Twenty-nine Democrats condemn Biden’s
embrace of Trump’s nuclear weapon expanson
Rep. Pramila Jayapal Leads Dems in Urging Biden to Limit Nuclear Weapons
Sara Sirota / The Intercept & Hon. Pramila Jayapal / US House of Representatives et al.
(September 10 2021) — Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., is leading a group of Democrats in pushing back on President Joe Biden’s plans to continue spending exorbitant sums on an expanding nuclear arsenal.
“We write today to express our grave concern that your Fiscal Year 2022 budget proposal for nuclear weapons does not reflect your longstanding efforts to reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons,” Jayapal and 28 Democratic colleagues wrote Biden today in a letter obtained by The Intercept. [You can read the letter below — EAW] (In 2010, Biden led the White House’s efforts to convince the Senate to approve the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. The treaty, which passed with a bipartisan majority, reduces the US and Russia’s deployment of nuclear weapons.)
Their letter comes months after Biden caused alarm among progressives and the arms control community by proposing a defense budget that funded nuclear weapon programs initiated by the Trump administration that the Obama administration had deemed unnecessary. The budget also increased funding to develop highly controversial missiles started under President Barack Obama.
The stakes couldn’t be higher as the US continues to grow its nuclear arsenal with an array of new warheads, bombs, cruise missiles, intercontinental ballistic missiles, and delivery vehicles, which activists warn increase the risk of nuclear war. Meanwhile, as Democrats face accusations of hiking the deficit to fund significant investments in health care, family benefits, and clean energy, the Congressional Budget Office has estimated Biden’s FY-22 budget proposal would result in costs of $634 billion over 10 years.
Jayapal and her colleagues see an opening for Biden to reverse course as the president works on crafting a nuclear weapons strategy to replace the Trump administration’s. “We respectfully urge you to use the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to set a nuclear strategy that aims to limit the role of nuclear weapons in our national security, reduces unnecessary spending, and sets the stage for progress towards your recent agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin to pursue additional arms control and risk reduction measures,” they wrote.
They specifically call out Biden for his administration’s request for funds to develop a new high-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead known as the W93 that Donald Trump greenlighted and for his plans to maintain the B83 gravity bomb, which has an explosive yield up to 100 times larger than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. The Obama administration had opposed these initiatives, they note, but Biden is now continuing them. (Obama Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz pledged to retire the B83 since the government is replacing it with the B61-12 bomb.)
Jayapal and her colleagues also explicitly call on Biden to cancel the Long-Range Standoff Weapon, a new nuclear air-launched cruise missile initiated under Obama. The CPC chair had proposed an amendment to the FY-20 Defense Appropriations Act that would have zeroed-out funding to develop the weapon, but it failed in a 138-289 vote back in 2019.
The letter stops short of calling on Biden to cancel the land-based leg of the nuclear triad — a redundant and especially dangerous part of the triad — which the Defense Department is currently modernizing. Perhaps the most controversial new nuclear weapon program, the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent will replace the Cold War-era Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile system starting in 2029. The lawmakers instead appear to endorse a proposal by California Democrat John Garamendi, one of the signers, to halt the new system and instead extend the service life of the legacy weapon.
“Taking these initial steps to slow the development of new nuclear weapons will increase the day-to-day security of the United States and our allies, set the stage for potential progress in future talks on arms control, and save billions of dollars for more pressing needs,” they wrote.
Jayapal and her colleagues don’t state whether they’ll use their leverage as a bloc to gain concessions, though. They could threaten, for example, to withhold support for the annual defense authorization or appropriation bills that will come to the House floor later this year.
House Armed Services Committee members Sara Jacobs, D-Calif., and Ro Khanna, D-Calif., who signed the letter, took this drastic step during a markup of the defense authorization bill last week. Deeply opposed to the panel’s decision to add $24 billion onto Biden’s $715 billion FY-22 budget, the two lawmakers voted against advancing the bill to the House floor.
Jayapal Leads House Lawmakers in Urging Biden
To Reduce the Role of Nuclear Weapons
Hon. Pramila Jayapal / US House of Representatives
WASHINGTON (September 10, 2021) — US Representative Pramila Jayapal (WA-07) led dozens of lawmakers today in calling on President Joe Biden to make the world safer by immediately limiting the role of nuclear weapons. Highlighting the President’s longstanding commitment to reducing the role of nuclear weapons, their letter urges him to use the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review to set a nuclear strategy that limits the role of nuclear weapons in our national security, reduces unnecessary spending, and sets the stage for tangible progress towards additional global arms control and risk reduction measures.
“We write today to express our grave concern that your Fiscal Year 2022 budget request for nuclear weapons does not reflect your longstanding efforts to reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons,” said the lawmakers. “We respectfully request that you reverse the Trump Administration’s efforts to increase spending on these costly, unnecessary, and deeply dangerous nuclear weapons. Taking these initial steps to slow the development of new nuclear weapons will increase the day-to-day security of the United States and our allies, set the stage for potential progress in future talks on arms control, and save billions of dollars for more pressing needs.”
