Oldthink on New Nuclear Reductions

Article excerpt

After months of review and debate, a bipartisan Senate majority approved the resolution of ratification for the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) on Dec. 22, 2010.

The 71-26 vote is a step forward for U.S. security. Not only did the vote open the way for long-overdue U. S. -Russian nuclear stockpile reductions and renewed inspections, but the ratification package endorsed a long-term plan for maintaining the existing U.S. nuclear arsenal, called for efforts to reduce the number of tactical nuclear weapons, and reiterated U.S. policy to seek cooperation with Russia on missile defense.

But now, Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) and the leading critic of New START in the Senate, Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), are trying to rewrite New START policies and understandings approved only six months ago.

Turner and Kyl say they simply want to lock in long-term commitments for costly upgrades to the nuclear weapons complex and replacement of strategic nuclear delivery systems and to create "speed bumps" for further nuclear reductions.

In reality, their so-called New START implementation legislation is a poison pill for U.S. nuclear security. If enacted, it effectively would block implementation of New START, halt the retirement of excess weapons, and undercut the authority of the president and senior military leaders to set U.S. nuclear policy requirements.

Each of the main provisions, now being considered as part of the fiscal year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, is counterproductive and counterintuitive. Turner and KyI propose halting New START reductions unless the administration's $185 billion, 10-year plan to modernize the nuclear weapons complex and delivery systems is being carried out.

The New START resolution of ratification already states that "the United States is committed to providing the resources... at the levels set forth in the President's 10-year plan" and requires the president to report on how any future funding shortfall would be addressed and whether it impacts U.S. security.

The Turner-Kyi approach is based on the erroneous premise that if Congress appropriates even a dollar less than the president requests for National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) weapons activities, the safety, reliability, and effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is somehow in doubt.

In fact, the technical strategy for maintaining the effectiveness and reliability of the U.S. nuclear stockpile has been in place for more than a decade. Over that time, the NNSA's life extension programs have successfully refurbished existing types of nuclear warheads without nuclear test explosions and can continue to do so indefinitely.

Not only do the nuclear weapons laboratories have a deeper understanding of the arsenal than before, they also have more resources than ever. …