Full transcript of Representative Michael Turner’s remarks and discussion at the 2009 missile defense conference “Missile Defense in Europe: Next Steps.”


  • Damon Wilson, Vice President and Director, International Security Program, Atlantic Council
  • Representative Michael Turner (R-OH), Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee

October 7, 2009

DAMON WILSON:  We had an excellent discussion this morning I think, beginning with Gen. O’Reilly’s technical briefing of the architecture of the capabilities, the technology, and a good discussion with Gen. Scowcroft introducing Undersecretary Tauscher for a defense of the Obama administration’s plans on missile defense.  Thanks to Jack Gansler and his colleagues, a pretty spirited discussion about the architecture, the capabilities and the technology.

And now, I’m very pleased to introduce another perspective that we can have – a very important perspective coming from Congress.  I’m pleased to introduce Congressman Michael Turner, a Republican from Ohio’s 3rd district.  Congressman Turner is a lifelong resident of Dayton, Ohio, a two-term mayor of Dayton and he’s represented his district in the U.S. House of Representatives since taking office in 2003.

Congressman Turner is a leader on the House Armed Services Committee, where he presently serves as the ranking member on the Strategic Affairs Subcommittee and a member of the Readiness Subcommittee.  As a leader on the Strategic Affairs Subcommittee, Rep. Turner has been active in shaping the debate on missile defense in Europe, which is why we have invited him to speak here today.

The congressman will kick off the discussion and the debate on the core topic of the conference, looking at how the administration’s new missile defense policy will impact NATO, Europe, our important bilateral relationship with key allies.  And after that, he has a very tight schedule.  So after his remarks, then we’ll move into a panel discussion to be able to continue the discussion on the impact on NATO, the alliance and many of our allies.

It’s our pleasure to have you with us today, Congressman Turner.  Thank you for the taking the time to be with us today.  We look forward to your remarks.  (Applause.)

REP. MICHAEL TURNER (R-OH):  Well, thank you, Damon.  It’s a privilege to be here today and I do greatly appreciate your tolerance of the schedule of Congress.  This is an important dialogue – on European missile defense.

The Atlantic Council certainly is an invaluable institution; I appreciate your contribution to this discussion.  I’d like to thank Damon and members of the council for their leadership and commitment to fostering thoughtful dialogue and debate on important trans-Atlantic issues.  I would also like to thank Raytheon for sponsoring this particular event.

Well, it has been almost three weeks since the administration’s decision to abandon its plans for European missile defense sites in Poland and Czech Republic in favor of a, quote, “new approach,” close quote.  Well, this approach is not faster, not available sooner, not cheaper and is not entirely new.

Both the House and the Senate Armed Services Committee held hearings on this decision.  Many of us have had constructive conversations with administration officials.  However, there is no single congressional perspective I can share.  Some in Congress have expressed strong support for the decisions.  Others, like myself, disagree with the decisions or at least remain skeptical.  Even Sen. Lieberman today at the conference meeting for the NDAA voiced his strong concerns of this new approach.

While there is merit in the administration’s approach, what we have lost – and the rationale for why this decision was made – is debatable.  I think it is fraught with questionable assumptions and considerable geopolitical consequences.  I would expect that the first next step would be to address these questions and concerns.  First, however, I think it’s important to review the last few years of congressional action to understand why many of us in Congress were so disappointed by this reversal.

The proposed third site surfaced in 2006 with the previous administration requesting $55.8 million, and at the time both Republicans and Democrats believed the request was premature and, in a bipartisan manner, cut the funding.  Then, in 2007, when Democrats took control of the House, the program picked up.

In fiscal year 2008, the Defense Authorization Act had four basic conditions that were established for the proposed European missile defense system.  One:  signed and ratified host nation agreements; two:  independent assessments of alternatives; three:  certification that the two-stage interceptor intended for Poland works through realistic testing; four:  a NATO-ization of the third site.  Meet these conditions and the support and funding would be there, Congress said.

