In the early morning hours of May 12, the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) approved its version of the Fiscal Year 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). During the markup of the Strategic Forces Section, Republicans offered and passed five amendments that sought to limit what actions the Obama administration can take in regard to U.S. nuclear forces. All five were based on a bill called the “New START Treaty Implementation Act,” which was introduced in the House two weeks ago by Representative Michael Turner (R-OH) and apparently could soon be introduced in the Senate by Senator John Kyl (R-AZ), though it has not happened yet for reasons that are unclear.
Unfortunately, if either this bill or the HASC amendments become law they will impede progress on reducing the threat posed by nuclear weapons.
Before going any further, it’s important to point out that this bill and the amendments are not clearly written. As a result, Senator Kyl and Representative Turner’s intent is not completely clear. My colleague Kingston Reif has already written a very good overview of the bill, but we would like to further highlight some of its potential consequences and problems.
For example, under the header “Prohibition on Reduction of Stockpile Hedge,” Section 4(c) of the bill would stop all dismantlement activities until at least 2024, if not much longer, for all nondeployed warheads. The language prohibits funding for dismantlement or retirement of “any nondeployed strategic or non-strategic nuclear weapon” until 90 days after the bill’s stringent conditions are met.
Except for the header, the Kyl-Turner bill makes no distinction among nondeployed forces. If the bill is passed, it could lead to some unfortunate unintended consequences. In part, this is because U.S. nuclear weapons fall into three basic categories: 1) deployed and 2) nondeployed forces that are a) in reserve, known as the “hedge,” or b) waiting to be dismantled. Because the bill does not distinguish between the latter two, it could stop all dismantlement, leaving some 4,000 warheads – and unknown numbers of jobs at Pantex – in the lurch. Fortunately, the HASC amendment to the NDAA makes an exception for weapons awaiting dismantlement.
However, the HASC amendment to the NDAA creates a potentially far more serious problem, one that could compromise the United States’ ability to assess the reliability, safety, and security of the nuclear arsenal. Every year, scientists retire, dismantle, and run tests on eleven of every type of nuclear weapon in the stockpile to determine whether they are still reliable, safe, and secure. To cite NNSA’s Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan, “weapons are retired from the stockpile as a result of changes in strategic requirements or because items are removed from the stockpile to be evaluated for surveillance purposes.” If the Kyl-Turner bill or the House NDAA are ever signed into law, the surveillance process—which entails the dismantlement of retired warheads—would stop. The NNSA would be unable to certify the reliability, safety, and security of the stockpile until specific, long-term conditions are satisfied.
The President could not lower nuclear weapons numbers even to follow a treaty because the certification required by the bill will not be ready until 2024. See how that works. The House adds conditions that have to be met but can not be met for 13 years. Thus we have to keep our huge nuclear arsenal even if everyone in the world dismantles theirs.
But why would Russia lower theirs, since this law would prevent the US from doing the same.
It seems that the same bill that wants war to last forever, or as long as the Executive has sole power to, also now wants to halt the President’s ability to reduce the number of military weapons.
I guess they will need those weapons to fight all the wars they need to fight.
Let’s see – strong Executive fighting a never ending war, a large standing army and nuclear weapons that can only be disposed of by using. That seems likely to produce some real problems.