Published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Online on May 21, 2013.
Article summary below; read the full text here.
As part of his effort to win Republican support for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in 2010, President Obama submitted to lawmakers a 10-year plan to maintain and modernize US nuclear warheads, strategic delivery systems, and their supporting infrastructure. Contained in what is known as the “Section 1251 Report,” the latest public version of the plan PDF outlines $88 billion in projected spending on the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) weapons activities and $125.8 billion for strategic delivery vehicle modernization at the Pentagon between fiscal years 2012 and 2021.
Three years later, the administration’s budget request and Congressional appropriations for nuclear modernization, though staggering in their size, have not kept pace with the plan. This has prompted two leading senators, James Inhofe, the top Republican on the Armed Services Committee, and Bob Corker, the top Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, to cry foul. In recent opinion pieces in the Wall Street Journal and Foreign Policy, Inhofe and Corker allege that the administration has broken a sacred vow, and that having done so will make it nigh impossible for the President to get Senate approval for further nuclear reductions in the future.
The holes in this depiction of events are large enough to contain a nuclear explosion. The claim that the administration has reneged on its nuclear modernization commitments is specious for numerous reasons. More important, the insinuation by Inhofe and Corker that nuclear weapons should be exempt from budget reductions ignores the realities of the new fiscal environment, as well as the diminished role these weapons play in US security policy.