Jeffrey LewisRos-Lehtinen on Arms Control

Ok, this is just downright weird.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen rounds up the usual crowd to co-sponsor an utterly meaningless “Sense of the House” on the START Treaty. (Utterly meaningless since the Senate ratifies treaties. I don’t even want to hear about implementing legislation.)

The resolution is largely about China, and how that might impact the START Treaty, which is a very odd thing to say given the disparity between US and Chinese nuclear forces. Josh Rogin sort of snickers at the resolution:

The GOP’s own resolution actually states that China has about 40 nuclear-tipped missiles that could reach the continental United States today, and could only amass about 100 over the next 15 years.

That’s well below the levels being discussed between the U.S. and Russia — between 500 and 1,100 delivery vehicles each and between 1,500 and 1,675 deployed warheads. That has prompted some to wonder whether U.S. nuclear calculations should really be set with China in mind, considering that country’s relatively small nuclear arsenal.

“It’s silly really and undercuts their arguments for us to beef up our arsenal or do whatever it is they want to do with respect to nuclear weapons,” said one source working on the issue.

Max Bergman was more succint: “North Dakota could deter China.”

He means, of course, that China still has a long way to catch up to the 91st Missile Wing at Minot Air Force Base, one of three Minuteman wings in the United States. (Each wing now has 150 Minuteman III missiles. So Long, Deuce)

It is worth, however, considering the resolution on its merits, such as they are. The resolution boils down to two “asks” that are pretty standard GOP talking points (1) The Obama Administration should not sign a follow-on to START until the Nuclear Posture Review is completed and (2) The Obama Administration should not sign any agreement limiting missile defense.

Finish The Nuclear Posture Review

The resolution “urges the President to refrain from negotiating or entering into any follow-on agreement to START I until the Nuclear Posture Review is completed.”

DoD actually checked this box, as one of the awkwardly dated August 6 fact sheets on the NPR explains in some detail:

– The NPR made it an early priority to accomplish the analysis necessary to support the START Follow-on treaty negotiations, which President Obama and President Medvedev directed should be completed by December 2009, when START expires.

– The interagency NPR team, including the Department of Defense, the Department of State, the Department of Energy, and the US Strategic Command and other combatant commands analyzed and provided detailed consideration of a range of solutions to maintain strategic stability with operationally deployed strategic nuclear force levels that would represent significant reductions in nuclear weapons, presuming Russia will be similarly constrained.

– After rigorous analysis, the NPR team determined that maintaining a nuclear triad with a significantly reduced number of operationally deployed strategic nuclear weapons (ODSNW) and accountable strategic delivery vehicles (SDV) would enhance our national security objectives and provide extended deterrence to allies and friends.

– These findings were reviewed by military and civilian leadership and vetted through the interagency. START Follow-on treaty negotiating positions were then subsequently identified and approved at the Cabinet level. Although the specific guidance to our negotiating team remains classified, the results to date of the bilateral negotiations are reflected in the Joint Understanding resulting from the Presidential Summit.

The “cabinet level” decision regarding START Follow-on numbers, which was detailed by Elaine Grossman, occurred during the second week of June at a Principals Committee meeting.

As I understand it, the analytic method was this: Using existing nuclear weapons planning guidance in NSPD-14, how low could we go? One commenter called it NSPD-14 friendly, which I think is about right.

This is a harmless bit of grandstanding — the sort of grandstanding that both parties use to delay an unwelcome decision. Hell, this is why Nuclear Posture Reviews exist — to delay. A Republican Congress created the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review to delay implementing START II cuts until after Clinton left office. A Democratic Congress created the 2009 Nuclear Posture Review to delay a decision on the Reliable Replacement Warhead until after George W. Bush left office.

We certainly don’t do Nuclear Posture Reviews because they are useful exercises. (They always suck, no matter how capable and hard-working everyone involved might be.) A quick read of Janne Nolan’s An Elusive Consensus would tell you that.

Do Not Agree to Any Limitations On Missile Defense

Let’s see, this is a great idea except for two small things.

One, the START Follow-on won’t contain any limitations on missile defenses. And, two, the missile defense system even under the Bush Administration was sized so as “not be a threat to China.”

Other than that, this is a totally germane and sensible thing to include in a Sense of Congress.

Other totally germane and sensible ideas in this spirit include: A Sense of the House that a START follow-on shouldn’t provide for taxpayer-funded abortions. And that no illegal immigrants may be permitted to handle nuclear weapons. Are there any other tired chestnuts I’ve forgotten? Ah yes, inspectors may not bring a domestic partner to Votkinsk.

Still, it is nice to be reminded that Republicans support missile defense. Sometimes I forget.


  1. FSB

    ahem — why would China want to nuke us?

    we are their biggest market.

    plus we owe them a bunch of money.

    I think we can count on their nuclear umbrella.