President Biden has long believed that the US should decrease the likelihood of nuclear war, reduce the role that nuclear weapons play in US security policy, and oppose the development of unneeded new nuclear weapons. While holding this view as Vice President and a candidate for president, he recently reaffirmed his long standing belief that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”
However, his Fiscal Year 2022 budget request does not reflect those beliefs. The request for nuclear weapons maintains or increases the budget for every nuclear weapons program proposed by the Trump Administration, including funding weapons that the Obama Administration opposed or sought to retire.
This budget invests an estimated $634 billion over 10 years to rebuild every delivery vehicle, every weapon, and every warhead in the US nuclear arsenal. This includes not only keeping but tripling funding for the megaton-class B83 gravity bomb. It also includes spending $134 million for a new high-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead known as the W93. Additionally, the FY2022 budget proposes $2.5 billion for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GSBD) and the acquisition of a Long-Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO) with a price tag of $29 billion.
Today’s call to reduce the role of nuclear weapons is supported by local, national, and international organizations including:
Association of Concerned Africa Scholars (USA); Beyond Nuclear; Beyond the Bomb; Center for International Policy; Citizen Power, Inc.; CODEPINK; Concerned Citizens for Nuclear Safety; Council for a Livable World; Franciscan Peace Center; Friends Committee on National Legislation; From Hiroshima to Hope (FHTH); Global Zero; Just Foreign Policy; Multicultural Alliance for a Safe Environment; No More Bombs; Nonviolence International; Nuclear Age Peace Foundation; Nuclear Energy Information Service (NEIS); Nuclear Information and Resource Service; Nukewatch; PEAC Institute – Peace Education | Art | Communication; Physicians for Social Responsibility; RootsAction.org; The Carrie Dickerson Foundation; Union of Concerned Scientists; Veterans for Peace; Win Without War; Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom US; Women’s Action for New Directions; World BEYOND War; World Future Council; Atlanta Grandmothers for Peace; Chesapeake Physicians for Social Responsibility; Church Council of Greater Seattle; Connecticut Coalition Against Millstone; Earthkeeper Health Resources; Indivisible Bainbridge Island; Michigan Safe Energy Future – Shoreline Chapter; Mid-Missouri Peaceworks; Nevada Nuclear Waste Task Force; Newton Dialogues on Peace and War; Nuclear Watch New Mexico; Peace Action WI; (PRESS) Portsmouth Piketon Residents for Environmental Safety and Security; Prevent Nuclear War Maryland; Savannah River Site Watch; Seattle Anti-War Coalition; Snake River Alliance; Southwest Research and Information Center; Support and Education for Radiation Victims (SERV); Washington Against Nuclear Weapons Coalition; Toledo Coalition for Safe Energy; Tri-Valley CAREs (Communities Against a Radioactive Environment); Washington Physicians for Social Responsibility; West Seattle Neighbors for Peace and Justice; Western New York Environmental Alliance; and Whatcom Peace & Justice Center.
“The world is on a dangerous path and, at least when it comes to nuclear weapons issues, the Biden administration is adding fuel to the fire,” said Stephen Young, the Senior Washington Representative and Acting Director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “This letter from dozens of House members makes a number of sensible suggestions the Biden team can adopt that will slow the nuclear arms race. UCS is happy to support all its recommendations.”
“President Biden’s early move to engage in direct diplomacy with Russia demonstrated that he understands the unparalleled danger that nuclear war represents to the world. Biden and Putin’s renewed support for the Reagan-Gorbachev pledge that ‘a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought’ is an important step in the right direction,” said Erik Sperling, the executive director of the pro-diplomacy group Just Foreign Policy. “Now it’s time for President Biden to put his words into action. He should listen to this diverse group of sensible voices from his own party and reverse Trump’s dangerous and wasteful nuclear build-up.”
The letter is signed by US Representatives Pramila Jayapal, Suzanne Bonamici, Jamaal Bowman, Ed.D, Julia Brownley, Steve Cohen, Peter A. DeFazio, Diana DeGette, Anna G. Eshoo, Bill Foster, John Garamendi, Jesús G. “Chuy” García, Raúl M. Grijalva, Jared Huffman, Ro Khanna, Daniel T. Kildee, Barbara Lee, Ted W. Lieu, Zoe Lofgren, Alan Lowenthal, Carolyn B. Maloney, James P. McGovern, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Ilhan Omar, Mark Pocan, Ayanna Pressley, Jan Schakowsky, Rashida Tlaib, Maxine Waters, and Peter Welch.
The Honorable Joseph R. Biden President of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:
September 10, 2021
Thank you for your longstanding efforts to decrease the likelihood of nuclear war, to reduce the role that nuclear weapons play in US security policy, and to oppose the development of unneeded new nuclear weapons. We are deeply grateful that you and President Putin have reaffirmed the principle advanced by President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” Your crucial efforts to establish a Strategic Stability Dialogue with Russia will set the stage for further progress on nuclear arms control, reducing the risks posed by nuclear war and allowing us to focus on other critical priorities for American families.
