On July 19 the House completed floor action on and passed the FY 2013 Defense Appropriations Bill (H.R. 5856) by a vote of 326-90. Click here for our review of the Committee version of the bill. Click here for lessons learned from the bill.
The House-passed version of the bill provides nearly $606 billion for the Pentagon base budget and war spending, a decrease of $1.1 billion below the Committee-passed version – but still $2 billion above the Pentagon’s request. The reduction is the result of a bipartisan amendment offered by Reps. Mulvaney (R-SC) and Barney Frank (D-MA), to freeze defense appropriations at the FY 2012 enacted level. The amendment passed by a vote of 247-167; 89 Republicans supported the amendment.
Despite voting to cut the Pentagon topline, the House continued its warped infatuation with nuclear weapons and missile defense. In the world of the House GOP, the more outdated the weapons, and the more money spent on them, the better. At the same time that key House Republicans are complaining about cuts to the military budget jeopardizing our response to current threats, they insist on wasting money to sustaining an excessively large nuclear arsenal designed to confront Cold War threats.
Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Mike Turner (R-OH) was once again right in the middle of the mayhem. He and his colleagues offered amendments that would block implementation of the New START treaty and in effect require the United States to maintain its current arsenal of approximately 5,000 total warheads in perpetuity, no matter what.
The amendments were adopted, but not before Appropriations Committee Ranking Member Norm Dicks (D-WA), with a nice assist from Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA), reminded his colleagues that Tuner’s efforts defy the advice of the US military, repeat discredited objections, and undermine US security.
As Dicks noted in an epic takedown of Turner on the House floor:
You don’t need thousands of these weapons. A couple hundred, frankly, could take out Iran and almost any country you can imagine. So, again, we can’t afford to do everything. We are in an era where we’re dealing with terrorists, and we need to have special forces that can be utilized. We need to have these very effective drones. We need to look at the threats that are out there today and equip our military accordingly.
Click here for the full transcript of the exchange between Dicks and Turner.
Former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Cartwright made similarly persuasive arguments in a recent Global Zero-sponsored report calling on the United States to reduce its arsenal to a total of 900 nuclear weapons over the next decade.
Below is a summary of the amendments to H.R. 5856 on nuclear weapons and missile defense:
- Turner (R-OH) amendment: to prohibit funds from being used to reduce the nuclear forces of the U.S. to implement the Nuclear Posture Review Implementation Study, modify the Secretary of Defense Guidance for Employment of Force, or the Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan. Amendment adopted 235-178, July 19, 2012. A similar provision was included in the Defense Authorization Bill out of Committee and amendments to overturn the provision on the floor were barred by House GOP leadership.
- Berg (R-ND) amendment: to prohibit use of funds to reduce the number of the following nuclear weapons delivery vehicles of the United States: (1) Heavy bomber aircraft; (2) Air-launched cruise missiles; (3) Nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines; (4) Submarine-launched ballistic missiles; and (5) Intercontinental ballistic missiles. Amendment adopted 232-183, July 19, 2012. A similar Rehberg (R-MT)-Lummis (R-WY) amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill was adopted 238-162.
- Brooks (R-AL) amendment: to prohibit funds in the bill from being used to share classified information about missile defense systems with Russia. Agreed to by voice vote, July 19, 2012.
- Markey (D-MA) amendment: to reduce funding for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system by $75 million, bringing the funding level back to the President’s request. Amendment rejected 150-268, July 18, 2012. A comparable Polis (D-CO)-Sanchez (D-CA) amendment to the FY 2013 Defense Authorization Bill failed 165-252.
- Markey (D-MA) amendment: to limit the fleet of land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) to 300. Currently, the U.S. have 450 Minuteman III ICBMs in silos deployed at F.E. Warren AFB, Wyoming; Malmstrom AFB, Montana; and Minot AFB, North Dakota, 150 at each site. Amendment rejected 136-283, July 18, 2012.
If written into law, constraints on New START implementation could cause Russia to rethink its own commitment to the treaty. Without the treaty, there would be no verifiable limits on the size of Moscow’s still enormous nuclear arsenal. This is precisely why the entire US military leadership unanimously supported New START when the Senate considered it in 2010 and continues to support it today.
Speaking of the Senate, House amendments undermining New START implementation usurp the constitutional prerogative of the upper chamber to approve or reject treaties. As Dicks noted, “I just think it’s not right for us to get in the middle of this. The Senate had long hearings. They went through a process of ratification. This treaty was ratified by the United States Senate.”
Constraints on ongoing Pentagon-led efforts to reexamine the fundamental assumptions that drive US nuclear deterrence requirements are similarly misguided. Prudence dictates that we periodically reexamine the assumptions that drive the structure, size and targeting requirements of the US nuclear arsenal. These assumptions have not been reexamined in over a decade, since the beginning of the George W. Bush administration. Since then the international security environment has changed dramatically. It’s also clear that maintaining our current force in perpetuity is neither strategically nor fiscally sustainable. To quote Dicks once again, “We simply don’t need, and we can’t afford to have and continue to produce all of these nuclear weapons that will, more than likely, never be used.”
Finally, showering additional money on the troubled Ground Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system is a gross misappropriation of taxpayer dollars. A 2012 report by the National Academy of Sciences stated that “The current GMD system has serious shortcomings, and provides at best a limited, initial defense against a relatively primitive threat.” The last two intercept flight tests in January 2010 and December 2010 failed. There has not been a successful GMD flight intercept test since December 2008. Additional funding will not help the Missile Defense Agency solve the problems that continue to plague the system faster.