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GOP Lawmakers Blast Potential Nuclear Weapons Reductions

A potential bid by President Obama to significantly reduce the number of nuclear warheads deployed by the United States would face insurmountable resistance from GOP lawmakers, Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee said on Wednesday (see GSN, Feb. 15).

The Defense Department has drafted three plans that would respectively lower the number of nuclear warheads the United States maintains on delivery vehicles to ranges between 1,000 and 1,100,  700 and 800, or 300 and 400, the Associated Press reported earlier this week. Even the smallest cut among the three options would reduce the nation's quantity of launch-ready nuclear bombs to its lowest level in more than 50 years.

The Obama administration might still opt against pursuing arsenal curbs beyond existing U.S. commitments, AP quoted Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey as telling the panel. An arms control treaty with Russia now commits the United States to reduce deployment of strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550 (see GSN, Feb. 13).

The proposals still prompted statements of alarm from committee lawmakers, who suggested any major nuclear force reductions would lessen the nation's capability to ward off hostile acts. They referred to areas of concern including Egypt, Iran and Syria.

"I just want to go on record as saying that there are many of us that are going to do everything we possibly can to make sure that this preposterous notion does not gain any real traction," Representative Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) said.

President Obama in 2009 pledged to move toward eventual nuclear disarmament, and a key administration assessment of U.S. nuclear forces and capabilities laid the groundwork for a follow-up Pentagon "implementation study" to examine arsenal force needs with a focus on achieving additional curbs (see related GSN story, today). National security adviser Tom Donilon last March said moves were under way to implement further arsenal reductions.

The effort would provide an incentive for foreign governments to ramp up their atomic activities, said Representative Mac Thornberry (R-Texas).

"If they see that we are going to come down from 1,500 to some number in the low to middle hundreds, it does nothing but encourage our enemies and discourage our friends," he said. "And the result of that is more nuclear weapons programs all across the world, which would seem to me to be something that we would not want to have happen."

The administration is weighing several possible paths forward, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said without elaborating.

Any change to nuclear force levels would take place as part of an international agreement requiring Senate endorsement, he added. The New START pact, which entered into force last February, requires the United States and Russia by 2018 to each reduce deployment of strategic nuclear warheads to 1,550, down from a cap of 2,200 mandated by next year under an older treaty. It also limits the number of fielded strategic warhead delivery platforms to 700, with an additional 100 systems permitted in reserve.

"As you know, reductions that have been made, at least in this administration, have only been made as part of the START process and not outside of that process. And I would expect that that would be the same in the future," the Pentagon chief said.

Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio) voiced alarm over the reported deepest proposed force reduction, and Franks referred to the plan as "reckless lunacy."

Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.) said in provided comments Obama was "catering to his liberal base that believes that if we unilaterally disarm, the rest of the world will follow suit and threats to our national security will just go away."

Representatives for Washington and Moscow are pursuing "serious discussions" on matters related to potentially convening further nuclear arms control talks, but the governments are still not prepared to launch such meetings, acting Undersecretary of State Rose Gottemoeller told journalists on Wednesday (Donna Cassata, Associated Press/Google News, Feb. 15).

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