WASHINGTON: A number of House Republicans are lining up against the Obama administration’s effort to extend reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon and Mike Turner sent a letter to the White House today, opposing a new National Security Council study exploring plans to reducing the arsenal “up to 80 percent.” The letter was co-signed by 33 other House Republicans, including House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee chair Mike Turner. A proposed cut to the nuclear arsenal, combined with reductions to nuclear modernization efforts in the fiscal 2013 budget, will “undermine the [nuclear] deterrent” that has been in place since the end of World War II, according to the letter.
Under the New START treaty signed by the U.S. and Russia, Washington agreed to limit the arsenal to 1,550 strategic nuclear weapons on 700 missiles and bombers until the year 2018. Pending the NSC review, that number could go much lower. While advocates of a drawdown claim it would be a perfect opportunity to make fundamental modifications and upgrades to the stockpile, transforming it into a smaller, more capable force. Moreover, the drawdown could force needed changes from the current Cold War-era nuclear strategy that governs the force, according to Daryl Kimball, executive director of the independent Arms Control Association.
Those changes could include the elimination of entire target categories from the current nuclear war plan, which consist mostly of military and national leadership targets in Russia. Those “targeting assumptions” were designed to cripple the former Soviet Union’s warfighting capabilities in case of nuclear war. With Russia no longer posing that kind of threat, the strategy is in dire need of change, Kimball argues. However, potential U.S. adversaries — including Iran, China and North Korea — continue to pursue advanced nuclear weaponry. “At a time when every other nuclear [power] has an active nuclear weapons modernization program . . . it is inconceivable to us that you would lead the United States down such a dangerous plan,” according to the McKeon letter.
This week, Iranian engineers claimed to have cleared a major milestone in the nuclear program. Yesterday, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced the country had successfully developed its own nuclear fuel rods and were using them in reactors located in Tehran, according to state news agencies. Earlier this month, Iranian officials denied access to a team of nuclear inspectors from the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency access to their facilities. However, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said yesterday that recent intelligence has yet to show Tehran is moving toward a nuclear weapon.
That said, GOP lawmakers maintain that any decisions made on the current nuclear arsenal should be focused on potential threats alone. “We firmly believe such [a] review should begin and end with one question: what levels of U.S. nuclear forces are necessary to convince our enemies . . . they cannot succeed in an attack on this country,” lawmakers wrote.