Saudis nuclear technology after Khashoggi killing | Space Command pick warns of challenges ahead | Lawmakers clash over bill blocking low-yield nukes MORE (R-Ohio), a frequent advocate for missile defense-related spending said the review “provides a timely and necessary response to our adversaries’ advancements in capabilities.”

“This review rightly and strongly reaffirms the United States’ commitment to keeping the American people and our allies safe through maintaining and enhancing a robust deterrence,” said Turner, who also attended the unveiling of the review at the Pentagon.

The response was similar in the Senate, with Armed Services Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales Senate rejects effort to block Trump's Qatar, Bahrain arms sales Shanahan: 'No concerns' about FBI background check for nomination MORE (R-Okla.), noting that he was pleased that the review emphasizes missile defense in Europe and the Pacific while countering threats from Iran and North Korea.

“I am especially encouraged by its emphasis on advanced technology development that will ensure a continued focus on modernization efforts to maintain, and in some cases establish, a competitive advantage relative to our adversaries who are advancing rapidly,” Inhofe said in a statement.