US budget woes could hit European missile defense

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta on Capitol Hill, November 15, 2011

From Desmond Butler, the AP:  A breakdown in high-stakes budget talks in Congress could threaten plans for a missile defense shield in Europe.

Congressional negotiators have shown little sign they will be able to meet Wednesday’s deadline for reducing the deficit by $1.2 trillion over 10 years. If they fail to agree, a new law mandates cuts throughout the federal government, including a big slice of the defense budget.

While it is not known what military spending would be cut, an expensive program aimed primarily at defending Europe is unlikely to be spared.

The U.S. sees the missile defense system, aimed at countering a threat from Iran, as part of its contribution to the NATO military alliance. With the United States often complaining that it makes a disproportionately large contribution to NATO, missile defense could be especially vulnerable to budget-cutters.

"A missile defense system for NATO? It’s going to be hard to keep people committed if they think the U.S. is picking up the tab for Europe," says Kurt Volker, who was ambassador to NATO at the end of the George W. Bush administration.

Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has warned that the European missile defense program could be threatened if the special deficit reduction committee should fail to work out a deal. That suggestion, though, may have been intended mostly to nudge lawmakers to resolve their differences and avoid the automatic cuts to one of their favorite programs.  

From Tim Mak and Charles Hoskinson, POLITICO: Panetta’s doomsday scenario comes in two letters to Senate Armed Services Committee members John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who have been pressing him for details after months of apocalyptic warnings of what would happen if the debt-reduction panel fails to come up with $1.5 trillion in budget savings by Nov. 23. . . .

In his letters, Panetta wrote that the supercommittee’s failure could also force cancellation of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program, the Army’s new ground combat vehicle and helicopter modernization programs, along with a planned missile defense shield in Europe.  (photo: AP)

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