Compromise Bill Limits Restrictions on Nuclear Arms Control Efforts

President Obama signs the New START arms reduction pact with Russia into law during a February 2011 Oval Office ceremony as then-Senator Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) look on. Compromise legislation released this week does not restrict U.S. efforts to comply with the accord as much as some House Republicans had initially sought.
National Journal
Douglas P. Guarino
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Douglas P. Guarino
Dec. 12, 2013, 11:02 a.m.

A new de­fense con­fer­ence bill in­cludes lim­its on nuc­le­ar arms con­trol ef­forts, but the re­stric­tions are not as pro­hib­it­ive as some House Re­pub­lic­ans wanted.

As ori­gin­ally ap­proved by the House in June, the de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion bill for fisc­al 2014 would have placed sev­er­al con­di­tions on the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s abil­ity to com­ply with the 2011 New START pact with Rus­sia. The House le­gis­la­tion also would have re­stric­ted the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s abil­ity to pur­sue ad­di­tion­al arms re­duc­tions ef­forts not already covered by ex­ist­ing agree­ments.

For ex­ample, the lower cham­ber’s ori­gin­al bill would have pre­ven­ted the ad­min­is­tra­tion from re­du­cing the num­ber of nuc­le­ar-cap­able U.S. air­craft in Europe un­less NATO al­lies ap­proved the move and the Rus­si­an mil­it­ary car­ried out sim­il­ar re­duc­tions to its forces.

In a June veto threat, the White House said such a pro­vi­sion “would lim­it the Pres­id­ent’s au­thor­ity to de­term­ine ap­pro­pri­ate force struc­ture to meet nuc­le­ar de­terrence re­quire­ments and to set nuc­le­ar em­ploy­ment policy — au­thor­ity ex­er­cised by every pres­id­ent in the nuc­le­ar age.”

Fol­low­ing ne­go­ti­ations with Sen­ate Demo­crats, the com­prom­ise bill does re­quire the ad­min­is­tra­tion to give Con­gress ad­vanced no­tice of NATO’s po­s­i­tion on such re­duc­tions and re­lated Rus­si­an ac­tions. But it does not make NATO ap­prov­al or com­ple­ment­ary moves by the former So­viet Uni­on pre­requis­ites to such ac­tions.

The House-ap­proved bill also would have pre­ven­ted the ad­min­is­tra­tion from spend­ing any money to make arms re­duc­tions re­quired by the New START ac­cord un­til the de­fense sec­ret­ary provides a de­tailed plan for treaty com­pli­ance re­quired by the fisc­al 2012 de­fense au­thor­iz­a­tion law. The com­prom­ise le­gis­la­tion also puts lim­its on the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s abil­ity to take ac­tions in com­pli­ance with New START un­til it re­leases the plan, but the re­stric­tions are not as far-reach­ing.

Rather than pre­vent the ad­min­is­tra­tion from spend­ing money on any ef­forts to com­ply with New START un­til it re­leases the plan, the House-Sen­ate con­fer­ence meas­ure would only re­strict ef­forts to con­vert nuc­le­ar-cap­able B-52 bombers, and to con­duct an en­vir­on­ment­al as­sess­ment re­lated to the pro­spect of re­du­cing the num­ber of U.S. in­ter­con­tin­ent­al bal­list­ic mis­sile silos.

The com­prom­ise bill would out­right pro­hib­it con­vert­ing B-52s in­to non-nuc­le­ar air­craft un­til the ad­min­is­tra­tion re­leases the plan. And, un­til then, it would also cut spend­ing on the en­vir­on­ment­al as­sess­ment of mis­sile silo re­duc­tion by 50 per­cent.

King­ston Re­if, dir­ect­or for nuc­le­ar non­pro­lif­er­a­tion at the Cen­ter for Arms Con­trol and Non­pro­lif­er­a­tion, char­ac­ter­ized the com­prom­ise le­gis­la­tion as an im­prove­ment over the ori­gin­al House bill. “I don’t see any­thing re­gard­ing nuc­le­ar weapons that would prompt a veto threat by the ad­min­is­tra­tion,” he told Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire.

“It is dis­ap­point­ing that the bill bars fisc­al 2014 funds from be­ing used to ac­tu­ally carry out — as op­posed to pre­pare for — re­duc­tions to meet New START lim­its,” Re­if ad­ded. However, the im­pact of the re­stric­tions is likely to be lim­ited he said, not­ing that “the ad­min­is­tra­tion has no plans to meet the [treaty] lim­its early in any event.”

The ori­gin­al House bill would have re­quired the ad­min­is­tra­tion to keep every ex­ist­ing Minute­man 3 ICBM silo act­ive. But the com­prom­ise le­gis­la­tion only ex­presses “a sense of the Con­gress” that all the silos “should” be kept in a “warm status” and that any non-de­ployed mis­siles be spread evenly across the three ex­ist­ing ICBM bases.

Such a move would ap­pear to share the im­pact of any re­duc­tions evenly among the three con­gres­sion­al dis­tricts that host the fa­cil­it­ies. The lan­guage is es­sen­tially a watered-down ver­sion of le­gis­la­tion sponsored by Rep­res­ent­at­ives Cyn­thia Lum­mis (R-Wyo.), Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Kev­in Cramer (R-N.D.), who rep­res­ent those dis­tricts.

The ori­gin­al House bill also would have lim­ited fund­ing for any arms-re­duc­tion ef­forts that go bey­ond what is covered in ex­ist­ing agree­ments, un­less cer­tain con­di­tions were met. The con­di­tions — de­pend­ing on vari­ous scen­ari­os de­scribed in the House le­gis­la­tion — could have in­cluded Sen­ate ap­prov­al, com­par­able arms re­duc­tions by Rus­sia, or a pledge that U.S. in­tel­li­gence agen­cies have cer­tain in­form­a­tion re­gard­ing China’s nuc­le­ar weapons, in­clud­ing their “nature, num­ber, loc­a­tion and tar­get­ab­il­ity.”

The com­prom­ise bill worked out with Sen­ate Demo­crats does not in­clude such re­stric­tions. It only ex­presses “the sense of Con­gress” that fur­ther arms re­duc­tions “should” be “pur­sued through a mu­tu­ally ne­go­ti­ated agree­ment” with Rus­sia “through the treaty mak­ing powers of the pres­id­ent.”

Any such re­duc­tions should also “take in­to ac­count the full range of nuc­le­ar weapon cap­ab­il­it­ies that threaten the United States and its al­lies,” the House-Sen­ate le­gis­la­tion states.

This art­icle was pub­lished in Glob­al Se­cur­ity News­wire, which is pro­duced in­de­pend­ently by Na­tion­al Journ­al Group un­der con­tract with the Nuc­le­ar Threat Ini­ti­at­ive. NTI is a non­profit, non­par­tis­an group work­ing to re­duce glob­al threats from nuc­le­ar, bio­lo­gic­al, and chem­ic­al weapons.

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