Thirty-four lawmakers sent a letter to the White House on Thursday in response to news reports that President Obama had ordered his staff to study the option of reducing America’s nuclear deterrent by 80 percent—down to as few as 300 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. The United States currently has a cap of 1,550 deployed strategic warheads under the so-called New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), the controversial arms control pact with Russia that passed the Senate in December 2010.
The concerned lawmakers—who are led by Republican Congressmen Buck McKeon of California, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), and Mike Turner of Ohio, head of the HASC’s Subcommittee on Strategic Forces—question whether the president is taking into account the full range of threats that face the United States in its allies. In the letter, they caution against further nuclear cuts given “the growth in quantity and quality of nuclear weapons capabilities in Russia, the People's Republic of China, India, Pakistan, North Korea and, perhaps soon the Islamic Republic of Iran” and “the divestment of U.S. conventional military capabilities under [Obama’s] recently announced defense strategy.” They add:
At a time when every other nuclear weapons state has an active nuclear weapons modernization program and many are growing their stockpiles and capabilities, it is inconceivable to us that you would lead the United States down such a dangerous plan as has been reported…. [W]e seek to understand the basis on which you would instruct the National Security Staff to pursue these radical reductions in U.S. nuclear forces.
The letter quotes retired Gen. Kevin Chilton, who served previously as the commander of U.S. Strategic Command and told the Senate in 2010, “I think the arsenal that we have is exactly what is needed today to provide the deterrent.”
The lawmakers also criticized the president for ignoring his pledge to provide long-term funding to modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal in return for the Senate’s passage of the New START Treaty:
We are doubly concerned that you have abandoned your pledge to support the U.S. nuclear weapons modernization program by your latest budget submission. As you know, your pledge for a long-term commitment to the modernization of our nuclear deterrent was key to the agreement to permit even the reductions under the New START Treaty, for which our Committee has yet to authorize funding.
The lawmakers conclude their letter by urging the president to cease and desist, and instead to directly involve Congress in the executive branch’s ongoing internal examination of the U.S. nuclear arsenal:
We seek your assurance that in view of the ambitious nuclear weapons modernization programs of Russia, communist China, Pakistan and others, the deep cuts to U.S. conventional capabilities per the Budget Control Act, and your failure to follow through on your pledged section 1251 plan [to invest sufficient resources to modernize America’s nuclear weapons, delivery vehicles, and supporting infrastructure], that you will cease to pursue such unprecedented reductions in the U.S. deterrent and extended deterrent. Surely you agree that blind ideology cannot drive a matter as important as U.S. nuclear forces over reality.
Read the whole letter here.