  2. bobbymike (History)

    Although any support for a robust and modernized nuclear deterrent is welcome it should have been accompanied with funding language.

    Meaning Congress should have said (yes the Senate ratifies but the House will fund) we will only support a START follow on with adequate funding to renew and modernize the “new triad” Detailed funding proposals for upgraded nuclear weapons infrastructure and next generation delivery systems and advanced concept development for staying on the cutting edge of nuclear weapons technology.

  3. anon (History)

    Bobbymike, they already tried that in the Defense Auth bill. Problem is that the Congress cannot force the Admin to spend money in future budgets, and START ratification only happens once. There really is no funding requirement to implement START, as services absorb costs in their O&M budgets.

    On another note. Maybe the reference to China, and the desire to size forces to address “China threats” really means they want to reduce U.S. arsenal to 500 warheads???? Sorry, I’m tired this morning, so I’m feeling snarky.

  4. Stephen Young (History)

    I don’t think it is accurate to say Congress required to the Nuclear Posture Review to postpone the decision on the RRW. The mandate for the NPR came out of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee, which generally supported the RRW. Congressional opposition to the RRW was led by the House Energy and Water Appropriations Committee, which spent many words in repeated bills calling for a policy framework justifying RRW before it would agree to support it, but never mandated an NPR (and one could argue doesn’t have the authority to do so).

  5. anon (History)

    Stephen, the SASC mandated the NPR because it realized it did not have the ability to make its support for the RRW stick in the appropriations committees. It was too easy for critics to raise questions about why we needed to spend money on this if we didn’t even know why we had nukes or how long we were going to keep them (that may not have been the real reason for the skepticism, but it was a potent debating point). When Congress can’t reach a decision on a program, and make it stick (which was the real problem with RRW), then they request a study. Its tradition.

  6. Stephen Young

    Anon, that is not right. SASC supported RRW, but it was no where near as high a priority for them as it was for NNSA and the labs. SASC supported the RRW study, not necessarily producing the warhead. The NPR was mandated for big picture reasons – look at the language in the requirement. If RRW had been the priority, you would have seen it dramatically in the mandate; it wasn’t.

  7. Jeffrey Lewis (History)


    I remember it exactly like Anon describes it.


  8. Stephen Young (History)

    Wow, Jeffrey, that is the first time since I’ve known you that I can say, with close to absolute confidence, that you are flat out wrong. (That is a compliment.)

    The SASC mandate for the NPR was not about the RRW. Really.

  9. Jeffrey Lewis (History)

    Anybody else want in here?

  10. anon (History)

    Stephen, try it this way. Congress has been unable, for years, to reach a sustainable agreement on a way forward on maintaining/sustaining the nuclear arsenal. One of the key talking points that keeps undermining funding is the idea that we should not fund new programs until we agree on a role for nuclear weapons into the future and on the numbers and types we will need for that role. That’s the big question for the NPR. But, they decided to ask it again in FY2008 bills because 1) they didn’t like the Bush Admin’s answers, and 2) they couldn’t sustain an agreement on whether or not to fund RRW. You may claim they would have asked for the NPR just to answer the big question. But that’s not why Congress asks for studies. Studies are a delaying tactic, with the hope that the results of the study will push Members towards one side or the other so that a consensus becomes more evident. SASC and HASC generally wanted RRW, with some linkages; Hobson had soured on it. HASC and SASC hoped they could get it back if they had authoritative studies to point to that supported it. Hence the Strategic Posture Commission (sponsored in HASC) and the NPR (sponsored in SASC.) Unfortunately (or fortunately) the ball moved while they were waiting for the studies, the jargon changed and the goals changed. We are still looking for a consensus on how to move forward on sustaining/maintaining the arsenal, but a program known as “RRW” is no longer in the mix.

  11. Stephen Young (History)

    Closer, but I still disagree with the argument it was a delaying tactic. The bottom line for SASC really was that we needed a better policy than the Bush NPR. And they agreed with House appropriators that a policy framework would help solve the overall drift in the nuclear arena. It was not support for RRW that drove either HASC’s commission or SASC’s NPR; it was a real (and accurate) sense that a new consensus was needed on nuclear weapons to get anything done, no matter what it was.

  12. bobbymike (History)

    I consider myself a defense hawk but agree that the massive nuclear “Cold War” force needed to be dramatically reduced for obvious reasons.

    What I want to see is a force level agreement 1500, 1650 0r 2200 warheads, whatever, with detailed modernization plans.

    The Mitchell Institute for Airpower Studies has just released a force structure paper that basically concludes the US in on the way to a Dyad (ICBMs and SLBMs) Also, the Heritage Foundation release a Web Memo that basically says forget about START just improve and codify SORT.

    As I have stated there is really no reason, strategically, to reduce arsenals below 2200 warheads but, for me, the most alarming aspect is that over the last 15 or so years there has been no agreement on the modernization of the nuclear enterprise that will support the deterrent force at any level.