by Nickolas Roth and Ulrika Grufman
This week, Massachusetts Representative Edward Markey held a press conference announcing that more than sixty Members of Congress had co-signed his letter to the super committee urging them to substantially cut nuclear weapons funding in order to balance the budget.
In reply, Ohio Representative Michael Turner, Chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, offered some of his usual rhetoric that cutting funding meant the U.S. was unilaterally disarming. His statement was quickly followed by the release of a letter sent to the Senate Appropriations Committee signed by Republican members of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee asking that the Senate fully fund the President’s request for nuclear weapons. To justify the request for more money, the letter makes a number of questionable arguments regarding the nuclear weapons budgeting process over the past year.
It argues that “former Secretary of Defense Gates transferred $8.4 billion in top-line budget authority from the Department of Defense to NNSA over five years” and that this money “was instead given to water related projects.” While DOD did transfer money, the letter fails to mention that, for the purposes of allocating nuclear weapons spending for Fiscal Year 12, security and non-security spending received separate allocations. The Energy and Water appropriations committees were not allowed to transfer money between NNSA and water projects. The Senate Appropriations Committee alluded to this fact in its press release, which stated, “The allocation for this bill is divided into security and non-security accounts. The security accounts are made up of funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) and these received a $528 million increase over fiscal year 2011. The non-security accounts received an allocation $584 million below fiscal year 2011.” Congressman Turner should have been fully aware of this fact. If he was not, it is because he did not do his homework.
In a rather bizarre twist, the letter is critical of the Republican led House Energy and Water bill for not funding the President’s full request for nuclear weapons, arguing that “the House—unlike the Senate—was not fully consulted” on the long term funding plan for nuclear weapons and needs “additional time to develop the consensus” on the need for nuclear weapons funding. The House received the Obama administration’s long-term plan for nuclear weapons spending in April 2010 and has had exactly the same amount of time as the Senate to review it. In fact, over the past year and a half, House committees held more than a dozen hearings on the nuclear weapons stockpile and related funding issues. Do those who signed this letter think that House Members need more time to make a decision than Senators given the exact same information? Does Congressman Turner think think that his fellow Republicans in the House are slow on the uptake?
The letter also argues that without the funding identified in the President’s long-term nuclear weapons spending plan, “the nuclear modernization plan cannot be realized.” As has been pointed out previously , this argument is also untrue. The House Energy and Water Subcommittee made modest cuts to several programs that were either being managed poorly or had questionable justifications, without jeopardizing the NNSA’s modernization plan. The mark reflects an interest in good government and indicates that there are more important priorities other than nuclear weapons.
In the last sentence of the letter, the HASC Republicans threaten that if Congress does not fully fund the administration’s request for nuclear weapons, it will “seek to ensure, through the annual defense authorization legislation that any reduction in the nuclear stockpile—including to levels mandated by the New START Treaty—are directly contingent upon successful execution of the planned nuclear modernization program.” Congressman Turner has already attempted to do this by incorporating his New START Implementation Act into this year’s Defense Authorization bill, which, embarrassingly, had to be amended because it contained provisions that would actually reduce the reliability of U.S. nuclear forces.
As a general point, the letter asks that the Senate and the President “stand by” their commitment to nuclear modernization made during the New START ratification. However, committing to a plan does not mean that every penny requested by the Obama administration for nuclear weapons necessarily needs to be appropriated. Just like with all government agencies, it is possible that not all of the funding is needed or justified. By the looks of it, it seems as if the Republicans on the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee are comfortable with abdicating their responsibility to provide oversight for nuclear weapons funding. As Congress tries to find billions of dollars in cuts for security and non-security spending, this type of ideologically driven call to increase nuclear weapons spending is exactly what is not needed.
Turner’s Comments on “Disarmament”
Turning briefly to Congressman Turner’s comments that budget cuts are tantamount to the U.S. unilaterally disarming. The measure of an “effective” nuclear deterrent is whether the weapons can carry out the missions to which they are assigned, not how they compare to another country’s weapons. The cuts suggested by Congressman Markey are perfectly reasonable given the current budget environment. The United States holds roughly 5,000 active and reserve warheads, each one bigger than the bombs dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Of these 5,000, New START requires that fewer than 200 warheads be removed from deployed status. When the New START treaty was being discussed, the Pentagon assessed that lowering the number of deployed U.S. strategic warheads would be beneficial for national security and sufficient for deterrence. It appears that Turner is now trying to argue that both the military and the Senate, which provided its consent for New START, made a mistake. He should really find a better tactic other than asking for a favor on the nuclear weapons budget while simultaneously telling the Senate and military leadership that they are wrong.