Going up! But in the elevator of the U.S. defense budget, it’s not hats, coats and lingerie but funding for the nuclear weapons complex. The House Armed Services Committee meets on Wednesday to mark up, or revise, the 2012 defense authorization bill. As it stands, the bill would grant full funding for the Obama administration’s .6 billion request for modernizing the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Although some arms controllers have expressed disquiet about the billion over a decade to update the nuclear weapons complex promised by President Obama in part to secure passage of the New START treaty, it looks as though the program is ring-fenced even in an environment of budget cuts.
Influential House Republicans, in particular Rep Mike Turner, the chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, have expressed concern at the Obama administration’s intentions to consider further nuclear reductions, as mentioned in a recent policy speech by the National Security Adviser, Tom Donilon. Turner’s draft to be considered by the full Armed Services Committee lays down a marker apparently aimed at delaying or constraining the administration’s plans. The text expresses the sense of Congress “that any reduction in the nuclear forces of the United States should be supported by a thorough assessment of the strategic environment, threat, and policy, as well as the technical and operational implications of such reductions. “ It states that “specific criteria are necessary to guide future decisions regarding further reductions in such nuclear forces.”
The House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee has jurisdiction over the U.S. nuclear arsenal, military assets in outer space, the Department of Defense’s intelligence programs, and also over missile defense systems. On missile defense, the subcommittee threw in an additional million on top of the administration’s request for .1 billion. So no cuts there either.
However the panel’s draft bill leaves open the possibility of savings from an early implementation of New START, which sets lower limits on the warheads and launchers of U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons over a seven year period. It calls for a Pentagon plan to include “options for and feasibility of accelerating New START implementation” including potential cost savings. It also notes the next Review Conference of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty will be held in 2015 – presumably so that any early completion of the START treaty provisions could be highlighted by both sides as a step towards fulfilment of the NPT’s Article VI on nuclear disarmament.
These are the personal views of the author.
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