Last Thursday the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held it’s sixth hearing on the New START treaty with former National Security Advisers Lt. General Brent Scowcroft and Stephen Hadley.
One of the most interesting and important moments of the hearing came near the end:
And finally, just on the 10-year plan, again, the administration — the president has requested $7 billion for fiscal year 2011 for stockpile sustainment and infrastructure investments. That’s a 10 percent increase over last year and they have laid out the path for their $80 billion of investment. I’ve talked to Senator Kyl. We’re working with Senator Inouye and others to guarantee that money will be available. I assume, if it is, you’re satisfied that we’re serious about moving forward with the modernization program.
General Scowcroft and — are you comfortable on the modernization?
GEN. SCOWCROFT: Yes, I am. I am comfortable, and I — you know, I didn’t use the term “modernization” in my comments. I said safe, reliable assurance. Modernization for the sake of modernization, in light of the comments that Senator Lugar has made about the overall defense budget, is a separate question. Some things need to be modernized in order to be safe, secure and reliable. Other things don’t need to be. And I would not put modernization itself as a key to what we need to — we need to do.
SEN. KERRY: That is a very —
GEN. SCOWCROFT: We need to be — we need to be assured that the system will work the way we want it to work.
SEN. KERRY: That is a very important distinction, and I — I really appreciate your drawing that because I think it’s vital to the debate. [emphasis mine].
As Sen. Kerry suggests, this is a critical point that often seems lost on those who argue that the United States is the only established nuclear power that is not modernizing its nuclear arsenal or that we need “an appropriate modernization plan to bring our aging nuclear weapons complex, our warheads, and our delivery systems up to 21st century standards.” As I noted in a piece for the Bulletin last year, “What matters far more than the age of warheads and other equipment is whether a country has a reliable, credible deterrent.” By this standard we’ve done pretty darn well, and the Obama administration has signaled its commitment to continue to ensure that our weapons work the way we want them to work, as Scowcroft puts it.
A key issue, of course, is which type of activities fall into which category. I think we can be pretty certain that the RRW fell within or very near the “modernization for the sake of modernization” end of the spectrum. What about the proposed scope of the B61-12 and W78 LEPs or the CMRR-NF and UPF construction projects as outlined in the Obama administrations FY 2011 budget request? These would seem to be important questions to be asking.