Our committee scrutinized the proposal.  The Missile Defense Agency along with other defense and intelligence organizations visited Capitol Hill on numerous occasions to brief members and staff.  We demanded cost estimates; detailed schedules; performance and coverage analysis, including alternative basing locations; threat assessments; updates on the status of negotiations with the Czechs and the Poles; and updates on efforts within NATO and discussions with Russia, in large part due to members like then-Chairman Tauscher, who pressed the administration in all these areas we saw unprecedented progress.

Agreements were signed in Prague in July 2008 and Warsaw in August of 2008.  The independent assessment, which was requested by Congress, concluded that the third site proposal was the most cost-effective solution to protecting the United States and Europe.  I’ve asked the Pentagon to declassify this report so that a wider body of experts can review its assumptions and analysis and come to their own conclusions.

The proposal was NATO-ized.  There was to be a NATO-wide missile defense architecture to address the full range of threats.  The U.S. would contribute a long-range missile defense system to cover the U.S. and most of Europe while our NATO allies were encouraged to contribute assets in the shorter ranges to fill in the gaps.

All NATO heads of state and governments signed onto this basic agreement at the 2008 April Bucharest summit.  They declared, quote, “We recognize the substantial contribution to the protection of allies from long range ballistic missiles to be provided by the planned deployment of European-based United States missile defense assets.  We are exploring ways to link this capability with current NATO missile defense efforts,” close quote.

Meanwhile, the U.S. also continued to build up its Aegis and THAAD inventories to provide further coverage in Europe, the Middle East and the Pacific.  NATO’s Active Layered Theatre Ballistic Missile Defence Programme got the jumpstart that it needed, and MDA began its focus on multinational concepts of operation, command and control, and integration through international war games, exercises and demonstrations.  The previous administration even sought to mollify Russian concerns through transparency measures and offers of cooperation.

In the fall of 2007, Sec. Gates offered to delay activation of the system until there was an imminent threat.  U.S. officials even proposed allowing inspections and a permanent presence by Russian monitors but only with the permission of the host governments.

There were countless congressional visits to Prague and Warsaw.  I participated in one led by then-Chairman Tauscher.  The message repeated in these capitals was clear:  We support European missile defense; the threat is real, not just from shot and medium-range missiles but missiles of all ranges; if you ratify these agreements, the funding will be there.  Furthermore, members of both parties told their Czech and Polish counterparts that a change in the White House was unlikely to change this message.

As a result of the congressional scrutiny, I think the plan was strengthened.  Yet, despite these bipartisan efforts, the administration reversed course, undid years of thoughtful progress and international engagement and brought European missile defense back to square one.

Some of the attributes of the new phased, adaptive approach, such as mobility, flexibility and interoperability are beneficial, no doubt.  However, the primary rationale behind the decision that the intelligence has changed and that the new approach is more cost-effective with proven technology and provides coverage of Europe sooner and more comprehensive just doesn’t square with what Congress has heard over the past few years.  So when I weigh all the costs and benefits of the decision, including its geopolitical ramifications, I do not come to the same conclusion as the administration.

Firstly, a central justification for the administration’s decision is allegedly a new threat assessment, which suggests that the threat from Iran’s long-range ballistic missiles has been slower to develop while its short and medium-range missiles are growing more rapidly than previously expected.  They believe this is the real near-term threat that we should be worried about.

Well, I have read the national intelligence estimate in question and my conclusion is different.  I do not believe that the threat has changed, and I believe that the administration’s claim is also inconsistent with the frequent briefings, intelligence reports and testimonies that the House Armed Services Committee has received from intelligence and defense officials.

After Iran successfully launched a satellite earlier this year, then-director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Gen. Michael Maples stated, quote, “Iran’s February 2, 2009 launch of the Safir Space Launch Vehicle shows progress in mastering technology needed to produce ICBMS,” close quote.

Later, in March 2009, Gen. Craddock, then-commander of U.S. European Command, testified before the committee; quote, “By 2015, Iran may also deploy an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching all of Europe and parts of the United States,” close quote.

