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DOD Nonproliferation Work to Suffer Under Budget Cuts

By Diane Barnes

Global Security Newswire

A U.S. B-52 bomber, shown in 2010. A senior Defense Department official on Friday said the mandatory spending cuts that took effect on March 1 would not affect flight operations involving the nation's nuclear-capable aircraft (AP Photo/Randy Holt). A U.S. B-52 bomber, shown in 2010. A senior Defense Department official on Friday said the mandatory spending cuts that took effect on March 1 would not affect flight operations involving the nation's nuclear-capable aircraft (AP Photo/Randy Holt).

WASHINGTON -- The White House on Friday said it plans in coming months to eliminate tens of millions of dollars in planned Defense Department spending aimed at securing and destroying weapons of mass destruction at home and around the world.

Among the likely victims of the budget sequester are projects to eliminate U.S. chemical weapons and to secure or destroy nuclear warheads and other unconventional arms left behind by the former Soviet Union.

The announcement came as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the nation's military leaders are committed to preserving combat readiness from the impact of tens of billions of dollars in across-the-board federal spending cuts mandated under sequestration, which took effect on Friday. The 2011 Budget Control Act requires the Pentagon to eliminate $46 billion in planned funds for a wide array of programs between now and the end of September.

The indiscriminate nature of the mandated curbs has attracted broad, bipartisan scorn; however, the Obama administration and Congress do not appear close to agreement on a long-promised replacement for the plan, which could force the Pentagon to slash planned spending by as much as $100 billion in each successive budget year for about a decade.

"As sequester continues, we will be forced to assume more risk, with steps that will progressively have far-reaching effects," Hagel said at a Pentagon press briefing on Friday. He urged President Obama and lawmakers to agree on "a balanced deficit reduction plan that leads to an end to sequestration."

The United States possesses the "most powerful fighting force in the world," Hagel said after meeting for 90 minutes with the Joint Chiefs of Staff earlier in the day. The military's top officers and other U.S. defense leaders would not "allow this ... capacity to erode," he said.

"We will manage these issues. These are adjustments. We anticipated these kinds of realities. And we will do what we need to do to assure the capabilities ... of our forces," Hagel later said.

The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction initiative faces a $57 million funding cut amounting to 7.8 percent of its projected remaining fiscal 2013 budget and carryover funds from prior spending cycles, the White House Management and Budget Office said in a Friday report to Congress. The program -- overseen by the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency -- has provided U.S. financial and technical assistance since the early 1990s for disposal of unconventional weapons, primarily in former Soviet states. Russia has demanded changes to an implementing deal due to expire in June.

Funding cuts of 7.8 percent are also set to strike $122 million from the nation's $1.6 billion chemical-weapon destruction budget, as well as $6 million from the $75 million budget for "chemical demilitarization construction," the White House document indicates. It is unclear how the cuts could affect the disarmament initiatives; an unfinished chemical arms disposal site at the Blue Grass Army Depot in Kentucky was already facing a budget squeeze prior to sequestration, according to a report last week. Another demilitarization plant is being prepared at the Pueblo Chemical Depot in Colorado while several facilities are being decommissioned after completing operations.

Hagel also struck a cautionary note on the looming expiration of a short-term measure to fund the federal government. The United States could face a government shutdown if lawmakers fail to negotiate a follow-on to the continuing budget resolution due to lapse on March 27, but Hagel cautioned against extending the measure "in its current form."

The continuing resolution holds spending at levels from the previous budget year, but the nation's defense requirements have changed under an updated strategy issued in 2012, according to a DOD fact sheet. The short-term budget measure prevents the Pentagon from launching new investment programs or increasing output of equipment, the document says, adding that the spending arrangement requires the department to fund the "exact same" quantity and type of ships as in the prior budget cycle.

The Pentagon chief urged Congress to replace the short-term funding measure with "appropriations bills for DOD and all federal agencies."

Hagel said the United States would continue to pursue goals articulated in the new defense strategy, despite warnings by senior Pentagon staff that the spending restrictions would limit the nation's ability to abide by the plan.

Deputy Defense Secretary Ashton Carter reaffirmed plans to prevent funding cuts from affecting flying hours involving the "nuclear-capable Air Force" and aerial missions over Afghanistan, but he warned that protecting those operations would subject the service's other combat activities to even greater hits.

The Air Force Global Strike Command, which manages the nation’s nuclear bombers and ICBMs. last month said sequestration cuts would force it to to furlough 2,900 nonmilitary personnel. Furloughs across the department are scheduled to take effect in late April, the Pentagon fact sheet says.

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