President Obama’s plan for the Pentagon to cut deployed strategic nuclear warheads by 80 percent is meeting harsh resistance from House Armed Services Committee Republicans on Capitol Hill who called the plan “dangerous.”
In a letter to the president sent Thursday, a group of 34 House members expressed deep concerns about a National Security Council directed plan to reduce strategic warheads to as few as 300 weapons.
“At a time when every other nuclear weapons state has an active nuclear weapons modernization program and many are growing their stockpiles and capabilities, it is inconceivable to us that you would lead the United States down such a dangerous plan,” the lawmakers stated.
According to U.S. officials, the Nuclear Posture Review Implementation Study was ordered in August and is nearing completion.
It called on the Pentagon to examine three levels of deployed strategic nuclear warheads without considering the global threat environment. The three levels are 1,000 to 1,100 warheads; 700 to 800 warheads; and 300 to 400 warheads.
The current U.S. nuclear arsenal includes about 5,000 warheads.
The plan is a reflection of the president’s 2009 speech in Prague when he called for the complete elimination of nuclear weapons.
U.S. officials said senior U.S. military officials are opposing the nuclear cuts and have said that the 1,550 warheads mandated by the 2010 New START arms treaty with Russia is the lowest level that can be used to maintain deterrence of a nuclear attack.
“We are doubly concerned that you have abandoned your pledge to support the U.S. nuclear weapons modernization program by your latest budget submission,” the House members said.
The lawmakers reminded the president that full funding for an $85 billion nuclear modernization program was a key requirement for agreement to abide by the New START arms cuts.
The letter, led by Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif. and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Michael Turner, R-Ohio and chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee, stated that the committee has not approved funding for the New START arms cuts, an indication the panel may hold up funding.
The members of Congress asked the president to explain the steep warhead cuts in light of the decline of U.S. conventional weapons under the administration and the growth in both “quantity and quality” of nuclear arms by Russia, China, India, Pakistan, North Korea, and perhaps soon Iran.
The letter quoted former U.S. Strategic Command commander Gen. Kevin Chilton as stating “I think the arsenal that we have is exactly what is needed to today to provide the deterrent.”
“By definition, therefore, any further reductions will undermine the deterrent that has kept this country safe since the U.S. won the Second World War in August 1945,” the letter said.
The members also said they are unaware of any earlier strategic review including a direction to cut warheads to specific force levels. Past reviews were based on determining levels of nuclear forces needed to convince enemies that an attack on the United States will not succeed.
Also, the current review is not based on the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review as Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said in testimony this week, the letter said.
“We are especially concerns that such cuts may be unilateral,” the lawmakers said.
The letter urged the president to “cease” pursuing the nuclear reductions, considering the ambitious nuclear weapons programs of Russia and communist China, Pakistan and others, the deep cuts in defense spending under the Budget Control Act, and the failure to fund U.S. nuclear modernization.
“Surely you believe that blind ideology cannot drive a matter as U.S. nuclear forces over reality,” they said. “This will certainly be our starting point when drafting this year’s national defense authorization bill.”
Other Republicans who signed the letter include:
Reps. Mac Thornberry, the committee’s vice chairman, of Texas, Roscoe G. Bartlett, of Maryland; Walter B. Jones, of North Carolina; W. Todd Akin, Missouri; J. Randy Forbes, Virginia; Jeff Miller, Florida; Joe Wilson, South Carolina; Frank A. LoBiondo, New Jersey; John Kline, Minnesota; Mike Rogers, Alabama; Trent Franks, Arizona; Bill Shuster, Pennsylvania; K. Michael Conaway, Texas; Doug Lamborn, Colorado; Rob Wittman, Virginia; Duncan Hunter, California; John C. Fleming, Louisiana; Mike Coffman, Colorado; Thomas J. Rooney, Florida; Todd Russell Platts, Pennsylvania; Scott Rigell, Virginia; Vicky Hartzler, Missouri; Joe Heck, Nevada; Bobby Schilling, Illinois; Jon Runyan, New Jersey; Austin Scott, Georgia; Tim Griffin, Arkansas; Steve Palazzo, Mississippi; Allen West, Florida; Martha Roby, Alabama; Mo Brooks, Alabama; and Todd Young, Indiana.