By Kingston Reif and Nick Roth
The Nuclear Posture Review took a beating at yesterday’s full House Armed Services Committee mark of the FY 2011 Defense Authorization Bill (H.R. 5136).
By the slim margin of 30-28, Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH), the Jon Kyl of the House, secured support for a sense of congress amendment proclaiming that the Nuclear Posture Review weakens U.S. national security by taking options off the table to respond to a catastrophic nuclear, chemical, biological, or conventional attack. Needless to say, the optics of having the House Armed Services Committee on record as saying that the President’s Nuclear Posture Review damages U.S. national security is not helpful.
When it was all said and done, there was a lot of action on the Strategic Force part of the bill. Two en bloc amendments passed and four additional Republican amendments, including the Turner amendment on nuclear use, were offered. The administration’s request for nonproliferation programs was considered as part of the general provisions part of the mark, and was fully funded by the Committee.
See below for some more detail and additional thoughts on yesterday’s proceedings. HASC’s summary of the full mark can be found here.
1. Lamborn (R-CO) amendment (#13): Restrictions on further strategic force reductions; Result: PASSED BY VOICE VOTE
According to Lamborn’s description of the sense of Congress amendment, the amendment limits reductions below those contained in the New START Treaty until such time that the Secretary of Defense and NNSA Administrator produce a report certifying that the strategic environment and threat have changed for the better or our modernization efforts have matured and been implemented in such a way as to make the stockpile more effective. The amendment also preserves the viability and flexibility of the triad. It also demands that any further reductions must not require the U.S. to change its targeting strategy from counterforce targeting to countervalue (city-busting) targeting. The amendment wouldn’t categorically prevent future reductions but would ensure that those reductions are driven by in depth strategic analysis to ensure that we maintain a credible nuclear deterrent. Based on the debate afterwards, the amendment appears to require that no further reductions can occur until 180 days after the report is submitted.
There was a vigorous debate on the amendment, which lasted for more than an hour. For the most part, Democrats opposed the amendment on the grounds that it would tie the President’s hands and impinge upon the jurisdiction of the Senate over treaties. They also defended New START and the Nuclear Posture Review, arguing that they address 21st century threats and do not constrain the triad. Representatives Larson (D-WA), Andrews (D-NJ), and Langevin (D-RI), all made very strong statements in support of the President’s policy.
Republicans supported the amendment on the grounds that they are very concerned about President Obama’s disarmament agenda, reductions below New START levels could invite peer competition, etc. Their view was that the amendment calls for common sense conditions that must be met before going below New START levels.
Toward the end of the debate Congressman Murphy (D-NY) submitted a clarifying amendment to strike some of the more objectionable features in the Lamborn amendment, but it failed on a voice vote. Lamborn’s amendment passed on a voice vote.
2. Turner (R-OH) amendment (#102R): Nuclear use policy; Result: PASSED 30 – 28
As expected, Turner proposed a sense of Congress amendment on the revised Negative Security Assurance in the Nuclear Posture Review that would limit threats of nuclear retaliation against countries that sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. According to Turner, the sense of Congress would return the U.S. to the policy that if our nation is attacked, we will use any and all means necessary to defend ourselves. The amendment language argues that the NPR weakens U.S. national security by taking options off the table in response to a chemical, biological, or conventional attack.
Larsen (D-WA) offered a substitute amendment stating that the assurance in the NPR will strengthen U.S. security and that all options are still on the table to deal with states such as Iran and North Korea that are not in compliance with their nonproliferation obligations.
There was extensive debate on both Turner’s amendment and Larsen’s substitute. The Larsen substitute failed by a roll call vote of 28-30. The Turner amendment passed by a roll call vote of 30-28. Turner could be seen jubilantly pumping his fist after the roll was announced.
The Democrats were hurt by the fact that Reyes (D-TX), Brady (D-PA), and Garamendi (D-CA) were not present for the vote. Reyes was apparently attending a celebration for the President of Mexico with President Obama (he came in late wearing a tuxedo). Brady was absent because his wife was having surgery. It’s still not clear where Garamendi, who has a nuclear weapons lab in his district, was. The other Democrats who voted in favor of the amendment were from conservative districts.
3. Langevin (D-RI) substitute amendment for the Turner (R-OH) amendment (#100R) on Missile Defense Hedging Policy; Result: PASSED 32 – 25
Turner offered an amendment on the Phased Adaptive Approach for Europe to ensure that it will be the policy of the U.S. to deploy long-range missile defense in Europe, ensure that blocks II-A and II-B of the Phased Adaptive Approach will intercept ICBMs coming from the Middle East, continue development of the two-stage GBI interceptor as a hedge, and refurbish missile field 1 at Fort Greely, Alaska to deal with the growing long-range missile threat. Turner argued that the amendment was based on the fact that there is a gap in the hedge regarding U.S. long-range missile defense capabilities whereby an Iranian ICBM threat could materialize by 2015 but block II-B of the phased adaptive approach won’t be ready until 2020.
Langevin offered a substitute amendment which conditioned the deployment of missile defenses in Europe and the U.S. on the completion of operationally realistic testing. Langevin’s substitute also strikes the requirement in the original amendment pertaining to missile field 1 in Alaska.
The Langevin substitute passed by a vote of 32-25, thereby defeating the original Turner amendment.
4. Turner (R-OH) amendment (#106R-2): Future changes in the U.S. force structure in Europe and Congressional Notification requirements; Result: PASSED BY VOICE VOTE
Near the end of the HASC mark, Turner proposed an amendment on U.S. forces in Europe modeled after the Lamborn amendment on further strategic forces reductions below the levels in New START. The amendment states that any notification of relocation of U.S. forces, including nuclear forces, in Europe must support U.S. national security, assess whether relocation will have any impact on U.S. security commitments, address the current security environment, etc. The amendment asks for a report assuring that potential changes in force structure and the supporting infrastructure will satisfy the commitments undertaken by the U.S. pursuant to NATO, addresses the current security environment, and contribute to peace and stability in Europe.
After a short period of the debate, the amendment passed by a voice vote.
On funding for the Department of Energy’s nonproliferation programs, the Committee authorized the original budget request of $2.7 billion. The Committee also fully funded the request of $522.5 million for the Department of Defense’s Cooperative threat reduction program. There was no debate on this funding. For the first time in a while no money was added to nonproliferation because the budget request already represented a significant increase over what was authorized in FY 2010.
A few thoughts on the proceedings:
-The good news is that the amendments were policy statements and not on money. Were Reyes, Brady, and Garamendi actually present for the vote, the Turner amendment on nuclear use policy would surely have failed.
-The bad news is that the result can affect the narrative of progress on nuclear weapons issues. The message sent was that the House Armed Services Committee thinks that the President’s Nuclear Posture Review damages U.S. national security.
-If last year is any indication, Kyl is likely to offer similar amendments when the Authorization bill hits the Senate floor.