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Key Senator May Oppose New Treaties
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Tom Z. Collina

A key Republican senator who voted for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) threatened to block future treaties, citing what he said was the failure of the Obama administration to keep its promise, made in talks with the Senate over New START in 2010, to increase funding for nuclear weapons programs.

At a June 21 hearing of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said that he was “highly disappointed” that the administration had not requested as much for nuclear weapons in fiscal year 2013 as it said it would in 2010. Corker, who faces an August primary challenge, said he “would be very reticent to agree to any treaty with this administration on any topic, until something changes as it relates to the commitments on this START treaty.”

The White House has indicated that it is seeking a ratification vote on the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea later this year, may seek approval of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty next year, and eventually may ask for a Senate vote on a follow-on treaty to New START.

Corker may become the ranking Republican on the committee in the next Congress, as the current ranking member, Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), lost his primary election in May. If the Republicans win control of the Senate in November, Corker could become chairman of the panel.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), the current committee chairman, addressed Corker’s criticism by saying that the administration has been “working hard” to provide increased support for weapons programs “at a time when almost all other budgets are being slashed.” Kerry pointed out that, for fiscal year 2012, the administration had requested the full amount projected in the November 2010 funding estimate, known as the 1251 report, but that it was “the House of Representatives that cut the funding below the request, not the president, and not the Senate.” For fiscal year 2013, the administration is requesting a 5 percent increase for National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) weapons funding over the 2012 amount, he noted. (See ACT, April 2012.) The NNSA, which is a semiautonomous agency in the Department of Energy, is responsible for maintaining the nuclear weapons production complex.

The fiscal year 2012 congressional appropriation for NNSA weapons funding was $416 million, or 4 percent, less than the administration’s $7.6 billion budget request, which matched the 1251 report’s projection for fiscal year 2012. Under the Senate resolution of approval for New START, this shortfall triggered a requirement that the administration report to Congress on how to address any funding gap. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta submitted this report on June 5, finding that the fiscal year 2013 request meets military requirements “even during a time of pronounced fiscal austerity” and that “no additional resources are requested.”

NNSA Administrator Thomas D’Agostino testified June 21 that “we [will] have the resources we need” if Congress approves the administration’s full fiscal year 2013 request. “I’ve seen an unprecedented level of commitment on the part of [the] executive branch towards taking care of our nuclear security enterprise,” he testified.

House, Senate Differ

Corker stopped short of suggesting, as his House colleagues have, that New START should not be implemented unless the funding levels specified in the 1251 report’s 10-year projection are requested and appropriated.

In the House, Republican leaders such as Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, are trying to prevent the implementation of New START as well as additional reductions. The fiscal year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which passed the House on May 18, includes language that could block arsenal reductions under New START if the administration does not increase its spending request for certain nuclear weapons-related projects, for which the Pentagon and the NNSA did not ask.

In a May 15 statement, the administration issued a warning that it may veto the defense bill over these provisions, which the White House said would “impinge on the President’s ability to implement the New START Treaty and to set U.S. nuclear weapons policy.”

The Senate Armed Services Committee, which completed its version of the defense bill on May 24, did not seek to link New START implementation to additional funds for modernization. Instead, the committee found that “the linkage between nuclear modernization and the New START Treaty’s implementation is sufficiently established.”

At the June 21 hearing, Lugar said he was “very concerned by attempts to force U.S. withdrawal from the New START Treaty or suspend its implementation. We should not risk either the transparency achieved by the Treaty nor the reliability and performance of our strategic nuclear forces.”

Kerry said that “those who say we should just walk away from New START” have to explain how “retaining more nuclear weapons than our military advisers say we need, and how having less insight into Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal” would be beneficial. “We need to see the logic of that,” Kerry said.

New START on Track

As Corker accused the administration of breaking its promises, administration witnesses argued that New START was advancing U.S. security interests. Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, testified that the treaty, which entered into force in February 2011, “is providing ongoing transparency and predictability regarding the world’s two largest deployed nuclear arsenals” while preserving the U.S. ability to maintain a strong nuclear deterrent.

In the treaty’s first year, the United States and Russia conducted the maximum of 18 on-site inspections, Gottemoeller said. So far in the second year, Russia has conducted eight inspections, and the United States has conducted seven. These inspections have taken place at intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), submarine-launched ballistic missile, and heavy bomber bases, as well as at storage facilities, conversion or elimination facilities, and test ranges, said Gottemoeller, who was the lead U.S. negotiator of New START.

On the issue of when the United States plans to reduce its arsenal to New START levels, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Global Strategic Affairs Madelyn Creedon testified that the Pentagon plans to “make most of the reductions in deployed systems towards the end of the seven-year reduction period,” or by 2018. By then, the United States, which currently deploys 1,737 warheads, 812 delivery systems, and 1,040 launchers, must meet the treaty’s limits of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads, 700 delivery vehicles, and 800 launchers.

Creedon testified that initial reductions will come from the conversion or elimination of systems that were counted under the 1991 START but are no longer maintained “in a deployable status.” These previously retired systems, often referred to as “phantoms” because they are no longer deployed but still counted under the treaty, include 50 empty Peacekeeper ICBM silos at F.E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, 50 empty Minuteman III ICBM silos at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Montana, three excess ICBM test silos at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California; and 34 B-52G and 13 B-52H bombers currently stored at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona. The estimated cost to eliminate or convert these systems is $47 million, she said.

Posted: July 5, 2012