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Lieberman Knocks Obama Nuke Spending

U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) this week joined a growing number of lawmakers who charge the Obama administration with failing to keep to its spending pledge for modernization of the U.S. nuclear arsenal (see GSN, April 18).

While making his case for ratification of the New START arms control treaty with Russia, President Obama in 2010 pledged $85 billion in spending over the next decade on the nation's nuclear arms complex.

The National Nuclear Security Administration for fiscal 2013 is requesting $7.6 billion for programs “to maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear deterrent.” The figure is 5 percent more than the funding Congress provided for the current fiscal year, but $372 million less than what the administration projected in 2010.

"The United States committed to reducing its strategic nuclear arsenal under the terms of the New START treaty with the Russian Federation. However, the FY13 budget request does not fully fund the nuclear modernization efforts identified by the 1251 Report of November 2010 that the administration committed itself to in advance of Senate ratification of that treaty," Lieberman stated in a letter sent on Tuesday to the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee.

"If modernization efforts to ensure the safety, security, and reliability of a smaller stockpile are not sustained, then further reductions to the stockpile should not be considered until the expiration of the treaty and a report by the U.S. Strategic Command to the congressional defense committees on the risks of a smaller strategic nuclear stockpile," the former Democratic vice presidential candidate said in addressing his broader opposition to additional defense reductions for the budget year that begins on Oct. 1 (U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman release, April 17).

A number of Republican lawmakers have aired similar concerns since the Obama budget was rolled out in February. Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio), chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, in March introduced legislation that would specifically link U.S. arsenal cuts to the fulfillment of Obama’s modernization pledge (see GSN, March 9).

However, NNSA and Defense Department officials have publicly argued that the proposed funding level for fiscal 2013 is sufficient to ensure a reliable deterrent. A spending bill approved this week by a panel of the GOP-controlled House Appropriations Committee matches the administration's $7.6 billion nuclear arms funding request.

Still, there is anticipation that top GOP lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee in coming weeks will attempt to "block implementation" of the New START accord unless the Obama administration pledges heightened spending on the nation's nuclear arms complex, the Washington-based Arms Control Association said on Friday.

The treaty, which entered into force in February 2011, requires Russia and the United States by 2018 to each reduce deployments of operational strategic nuclear systems to 1,550 warheads and 700 delivery systems.

"This type of partisan 'hostage taking' threatens to undermine U.S. national security, ignores budget reality and defies common sense," the organization said in an issue brief.

"Blocking U.S. implementation of New START, as Strategic Forces Subcommittee Chairman Representative Michael Turner (R-Ohio)'s bill H.R. 4178 threatens to do, would likely result in Russia doing the same," according to the Arms Control Association. "The treaty would unravel, allowing Moscow to rebuild its forces above treaty levels and increase the number of nuclear weapons aimed at the United States. Moreover, the inspection system established under the treaty could collapse, depriving the United States of crucial data exchanges and on-site inspections of Russian forces."

The organization highlighted the proposed 5 percent increase in nuclear spending from current levels and noted that the 2010 projection was established prior to approval of the 2011 Budget Control Act that demanded significant cuts to federal spending (Arms Control Association release, April 20).

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