In Congress yesterday, Representative John Tierney, Chair of the House National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, convened the first in a series of hearings to examine a US missile defense program that is out of control, straining relations with allies, and renewing an arms race with Russia.
This is the first comprehensive review of the program since 1993 – the year before Republicans took control of Congress – and it’s long overdue. The focus yesterday was on the extent of the missile threat – as compared to other security vulnerabilities – and whether spending more than $10 billion annually on ballistic missile defense (BMD) is justifiable from that perspective.
In his opening statement, Rep. Tierney pointed out that we have spent over $120 billion on missile defense in the past 25 years; that the annual budget is expected to double by 2013 to $19 billion; and that the current $10 billion per year is equal to one-third of the Homeland Security budget, roughly equal to the State Department budget, greater than the FEMA budget, 20 times greater than public diplomacy expenditures, and 30 times greater than Peace Corps.
Dr. Stephen Flynn, Senior Fellow for National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a retired Coast Guard Commander, testified that the “non-missile risk” – smuggling a weapon of mass destruction into the US by ship, train, truck, or private jet – is “far greater than the ballistic missile threat….” He noted that smuggling is the only realistic option for a terrorist group like al Qaeda; it offers anonymity to any attacking nation and therefore protection from retaliation; seaports, borders, and overseas flights “provide a rich menu of non-missile options”; and it has greater potential to “generate cascading economic consequences by disrupting global supply chains.”
Despite these risks, Flynn said, “The combined budgets for funding all the domestic and international port of entry interdiction efforts… is equal to roughly one-half of the annual budget for developing missile defense. Nowhere in the US government has there been or is there now an evaluation of whether that represents an appropriate balance….The amount of resources we dedicate to the [more serious threat of cargo delivery] is miniscule compared to the kinds of resources we invest in dealing with the ballistic missile threat. That’s the kind of disconnect we’re operating in.”
Joseph Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund and author of Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons, provided the Committee with an even more pointed assessment. He recalled his past work for the House Armed Services Committee and the National Security Subcommittee during the Cold War. “At that time, we were not worried about a prototype Iranian missile that might or might not be deployed. We were worried about 5,000 Soviet warheads… destroying not just our country but most likely this planet. I have known ballistic missile threats, I have researched ballistic missile threats. Mr. Chairman, this is not a serious ballistic missile threat that we face today…. [It] is limited and changing relatively slowly. There is every reason to believe that it can be addressed through measured military preparedness and aggressive diplomacy.”