Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) — who sits on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that is due to take up a vote on the New START treaty in mid-September — wrote an op-ed over the weekend defending himself against charges that he is holding the New START treaty hostage in exchange for nuclear pork. Corker’s response was that he was holding the New START treaty hostage because we really need nuclear pork — particularly in Tennessee, which really needs a new nuclear facility. He wrote:
Before a treaty can be ratified, we must ensure there are appropriate commitments to fully invest in the rehabilitation of the warheads and their components… Tennessee is playing a critical role in this process. Planning is already underway for the construction of the Uranium Processing Facility (UPF) at Y-12 … It is my sincere hope to be able to support this treaty. To get there, we need to invest in modernization of the remaining arsenal … If these objectives are met, in conjunction with the prescribed reductions under this treaty, we will be more secure as a country.
What makes this all the more frustrating is that the Obama administration agrees with Corker! They have pledged to build this new facility in Tennessee and have therefore committed to a massive $80 billion increase in the nuclear weapons infrastructure – such that even though the US will be reducing its nuclear arsenal the US will be spending significantly more to maintain it.
Corker seems to be insisting that the Obama administration’s cost estimates for the new facility are too low. But there currently are no cost estimates for the facility. There is a cost range from $1.4 to $3.5 billion. The actual cost needed to build the facility won’t be known until the design phase for the facility is complete. But Corker, perhaps due to some new found knowledge of the architecture of nuclear weapons buildings, is demanding between $4-5 billion be spent on the facility. In other words, Corker is making a demand for a check that the Obama administration simply can’t write. Since they can’t commit to allocating 12 to 350 percent more on a facility that isn’t even designed. They can only commit to building the facility, which they have.
The question here is at what point will Corker decide that the Obama administration’s commitments to the facility are for real. One would hope he just doesn’t realize that there is little the Administration can due to meet his demands – as David Broder noted, Republicans have shown their ignorance on START already. But perhaps Corker knows that the Administration can’t make any more tangible commitments and is therefore just playing a double game.
Either way he is playing a very dangerous game. If START is not ratified, as Generals John Castellaw, Dirk Jameson, and John Adams explained in an oped this weekend, the US would be “left blind” due to the loss of intelligence and monitoring of Russia’s nuclear arsenal. Only Corker knows what game he is playing, but it is clear that it is a very dangerous one.