Mapping a National Security Failure: Ratification of the New START Treaty

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In a notable development, these particular sections of the House-passed FY 2012 NDAA drew a veto threat from the White House, released 24 May 2011:

Limitations on Nuclear Force Reductions and Nuclear Employment Strategy: The Administration strongly objects to sections 1055 and 1056, which impinge on the President’s authority to implement the New START Treaty and to set U.S. nuclear weapons policy. In particular, section 1055 would set onerous conditions on the Administration’s ability to implement the Treaty, as well as to retire, dismantle, or eliminate non-deployed nuclear weapons. Among these conditions is the completion and operation of the next generation of nuclear facilities, which is not expected until the mid-2020s. The effect of this section would be to preclude dismantlement of weapons in excess of military needs. Additionally, it would significantly increase stewardship and management costs and divert key resources from our critical stockpile sustainment efforts and delay completion of programs necessary to support the long-term safety, security, and reliability of our nuclear deterrent. Further, section 1056 raises constitutional concerns as it appears to encroach on the President’s authority as Commander in Chief to set nuclear employment policy—a right exercised by every president in the nuclear age from both parties. If the final bill presented to the President includes these provisions, the President’s senior advisors would recommend a veto.[154] (Emphasis in original)

Irrespective of the final outcome with respect to the FY 2012 NDAA, the administration’s threat to veto comprehensive defense legislation on the basis of provisions intended to facilitate the modernization to which President Obama committed during the course of the New START debate could reasonably raise questions about the administration’s commitment to modernize in the future. As Rep. Turner put it:

It was surprising to learn that the President had issued a veto threat even though the provisions of this bill are consistent with his own Administration’s stated policies. Will he not modernize our nuclear forces as he had stated?  Will he unilaterally withdraw nuclear forces from Europe?  If the answers to these questions are no, then he should have no issue with this legislation.[155]

At the time of this writing, the trajectory on nuclear modernization aside from the President’s threat to veto the FY 2012 NDAA over the Turner provisions has continued to cast doubt on the commitments the President made in this area during the course of New START ratification. As former Department of Defense official Mark Schneider has observed with respect to strategic delivery systems:

The administration’s pledges to sustain and modernize U.S. nuclear forces now look short on substance and long on rhetoric. There has been minimal progress on the commitments to a new bomber, a replacement air-launched nuclear cruise missile, and possibly a new ICBM. Instead, budgetary pressures and further U.S. force reductions appear to threaten one or more of these programs.

The Obama administration has funded a replacement for the Trident missile submarine in 2029. But the number of submarines will be reduced as will the number of missiles per submarine, and a replacement for the Trident II missile is not scheduled until 2042. And judging by recent administration statements, the capabilities of the replacement submarine may be downgraded to reduce costs.[156]

Ben Lerner

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