Kyl on nukes: Up to no good in the Senate
Last week, we heard that President Obama will chair a special meeting of the UN Security Council in September on nuclear non-proliferation and disarmament. Obama is pushing for a comprehensive plan to reduce the nuclear threat and move toward a nuclear weapons free world: negotiating a new START agreement with Russia to reduce both our nuclear weapons stockpiles, ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty to ban nuclear testing, and strengthening non-proliferation efforts. But there are plenty who have a Stranglovian dedication to our nuclear weapons heritage, and are clamoring to defend it. Enter Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and the tug of war that took place during the Senate’s consideration of the FY2010 Defense Authorization bill.
The Nukes of Hazard blog has a good summary:
Arms control advocates have worried for months that Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) would use the floor debate as a way to undermine the START follow-on process and further lay the groundwork for opposition to the CTBT. Sure enough, on July 22, Senator Kyl offered an amendment to place limitations on spending to implement a START follow-on treaty unless (1) the treaty is verifiable; (2) places no limitations on missile defense, space capabilities or advanced conventional weapons, and (3) the Obama Administration’s FY 2011 budget will be sufficiently funded to maintain the reliability, safety and security of U.S. nuclear weapons and modernize and refurbish the U.S. nuclear weapons complex. Kyl’s amendment was basically identical to an amendment Rep. Michael Turner (R-OH) offered to the National Defense Authorization Act on the House floor, which eventually passed by voice vote on June 25 as part of a managers amendment offered by House Armed Service Committee Chariman Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO).
Fortunately, others worked with Sen. Kyl and were able to come up with a less damaging, watered-down version of Kyl’s amendment, which was passed by voice vote on the floor. Senator Kerry (D-MA) had a few words to say on the subject:
In my view, the earlier amendment — and section 1239 of the House version of the NDAA, on which that amendment was based–would have undermined the constitutional role of the Senate as the body that considers treaties, as well as the President’s role in negotiating treaties. The Senate decided wisely not to adopt the House approach of trying to bar U.S. compliance with a treaty before the treaty has even been negotiated. The substitute amendment we adopted last week was a good result.
The bill approved by the Senate, as amended by Senator Kyl’s modified amendment, would require the President to report to the Congress on his plan to enhance the safety, security and reliability of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, to modernize the nuclear weapons complex, and to maintain the delivery platforms….
Sen. Kyl’s efforts to undermine a new treaty on stockpile reductions with Russia are concerning. 67 votes or two-thirds of the Senate are needed for a treaty to be ratified, which will mean winning over 7 Republican Senators in support of the Obama administration’s arms control agenda. In a press release touting his amendment, Kyl states:
The Strategic Arms Reductions Act Treaty (START) expires at the end of this year, and President Obama and Russian President Medvedev recently reached a “joint understanding” of guidelines the treaty negotiators should follow in the coming months.
The two presidents agreed that both nations should reduce the number of nuclear weapons in their stockpiles. While I don’t believe that lower levels of nuclear forces in our deterrent makes the U.S. or our allies safer, my chief concern is that the weapons that remain are aging and increasingly difficult to maintain.
I added the emphasis on that last sentence because it demonstrates just how out of touch Sen. Kyl is on nuclear weapons issues. With more than 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world today, working with Russia and other countries to reduce our nuclear forces would make the US safer by decreasing the risk of an accidental launch or theft of a nuclear weapon. A growing list of foreign policy and security professionals including former Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger and George Shultz, former National Security Advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski, Sandy Berger, and Richard McFarlane, former Senators Sam Nunn and Chuck Hagel, and former Defense Secretary William Perry have come to the conclusion that nuclear weapons are a liability to US security, rather than an asset. Kissinger, Shultz, Perry, and Nunn outlined both the goal of a nuclear weapons free world and steps that should be taken to achieve it in their two Wall Street Journal OpEds. They specifically highlighted reducing nuclear weapons stockpiles globally as one of the critical steps to take to help reduce the nuclear threat and enhance US security.
And they’re not the only ones making the case that reducing the stockpiles of the US and Russia will enhance global security. Sen. Kyl serves as the Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Terrorism and Homeland Security. Yet his press release comments seem to dismiss the findings of the 2008 report by the Commission on WMD Proliferation and Terrorism:
The Commission believes it imperative that we continue to reduce the size of the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles in a structured and transparent manner. Consequently, we believe that the next administration should engage with Russia at the earliest possible date to negotiate additional reductions in both countries’ strategic stockpiles and to agree on transparency measures that can be in place by the end of 2009, when START expires. Such an agreement would send an important signal to the rest of the world regarding U.S. and Russian commitments to negotiate in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament. Setting additional benchmarks for further reductions would serve as a natural reinforcement to continue this important strategic partnership in fighting terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
Meanwhile, the debate over funding new nuclear weapons last year made it evident that the current stockpile is in good shape. A study by the JASONs (an independent, expert group of scientists) has determined that the current plutonium pits or “triggers” of nuclear weapons have a lifetime of 85 to 100 years — much longer than previously expected. We have plenty of time to calmly assess and evaluate the current programs that maintain the stockpile.