by Kingston Reif
Rep. Michael Turner’s (R-OH) love affair with nuclear weapons continues. His national security raison d’être appears to be to protect at all costs spending on an excessively large nuclear arsenal ill-suited to the current threat environment and oppose common sense, bipartisan steps such as the New START treaty that begin to put America’s nuclear posture on a 21st century footing.
On February 8, the Chairman of the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee announced that he plans to introduce an updated version of the New START Implementation Act following the release of the President’s budget on February 13.
Recall that Turner offered the original bill prior to the House Armed Services Committee mark-up of the Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 defense authorization bill last May. According to Turner, the purpose of the bill was to hold the Obama administration accountable to the long-term commitments it made on nuclear modernization during the Senate’s consideration of the New START treaty.
Republicans attached many of the bill’s provisions as amendments to the House version of the defense bill, including a section that would have delayed force reductions under New START and made further changes to U.S. nuclear force levels contingent on several onerous conditions. In the end, cooler heads prevailed in the Senate and conference committee and the final version of the bill either did not include or significantly watered down these provisions.
Turner argues that a new version of the bill is needed because the administration’s FY 2013 budget request of $7.58 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) Weapons Activities account is less than the $7.95 billion called for as part of the November 2010 update to the Section 1251 report. All told the 1251 report calls for $88 billion in spending on NNSA weapons activities between FY 2011 and FY 2020. The FY 2013 request does not keep pace with this plan. According to NNSA, “the Administration will develop outyear funding levels based on actual programmatic requirements at a later date.” Within weapons activities, the request defers the Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement Facility (CMRR-NF), the new plutonium facility scheduled to be built at Los Alamos, by five years.
Turner claims that the U.S. shouldn’t implement the reductions required by the New START treaty (to say nothing about deeper reductions) without spending the amounts outlined in the 1251 report.
Like his previous efforts to constrain U.S. implementation of New START and future changes to U.S. nuclear posture, Turner’s latest gambit isn’t likely to gain much traction outside the House Armed Services Committee. Not only did Turner lose the funding battle when Congress passed the Budget Control Act, but preventing the reductions required by New START would undermine U.S. security.
If Not Weapons Then Where?
If it sounds like Rep. Turner’s call to fund weapons at any cost ignores a big piece of context, that’s because it does: It’s called the Budget Control Act (also known as the deal to raise the debt ceiling), which Congress passed in August 2011. The Section 1251 report was crafted in the pre-Budget Control Act world, which might as well be eons ago. Furthermore, it was designed before the cost of many of NNSA’s large scale construction and life extension projects were fully known (some have increased in cost, others are still not known).
In fact, the cuts to weapons activities began before the Budget Control Act was negotiated, spearheaded by the Republican-led House. House Budget Committee Chairman Ryan and House Appropriations Committee Chairman Rogers proposed to reduce the FY 2011 request by over $300 million in February 2011. This cut was ultimately reversed in the final FY 2011 spending bill.
In FY 2012, Congress provided $7.23 billion for NNSA’s weapons activities account, a reduction of $355 million below the FY 2012 requested level of $7.63 billion, but still an increase of $338 million over the FY 2011 enacted level (see our handy chart for more detail here). The final FY 2012 enacted level was again higher than what the Republican-led House Appropriations Committee approved during the FY 2012 appropriations process.
The failure of the Supercommittee to come up with an additional $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions has reset the original Budget Control spending caps and applied them to defense (Function 050, which includes NNSA) and nondefense programs for 2013 through 2021. It also triggered an automatic sequester that, if implemented as scheduled in January 2013, could result in reductions of approximately $500 billion to projected defense spending over the next decade. These cuts would be in addition to the more than $450 billion in reductions to projected defense spending the Pentagon is already planning to implement over the next decade as part of the first round of cuts required by the Budget Control Act.
The pre-sequester FY 2013 cap for defense spending is $546 billion, which is $8 billion less than the FY 2011 enacted level. If sequestration is implemented, that level could be reduced by an additional $54.5 billion.
