WASHINGTON—Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware said yesterday the United States could trigger a new arms race by abandoning the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty and forging into development of a missile defense system despite allies' concerns.
"I don't believe our national interest can be furthered - let alone achieved - in splendid indifference to the rest of the world," Biden, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told a National Press Club audience. "Our European allies should never think that America ignores international opinion or that we're ready to go it alone."
Biden, considered a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2004, denounced "the administration's almost theological allegiance to missile defense." Biden said it usurps money desperately needed to combat more realistic threats and could prompt an arms race in Asia.
"Missile defense has to be weighed carefully against all other spending and all other military priorities," Biden said, noting the tight budget situation created by President Bush's 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut and the declining economy.
"Our real security needs are much more earthbound and far less costly than missile defense. We should be fully funding the military and defending ourselves at home and abroad against the more likely threats of short-range cruise missiles or biological terrorism."
Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has said he will recommend Bush veto Congress's defense authorization bill if it cuts the $8.3 billion he sought for missile defense, an increase of $3 billion.
The Senate Armed Services Committee's Democratic majority cut it by $1.3 billion Friday, leaving $7 billion intact.
The Republican-led House Armed Services Committee last month cut it by $135 million, leaving $8.2 billion.
The measure would provide $343 billion for the nation's defense - including the Defense and Energy departments - in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, a $33 billion increase over this year.
The full House is to consider its defense authorization bill today.
Representative Curt Weldon of Pennsylvania, a Republican, indicated yesterday he would seek $6 billion more to make emergency improvements to bases and equipment and to purchase urgently needed spare parts. Weldon recently toured 20 bases over four days to call attention to the problems. The service chiefs have said they face more than $30 billion in unfunded needs.
Biden, meanwhile, expressed concern that by breaking an arms control agreement, the United States could "raise a starting gun on a new arms race," prompting China to test its weapons, and India and then Pakistan to follow suit.
He also criticized cuts in efforts to safeguard and dismantle weapons of mass destruction held by former Soviet states and to find appropriate jobs for their nuclear scientists to prevent them from selling that expertise to rogue nations or terrorists.
The administration is seeking $1.2 billion for such programs, down nearly $140 million from this year.