Congress Responds to Bush Missile Plans along Party Lines

Article excerpt

CONGRESSIONAL REPUBLICANS applauded President George W. Bush's May 1 declaration that the United States would deploy missile defenses, but top Democrats warned Bush against rashly abrogating the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which proscribes nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles. With control of the Senate reverting to the Democrats because of Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords' decision to leave the Republican Party, it appears likely that Bush will face new challenges in his pursuit of an ambitious missile shield.

Appearing at a May 2 press conference with Senators Carl Levin (D-MI), Jack Reed (D-RI), and Joe Biden (D-DE), then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) proclaimed that the president's speech "begins one of the most important and consequential debates that Americans will see in our lifetime."

At the press conference, Biden suggested that, if the United States unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty and deployed missile defenses, Russia could halt its nuclear reductions and China would increase its number of ICBMs from the 20 or so it has today to "closer to 800." He further projected that a Chinese missile buildup would prompt India and then Pakistan to expand their nuclear forces, creating a more dangerous Asia that could in turn put pressure on Japan "to go nuclear."

Biden, who will be the next chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, also expressed doubt concerning the premise that rogue states would not be deterred from attacking the United States. Levin, who is expected to become chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, questioned the urgency and priority of the threat, noting that both the U.S. intelligence and defense communities rank the possibility of a missile attack against the United States as the "least likely threat to us."

In a separate floor statement the same day, Senator John Kerry (D-MA) argued that, if Russia and China remained unconvinced by Bush administration assurances that U.S. missile defenses are not directed at them, a defense could make the United States less safe because Moscow and Beijing could respond by "developing, and eventually selling, new ways to overwhelm our defenses. …