Key Senate Republicans on Thursday threw their support behind a controversial proposal to develop an East Coast missile defense site in the U.S. to defend against Iranian intercontinental ballistic missiles that do not yet exist.
During ongoing floor debate of the Senate’s fiscal 2013 defense authorization bill, New Hampshire’s Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) said she endorsed language in the House-passed bill authorizing the Pentagon to spend $100 million to study locations in the northeast United States for ICMB missile defenses. That provision was a surprise addition when the House bill emerged from the House Armed Services Committee and survived floor debate.
Ayotte introduced an amendment with similar language and immediately withdrew it before a vote, instead offering her verbal support for the House bill. Ayotte argued Iran could develop a nuclear-tipped, long-range missile that could reach the United States. U.S. defenses currently would not allow for a defensive knock-down and counterattack, she argued.
“I think this is deeply troubling and we should be developing that capacity.”
Ayotte said the National Research Council recommended an additional ballistic missile site in the Northeast. “particularly against Iranian ICBM threats,s hould they emerg.” That report, however, was funded by the Missile Defense Agency
and concluded the U.S. should not try to invest in defenses that attempt to strike missiles as they launch, rather ones that would have better luck with set up back on U.S. soil to catch missiles as they’re further in flight.
Ayotte also argued “some analysts” believe Iran “could develop that capacity” of long-range missiles by 2015. “I can’t imagine why we wouldn’t want to be in a position to make sure that the east coast of our country would be as protected as the West coast,” Ayotte said, specifically of Iran, which she argued was trying to acquire a nuclear weapon.
Intelligence officials have testified this year that they believe Iran has not yet decided to proceed with developing a nuclear weapon.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) backed Ayotte but spoke more to the U.S. inability to defend against an “accidental” launch of Chinese or Russian ICBMs that already can reach the East Coast.
“Wars can be started almost by accident and the best protection against that is a missile defense system that ensures no harm isdone,” Kyl said. “We have a moral responsibility and it makes strategic sense…because of the critical vulnerability that we have right now.”
Senate debate on the defense authorization bill is expected to continue for two more days.