Defense Authorization Bill Makes America Safer

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The U.S. Senate recently considered annual legislation that sets the policy and spending priorities for the Department of Defense. The measures in the defense authorization bill guide our domestic and foreign policy for years to come.

In formulating this legislation, it is important to consider the needs of the military and make decisions about what it needs to do its job effectively and safely. Often, this requires making difficult decisions, especially this year when President Obama has asked the Department of Defense to make significant cuts to its budget.

Notably, the Pentagon recommended the termination of the production of the F-22 fighter jet in 2011. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates argued the fighter jet should be replaced with the F-35, which he and other military leaders believe to be less expensive than, but superior to, the F-22. The Senate agreed with the assessment of Secretary Gates and supported an amendment by Senator John McCain and Senator Carl Levin of Michigan to end procurement of the F-22.

The Senate also adopted important foreign policy measures relating to Iran and an upcoming treaty negotiation with the Russians.

In recent months, the Iranian regime has continued to support terrorism, develop its illegal nuclear weapons program in defiance of the world, and engage in violent and deadly repression of its own citizens.

While the Obama administration has made clear its intention to continue to pursue high level talks with Iran — overtures to which the regime has not seen fit to formally respond —the president has indicated that the window for Iran to negotiate and demonstrate progress toward complying with its international obligations is not indefinitely open.

Accordingly, I introduced a measure with Senators McCain, Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh that urges the president to impose sanctions on the Iranian Central Bank if, by December, Iran has not verifiably halted its uranium enrichment activities; or if the Iranian regime does not respond to the president’s offer for direct diplomacy by the end of September.

By sanctioning the Central Bank of Iran, the U.S. would send the message that we will use all methods at our disposal to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and oppose sponsors of terrorism.

I also authored a measure to strengthen the nation’s nuclear deterrent. The Strategic Arms Reductions Act Treaty (START) expires at the end of this year, and President Obama and Russian President Medvedev recently reached a “joint understanding” of guidelines the treaty negotiators should follow in the coming months.

The two presidents agreed that both nations should reduce the number of nuclear weapons in their stockpiles. While I don’t believe that lower levels of nuclear forces in our deterrent makes the U.S. or our allies safer, my chief concern is that the weapons that remain are aging and increasingly difficult to maintain.

That’s why I offered an amendment that requires the president to deliver a plan to modernize our nuclear deterrent. My amendment, as well as a letter to the president signed by Senators Byrd, Levin, McCain, Kerry, Lugar and me, makes clear that modernization of the nuclear deterrent must accompany START ratification.

Additionally, my amendment makes clear that the Senate believes that during the negotiations with the Russians, the U.S. should not impose limits on its missile defenses, space capabilities or advanced global strike capability development. Our missile defenses keep us safe from ballistic missile threats, such as those from Iran and North Korea, and have nothing to do with nuclear weapons reductions. They have no business being limited in this treaty with Russia.

Defense authorization is an important part of Congress’ responsibility under the Constitution to provide for the military forces that keep us free. With my amendments, this year’s bill includes important policies that will make America safer.

Sen. Jon Kyl is the Senate Republican Whip and serves on the Senate Finance and Judiciary committees. Visit his Web site at www.kyl.senate.gov or his YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/senjonkyl.

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