U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, Democratic chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, outlined some of the disagreements he expects to see when the House and Senate meet to settle differences in the defense authorization bill later this year.
Speaking at an event on Capitol Hill, Levin said he has a problem with language adopted in the House version of the 2013 defense policy bill that authorizes funds for the Pentagon to move forward on a third missile defense site on the East Coast of the United States. The U.S. already has two Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) sites on the West Coast, designed to counter an attack from North Korea.
The House bill authorizes $100 million in unrequested funds for the Defense Department to evaluate possible locations for a new site, which would not have to use the GMD system.
Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has said that he does not see a need for such a site to defend the United States against intercontinental ballistic missile attacks.
Air Force Gen. C. Robert Kehler, commander of U.S. Strategic Command, has said it remains to be seen whether an East Coast site fits into a broader hedge strategy being worked inside the Pentagon.
Speaking at the Council on Foreign Relations May 30, Kehler said today’s system is sized to protect the United States from a limited threat, specifically from North Korea. The Pentagon is now studying its options for what it would do if that threat grows faster than anticipated or changes in some way, Kehler said.
“Those are the questions that are going on. How we address that threat remains to be seen,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, head of the Missile Defense Agency, testified in April that North Korea’s recent missile test failures demonstrate the country has made little progress with its program.
Levin noted that the military’s opposition to a third missile site would likely carry weight when the House and Senate meet to hash out their differences in conference committee.
The Michigan senator spoke June 6 at an event hosted by the Council for a Livable World, a Washington-based non-profit that advocates for nuclear-arms control.
Levin said he also takes issue with House language that requires the GMD system to undergo flight tests before it is ready to do so. Levin also predicted lengthy debate when it comes to placing restrictions on sharing information with Russia on missile defense.
If the United States and Russia were seen as cooperating on missile defense to counter an Iranian threat, it could be a game-changer in the Middle East, Levin said.
Sharing radar information with Russia and receiving similar intelligence from them is not just useful militarily, but it also sends a powerful political message to Iran that the United States and Russia are working together against the country, Levin said.
The restrictions in the House bill would send the exact opposite message, he added.
Russia continues to oppose NATO plans to develop a European missile defense capability, despite claims from the United States that the system is meant to counter other threats, specifically Iran.
By sharing certain information with the Russians, the Obama administration hopes to allay some of the country’s concerns.
House Republicans say they’re worried the United States could share classified information with Russia or agree to restrictions to U.S. missile defense plans.
Finally, House legislation, which prohibits military chaplains from performing same-sex marriage ceremonies in states where it is legal to do so, will also cause “a lot of discussion,” Levin said. “I think we’ll be successful getting that thrown out, but we have a lot of work to do.”
Before the House and Senate can resolve these differences, the Senate has to pass a version of the bill. The Senate Armed Services Committee, which Levin leads, voted unanimously to approve its markup of the bill on May 24.