by Kingston Reif
Published in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists Online on May 10, 2012
Article summary below; read the full text online.
One of the perks of being a Republican president in the United States is the freedom to make drastic changes to US nuclear posture while Democratic presidents are forced to travel a much tougher road, often in the pursuit of far less ambitious goals. This pattern has been ongoing since the end of the Cold War and sadly continues unabated today. On May 9, the House Armed Services Committee wrote the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act, and Republican leaders used their majority to pass legislative provisions that will restrict and perhaps even block the Pentagon’s ability to implement the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) and prevent the president and senior military leaders from making future changes to the size and structure of the US nuclear arsenal. According to Republican Strategic Force Subcommittee Chairman Michael Turner, “It’s not even clear that the unilateral reductions to U.S. nuclear forces required by the New START are in the interest of our national security. … The president’s most recent budget, however, abandons the nuclear modernization funding he promised. This can only be described as bait and switch. The Senate has been deceived.”
This overblown bluster, however, ignores a few basic realities: Spending on nuclear weapons has increased dramatically under President Obama, constraints on New START would restrict the military from fielding the most capable force possible, fewer weapons won’t obviate deterrence, and preventing future nuclear force reductions would lock in an excessively large nuclear arsenal ill-suited to the current terrorist threat and to the current economic environment.