In May 2009, an unclassified intelligence report issued by the National Air and Space Intelligence Center stated, quote, “With sufficient foreign assistance, Iran could develop and test an ICBM capable of reaching the United States by 2015.”

I do not believe Congress should reject this expert testimony and information.  Despite these judgments from key apolitical intelligence and defense organizations, there seems to be this certainty by some that the Iranians cannot develop an IRBM or an ICBM by 2015, and that these aren’t real threats to the U.S. or our allies even though Iran continues to demonstrate the requisite technology and work closer with the North Koreans – who themselves appear to be pursuing ICBMs.  Furthermore, let’s not forget that according to press reports, the North Koreans supplied Iran with eight BM, 25 RBMs in 2005.

Intelligence is an imprecise business, and made even more challenging when a country is determined to mask its activities.  To be fair, there are cases where we’ve seen a potential adversary take longer to develop a capability than previously estimated, but there are also cases where one has mastered a technology in a relatively short amount of time, and where we have all been taken by surprise.

The recent revelation that Iran is building a covert uranium enrichment facility is a case in point.  In November 2007, the intelligence community judged Iran’s covert uranium enrichment efforts as being halted.  Less than 2 years later, they are not.

So I’m skeptical when I hear administration officials talk in such absolute terms that the long-range missile threat isn’t as quick to develop.  Although I’m equally concerned by the proliferation and growth in short and medium-range missiles, they are a threat to our allies – particularly in the Middle East and Asia – and to our forward-deployed troops.  Thus, growing the capabilities and inventories of theater defenses is incredibly important.

But I think that the administration is missing the broader point strategically.  There should not be made a false trade to do theater defenses now and long-range defenses later.  And I think that had the missile defense budget not been cut by $1.2 billion below last year’s level, we could have continued both.

The administration laid out a four phased approach that it believes is less technically risky and provides more comprehensive coverage sooner.  Let’s look at a comparison of exactly what capabilities are provided and when.  The 2011 phase one and 2015 phase two deployments of Aegis and THAAD systems leveraged the past administration’s investments to expand these capabilities and inventories.

As I understand it, these phases provide only modest coverage of Europe.  Of course, this depends on the number of ships available and locations where those ships would be deployed.  Given the current demands on the Navy’s service fleet, dedicating those ships to the European theater will be challenging without sacrificing other missions.  This new approach does not provide protection for major European population centers against medium and intermediate-range ballistic missiles until 2018 or protection of the U.S. against ICBMs until 2020.

Under the original plan, the previous system was to be fielded in Poland by 2013.  However, ratification delays have caused the date to slip.  But according to Gen. O’Reilly, who I understand you heard from earlier, once the agreements are ratified, the radar site could be available in 4 years and the interceptor site in 5 years.  Should ratification occur in 2010, next year, we still could have had the previous system in place by 2015 – matching up with the date of the current intelligence estimates that had been public.

If we believe Iran may have an IRBM or ICBM capability by 2015 or even 2018, the new approach could leave parts of Europe vulnerable for several years and the United States vulnerable for up to 5 years, perhaps more if there are any schedule delays in any of the administration’s proposed systems.

The other variable here is proven technology.  Under the new proposal, protection of Europe requires a new interceptor, the SM-3 Block 2A that is in its early design phase.  Protection of the U.S. requires another new interceptor, the SM-3 Block 2B, that doesn’t even exist.  Sen. Lieberman today in our meeting called them “paper systems.”

Meanwhile, the two-stage ground-based interceptor intended to protect Europe and the United States against a range of missiles, over 90 percent similar to the interceptors currently in Alaska and California,  was to be flight tested in 2010.  Under the original plan, it would have been fielded in Poland in 2013.  The new approach also requires the development and acquisition of new sensor technologies, UAVs and satellites.

It is not clear that this new approach represents a less technically risky approach that protects Europe and the U.S. sooner and more comprehensively, as the administration asserts.  Furthermore, this new approach is likely to remain problematic for Russia and require additional host country agreements.

