Congress is Wrong to Defund Strategic Programs
Congress has demonstrated its willingness to put parochial politics
ahead of national security. On November 20, Congress passed the FY
2005 Omnibus Appropriations Bill, which eliminated funding for
study relating to the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator and the
Advanced Concepts Initiative. The bill also severely reduced
funding for design work on a new facility for warhead components,
known as the Modern Pit Facility. This vote to all but kill these
extremely important national security programs threatens to make
America less safe. Although it is unclear whether or not these
programs are dead, this bill sends the unmistakable message that
members of Congress are unwilling, or unable, to understand the
evolving role of nuclear weapons in modern national security. The
threat is real that America's strategic policy and capability will
not be prepared for the threats of the 21st century.
Opponents of the
nuclear-weapons portion of the bill advance three main
A New Arms
Race: Critics argue that these programs will spark an arms race
and make it difficult for the United States to exert moral pressure
on other nations to reduce their own nuclear capabilities. This is
untrue. First, the United States is actually dismantling its
nuclear weapons arsenal at a record pace and to unprecedented
levels. Furthermore, the concept of a new "arms race" with a
country like Russia is outdated. The United States and Russia are
friends and have no reason to engage in costly arms races. And
regarding proliferation, critics should recognize the fundamental
difference between unpredictable or dangerous dictators seeking and
possessing nuclear weapons and responsible powers like the United
States, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China maintaining their
nuclear capabilities. In fact, this is the scenario foreseen by the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which created a system in which
certain nations would have nuclear weapons while the rest of the
world would forgo them.
Deterrence is a Cold War Concept: Critics of the President
accuse him of being stuck in the Cold War. Actually, it is the
other way around. The Administration recognizes that America's
nuclear arsenal is a Cold War relic. Today's arsenal should reflect
the current security environment and be flexible enough to respond
to unpredictable future threats. With the rise of proliferation,
non-state actors, and new contingencies that were thought
unthinkable just a few years ago, deterrence and new ways to
project deterrence are more important than ever. Yet today's
nuclear arsenal remains geared toward the static, predictable days
of the Cold War and loses relevance with each day that passes.
Maintaining the status quo is not a sensible option.
Opponents argue that the approximately 7,000 nuclear warheads
already stockpiled are enough. In reality, the days of bean
counting nuclear warheads are over. It is true that the United
States has enough-indeed it has too many-Cold War-era nuclear
warheads. While a smaller number of these large strategic warheads
are still needed to hedge against the rise of a future strategic
competitor, in today's world it is more important to have a
smaller, more flexible arsenal. Cold War weaponry alone, nuclear
and conventional, is inappropriate for today's diverse world. The
real issue is quality, not quantity. Only usable weapons deter
enemies. The wrong kind of weapon, in the wrong quantity, will do
little to deter anyone and can invite aggression.
nuclear-weapons programs that the appropriations bill left unfunded
are all integral to America's ability to ensure deterrence and the
long-term security of the nation.
Pit Facility. The most important piece of the "quality not
quantity" argument is the Modern Pit Facility. As the United States
dismantles its Cold War nuclear arsenal, it must be able to
guarantee the safety, reliability, and credibility of the remaining
program. Currently, it takes years to build a nuclear weapon. In
the current security environment where circumstances can change
instantly and response timelines are short, this is too long. The
Modern Pit Facility would give the United States the ability to
reconstitute, regenerate, and replace weapons as needed.
Eliminating the need to maintain costly stockpiles of obsolete
technology and assuring the necessary latitude in research and
development are vital for future defense needs.
Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator (RNEP). This is not a new weapon, but a new
capability. President Clinton originally modified the B-61 to
penetrate frozen earth, creating a new type of "bunker buster."
America's enemies today rely on fortified underground bunkers, some
of which conventional weapons cannot breach. Research in the RNEP
program could lead to improved effectiveness in the field and,
ultimately, to a safer environment for U.S. troops.
Concepts Initiative. No one can predict the future. It is
impossible to forecast the future size, composition, capabilities,
and role of America's strategic arsenal, both conventional and
nuclear. The most dangerous option, though, would be to ignore the
role of nuclear weapons rather then try to understand the role they
might play in future national security. The Advanced Concepts
Initiative is intended to evaluate the relationship between U.S.
capabilities and current threats, and provide recommendations on
future production and deployment. This sort of sensible,
forward-looking research could pay dividends for years to come.
Cutting its funding is, at best, short-sighted.
The enduring role
of nuclear weapons as a powerful deterrent was recently reaffirmed
from the unlikely direction of Russia. According to President Putin
"We know that we have only to weaken our attention to such
components of our defenses as the nuclear-missile shield, and new
threats to us could appear." This is not an arms race; it is
The issue at hand is nothing more
complicated than having a nuclear arsenal of the right size,
flexibility, and quality and studying how such an arsenal should be
developed. For the sake of ensuring that this vital capability
remains at the forefront of defense planning, Congress should
reinstate funding for these programs.
Jack Spencer is
Senior Policy Analyst for Defense and National Security in the
Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies
at The Heritage Foundation. Kathy Gudgel, Research Assistant in
Defense and National Security, contributed to this piece.