Politics Lawmakers gird for spending battle over nuclear weapons
House Democrats ask Biden to surrender unilateral nuclear launch powers
House Democrats are asking President Biden to share his unilateral ability to launch nuclear weapons. In a letter to the president, Reps. Ted Lieu and Jimmy Panetta, accompanied by nearly 30 colleagues, argued that "vesting one person with this authority entails real risks.""While any president would presumably consult with advisors before ordering a nuclear attack, there is no requirement to do so," read the letter dated Monday. "The military is obligated to carry out the order if they assess it is legal under the laws of war. Under the current posture of U.S.
Nuclear weapons are emerging as one of the top political brawls in the brewing battle over next year's defense budget.
Democrats have been introducing bills to curtail costly nuclear modernization programs, as well writing letters urging President Biden to support their efforts.
But Republicans are shooting back with their own letters and op-eds calling on Biden to stay the course on programs that largely originated during the Obama administration. They're also working to pin down Pentagon nominees on where they stand.
Rejoining the Iran nuclear deal would save lives of US troops, diplomats
A small cohort of exceptionally vocal neoconservatives is steadfastly opposed to diplomatic engagement with Iran, preferring to stay the course with a failed strategy. That these ideologues would put the lives of American troops and diplomats at risk in a futile bid to secure maximalist objectives is indefensible.Marik von Rennenkampff served as an analyst with the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation, as well as an Obama administration appointee at the U.S. Department of Defense. Follow him on Twitter @MvonRen.
The back-and-forth over nuclear modernization is providing a lens into the larger fight that's taking shape as the Biden administration prepares to present its first defense budget in the spring. Expectations are that the administration will keep funding flat.
In one of the latest salvos, top Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee said Biden should boost defense spending by 3 to 5 percent, in part citing nuclear modernization needs, as well as bolstering cyber and naval capabilities.
"As you prepare your administration's fiscal year 2022 (FY22) budget for submission to Congress, we urge you to reject demands from many on the left to cut or freeze defense spending at current levels," ranking member Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Ala.) and the top Republicans on each of the panel's subcommittees wrote in a Thursday letter to Biden.
Build back nuclear
If the World Bank has to surrender its expertise in fossil fuel lending, surely it can restore its know-how in nuclear finance. Breaking ground on new infrastructure is better than endless handwringing. Years of climate talks have emitted pledges to coordinate the vaguest of environmental efforts; the Paris Agreement itself attempts to "enable opportunities for coordination," whatever that means. These discussions are becoming nothing more than mileage runs for the frequent flyers who attend them, not progress reports on the building spree that the world will need to thrive with ample clean energy.
"The next four years are going to be a crucial period for our military and our nation," they added. "If we do not make the investments our military needs today, we will not be able to defend our nation or our allies in the future."
Defense officials early in the Trump administration talked about the need for 3 to 5 percent annual budget growth over inflation in order to properly fund the National Defense Strategy, which calls for reorienting the military toward competition with China and Russia after years of focusing on counterterrorism.
But even the Trump administration had projected a relatively flat defense budget in fiscal year 2022 compared to the $740 billion defense budget in fiscal 2021, amid other pressures such as a growing national debt.
As the Biden administration faces a time crunch in crafting its first budget proposal, Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks in a February memo directed a review of a select group of programs, including low-yield nuclear warheads and nuclear command and control, according to multiple reports.
Japan Earthquake - Tsunami Fast Facts
Read CNN's 2011 Japan Earthquake - Tsunami earthquake and learn more about the disaster that struck Japan in March of 2011. © AFP/Getty Images Workers in protective suits and masks wait to enter the emergency operation center at the crippled Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power station in Okuma on November 12, 2011. March 11, 2011 - At 2:46 p.m., a 9.1 magnitude earthquake takes place 231 miles northeast of Tokyo at a depth of 15.2 miles. The earthquake causes a tsunami with 30-foot waves that damage several nuclear reactors in the area. It is the largest earthquake ever to hit Japan.
The Trump administration developed and deployed a submarine-launch low-yield nuclear warhead, dubbed the W76-2 warhead, that Democrats argued raised the risk of nuclear war by potentially lowering the threshold for the U.S. willingness to use nuclear weapons.
Trump officials were also in the early stages of developing a new nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile.
On Thursday, Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Joe Courtney (D-Conn.) introduced a bill to prohibit production and deployment, as well as research and development, of the nuclear-armed sea-launched cruise missile and its associated warhead.
"Putting new, expensive nuclear warheads on attack submarines and surface ships that haven't carried those weapons in almost thirty years is a distraction that will suck precious resources away from the most pressing need of the U.S. Navy-namely, to increase the size of its overworked fleet," Courtney, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's seapower subcommittee, said in a statement. "This legislation is a common-sense bill that will stop the hemorrhaging of precious Navy dollars for a wasteful program that Congress barely debated."
Decade After Fukushima Disaster, Greenpeace Sees Cleanup Failure
Ten years after the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl, land Japan identified for cleanup from the triple reactor meltdown of the Fukushima Dai-Ichi atomic power plant remains contaminated, according to a report from Greenpeace. © Photographer: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images AsiaPac NAMIE, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 26: A lone house sits on the scarred landscape, inside the exclusion zone, close to the devastated Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant on February 26, 2016 in Namie, Fukushima Japan. The area is now closed to residents due radiation contamination from the Fukishima nuclear disaster.