In his testimony last week, Gen. Cartwright acknowledged, quote, “The fixed sites actually are the cheapest,” closed quote.  According to a 2008 independent report required by the House Armed Services Committee, the Czech and Polish proposal was the most cost-effective solution to protect the U.S. and Europe.  Another study done earlier this year by the Congressional Budget Office examined very capable sea and land-based alternatives but came to a similar conclusion.  The simple question of, quote, “How much does the new approach cost?” close quote, has yet to be answered.  So I’m baffled by claims that the administration’s decision was made on the basis of cost effectiveness.

Even more so than the technical and cost concerns, some in Congress, including myself, would argue that the most disconcerting aspect of this decision is its geopolitical ramifications, starting with its effect on our relationships with friends and allies.  The Czech Republic and Poland, who have troops in Afghanistan fighting alongside U.S. forces, went out on a limb.  They agreed to host U.S. long-range missile defense assets despite it being domestically unpopular.  Their leaders made the decisions because it was important; they saw the long-term security benefits and they were committed to a strong relationship with the U.S.

Many in Congress view this is as going back on a commitment, particularly after bipartisan congressional delegations took trip after trip to tell these nations that once they approve the missile defense agreements, the U.S. would provide funding and support.

There is a significant divide on Russia.  Many in Congress are concerned that this decision is a concession to Russia.  The administration has been adamant in saying that it was not linking the START follow-on treaty with missile defense despite Russian pressures to do so.  Coincidentally, on the eve of START negotiations in Geneva, the administration gave Russia the concession that it wanted.  The U.S. got nothing.  Well, except for the hope that in exchange Russia would assist in stopping Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

So what was Russia’s reaction?  Prime Minister Putin remarked the day after, quote, “The latest decision by President Obama has positive implications and I very much hope that this very right and brave decision will be followed by others,” close quote.  “Will be followed by others.”  Other decisions by the U.S., not by Russia.

Well, Secretary Tauscher, in testifying before the House Armed Services Committee, was adamant in saying that our concession on the missile defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic was not a quid pro quo with the Russians.  She is right.  We got nothing.

As I wrote to the president last March, if Russia perceives it can gain U.S. concessions on missile defense now, it will be more likely to demand greater concessions later.  What is clear is that the Kremlin expects shifts in U.S. policy without having to take equivalent action.  We have no indications that Russia will cooperate on Iran.  However, Russian leaders have indicated a fundamental disagreement with the West’s view on the threat posed by Iran, and continue their opposition to tougher sanctions.  This is incredibly problematic.  Gambling on concessions and getting nothing in return is dangerous and risky national security policy.

There is also concern about the second and third order effects of this decision.  Perceptions matter.  Will allies and friends think twice before cooperating with the U.S. on missile defense?  Will they view U.S. defense commitments more skeptically in the future?  Will friends and allies perceive a weakening of the U.S. vis-à-vis Russia?  Are we signaling that we’re willing to compromise our relationship with them in order to better our relationship with Russia, or perhaps Iran or North Korea?

The headline of a daily paper in the Czech Republic read, quote, “No Radar, Russia Won,” close quote.  Will Russia and Iran use this decision as an opening to be more assertive in their foreign policy?  These are challenging geopolitical questions that must be considered.

Now, back to the original question posed by the council:  What are the next steps in European missile defense?  The political reality is that this administration has made a decision, and it intends to go forward with that decision.  However, I do not take our congressional oversight responsibilities lightly, and I expect the committee to demand the same level of detailed information and analysis that we demanded on the previous plan.  I still believe there is a burden of proof to show us why the new approach is better than the previous one.  Congress must have confidence that the new approach is executable.

As for new-term steps, the administration officials must be prepared to present Congress with program schedules, funding profiles, basing locations, ship requirements, interceptor inventory requirements, test plans, cost estimates, a revised NATO defense missile architecture, concepts of operation, and international engagement plans.  It’s been only three weeks, so we’ll give them a little time.  But I do expect these details by the time that the fiscal year 2011 budget is delivered to Congress.

