Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Brendan McGarry / DODBuzz & US Senate – 2016-07-25 00:53:54
Congressmembers Push Dueling Plans for US Nuke Arsenal
VP Candidate Tim Kaine Among Advocates of Bigger, Costlier Program
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(July 24, 2016) — A potentially massive expense which rarely gets a lot of debate, the question of America’s nuclear weapons “modernization” scheme is the subject of a pair of rival letters from Congressmen to the White House, advocating different approaches.
The first letter, signed by a bipartisan group of senators including Tim Kaine (D-VA), argues for massive expenditures to ensure the “interlocking triad” of US nuclear capabilities remains in place for decades to come, irrespective of the cost. Sen. Kaine was named just days ago as Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the 2016 presidential election.
The alternate letter, from a group of 10 Democrat senators including Edward Markey, Elizabeth Warren, Dianne Feinstein, Barbara Boxer, Al Franken, Ron Wyden, Jeff Merkley, Patrick Leahy, and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, argues for a substantial scaling back of the program.
The second letter makes mention of independent studies on the “modernization” program which suggest that over the next 30 years it could cost in excess of $1 trillion, and a move away from any return to the hair-trigger “launch-on-warning” system.
Though President Obama has styled himself as in favor of disarmament, he has mostly expressed support for the modernization plan. Recent comments making his position more ambiguous fueled the first letter, demanding he unconditionally support the costly modernization.
US Lawmakers Duel Over
Plans to Upgrade Nuclear Arsenal
Brendan McGarry / DODBuzz
WASHINGTON (July 22, 2016) — In competing letters this month to the Obama administration, US lawmakers dueled over plans to upgrade the military’s nuclear arsenal.
On Wednesday, a group of 10 Democratic senators urged President Barack Obama to restrain spending on nuclear weapons by “scaling back excessive nuclear modernization plans, adopting a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons, and canceling launch-on-warning plans.”
The July 20 letter cites independent studies that estimate upgrading and sustaining the nuclear arsenal may cost $1 trillion over three decades.
It was signed by Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer of California, Al Franken of Minnesota, Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon, Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, and Sherrod Brown of Ohio.
The current US nuclear arsenal stands at less than 1,600 warheads, according to a March report from the Congressional Research Service.
That includes about 440 Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs); some 336 Trident II (D-5) submarine-launched ballistic missiles carried in 14 Trident submarines (each carries 24 missiles); hundreds of B61 bombs for B-2 Spirit bombers and F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters; and hundreds of AGM-86B air-launched cruise missiles for B-52 Stratofortress bombers, according to CRS.
In the letter, the Democratic senators urged the cancellation of the Air Force’s plans to develop a new nuclear cruise missile, the Long Range Standoff Weapon, as a replacement to the AGM-86B beginning around 2030. The program would cost $20 billion and “provide an unnecessary capability that would increase the risk of nuclear war,” they wrote.
Military leaders want the weapon in part to give Air Force bombers a better “standoff capability,” thus extending their effective range, especially as potential adversaries such as China and Russia develop more sophisticated air defenses.
The Defense Department has proposed spending $8.5 billion on missile defense programs in fiscal 2017, which begins Oct. 1, an 6.5 percent decrease from the current year, according to Pentagon budget documents.
The letter came a week after a bipartisan group of Republicans and Democrats wrote to Defense Secretary Ashton Carter in favor of nuclear modernization.
“The three legs of the nuclear triad combine to form a very effective deterrent,” they said in the July 12 correspondence. “The three legs — land-based missiles, bombers and nuclear submarines — are aging and must be modernized to ensure this interlocking triad continues its decades-long record of protecting the nation.”
It was signed by John Hoeven, a Republican from North Dakota; Steve Daines, a Republican from Montana; Jon Tester, a Democrat from Montana; Orrin Hatch, a Republican from Utah; Joe Donnelly, a Democrat from Indiana; Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat from North Dakota; Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida; Mark Warner, a Democrat from Virginia; David Vitter, a Republican from Louisiana; Martin Heinrich, a Democrat from New Mexico; John Barrasso, a Republican from Wyoming; Tim Kaine, a Democrat from Virginia; Deb Fischer, a Republican from Nebraska; and Jack Reed, a Democrat from Rhode Island.
Letter from the US Senate
To the Honorable Barack Obama
The White House
July 20 2016
Dear Mr. President:
During your recent historic visit to Hiroshima, you called on nations that possess nuclear weapons to have the courage to escape the logic of fear and pursue a world without them.” While you acknowledged that we may not realize this vision in our lifetimes, you stated that “persistent effort can roll back the possibility of catastrophe.” We agree, and we applaud your visit.
In light of reports that you are conducting a comprehensive review of US nuclear policy, we write to encourage you to take bold action in your final months in office to restrain US nuclear weapons spending and reduce the risk of nuclear war.
Among the steps we urge you to consider our scaling back excessive nuclear modernization plans, adopting a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons, and canceling launch-on-warning plans. All of these options would bolster US national security and advance the commitment you made in 2009 in Prague to “reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy.”
First and foremost, we urge you to scale back plans to construct unneeded new nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Independent estimates suggest that nuclear weapons sustainment and modernization plans could cost nearly $1 trillion over the next 30 years, putting a enormous pressure on our defense budget at a time when non-nuclear systems will also require major expenditures.
In particular, we urge you to cancel plans to spend at least $20 billion on a new nuclear air-launched cruise missile, the Long Range Standoff weapon, which would provide an unnecessary capability that could increase the risk of nuclear war.
Proponents of the current nuclear modernization plans contend that you committed to building new nuclear weapons as part of a deal for passage of the New START treaty with Russia. However, these commitments were made in a different budget environment and at a time when the full costs of nuclear modernization were not yet known.
In addition to scaling back wasteful nuclear expenditures, we support reforms to US nuclear posture. More than a quarter-century after the end of the Cold War, the United States still maintains the option of using nuclear weapons first in a conflict.
Retaining this option exacerbates mutual fears of surprise attack, putting pressure on other nuclear-armed states to keep their arsenals on high-alert and increasing the risk of unintended nuclear war.
In the light of our unmatched conventional military capabilities, we do not need to rely on the threat of nuclear first-use to deter nonnuclear attacks on our homeland or our allies. By adopting a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons, the United States could reduce the risk of accidental nuclear conflict while deterring both conventional and nuclear threats to our security.
Finally, United States currently maintains plans to launch nuclear weapons in response to the mere warning of a nuclear attack. This policy undermines the president’s ability to carefully deliberate in a crisis, and raises the prospect of devastating mistakes in the event of false alarms.
To further reduce the risk of inadvertent nuclear war, we support increasing the time available to the Commander-in-Chief to consider using nuclear weapons by canceling launch-on-warning plans.
Nuclear war poses the greatest threat to American national security. The lesson of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki is clear: nuclear weapons must never be used again. We must do everything we can to reduce the risk of nuclear war and preserve America’s security interests.
Edward J. Markey
Jeffrey A. Merkley