A candid remark by President Obama to Russian President Dimitri Medvedev at last week's nuclear security summit in South Korea has stirred controversy. Rep. Michael Turner, chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, wrote a letter to the president, requesting an "urgent explanation" of his statements indicating "more flexibility" on missile defense after the presidential election. The Republican from Ohio's Third District recently spoke with U.S. News about the significance of a missile defense shield and why he is concerned about the administration's policies. Excerpts:
What is your top concern for nuclear security?
Both our infrastructure and our weapons systems need to be updated. They need to be refurbished in order for us to retain a credible deterrent.
Is it time to reduce nuclear weapons arsenals, like the administration says?
The president talks about the road to zero, but so far in his first term, the only nation that has reduced its nuclear weapons arsenal is the United States. Other nations that are pursuing nuclear weapons are continuing to do so, unpersuaded by this president that they should abandon that path.
Is a missile attack on the United States still a credible threat?
Absolutely. There are thousands of missiles with nuclear warheads on them that exist in the world and are actively pointed both at the United States and Europe.
What about the concept of mutually assured destruction?
There is a concern that rogue nations like North Korea and Iran might not be deterred by the threat of retaliation. So certainly our building a missile defense system to respond to that threat is just prudent.
Is the United States currently protected?
As we sit today, we do have an ability to respond to the capability that we're currently facing. But many nations are pursuing advanced technology while our missile defense technology is languishing. We need to get ahead of the threat.
What do you think of Russian concerns about U.S. missile defense systems making them vulnerable?
Their whole view is that our defensive system will thwart their offensive system, but I don't know why we should be persuaded to ensure their confidence in their ability to attack us.
Can you explain the provision inserted into the defense authorization bill, addressing the president's negotiations with Russia?
[Russian Prime Minister Vladimir] Putin recently indicated that part of the president's secret deal with the Russians is to provide 24-hour monitoring of our missile defense facilities, radar image access, perhaps cementing our missile defense system, making it inoperable against a Russian attack. In the National Defense Authorization Act, we attempted to constrain the president, prevent him from disclosing this information.
What is your concern if the president gets re-elected?
The president just recently got caught speaking to Medvedev and indicating that once he was free of his last election that he'd have more flexibility, meaning that he would take actions in missile defense in addressing the Russians' desire to be able to attack us unfettered by our missile defense system in a manner that the electorate would not support.
Has the White House responded to your letter?
No. And I believe it's because the responses would only further illuminate that this is an administration that is giving away unilaterally our missile defense system.