The next step, or indicators that I would look for on whether the new approach is being adequately funded and implemented, would be something like this:  one, continued development and testing of the two-staged ground-based interceptor consistent with the administration officials’ commitment to preserve it as a hedge; two, research and development of the SM-3 Block 2A and 2B interceptors, the land-based system, new UAV-based sensors, new satellites and integration; three, an increase in planning and engagement with the Navy, particularly to work through concepts of operation and basing and mission allocation challenges; four, a strong commitment to a robust and well-resourced testing program as specified in the new Integrated Master Test Plan; five, continued sustainment and modernization of the ground-based mid-course defense system in Alaska and California since this will be the sole capability we have to defend the U.S. homeland against ballistic missile attack for the foreseeable future.

In parallel, I would expect to see the administration rededicate itself to engaging with our allies and friends and, more specifically, place a priority on expanding cooperative security activities with Prague and Warsaw.  As noted in a recent New York Times op-ed by the director of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, quote, “The credibility of U.S. foreign policy was dealt a painful blow,” close quote, with this decision.

There is undoubtedly further outreach that needs to be done.  I would urge the administration to make a firm commitment to deploy a Patriot battery in Poland by 2012, and perhaps consider accelerating those efforts.

With any alternative, the right thing to do is to give Prague and Warsaw the right of first refusal, which I believe is the administration’s intent.  If the intent is to swap GBIs for land-based SM-3s in Poland, then the administration and the Polish government could still move forward with host nation agreements and ratification.

NATO needs to be on board.  The original bargain is no longer in place and the NATO missile defense architecture will have to be reworked.  However, it should be made clear that the United States will not do it all, and we expect our NATO allies to contribute to this architecture.

Though administration officials have adamantly stated that there is no quid pro quo with Russia, the fact of the matter is the U.S. removed what Russia viewed as an irritant to relations.  I would further expect the administration to press Moscow on Iran and expand its cooperation.

Lastly, I would encourage the administration to embrace a bipartisan bill I introduced, called NATO First.  As the administration’s Russia’s reset policy begins to emerge, it became clear to me that we needed to reassure our allies first and strengthen our trans-Atlantic security policies through concrete measures.  These included increased funding for European missile defense, committing to the deployment of a U.S. Patriot battery in Poland by 2012 and maintaining our current U.S. military force presence in Europe.  Several provisions from NATO First were included in the Defense Authorization Bill passed by the House of Representatives in June, and are currently being addressed in negotiations with the Senate.

On a final note, it’s worth mentioning that there are no foregone conclusions.  My commitment to our trans-Atlantic relationship transcends policy different.  At the end of the day, despite these differences, we’re all here because we’re committed to strengthening to national defense of the U.S. and our European allies.  With that guiding principle in working with the administration, we expect we might be able to find common ground.  Thank you.  (Applause.)

MR. WILSON:  (In progress) – congressional hearing this afternoon, you put a lot of issues on the table.  A lot of grist for us to take up in the next panel discussions that we’ll have after you depart; that the decision was fraught with questionable assumptions – your challenge of the intelligence; the faults trade between long term and short term; the timeline to protection; the concessions to Russia; and in the oversight details that you intend to take forward, as well as a plan forward.  I think the last part of your speech is the first time I’ve heard steps forward in how we sort of think about this.

As we go into the next discussions this afternoon, I think we’ll be able to pick up a lot of those themes, but given your time is short, let me turn quickly to Harlan Ullman for our first question – maybe first and only given your schedule – and thank you very much.

Q:  I’m Harlan Ullman with the Atlantic Council.  Representative, thank you for a very, very balanced and mature series of talking points.  That was excellent.

Let me go a little bit beyond missile defense because it seems to me that the two overarching issues here are what really is the future of NATO and therefore why is NATO important; and what about Iran?  Could you just give us a couple of groups on each of those?  What would you say makes NATO as relevant and more relevant in the future?  And how do you look at Iran, because underneath the whole missile defense issues is really that question?

