Obama nuclear cuts challenged

House bill would force the administration to fund nuclear modernization as promised during debate on New START ratification

March 8, 2012

A senior House Republican leader of the Armed Services Committee filed legislation on Thursday that would limit nuclear warhead cuts under a treaty with Russia and prevent President Obama from cutting strategic nuclear forces by 80 percent.

Representative Mike Turner (R., Ohio), chairman of the strategic forces subcommittee, said in an interview that the legislation he authored was introduced in response to the failure by the president to follow through on promises two years ago to spend $8 billion to modernize aging U.S. strategic weapons and infrastructure.

The current budget request asked Congress for nearly $500 million less. Under provisions of the 2010 defense authorization law, the president agreed to spend $72.4 billion on nuclear weapons from 2014 to 2021.

The modernization-funding program was a precondition for many Senate Republicans who agreed to vote in favor of ratifying the New START arms treaty with Russia in December 2010.

The administration’s current defense budget request, however, fails to provide full funding for the nuclear modernization program and prompted Turner and six other Republicans to take steps to block the implementation of nuclear cuts under New START.

"START implementation and nuclear modernization are intrinsically linked. The president made them linked," Turner said in an interview.

"Without modernization, the reductions should not occur," he said.

The legislation also will prevent the Pentagon from following through on the recommendations of a forthcoming strategic nuclear review that is examining whether U.S. warheads could be cut from the current level to as low as 300 warheads—less than are currently in China’s strategic arsenal, and thousands less than are in Russia’s strategic nuclear warhead arsenal.

"Knowing that the president is studying further reductions, we are absolutely not willing to allow this president to unilaterally reduce our nuclear weapons," Turner said, noting that he is "very concerned" about the plans for drastic cuts in the face of growing threats, like a new North Korean mobile intercontinental-range missile.

The current U.S. strategic arsenal of 5,000 deployed warheads will be cut to 2,000 deployed warheads under the treaty, with 3,000 remaining in storage.

Russia currently has between 4,000 and 6,500 warheads. China has between 300 and 400 warheads, although Chinese secrecy has raised questions about whether Beijing has hundreds or even thousands of additional warheads.

Turner said support for passage of the bill is strong in the House and should have strong support in the Senate. The Senate, in its resolution of ratification, codified calls for enhancing the safety, security, and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile, modernizing the nuclear weapons complex, and maintaining nuclear delivery systems before any further cuts are made in U.S. nuclear forces.

"This is about making the president live up to his word," Turner said. "He made commitments and promises. He himself said that the modernization program was essential in order to safely reduce to the levels that were being agreed to under New START."

Cosponsors of the bill include Republican congressmen John Fleming of Louisiana; Doug Lamborn of Colorado; Trent Franks of Arizona; J. Randy Forbes of Virginia; Denny Rehberg of Montana; and Jeff Miller of Florida.

The bill is called "Maintaining the President’s Commitment to Our Nuclear Deterrent and National Security Act of 2012."