Push for National Missile Defense Stalled by CBO Report on Costs

By Cerniello, Craig | Arms Control Today, May/June 1996 | Go to article overview

Push for National Missile Defense Stalled by CBO Report on Costs


Cerniello, Craig, Arms Control Today


REPUBLICAN EFFORTS to push through legislation requiring the United States to deploy a national missile defense (NMD) system by 2003 ran into trouble in mid-May when the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the so-called "Defend America Act of 1996" would involve acquisition costs between $31 billion to $60 billion through 2010. Faced with this estimate, the House postponed a floor vote on the bill, which was originally scheduled for May 23. Moreover, on June 4, the Senate rejected a motion of cloture by a vote of 53-46, seven short of the 60 votes required to prevent a threatened Democratic filibuster and force a floor vote on the bill.

Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole (R-KS) and House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) introduced the controversial Defend America Act on March 21 (see ACT, March 1996). The bill states that it is U.S. policy to deploy a NMD system by 2003 that "is capable of providing a highly-effective defense of the territory of the United States against limited, unauthorized, or accidental ballistic missile attacks," and that "will be augmented over time to provide a layered defense against larger and more sophisticated ballistic missile threats as they emerge." The legislation also calls for an amendment to the ABM Treaty to permit the deployment of such a NMD system, and if this fails, for the United States to consider withdrawing from the treaty.

In contrast, the Clinton administration advocates the development of the elements of a NMD system in three years which could be deployed in another three years if and when a ballistic missile threat to the United States is identified that warrants such a decision-commonly referred to as the "3-plus-3" program. If a missile threat to its territory has not emerged after three years, the United States will continue development of its NMD system until such a threat is identified.

CBO Estimate

In a May 17 letter to Strom Thurmond (R-SC), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, the CBO outlined the resuits of its review of the Defend America Act, as requested by the committee. (An identical letter was sent on May 15 to Representative Floyd Spence (R-SC), chairman of the House National Security Committee.) The CBO estimated that the missile defense legislation would cost $10 billion over the next five years-about $7 billion more than the Clinton administration has allocated for NMD. More importantly, the CBO projected that "[t]hrough 2010, total acquisition costs would range from $31 billion to $60 billion for a layered defense that would include both ground- and spacebased weapons." The budget office noted that these figures do not include the operation and support costs for the NMD system after it is deployed.

Meanwhile, in recent weeks, the Clinton administration has intensified its attack on the Defend America Act. Citing the CBO's cost estimate, President Clinton sharply criticized the legislation during his May 22 commencement address to the U.

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Push for National Missile Defense Stalled by CBO Report on Costs
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