With the House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces set to mark up the Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) on April 26, to be followed on May 9 by the full House Armed Services Committee, stay tuned to this space for a preview of what to expect on nuclear weapons and missile defense policy as well as analysis of the bill as it moves it’s way through the House.
For a reminder of what transpired on these issues last year, see our summary of the FY 2012 NDAA here.
As was the case last year, Strategic Force Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) plans to use the defense bill to attempt to severely constrain the President and the Pentagon’s ability to implement the New START treaty and the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review.
Rep. Turner and his allies are likely to draw amendments to offer to the NDAA during the full Committee markup from two sources: H.R. 4178, also known as the “Maintaining the President’s Commitment to Our Nuclear Deterrent and National Security Act of 2012,” and H.R. 4125, titled “Protecting U.S. Missile Defense Information Act of 2012.”
We’ll have more to say about these bills and their specific provisions in the coming days – in fact we’ve already had a say on some of the content of H.R. 4178. Our colleagues over at the Arms Control Association also provided a nice rejoinder.
For a taste of just how mystifying Rep. Turner’s program is, it’s difficult to do better than H.R. 4178’s provision titled “Nuclear Warheads on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles of the United States.”
The provision includes a Sense of Congress stating “that reducing the number of nuclear warheads contained on each intercontinental ballistic missile of the United States does not promote strategic stability if at the same time other nuclear weapons states, including the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, are rapidly increasing the warhead-loading of their land-based missile forces.” It also includes a limitation mandating that the number of nuclear warheads on ICBMs can’t be reduced to a single warhead “unless the President certifies in writing to the congressional defense committees that the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China are both also carrying out a similar reduction.”
You’ll recall that the 2010 Nuclear Posture Review declared that “The United States will “deMIRV” all deployed ICBMs, so that each Minuteman III ICBM has only one nuclear warhead….This step will enhance the stability of the nuclear balance by reducing the incentives for either side to strike first.”
This decision has been applauded by just about everyone, except it seems, the Republicans on the Strategic Forces Subcommittee. For example, the bipartisan Senate ICBM caucus, which can’t exactly be accused of being soft on this issue, noted in a recent letter the move a single warhead force is a “stabilizing trend”. And at an April 17 House Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing, STRATCOM Gen. Robert Kehler proclaimed:
And so the idea is to bring them down to one reentry vehicle per ICBM to essentially reduce their strategic value. That’s the pathway that we’ve been on for quite some time. I support that. I think that that is the right way to go forward for both of those reasons. I also believe that maintaining the ability to go back to a MIRV in the future as a hedge is also the right thing to do.