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Turner: Proposals Endanger U.S. Nuclear Deterrent

Supporters of U.S. nuclear disarmament have made assertions that argue for cuts in President Barack Obama’s nuclear modernization plan as part of any deficit reduction deliberations.

The assertions rely on “double counting … and rather curious arithmetic,” according to one senior Obama administration official. The Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction and the rest of Congress shouldn’t be fooled by these misleading claims from those beholden to the theology of Cold War arms control.

Instead, they should be mindful of what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said about unilateral U.S. nuclear reductions at a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing: “I don’t think we ought to do that unilaterally — we ought to do that on the basis of negotiations with the Russians and others to make sure we are all walking the same path.”

I agree. However, over the next several months, the Obama administration will be concluding a series of reviews that could — contrary to Panetta’s recommendation — result in further unilateral cuts to the nation’s nuclear forces.

All of the reviews appear to be designed with a single predetermined outcome: to enable further reductions in the U.S. arsenal. These reduction-driven reviews come at a time when Russia and China are engaged in aggressive programs for modernization and expansion of their nuclear forces. Additionally, the International Atomic Energy Agency tells us Iran may soon go nuclear.

The administration is considering how to implement reductions required by the new START (under which only the United States is required to reduce deployed strategic nuclear weapons). At ratification, a reduction of almost 200 U.S. ballistic missiles and bombers in the aggregate was required. By comparison, Russia has actually increased its deployed nuclear forces since the treaty went into effect. Yet, the administration will soon send a proposal to Congress to implement this lopsided treaty.

At the same time, in its 2010 Nuclear Posture Review, the administration abandoned the U.S. submarine-launched nuclear cruise missile capability and decided that the nation’s 450 intercontinental ballistic missiles would carry only a single warhead each. Yet, Russia and China are going in the exact opposite direction by accelerating their deployments of ballistic missiles with multiple warheads.

What’s more, the president’s national security adviser announced in March that the administration would commence a review of the nation’s nuclear war plan as part of its “preparations for the next round of reductions.” Meanwhile another senior official on the national security staff said earlier this year that the review may offer “unilateral steps that the U.S. could take” in the absence of a formal agreement or treaty.

Now we come to the president’s fiscal 2013 budget request. To secure ratification of the new START less than a year ago, the president pledged to the Senate that he would continue to support his $88 billion plan for modernization of the nation’s nuclear warheads and infrastructure “for as long as I am president.” Will his budget in February uphold that pledge?

Lastly, will the president, in the guise of budget cuts, make unilateral cuts to the nation’s nuclear forces? I have heard of rumored cuts to our fleet of nuclear-capable bombers (in tandem with a decision that future bombers will not be nuclear-certified at deployment), elimination of a wing of ICBMs, and reductions in the number of new ballistic missile submarines and their date of deployment. The president has already suggested that he will cut by a third the number of ballistic missiles carried by the new submarine.

The U.S. nuclear deterrent has been the greatest check on great power aggression and nuclear proliferation yet devised. More than 30 nations are protected by U.S. nuclear forces, instead of building their own nuclear weapons. Unilateral cuts by the U.S. could force allies to question our commitment to this “nuclear umbrella.” There is consequently a very high burden of proof for an administration seeking further cuts.

Former Secretary of State James Baker, a believer in global nuclear disarmament, recently observed that “any effort to reach that goal must require reciprocal and proportional cuts so that all countries reduce their arsenals in concert. If you want to have any chance to achieve the goal, this condition cannot fail.”

Obama was proud to have Baker’s advice during the new START ratification process. Will the president disregard such esteemed leaders while conducting these four reviews now that he has secured the treaty he wanted so badly?

The president should remember that the successful implementation of the treaty is entirely in Congress’ control thanks to its power over the federal checkbook.

Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) is chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.

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