Republicans Threaten to Block Nuclear Arms Reductions

Lawmakers seek a modernized U.S. atomic arsenal.

Capitol Hill Republicans are threatening to block any possible attempts by the Obama administration to obtain further nuclear arms reductions without congressional approval.

In remarks on Friday at an annual nuclear deterrence summit, Senate Armed Services Committee GOP staffer Rob Soofer said any move on nuclear arms reductions “is going to be dead on arrival in the Senate” until the administration makes good on its promise to modernize the current U.S. atomic arsenal.

President Obama made the vow during 2010 negotiations with the Senate over ratification of the New START pact with Russia. Republicans have accused him of stepping back from the promise.

For fiscal 2013, the administration requested $7.6 billion for National Nuclear Security Administration programs aimed at maintaining “a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent.” The figure was $372 million less than what the administration projected in 2010 in order to keep its side of the bargain, but was still a 5 percent increase over what Congress approved for fiscal 2011. Congress, though, has yet to approval a final federal budget for this fiscal year.

The United States today has approximately 1,700 deployed long-range nuclear weapons, along with thousands more held in reserve. The New START accord requires Washington and Moscow by 2018 to field no more than 1,550 strategic warheads and 700 delivery systems.

Recent reporting indicates Obama supports a secret Pentagon paper that suggests the country can maintain a viable deterrent with as few as 1,000 deployed warheads.

Soofer acknowledged that Obama could seek further arms reductions without authorization from Capitol Hill. A leading precedent is then-President George H.W. Bush’s unilateral move in 1991 to draw down the U.S. nonstrategic nuclear arsenal, which led to corresponding measures from Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in what became known as the so-called Presidential Nuclear Initiatives.

However, Soofer warned that “Congress will seek remedies” against any such move. He did not elaborate, but some observers have speculated that Republicans might look to pass legislation that would require the president to obtain congressional approval for any additional nuclear arms reductions.

Soofer during his talk reaffirmed Republican arguments against further nuclear arms reductions. “If Russian relations are really stable, why do you need another round of reductions?” he asked rhetorically.

The president has a choice, he said: “He can listen to his disarmers … or, he can listen to deterrence realists.”