Democrats have also expressed concern about the price tag of nuclear modernization programs that started during the Obama administration, in particular a replacement intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) known as the Ground-based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). The total cost of the nuclear modernization programs, which also include the new B-21 bomber and new Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, could reach an estimated $1.7 trillion over 30 years, according to a 2017 Government Accountability Office report.
In a Wednesday letter, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) pressed Biden to take several steps in his fiscal 2022 budget request and any other policy reviews to "reflect the hard, cold reality that there is no such thing as a winnable nuclear war."
Among the steps they urged Biden to take was to withdraw the W76-2 from deployment, cancel the new sea-launched cruise missile program and pause funding for the GBSD program to instead extend the life of existing Minuteman III ICBMs.
"The United States can retain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent which is also affordable and enhances our national security," Khanna and Markey wrote.
An interim national security strategy released by the White House on Wednesday said the administration would "take steps to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, while ensuring our strategic deterrent remains safe, secure, and effective and that our extended deterrence commitments to our allies remain strong and credible."
A nuclear frontier
If we want to tackle climate change, reduce emissions, and power the grid, then we need the proper mix of energy. We need to make sure that nuclear not only stays on the grid, but grows on it. Dan Crenshaw represents the 2nd District of Texas and a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
But Republicans have been pushing back against any potential changes to nuclear programs.
In an op-ed last month for Breaking Defense, Rogers and Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, railed against efforts to "cripple the U.S. nuclear deterrent forever."
"President Biden must prioritize long-overdue investments in the nuclear triad, or risk permanently losing our most effective means for deterring existential military threats," they wrote. The triad refers to being able to launch nuclear missiles by land, sea and air.
House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-Wash.) responded to their op-ed on Friday by questioning whether spending more than $1 trillion is "really necessary to have a deterrent."
"We have to have a deterrent so that nobody thinks they can ever launch any nuclear weapon of any size without paying an unacceptable cost," Smith said at an event hosted by the Brookings Institution. "My big beef is that I don't think we need 5,000 nuclear weapons to accomplish that."
More generally, Smith bristled at the focus on increasing the overall defense budget by 3 to 5 percent, saying the topline number is not as important as what it's spent on.
"Can we all just sort of get off of this epic fight over whether or not it's 3 percent or 5 percent or 1 percent or it's cut or whatever, and let's just spend the goddamn money effectively," Smith said.
Meanwhile, Republicans on the Senate Armed Services Committee have been pushing to get Biden's Pentagon nominees on the record supporting nuclear modernization, particularly the GBSD program.
Japan’s Green Future Means Reckoning With Its Nuclear Past
To meet its global climate commitments, Japan will need to restart almost every reactor it shuttered after the 2011 Fukushima disaster, and then build more.Each has a printed agenda, tablet computer and carton of green tea neatly laid out before them, and politely flips over a rectangular name card to request a turn to speak. Beneath the rigid formality, there’s an increasingly divisive debate: what’s the role of nuclear energy a decade after the Fukushima disaster.
Supporters of the program have been bolstered in their arguments by January comments from Strategic Command chief Adm. Charles Richard that "you cannot life-extend Minuteman III."
Both Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Hicks said at their confirmation hearings they were generally supportive of nuclear modernization and all three legs of the nuclear triad. But they stopped short of endorsing any specific existing programs, saying they needed to see the latest classified information first.
Colin Kahl, Biden's nominee to be under secretary of Defense for policy, gave a similar answer at his confirmation hearing Thursday. Republicans, some of whom are opposing him over fiery tweets he wrote criticizing the Trump administration, tore into him for what Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) described as "evasive" answers.
"I will take that unwillingness to give a straight answer as that you probably don't think that we should continue to fund the Ground-based Strategic Deterrent, as do many other members of your party," Cotton, who is opposing Kahl over his tweets, said at the hearing.
Committee Chairman Jack Reed (D-R.I.) defended Kahl's "practical concerns" about needing to see the most recent classified information before taking a position, to which Kahl replied that he thinks "the triad has been a tried and true bedrock of our deterrence for decades" and his "only reason to be cautious was precisely for the reasons that you identified, which is that there is classified material which is relevant to these systems that I am not privy to."
Reed, for his part, told reporters at a recent roundtable that he supports existing programs to modernize the triad, but that Congress needs to ensure they are being done in the most cost-effective way.
"We have to modernize the triad and maintain, in my view, the triad for strategic reasons that have been successful for about 70 years," he said. "But in every one of these areas we can't avoid looking at cost and trying to minimize those costs."
The Biden administration has been quietly trying to reach out to North Korea, but keeps getting ignored .
Attempts to contact North Korea have been going on since mid-February, with no success, a US official told Reuters, CNN, and the AP."To reduce the risks of escalation, we reached out to the North Korean government through several channels starting in mid-February, including in New York," the official said, according to CNN, referring to North Korea's mission to the United Nations.