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The Great Falls Tribune January 24, 2006

Delegates work to secure missile arsenal

By Diana Marrero

WASHINGTON — Sens. Max Baucus and Conrad Burns on Monday urged Gen. James E. Cartwright, Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, to keep all of Montana's 200 nuclear missiles in the state.

Cartwright, responsible for advising the secretary of defense on the future of the nation's intercontinental ballistic missiles, told the senators the missiles would not be removed immediately but could be phased out over a five- to six-year period if the department decides to scale down, according to Burns.

The two Montana senators met with Cartwright to discuss the military's upcoming quadrennial defense review. The review, which will be released Feb. 6, is an analysis done every four years of the nation's military structure and strategic goals.

The review is of significance to Montana because the state houses 200 of the nation's 500 intercontinental ballistic missiles at Malmstrom Air Force Base. The state's lawmakers worry the Defense Department might consider changes that would remove 50 missiles from Montana, North Dakota or Wyoming.

Keeping the missiles in Montana protects good jobs in the state, the lawmakers say. And Montana's congressional delegation has been trying for months to communicate with military officials who might influence the process.

Malmstrom, the center of operations for missile sites across northcentral Montana, employs about 4,300 people, about 3,700 of whom are military personnel. Annual payroll at the base exceeds $225 million a year, and the base contributes about $257 million annually to northcentral Montana's economy.

"Keeping a strong missile force is important to our homeland security. It's important for Montana's involvement in our nation's military, and it's important to our state's economy as well," Baucus, D-Mont., said in a statement released after his meeting with Cartwright.

Such missiles may not be as crucial as they were during the Cold War, said John Pike of Globalsecurity.org. But persistent pressure from lawmakers could help ensure they remain in states like Montana, he said.

"If they didn't do it, it would create the appearance that they didn't care," he said. "They're basically telling everybody 'don't mess with us."'

Baucus organized the meeting with Cartwright and other senators from states that house nuclear missiles.

The meeting marks the third time Burns, R-Mont., has spoken with the general about the review in recent days. On Friday, he met with Cartwright and Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England. Burns also had breakfast with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld Thursday to discuss the review.

"We need to shift from a Cold War mindset to a mindset that faces new and emerging global challenges," Burns said in a statement. "As we do that, we must not let our guard down; we have to keep a gun in our holster."

Burns, a member of the Appropriations subcommittee on defense, plans to meet this week with Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne to discuss the future of Malmstrom and the possibility of bringing new missiles to the state. Rep. Dennis Rehberg, R-Mont., plans to meet with a number of Defense Department officials next week.

In December, the state's delegation worked with other lawmakers to insert a provision into a bill calling on the agency to keep nuclear missiles across the country.


Copyright 2006, The Great Falls Tribune