ICYMI: Turner POLITICO OpEd - A Call for Caution in Cutting Nuclear Arms
Mar 8, 2012 -
For 66 years, the U.S. nuclear deterrent has kept us and our allies safe from large scale
war under a remarkably consistent policy, supported by presidents of both parties. Now,
however, President Barack Obama appears to be unilaterally changing it — for reasons yet
to be explained.
With House Armed Services Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) and 31 of our
committee members, I recently wrote to the president, expressing concern over reports that
he is directing a review of U.S. nuclear weapons strategy that could result in U.S.
reductions of up to 80 percent.
The Obama administration reportedly is weighing at least three options for reducing U.S.
nuclear forces: cutting to roughly 1,000-1,100; 700-800 or 300-400. Gen. Martin Dempsey,
chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, later testified that another option would be to maintain
the status quo.
Our arsenal now includes about 5,000 warheads, with approximately 2,000 deployed
warheads permitted under the New START Treaty. The remaining 3,000 are kept in
storage as a hedge against advancements by other nations.
Russia has 4,000 to 6,500 warheads, and China is reported to have more than 300 —
though no one outside of the Chinese Communist Party knows for sure. Both of these
countries — as well as India, Pakistan (building a stockpile expected to soon surpass
Britain), Britain herself, France, North Korea and, perhaps soon, Iran — have active
nuclear weapons modernization programs. Only the U.S. does not.
Now, the president may soon seek to have the U.S. make the deepest reductions to its
nuclear forces in history.
This new strategic review could be on the president’s desk within the next month. It is
unclear whether he expects the cuts to be unilateral or within the framework of a treaty with
Russia or China and others. At least one of the president’s senior advisers has suggested
these reductions could be unilateral.
It’s worth noting that the impetus for this review is outside the norm. Traditionally, a
president has directed his military advisers to determine, chiefly, what level of our nuclear
force is needed to deter a potential adversary from attacking us or our allies. The answer to
that question should be what drives the strategy — not a president’s political ideology.
The House Armed Services Committee has been asking questions, holding briefings with
the administration and even hearings in my subcommittee — all without any detailed
explanation from the administration of what exactly is being discussed in the strategic
review. In fact, Congress only learned about the review from the media.
Why would the administration be unwilling to share even the basic terms of reference for
this review, known as Presidential Policy Directive 11? Why wouldn’t it share other basic
instructions from the Defense Department? The president, after all, is directing a strategic
review that could border on disarmament and significantly diminish U.S. strength.
It’s not even clear that the unilateral reductions to U.S. nuclear forces required by the New
START are in the interest of our national security. The Senate was ultimately comfortable
with those reductions once the president promised to provide his own plan for
modernization of the U.S. nuclear deterrent.
The president’s most recent budget, however, abandons the nuclear modernization
funding he promised. This can only be described as bait and switch. The Senate has been
Any further nuclear reductions must be met with ample justification for how U.S. security
will be enhanced. Simply saying that the U.S. should “reduce the roles and numbers” of its
nuclear weapons is nothing more than hope in the place of a strategy.
Our military leaders share these sentiments. The president’s former head of U.S. Strategic
Command, Gen. Kevin Chilton, in talking about the number of warheads permitted under
the treaty, said, “The arsenal that we have is exactly what is needed today to provide the
Clearly, any further reductions will undermine the deterrent that has kept this country safe.
Our nuclear weapons provide for the safety of this nation and our allies around the globe. A
number of countries with the capability and resources to do so have chosen not to produce
their own nuclear weapons. This is largely because Washington extends the protective
umbrella of our nuclear forces over them.
Changing this equation of assurance could lead to nothing less than a cascade of
proliferation and a far more unpredictable and unstable global security environment. The
irony of the president’s proposed reductions to U.S. nuclear forces is that the number of
countries with nuclear weapons may actually increase.
President Ronald Reagan’s “peace through strength” policy is not an untested theory but
rather the triumph of those who wish to make war obsolete. We abandon our strength at
great peril to this nation and our allies.
That proven adage will be my starting point when drafting the Strategic Forces
Subcommittee’s portion of this year’s national defense authorization bill.
Rep. Mike Turner (R-Ohio) serves as chairman of the House Armed Services
Subcommittee on Strategic Forces.