REP. TURNER:  Well, you know, when you look at the issue of NATO, you can look, obviously, well, past the traditional U.S.-Soviet concerns to the issue of – almost every security issue that we addressed today requires a coalition and world consensus.  And NATO certainly brings incredible leadership to the table in putting forth that consensus on issues that are important to our security and the security of Europe.

I think Iran is really a grave threat.  And the more we know, the more we know we don’t know – (chuckles) – and I think that’s the part that is very concerning.  As we learn things that are coming out of Iran as to what they’re pursuing, we can all agree that Iran is seeking advanced missile technology and Iran is seeking a nuclear weapons program.  Those two things represent a grave threat to both Europe and the United States.

And they’re not just issues with respect to Iran utilizing those for influence or for applying pressure to other countries; they represent a direct threat, I think, to the security of our mainland and major metropolitan centers in Europe.  And that’s why I’m so concerned about the administration’s decision – because there will be a significant gap in the timetable where they will be exposed in Iran meets some of the milestones that they appear to be capable of meeting.

MR. WILSON:  Sir, you mentioned the most important concern to you were the geostrategic implications of the decision at the end of the day, and the impact it had on important relationships in Central and Eastern Europe.

The debate about missile defense in Europe, and in particular, Central Europe, has been less about missile defense than it is about commitment of the United States to the region.  There’s been this discussion out there – the letter from leaders in Central and Eastern Europe concerned about the U.S. position in the region – obviously, the missile defense decision.

You mentioned the Patriots in Poland; you mentioned a first right of refusal.  But what, given the missile defense decision; given where the administration is, what do you think the United States should be doing to strengthen ties to the region?  Yesterday, the White House announced Vice President Biden would be visiting, but what else – given this is the area of concern I think you underscored your deepest reservations about – what would you like to see the United States be doing with our Central European partners?

REP. TURNER:  Well, before I answer that, I want to give one focus that I think is important – on the criticism that was levied on the Polish and Czech sites.  The Bush administration stepped forward to propose those sites, and entered into bilateral negotiations with Poland and Czech, and worked with NATO for NATO’s approval and the NATO-ization of a planned system in which they would be incorporated.

The accusation by those who were critics was that this was unilateral.  Actually, I think the concern that we have is that this action by the administration 9s clearly unilateral.  NATO wasn’t consulted; the Poles and the Czechs were not at the table in undertaking this, and I think that – in addition to putting the Poles and the Czechs in a position where they had walked out on a limb and had, sort of the rug pulled out from beneath them – is the process that we have to be concerned about; is a view of the United States acting in a unilateral way.

Because what occurs then is the analysis of – what other interests do we have?  Are we seeking a new relationship with Russia?  Are we concerned about relationships with Iran and North Korea?  And how will that cause us to make decisions if we’re making them in a unilateral versus a cohesive way.

I think we put in the list of the things that need to be done is that NATO needs to come back to the table on missile defense.  And one of the things that I think would be very helpful to this whole discussion is a NATO-ization of the administration’s proposal.  Let’s bring everyone back to the table, review what the vulnerabilities are, review what the real threat assessment is, and put together a plan that not only includes everyone’s decision-making but also the defense of everyone, because the European allies have a major interest since their major metropolitan areas are going to be left vulnerable by this administration’s decision.

MR. WILSON:  Thank you.  Time for one more question then we’ll wrap up?

REP. TURNER:  Yup.  One quick one then we’ll wrap up.

MR. WILSON:  All right.  A question from the audience?  (Pause.)

REP. TURNER:  (Chuckles.)  Well, if not, I’m running a tight schedule anyway – I just greatly appreciate your flexibility in allowing me to come in and then leave so quickly.

MR. WILSON:  Well, thank you.  I think as we pick up the conversation this afternoon, we’ll be delving into the NATO issues, more specifically into Russia and into the broader arms control agenda.  And I think you put a lot of issues on the table; a lot of grist for us to work through this afternoon, so thank you very much.  (Applause.)

Transcript by Federal News Service, Washington, D.C.

Related Experts: Harlan Ullman