Reflections on Senate Star Wars Un-debate

26 June 2002

Bruce Gagnon

I spent a considerable part of today watching the Senate debate (well, sort of debate) the amount of funding for "missile defense" in fiscal year 2003.

The Senate is close to approving a $393 billion Defense Authorization Bill, with the Star Wars funding question, holding them up.

George W. Bush wants $7.6 billion in 2003 for research and development for a host of Star Wars systems now underway.  The Democratic controlled Senate Armed Services Committee is recommending to the full Senate that Bush's request be cut by $814 million.  The Republicans are angry about that and Sen. John Warner (R-VA) has introduced an amendment to restore the full funding.  Secretary of War Donald Rumsfeld is saying that he will recommend that Bush veto the final bill if the Star Wars funding is not restored.

Now you'd think that cutting $814 million by the Democrats from Star Wars research and development is a good thing!  Are the Democrats rediscovering their commitment to fund things like social security, health care, child care, and education?  Well not exactly.  The Democrats want to move the $814 billion from Star Wars into military ship building and other Pentagon programs.  As Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) stated during the debate, "Ship building is important.  A 310 ship navy is crucial to our foreign policy...We can't wait for our enemy to come to us, we need to go to them." The Democrats claim that the newly renamed Missile Defense Agency (MDA) has more than enough money to do "robust research and development" for missile defense.  "I support building the missile defense program....let's give the taxpayers the very best missile defense system," said Sen. Landrieu.

The Congress (Republicans & Democrats alike) gave the Pentagon so much money for Star Wars last year that the military could not spend all of it.  Try as they may, including giving the same contracts to two different aerospace contractors to work on the same Star Wars technologies, they still have $4 billion left over.  Add that $4 billion to the Senate Democrats offer of $6.8 billion in 2003 and the Pentagon will have nearly $11 billion next year.  Bush, and his Republican allies, want to make it $814 million more.

The Republicans threw in the names of North Korea, Iran, Iraq, and China (with it's 20 nuclear missiles) over and over again as the excuse for needing to restore the funds in question.  Sen. Wayne Allard (R-CO) said that "Rogue states intend to deter the U.S. from pursuing its interests."

The Republicans praised Bush for walking away from the ABM Treaty that outlawed the development of sea-based and space-based Star Wars systems. The death of the ABM now allows the development of an "integrated" system that will enable the U.S. to "exploit new basing modes" they claimed. References to Theatre Missile Defense (TMD,) by both parties, acknowledged how this program is moving into the preferred deployment mode, now possible without the ABM Treaty.

In April, 1999 the Senate voted 97-3 in favor of the "Missile Defense Act" that requires deployment of "missile defense" as soon as technologically possible.  Democratic Senators Carl Levin (D-MI) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) in fact led the fight in the Senate to approve the legislation.  Charged Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), "The issue has been settled."

The only speaker who really criticized the idea of Star Wars all day long was the dean of the body, Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV) who claimed that the "Pentagon has shifted its efforts into high gear...the drivers of the missile defense hot rod are doing their best to make this thing look good." The aging senator went on to talk about the need for an immediate infusion of $205 million to save the national rail system, AMTRAK and 20,000 of its workers, from going bankrupt.  No one cheered his speech.

The Senate resumes debate Wednesday morning at 9:30 am on S. 2514, the Defense Authorization Bill for 2003.  If you are inclined to call your Senate delegation to urge their opposition to the Warner amendment you can reach them at the Congressional Switchboard: (202) 224-3121.  Of course if the Democrats succeed in cutting the $814 million from Star Wars research and development the money will go toward other "power projection" programs at the Pentagon.  Such is the state of politics in the U.S. today.  Step up and take your poison.  Back to the streets.


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