The President’s new budget, due out shortly after the State of the Union address, will likely sweep the knee of one the main conservative arguments against the START treaty and efforts to cut nuclear weapons in general.
One of the central arguments of conservatives opposed to arms control is the bogus notion that the US shouldn’t cut its nuclear forces because the existing nuclear arsenal is “deteriorating” and is increasingly unreliable. In a December letter to the President, all 40 Republican Senators plus Senator Joe Lieberman told the President that they could not support a START treaty unless the reliability of the US nuclear weapons could be assured. These arguments conveniently overlook the recent independent scientific study from the JASON advisory group – this is essentially the gold standard of nuclear studies. The study found that the nuclear arsenal was in fine shape and would continue to be, as long as current modernization programs were adequately funded. JASON essentially killed conservative rationale for a new warhead.
However, the study did point out some areas for improvement in maintaining reliability. An op-ed yesterday by George Schultz, Bill Perry, Henry Kissinger and Sam Nunn argued similarly that some additional measures should be taken to ensure the continued efficacy of our nuclear labs and nuclear stockpile. Conservatives might have tried to hang their hat on these points – using them as reasons to block arms-reduction efforts like the START treaty. But it appears now that the Administration’s new budget will take dramatic steps to address the concerns of the JASON study and of the four horsemen, thereby assuring the reliability of the US nuclear arsenal and the irrelevance of any new nuclear warhead. In what looked like a certain degree of coordination, Vice President Biden issued a statement following the four horsemen op-ed saying:
These four statesmen have shown us the path to improved security by urging us to do all we can to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and to strengthen the nonproliferation regime, while maintaining a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal. Their vision has inspired our efforts and we will continue to be guided by their contributions. As we pursue the vision President Obama laid out in Prague last April, release our new budget in February… people will see the consensus we have sought translated into action.
In other words, the White House heard the recommendations of the four statesmen and is going to follow through on their recommendations. After all the Vice President’s office wouldn’t highlight the op-ed if it was going to ignore its recommendations. Furthermore, the Albuquerque Journal reported this past weekend that:
The Obama administration is preparing to ask Congress for a 10 percent increase in the U.S. nuclear weapons budget, according to an internal memo. The National Nuclear Security Administration’s budget for nuclear weapons research, development, maintenance and manufacturing would rise to 7 billion in 2010, up from $6.38 billion this year, according to a Dec. 22 memo from Energy Secretary Steven Chu to the Office of Management and Budget.
By increasing spending on nuclear maintenance efforts, the President’s budget insures the US nuclear arsenal will remain reliable well into the future. Hence, conservative arguments that we can’t cut nuclear weapons because our arsenal is not reliable just have no basis in reality.