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Disarmament Diplomacy

Issue No. 13, February - March 1997

US Ballistic Missile Defence Developments

FY98 budget request

On 6 February, President Clinton submitted to Congress a $59.4 billion defence budget for Financial Year 1998 (FY98). Defence expenditure in FY97 is expected to total $267.2 billion.

The budget includes a request for $3.5 billion of funding for ballistic missile defence (BMD) programmes. The Administration plans to spend $17.9 billion on BMD on FYs 1998-2003, at which point final decisions on deployment and strategy are expected to be made. The Republican Congress would like to see widespread national missile defence (NMD) systems deployed by 2003.

The FY98 request includes extra funding to enable two systems to be ready for deployment two years ahead of schedule, in 2004 rather than 2006: the Army's Theater High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system; and the Air Force's Space and Missile Tracking System (SMTS).

US Republicans submit new missile defence legislation

Not content with the Administration's plans, the Republican Senate has tabled a far more radical proposal in the form of the National Missile Defense Act 1997 (S.7). The legislation was put forward by Majority Leader Trent Lott (Mississippi), Chair of the Armed Services Committee Strom Thurmond (South Carolina), Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee Jesse Helms (North Carolina), and 23 other Senators. An alternative bill on the same issue, the Defend the United States of America Act 1997 (S.64) has been tabled by Senator Richard Lugar (Republican - Indiana).

The National Missile Defense Act calls for deployment of an initial NMD system by the end of 2003. The Act also lays down the procedure to be followed by the Administration in seeking changes to the US-Russia Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty; and in withdrawing from the treaty, if negotiations fail.

Other developments

On 27 March, the Director of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization (BMDO), Air Force Lieutenant-General Lester Lyles, announced a failed test of a BMD interceptor-missile - an "exo-atmospheric kill vehicle", in the Director's words, scheduled to be fully tested by 2000. Lyles said the failure of the test, which took place in January, was due to human error rather than any technical deficiency. Repeating the test was likely to cost "several tens of millions of dollars", and would not be possible before May.

Prominent NMD-advocate James Inhofe, Republican Senator for Oklahoma, reacted angrily to the announcement: "I have reached a high level of paranoia on this issue, and frustration... I can't think of anything that is more important that Congress should be addressing right now."

Reports: Clinton to submit $250.7 billion military budget, Agence France-Presse International News, 6 February; Cohen defends military budget, AP Online Washington News Wire, 6 February; Pentagon to boost BMDO funding and speed THAAD, SMTS, Armed Forces Newswire Service, 6 February; Republicans waste no time filing NMD bills, BMD Monitor, 7 February; National Missile Defense Act of 1997, BMD Monitor, 7 February; General reports on failed launch, AP Online Washington News Wire, 27 February.

© 1998 The Acronym Institute.

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