Senator Jim DeMint (R-SC), who has been known to confuse Russia for the Soviet Union, isn't backing down from his position that the United States should build a huge missile defense system capable of defending against every possible missile attack from every possible foreign threat, including Russia.
DeMint created havoc with his missile defense proposal at this month's Senate Foreign Relations Committee business meeting, where he offered an amendment to the resolution to ratify the START nuclear reductions treaty that would have committed the United States to building a missile defense system to protect every American everywhere, at all times. Chairman John Kerry (D-MA) eventually worked out a compromise with DeMint that didn't include this commitment but did endorse the idea of moving away from the principle of "mutually assured destruction" that has been a cornerstone of U.S.-Russia nuclear deterrence for decades.
Undeterred (pun intended), DeMint offered an amendment last week to the defense authorization bill for the 2011 fiscal year that would require the United States "to deploy as rapidly as technology permits an effective and layered missile defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States and its allies against all ballistic missile attacks."
This amendment would constitute a wholesale transformation of U.S. missile defense policy, which would commit the United States to defending itself against the missile arsenals of Russia, China, and others. The current missile defense system is only designed to defend against rogue states like North Korea and Iran.
Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) also proposed an amendment that is pro-missile defense, but is not framed in such a way that explicitly antagonizes Russia, or obligates the United States to take on the costs required to build a system designed to shoot down any ballistic missile.
Corker and Kyl's amendment states clearly that the Obama administration's missile defense plan, known as the Phased Adaptive Approach, "is an appropriate response to the existing ballistic missile threat from Iran to European territory of North Atlantic Treaty Organization countries, and to potential future ballistic missile capabilities of Iran." He also called on the United States to cooperate with Russia on missile defense, noting that the current plan "is not intended to ... provide a missile defense capability relative to the ballistic missile deterrent forces of the Russian Federation, or diminish strategic stability with the Russian Federation."
Their reference to "strategic stability" is key because the Russians have made clear that they would unilaterally withdraw from the START treaty if they believe "strategic stability" with the United States is upset. Corker supports the treaty, and his amendment's inclusion of this language is a bid to keep the treaty alive. DeMint is against the treaty.
"DeMint's advocacy of a nationwide Star Wars system is really back to the future, a past rejected even by George W. Bush because it was dangerous and wildly expensive," said John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World."The Republican Party has moved so far to the right that even Jon Kyl and Bob Corker are relative moderates -- relative to DeMint."
DeMint's advocacy for missile defense against Russia also puts him at odds with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who has attempted several times to explain to DeMint that no administration, Republican or Democrat, has suggested building missile defense aimed at Russia.
"That, in our view, as in theirs, would be enormously destabilizing, not to mention unbelievably expensive," Gates told DeMint in a May 10 Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing.
DeMint and Corker's amendments were never voted on because the Senate failed to start debate on the defense authorization bill, due to GOP opposition to repealing the ban on gays serving openly in the military.
The START treaty, which was approved 14-4 by the Foreign Relations Committee on Sept. 16, could be voted on in the November lame-duck session or might be pushed to next year. DeMint was a no-show for the committee vote on the New START resolution.
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.