Volume 3, Issue 7, May 8, 2012
Tomorrow, the House Armed Services Committee is scheduled to approve its version of the fiscal year (FY) 2013 defense authorization bill. Committee chair Buck McKeon (R-Cal.) and strategic forces chair Michael Turner (R-Ohio) are expected to add $3.7 billion more than the Defense Department requested. This includes hundreds of millions of dollars for nuclear weapons and missile defense programs that the military does not want and the nation cannot afford.
Meanwhile, in response to the bipartisan Budget Control Act, the Pentagon is trying to reduce spending growth by $487 billion over the next decade and faces an additional cut of $500 billion unless the sequestration time bomb can be defused by the end of the year.
Reps. Turner and McKeon's proposals to spend more on unneeded projects will eventually take limited resources away from defense programs the nation needs to address real 21st century security threats.
We Don't Need to Rush to Build an Expensive New Plutonium Lab
Rep. McKeon's draft defense authorization bill released on Monday includes $100 million for a new plutonium laboratory, called the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement (CMRR) Facility, to be built at Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico.
There is already bipartisan agreement to delay CMRR. The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) did not request any funds for CMRR and deferred construction for at least five years. The Pentagon does not support the facility, nor does the GOP-led House Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee.
In fact, the Appropriations Subcommittee complained that the facility should have been shelved sooner. "By not fully considering all available options, millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent for work which will not be needed until a much later date," the subcommittee wrote about CMRR on April 24.
NNSA Administrator Thomas D'Agostino testified in April that the United States does not currently need CMRR to maintain an effective stockpile. "That's great news for the country because we're not forced into making rash decisions on significant investments in a very short period of time. So we have time to evaluate this area," he said.
With cost estimates for CMRR skyrocketing from $600 million to $6 billion, the delay is a reasonable response to tight budgets given that other NNSA facilities have "inherent capacity" to support ongoing and future plutonium activities, according to NNSA.
The FY2013 NNSA budget request represents a healthy 5% increase despite fiscal pressures imposed by the Budget Control Act and the House Appropriations Committee's decision last year to cut the program. This year, the committee did not add additional funds above the administration's $7.6 billion request.
Further increases in the NNSA budget for the CMRR lab are out of step and are not necessary to maintain the existing U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile.
But We Do Need New START
Compounding the misguided effort to restore CMRR funding, Rep. Turner is expected to try to block implementation of the 2010 New START Treaty unless the funding is provided.
Blocking U.S. implementation of New START, as Rep. Turner's bill H.R. 4178 threatens to do, would likely result in Russia doing the same. The treaty would unravel, allowing Moscow to rebuild its forces above treaty ceilings and increase the number of nuclear weapons aimed at the United States. Moreover, the inspection system established under the treaty could collapse, depriving the United States of crucial data exchanges and on-site inspections of Russian forces that the U.S. intelligence community depends on for its assessments.
Such outcomes are clearly not in the U.S. national security interest. Yet Rep. Turner would put New START at risk--ignoring the will of the 71 senators who voted for it--to extort additional spending on nuclear weapons that is unsustainable and unnecessary, and that the Pentagon and key members of his own party do not support.
New START remains in the U.S. national interest because the treaty reduces the threat to the United States from Russian nuclear forces, and the administration has managed to save money in FY2013 while still achieving its goal of modernizing the nuclear arsenal and production complex.
East Coast Strategic Missile Interceptor Site?
Rep. McKeon's bill includes a $460 million increase for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) program, including $100 million to study a missile defense site on the East Coast. This would be in addition to the two sites already built in California and Alaska at a combined cost of $30 billion.
The Pentagon did not request this funding and does not want it. Gen. Charles Jacoby Jr., commander of the U.S. Northern Command and the North American Aerospace and Defense Command, testified during a Senate hearing in March that, "today's threats do not require an East Coast missile field, and we do not have plans to do so."
Moreover, the Obama administration is already building an interceptor system in Europe, known as the Phased Adaptive Approach (PAA), to handle attacks from Iran, which has yet to deploy long-range missiles that could reach the United States.
The performance of the West Coast GMD system should give us pause before deploying a similar one on the East Coast. The GMD system has not had a successful intercept test against a cooperative target since 2008, with two failures in 2010. According to a recent National Research Council report, the GMD system "has serious shortcomings, and provides at best a limited, initial defense against a relatively primitive threat." Moreover, the GMD system has not been tested against a realistic target including decoys.
Building a costly third site for a GMD system that is ineffective and designed to counter a long-range missile threat that may not materialize for many years is not in the best interests of U.S. national or economic security.
We Don't Need 12 New Strategic Nuclear Subs
Rep. McKeon's bill also includes an increase of up to $347 million for the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine replacement program, known as the SSBNX. The Navy did not request this money, and instead wants to delay the program by two years.
By accelerating the SSBNX program, Rep. McKeon hopes to prevent the U.S. strategic submarine fleet from dropping from 12 to 10 operational subs around 2030, and the Seapower subcommittee would require the Navy to maintain a minimum of 12 subs. But in reality the United States has no need for 12 subs and could safely make do with eight--and would save at least $18 billion over ten years by doing so.
Just one U.S. Ohio-class submarine, currently armed with 96 nuclear warheads, could kill millions.
From a national security perspective, a shift to eight strategic submarines would provide a more than adequate nuclear deterrent. Under New START, the Pentagon plans to deploy approximately 1,000 nuclear warheads on strategic submarines. Eight fully armed Ohio-class or SSBNX submarines can meet this target. Therefore, a shift to eight operational submarines would not affect the Pentagon's planned warhead deployment levels.
This budget-saving approach takes advantage of the excess capacity that currently exists on each D-5 missile (which is designed to hold eight warheads but is currently loaded with four or five). Although each missile and submarine would carry more warheads under this plan, the submarines-unlike land-based missiles-would still be invulnerable to attack when deployed at sea.
An Office of Management and Budget (OMB) analysis in November 2011 reportedly recommended that the Navy should purchase only 10 submarines and increase the number of missile tubes from 16 to 20 on each boat. Congress has directed the Navy to prepare a report on more economical options for the new fleet, to be completed by mid-2012.
Time to Stop Playing Games
While the Defense Department is seeking reasonable ways to trim spending, Reps. McKeon and Turner are telling the military to spend millions on nuclear weapons and missile defense programs that the Pentagon does not want. This makes no sense, particularly when the Pentagon is trying to reduce spending by $487 billion over the next decade and sequestration looms. The days of ever-increasing defense budgets are over.
In particular, future nuclear force reductions cannot be held hostage to annual congressional debates about the defense budget. It remains in the U.S. national security interest to verifiably reduce excess Cold War U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear arsenals.
As the Pentagon's January 2012 strategy document Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense says: "It is possible that our deterrence goals can be achieved with a smaller nuclear force, which would reduce the number of nuclear weapons in our inventory as well as their role in U.S. national security strategy."
The major threats the United States faces today, such as proliferation, terrorism or cyber attacks, cannot be addressed by nuclear arms. Rather than asking American taxpayers to cough up yet more money for yesterday's weapons, Congress needs to focus on more cost-effective solutions that address the nation's future defense needs.--Tom Z. Collina and Daryl G. Kimball
The Arms Control Association (ACA) is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing information and practical policy solutions to address the dangers posed by the world's most dangerous weapons. ACA publishes the monthly journal, Arms Control Today.