Though the FY 2013 budget request is above this new cap, the Budget Control Act is putting enormous pressure on NNSA’s budget, making it nearly impossible to fund weapons activities at the 1251 report level and build the CMRR-NF and Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at the same time. The administration also no doubt noticed that Congress reduced its request for weapons activities last year.
Sure, the administration could have fully funded weapons activities by taking money from the Pentagon or some other defense program (DoD has already transferred a significant amount of money to support NNSA’s nuclear enterprise). But if Rep. Turner wants to lambast reductions to the NNSA weapons activities budget, it is incumbent upon him to explain what other defense programs he would cut to find the needed funding. He may not have voted for the Budget Control Act, but many of his Republican colleagues did. It is the law of the land.
NNSA Still Flush with Cash
While funding levels for weapons activities has been less than projected in the 1251 report the last two years, the FY 2012 appropriation and the FY 2013 budget request provide major increases for nuclear weapons programs.
Last year Congress struck a balance within NNSA that protected the most important nonproliferation programs while still providing nearly $300 million above the FY 2011 enacted level for weapons – more than enough to implement the highest priority goals laid out in the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review and maintain safe, secure, and credible nuclear warheads.
The FY 2013 request of $7.58 billion for weapons activities is still an increase of $363 million above last year’s enacted level – no small feat in a budget environment in which many other security and non-security programs suffered decreases.
By way of additional comparison, the FY 2013 request is a $710 million increase over the FY 2011 enacted level and an increase of $1.2 billion over the FY 2010 enacted level! These huge increases belie the claim that NNSA is being forced to scrape from the bottom of the barrel.
In fact, given the amount of fat and waste in NNSA’s budget, there is ample room for cuts. Weapons programs that are beset by unsustainable cost growth, are not essential to maintaining the stockpile, or do not comport with the current threat environment should be scaled back or delayed, especially in a time of economic austerity. The CMRR-NF was one of the worst offenders in this regard. To avoid cuts to programs we need for current threats, the U.S. should spend less on unaffordable, Cold War-era nuclear programs with diminishing strategic relevance.
New START Implementation Can Proceed With Less Than $7.59 Billion
Rep. Turner claims that failure to provide the resources for modernization contained in the 1251 report is grounds for U.S. withdrawal from the New START treaty. He forgot to read the treaty. Condition nine of the New START resolution of ratification states that “If appropriations are enacted that fail to meet the resource requirements set forth in the President’s 10-year plan…the President shall submit to Congress, within 60 days of such enactment…a report detailing…whether and why, in the changed circumstances brought about by the resource shortfall, it remains in the national interest of the United States to remain a Party to the New START Treaty.”
So the administration is obliged to provide Congress with the required report detailing why remaining a party to the treaty still makes sense for U.S. national security. The administration will no doubt provide such an affirmation, if it hasn’t done so already.
This is because, as noted above, the U.S. can still maintain a devastating deterrent with less than the levels called for in the 1251 report.
Moreover, while the administration and Congress should ensure that NNSA has the resources it needs to maintain safe, secure, and effective warheads, implementation of New START should not be held hostage to the maintenance of predetermined levels of funding (i.e. the levels called for in the 1251 report) that could be overtaken by unforeseen economic, technical, or geopolitical developments, thereby altering prior plans. The Budget Control Act has imposed new fiscal constraints that were not present when the 1251 report was constructed in 2010.
Furthermore, the New START limits and verification provisions have yielded invaluable, precise information essential to US national security. As then-Undersecretary of Defense Jim Miller noted at a November 2011 hearing of the House Strategic Forces Subcommittee, “the new START treaty has benefits to the United States, including the 18 on-site inspections per year, the exchange of data and the ability to have a much better understanding of Russian strategic forces than we otherwise would. So withdrawing from it would not be without other costs.”
Finally, some of the modernization programs that are delayed or scaled back by the FY 2013 budget such as the Ohio Class-replacement ballistic missile submarine and the CMRR-NF are not scheduled to come online until the 2020s, which falls outside the lifetime of New START. Implementation of the treaty is thus not strictly contingent on these capabilities.