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National Defesne Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005

Location: Washington DC


Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, in a few months, the administration will announce that a national missile defense has been fielded in Alaska. Nobody in this body will be fooled by that announcement. We know smoke and mirrors when we see them, and that is what the so-called "rudimentary" missile defense will be.

The Bush campaign will say that he kept his promise to defend America against an attack by intercontinental ballistic missiles, but they won't admit that it doesn't work. And they won't mention the price, both in dollars and in the diversion of high-level attention from the truly pressing threats to our national security.

For those reasons, it is absolutely vital that we approve the amendment offered by Senator REED of Rhode Island. No complex weapons system should be deployed with as little evidence as we have today that the system could ever succeed in wartime. It is astounding that the President's desire to field a system by this October takes precedence over the need to ensure that the system will work. The administration's pursuit of missile defense has been anything but smooth.

First, it put on hold the program inherited from President Clinton. Then it decided on a defense remarkably similar to that one, but with a requirement that a so-called "Alaska test bed" be made operational by October 2004. After a test failed in December 2002, the administration actually reduced the number of intercept tests to be conducted before deployment, in order not to delay the deployment date. It has not conducted a single intercept test since then, let alone one using the intended booster, the actual kill vehicle, the planned radar, the space-based infrared satellite that would be vital to the success of this system, or anything approaching a realistic test geometry or target set.

Very little, if any, of this will be accomplished before the administration claims its schedule-driven success. General Kadish has already said that the next test might be delayed until the fall.

Mr. Thomas Christie, Director of the Pentagon's Office of Operational Test and Evaluation, wrote in his most recent annual report:

Delays in production and testing of the two booster designs have put tremendous pressure on the test schedule immediately prior to fielding. At this point, it is not clear what mission capability will be demonstrated prior to initial defensive operations.

In February, the General Accounting Office wrote:

No component of the system to be fielded by September 2004 has been flight-tested in its deployed configuration. Significant uncertainties surround the capability to be fielded by September.

Two months ago before the Senate Armed Services Committee, Mr. Christie agreed with Senator REED's statement that:

At this time, we cannot be sure that the actual system would work against a real North Korean missile threat.

The Union of Concerned Scientists has noted that, given the limited capabilities of the Cobra Dane radar in Alaska and the SPY-1 radar on a ship in the Pacific Ocean, this system would leave Hawaii essentially undefended. In fairness, there is a precedent for the administration's approach. It is a very old and famous precedent. You can find it in Chapter 1 of Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.

Don Quixote checks out his old helmet, which he has been restoring:

In order to see if it was strong and fit to stand a cut, he drew his sword and gave it a couple of slashes, the first of which undid in an instant what had taken him a week to do. The ease with which he had knocked it to pieces disconcerted him somewhat, and to guard against that danger he set to work again, fixing bars of iron on the inside until he was satisfied with its strength . . .

So far, so good. This is what we do whenever an interceptor fails to hit its target in a flight test. My guess is that this is what the Missile Defense Agency did after the December 2002 test.

But note what Don Quixote does next:

. . . and then, not caring to try any more experiments with it, he passed it and adopted it as a helmet of the most perfect construction.

Does that sound familiar? The Missile Defense Agency did about the same thing: they decided to do fewer intercept tests, rather than more, and to defer nearly all of those tests until well after this missile defense "helmet" is fielded. So let's give the Pentagon credit where credit is due: they are downright literary. I do wonder, though, whether they ever got beyond Chapter 1. If they had read Chapter 11 of Don Quixote, they would have discovered that his helmet was demolished in its first encounter with an enemy. That is why Don Quixote ended up putting a barber's washbowl on his head.

There is a clear lesson here, and it is a lesson that Cervantes understood fully 400 years ago. Testing is not a one-time exercise. After you make your corrections to the system, you have to test again. and the reason for testing is so as not to field a system that will fail.

The administration will say that it is employing "spiral development," under which weapons are deployed in an initial configuration that is then improved through regular upgrades. That concept assumes, however, that the initial configuration is at least workable. In missile defense, it is not clear that we have even made it to the barber's washbowl.

To declare that a system protects the American people when none of its real components has been tested realistically is really to deceive the American people. The decision to decrease near-term testing in order to maintain a deployment date weeks before the next election demonstrates neither realism nor wisdom.

The administration's fixation on missile defense has also blinded it to the opportunity costs of its pursuit of that goal. As Richard Clarke later reported, the administration was so focused on missile defense and the ABM Treaty in 2001 that it paid too little attention to the growing threat of al Qaeda terrorism.

It also put on hold, throughout 2001, our important nonproliferation programs in the former Soviet Union, which help to keep Russian weapons, materials, and technology out of the hands of rogue states or terrorists.

In the wake of September 11, when the administration was given a choice of spending $1.3 billion on missile defense or on countering terrorism, it still opted to spend the funds on missile defense. The difficult situation in which we find ourselves today regarding North Korea may be yet another result of the administration's missile defense fixation.

The administration inherited a mixed, but hopeful, situation from President Clinton: North Korea's spent nuclear reactor fuel, except for enough to make one or two nuclear weapons, which had been illegally reprocessed in the 1980s, was being safely canned and stored under U.S. and IAEA observation. American access to a suspect underground site had created an inspection precedent that might be enlarged upon in other agreements. Negotiations were proceeding on a deal to end North Korea's long-range missile sales. And while North Korea was engaged in an illegal uranium enrichment program, that was apparently still at an experimental stage.

But the administration refused to build on President Clinton's work. It delayed any engagement with North Korea throughout 2001, insulting South Korea's President and undercutting our own Secretary of State in the process.

There were persistent rumors that administration officials viewed missile defense, rather than negotiations, as the real answer to any North Korean threat. The North Korean threat was, in turn, a widely cited justification for pursuing a national missile defense and withdrawing from the ABM Treaty.

So here we are in 2004, and what do we have? The North Korean missile threat is still uncertain, since there have been no further flight tests of long-range North Korean missiles. But if North Korea ever does field an ICBM, there is a much better chance now that it will carry a nuclear weapon. Four years ago, we guessed that North Korea had one or two nuclear weapons; now we reportedly think they have at least eight, with perhaps more on the way.

Has this administration's policy made us safer? It doesn't look that way to me. What has happened, however, is that the stakes in missile defense have gotten higher. If faulty missile defense were to let a North Korean missile through with a high explosive warhead, or even a chemical weapons warhead, that would be one thing. But if a missile gets through with a nuclear weapon, then say goodbye to Honolulu or Seattle or San Diego.

That gets back to the matter of realistic testing. it is one thing to have "spiral development" of a new bomb, or even a new airplane. The loss of life in the "learning by doing" phase will be tragic, but limited.

It is quite another thing to tell the American people to put their trust in a "rudimentary" missile defense that could well permit the destruction of whole American cities. The Reed amendment won't stop missile defense. All it does is redress the balance, a little, between feckless deployment and desperately needed testing.

Whether we like our missile defense program or not, we should all vote in favor of testing it. If we need a missile defense, then we need one that does more than raise a "Mission Accomplished" banner in Alaska. It is time to stop acting like Don Quixote and start heeding the wisdom of Cervantes.

I urge my colleagues to vote for the Reed amendment.

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