We write today to express our grave concern that your Fiscal Year 2022 budget request for nuclear weapons does not reflect your longstanding efforts to reduce our reliance on nuclear weapons. We respectfully urge you to use the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to set a nuclear strategy that aims to limit the role of nuclear weapons in our national security, reduces unnecessary spending, and sets the stage for progress towards your recent agreement with Russian President Vladimir Putin to pursue additional arms control and risk reduction measures. We believe the NPR is a critical opportunity to ensure that your Administration’s proposals on nuclear weapons reflect the views you have espoused throughout your career.
As you know, the FY22 budget request for nuclear weapons contains or increases the budget for every nuclear weapons program proposed by the Trump Administration, including funding weapons that the Obama Administration opposed or sought to retire. This budget invests an estimated $634 billion over 10 years to rebuild every delivery vehicle, every weapon and every warhead in the US nuclear arsenal.
For example, the Trump Administration proposed a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile to replace one the Obama-Biden Administration retired with the full support of the Navy. While the Trump team initiated an analysis of alternatives for the weapon, the first development money—$5 million for the missile, $10 million for the nuclear warhead it would carry—remains in your budget. Notably, the acting Secretary of the Navy recently proposed eliminating funding for this program in FY 2023.
In another case, the Obama Administration committed to retiring the megaton-class B83 gravity bomb, with an explosive yield of up to 100 times larger than the bomb that devastated Hiroshima. The Trump Administration reversed that decision and kept this unneeded weapon of mass destruction. The FY22 budget not only keeps the bomb but triples funding for it — from $31 million to $99 million—in order to extend its service life.
Last year, the Trump Administration also began developing a new high-yield submarine- launched ballistic missile warhead — the W93 — years ahead of the previous schedule. This would be the first completely new warhead design in the US nuclear weapons stockpile since the end of the Cold War. The Obama-Biden Administration and its Nuclear Posture Review specifically opposed the development and deployment of any new nuclear weapons, yet the FY22 budget request includes $134 million for the warhead and the aeroshell that will carry it.
The budget request also proposes $2.5 billion for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GSBD), a land-based nuclear-armed missile intended to replace the existing Minuteman missiles. The GBSD, developed under a sole source contract with Northrop Grumman, will cost $264 billion over its life cycle. Independent assessments indicate it is possible to extend the life of the existing Minuteman III missiles beyond their planned retirement in the 2030s.
The Air Force is also acquiring a Long-Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO) from Raytheon — a new nuclear-capable, air-launched cruise missile that will be carried by B-52 and B-21 bombers — through a July 1, sole-sourced prime contract. The LRSO, with a price tag totaling $29 billion, would be a high-speed, stealthy weapon ideally suited to conduct a nuclear first strike, which is deeply destabilizing and not required for deterrence. The Nuclear Posture Review should cancel the LRSO as an unnecessary, wasteful, and risky nuclear modernization program.
We respectfully request that you reverse the Trump Administration’s efforts to increase spending on these costly, unnecessary, and deeply dangerous nuclear weapons. Taking these initial steps to slow the development of new nuclear weapons will increase the day-to-day security of the United States and our allies, set the stage for potential progress in future talks on arms control, and save billions of dollars for more pressing needs. You rightly highlighted our most pressing security needs when you first came to office, prioritizing the need to end the COVID-19 pandemic, to address climate change, to advance racial justice, and to restore the economy. Spending an estimated $634 billion on the U.S nuclear arsenal will only make addressing these critical priorities more difficult.
We encourage you to direct the upcoming Nuclear Posture Review to seriously assess what is truly required for US security. We believe it is imperative that you provide clear direction to the Pentagon for the review that is consistent with your goal of reducing the role of
and spending on nuclear weapons. We hope and expect that the Pentagon will provide you with a full range of options that can give you a real opportunity to weigh the various approaches.
As you have stated, the sole purpose of US nuclear forces should be to deter a nuclear attack. There is no doubt that the current size and diversity of the US nuclear weapons program exceeds what is necessary to maintain a credible deterrent. We agree with President Obama’s assessment in 2013 that regardless of actions taken by other nuclear powers, the US can move unilaterally to reduce its deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third below New START levels without any increased risk to US national security. We appreciate your recent diplomatic efforts with Russia and we look forward to working with you to prevent a needless and dangerous nuclear arms race.
PRAMILA JAYAPAL Member of Congress
SUZANNE BONAMICI Member of Congress
JULIA BROWNLEY Member of Congress
PETER A. DEFAZIO Member of Congress
JAMAAL BOWMAN, ED.D Member of Congress
STEVE COHEN Member of Congress
DIANA DEGETTE Member of Congress
Note: See online version of letter for footnotes.