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Congress Seeks Records Related to Pentagon Study of ‘Alternatives’ to Nuclear Modernization

Critics say Biden administration contracted nuclear disarmament advocates to appease progressives

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and • December 9, 2021 11:20 am

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House defense hawks are working to force the Biden administration to turn over records related to a Pentagon-funded study of "alternatives" to modernizing the U.S. nuclear missile stockpile.

House lawmakers inserted language into the National Defense Authorization Act rules guidance on Tuesday, requiring the administration to provide Congress with contracting documents and reports related to any federally funded, third-party reviews of "service life extension program for Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles" or the "future of the intercontinental ballistic missile force." The NDAA passed the House on Tuesday and is expected to pass the Senate this week.

The records could shed light on why the Biden administration decided to contract out the study to two nuclear disarmament advocates at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank. The project has rankled a coalition of lawmakers in Congress who represent states where the U.S. missile systems are based. They say the Biden administration is caving to pressure from the Democratic Party's far-left anti-war flank and will weaken the United States' missile defense systems as countries like China, Russia, and Iran greatly invest in their own programs.

Congressional sources who have been briefed on the Carnegie Endowment project described it as a stealth effort by the Biden administration to discard the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), a massive modernization project of the United States' aging land-based missiles that has been underway since last year, the Washington Free Beacon first reported last week.

"This Carnegie study directed by the White House is a real wolf in sheep's clothing," a senior congressional source told the Free Beacon. "It's being briefed [to Congress] as just an effort to appease the far left of the Democrat party. But in reality, it will be used over and over to try and kill GBSD. It's a real threat and Congress will treat it as such."

The source called the move "an assault on the missile states" in the Great Plains, where the intercontinental ballistic missile system is based, whose legislators had assured constituents that the GBSD was moving forward.

The Pentagon recently commissioned the expedited study into ICBM replacement "alternatives" after far-left members of the Democratic Party pressed the Biden administration to halt the GBSD.

The ICBM Coalition—a group of federal lawmakers from Montana, Wyoming, and North Dakota—first received approval for the missile modernization program from President Barack Obama in 2010, in exchange for consenting to his arms reduction treaty with Russia. The project moved forward under the Trump administration, which issued a $13.3 billion contract to Northrop Grumman in 2020.

Sen. Steve Daines, the Republican senator from Montana, told the Free Beacon that he opposes any attempt by the Biden administration to delay the modernization program.

"At a time when countries like China, Russia, and Iran are moving to strengthen or gain nuclear capabilities, the United States should not be moving backward," said Daines. "I'm grateful for the men and women at bases like Malmstrom [Air Force Base] who are critical to ensuring peace through strength. Unilaterally limiting our own nuclear capabilities will only give our adversaries the upper hand."

Montana senator Jon Tester, the Democratic chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Defense and a vocal proponent of ICBMs, vowed earlier this year to use his committee position to keep the GBSD program "on track" and has fought against any delays. Tester, whose state houses a large portion of the ICBM arsenal, is viewed as instrumental to ensuring the Biden administration does not derail modernization. He did not respond to a request for comment on the Pentagon study.

The study is being led by Carnegie Endowment vice president George Perkovich, a former Biden speechwriter and national security adviser who has called for halting the GBSD modernization program. It will look into "alternatives as they relate to options for the land-based leg of the U.S. nuclear triad," according to a copy of the project proposal obtained by the Free Beacon.

The future of the GBSD program is also a concern for community and business leaders in Montana, where the impact would be felt directly.

Halting the modernization "would be fairly disastrous for our local economy," said Bill Ferrin, the former chairman for the Military Affairs Committee at the Great Falls Area Chamber of Commerce, which neighbors the Malmstrom Air Force Base.

"Northrop Grumman is already hiring people here," Ferrin said. "[We are] knee deep into this thing, to kill it now it is just typical government."

The Pentagon's study is expected to be completed in January and will cost around $75,000, according to a copy of the proposal obtained by the Free Beacon.

The two Carnegie Endowment researchers leading the study, Perkovich and James Acton, are authors of the 2009 compendium Abolishing Nuclear Weapons: A Debate, which proposes ways to reach total nuclear disarmament.

Both have previously called for halting the GBSD and trying to salvage the current 50-year-old ICBM missiles.

Acton said in March the government should pause the ICBM replacement program and instead try to extend the life of existing missiles. He argued that technological advances could eventually "devalue silo-based ICBMs and cause future Congresses, as well as the American people, to look back with incomprehension at the decision to pursue [the GBSD]."

In a paper published earlier this year, Perkovich advised the Biden administration to "pause the GBSD program, and meanwhile retain (and update) the Minuteman ICBM force" while also negotiating an "agreement with Russia to mutually reduce the total number of warheads and silo-based nuclear missiles and launchers."

The paper was co-authored with Pranay Vaddi, who has since left the Carnegie Endowment and is now a senior State Department official working on nuclear policy.

Defense hawks counter that replacing the decaying missiles is critical for U.S. nuclear deterrence.

"The older the Minuteman IIIs get, the more costly they are to maintain and the less reliable they become," said Bradley Bowman, senior director of the Center on Military and Political Power at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. "The smart thing for Washington to do, both in terms of cost and national security, is to field the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent without delay."

The Carnegie Endowment's links to Beijing and Moscow raise additional concerns about the Pentagon contract.

The Carnegie Moscow Center is run by director Dmitri Trenin, a former Russian military intelligence colonel who joined the think tank in the early 1990s, according to a copy of his biography published by the Aspen Institute.

Trenin is an adviser to the PIR Center, a Russian think tank focused on nuclear issues, where Perkovich is also listed as an expert on the group's website. The PIR's chairman is Evgeny Buzhinskiy, a retired Russian general, and its executive board includes senior officials from the Russian military, the Ministry of Defense, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Andrey Baklitskiy, a consultant to PIR, writes regularly for the Carnegie Endowment on U.S. arms control issues.

Since Vladimir Putin's presidential election in 2012, the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow Center has shown a reluctance to take on the Russian government, according to journalist and Brookings Institution fellow James Kirchick. The think tank has taken a "kid-gloves treatment of Putin's expansionist goals," wrote Kirchick in 2017.

The Carnegie Endowment's links to China also came under scrutiny from lawmakers earlier this year, after the think tank's former president William Burns was nominated as CIA director.

During the confirmation process, Burns acknowledged that the think tank had accepted between $200,000 and $500,000 from the China-United States Exchange Foundation, a group that congressional investigators have said is part of a foreign influence operation by the Chinese government.

The Carnegie Endowment also has a branch in Beijing, called the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, at China's Tsinghua University. The Australian Strategic Policy Institute, which tracks the national security threat of China's defense research institutes, designated Tsinghua University as "very high risk" due to the school's "high level of defense research and alleged involvement in cyber attacks."

In addition, the Carnegie Endowment's board of trustees includes Zhang Yichen, the CEO of a Chinese state-owned private equity fund and a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, an advisory group to the Chinese government. Zhang last year contributed between $250,000 and $549,000 to the think tank.