Congress Won't Fund Nuclear Weapons Treaty Unless China, Russia Put in Crosshairs

Bill would halt funding for New START Treaty until China, Russia threats addressed

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May 14, 2019

Congress is moving to halt funding for a global nuclear arms pact until the Trump administration assures lawmakers that China and Russia will be held accountable for a massive expansion in their nuclear arsenals, according to a copy of the new legislation viewed by the Washington Free Beacon.

With tensions between the United States and Russia running high over the impending end of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, known as New START, Republican leaders in Congress say they are prepared to halt all funding for a new version of this treaty until the Trump administration consents to include provisions combatting both Russia and China's nuclear expansion.

To that end, the new legislation would "limit funding for any extension of the New START Treaty or any successor agreement unless the agreement includes the People's Republic of China and covers all strategic and non-strategic nuclear forces of the Russian Federation," according to the bill.

China has not been party to past versions of the START agreement, drawing concern from lawmakers who see Beijing expanding its nuclear weapons arsenal without oversight, particularly at a time when the United States is seeking to reduce the size of its own arsenal.

Russia, meanwhile, has been working to boost its own nuclear weapons program, including through the construction of intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of carrying a nuclear warhead and nuclear powered cruise missiles.

The new legislation, which is being offered before the New START Treaty expires in February of 2021, would address these developments by requiring any new START agreement to be signed by China and also include "all strategic and non-strategic nuclear forces held by the Russian Federation," according to the legislation.

"Any New START Treaty extension or successor agreement must be a trilateral arrangement among the United States, the Russian Federation, and the People's Republic of China," it states.

The legislation is being spearheaded in the Senate by Sens. Tom Cotton (R., Ark.), and John Cornyn (R., Texas), with a companion version being offered in the House by Rep. Liz Cheney (R., Wyo.).

The nuclear arsenals of China and Russia have been of concern to the U.S. intelligence community for some time.

"While the United States has continued to reduce the number and salience of nuclear weapons, others, including Russia and China, have moved in the opposite direction," states the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. "Russia has expanded and improved its strategic and non-strategic nuclear forces. China's military modernization has resulted in an expanded nuclear force, with little to no transparency into its intentions."

Additionally, "Russia is developing and deploying new nuclear warheads and launchers," according to the review. "These efforts include multiple upgrades for every leg of the Russian nuclear triad of strategic bombers, sea-based missiles, and land based missiles. Russia is also developing at least two new inter-continental range systems, a hypersonic glide vehicle, and a new intercontinental, nuclear armed, nuclear-powered, undersea autonomous torpedo."

Cotton said the United States should not be restricting its own nuclear arsenal while China and Russia press on unfettered.

"Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping continue to expand and modernize their nuclear arsenals. Future arms-control agreements must take into account both the Russian and Chinese threats, while ensuring we don't place one-sided nuclear restrictions on ourselves," Cotton said in a statement.

"As we negotiate future arms-control agreements, we should take the current threat landscape into account. This legislation would ensure we can protect our country's national security interests as both China and Russia continue to make strategic expansions of their nuclear arsenals," Cornyn said in a statement.

A State Department spokesperson declined to comment on the legislation, citing the agency's policy of not commenting about pending bills.