U.S. Senate Republicans are calling Thursday for a determined effort to develop and deploy a missile defense system as they mark the withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
Washington's decision to unilaterally pull out of the treaty it signed with Moscow three decades ago clears the way for the Bush administration to aggressively develop a missile shield.
Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison said a missile defense will be a crucial component in the U.S. war on terrorism. "There could not be a more important homeland defense than the actual defense of our shores. That is what deploying missile defense technology will do for our country, assure that we will be able to protect our own territory fully," she said.
The ABM Treaty had prohibited the development, testing and deployment of anti-ballistic missile systems. President Bush has called the pact a Cold War relic that prevented the United States from protecting itself against new threats.
Mr. Bush and other supporters said a missile defense system is necessary to protect the United States from possible missile attack from Iran, Iraq and North Korea, countries Mr. Bush said form an 'axis of evil.'
But critics have said a missile shield will do nothing to stop terrorist attacks like those on New York and Washington September 11.
Other critics including Democratic Congressman Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, believe the missile defense program will be too costly, and will lead to a new arms race.
"This massive buildup for the missile shields, a buildup to take weapons into outerspace, a buildup of new nuclear weapons, will run into the tens and even hundreds of billions of dollars," Mr. Kucinich said.
Mr. Kucinich was one of about 30 lawmakers to file a federal lawsuit challenging Mr. Bush's authority to pull out of the ABM treaty. The lawsuit accuses the President of violating the U.S. Constitution, arguing that only Congress can end international treaties.
President Bush announced in December the United States would unilaterally pull out of the pact in six months. Russia had vehemently protested U.S. plans for a missile defense and the end of the ABM Treaty, which it viewed as a cornerstone of arms control.
But Russian President Vladmir Putin ultimately accepted the accord's demise, and expressed an interest in discussing missile defense with the United States. Mr. Putin and Mr. Bush signed a treaty last month cutting offensive nuclear weapons by two-thirds by 2012.