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The FY2013 NDAA: If They Could Turn Back Time

The FY2013 NDAA:  If They Could Turn Back Time

Rep. Ed Markey (D) of Massachusetts. Photo Credit: Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP/File

On May 18th, the House of Representatives voted on the National Defense Authorization Bill (NDAA), or H.R. 4310.

The bill passed 299-120.

The NDAA contains language which would seriously damage the Administration’s ability to continue to negotiate reductions in its and Russia’s nuclear arsenals.  It would also impinge upon the Administration’s ability to implement the previously ratified New START treaty and to set nuclear weapons policy.  Finally, it would limit the availability of funding for the Cooperative Threat Reduction and nuclear nonproliferation activities in Russia.  A primary reason that these restrictions were included in the bill was to hold the the Administration’s feet to the fire in carrying out its end of the bargain to invest nearly $85 billion in a decade-long nuclear weapons complex spending plan.  That plan was agreed to in exchange for having the Senate ratify the New START in late 2010.

The NDAA restrictions, if enacted, would essentially turn back time, bolstering the U.S. nuclear weapons complex to a level more more well-suited to a Cold-War era arsenal.  It seems that pork and fear-mongering matters far more than setting a rational defense structure in a vastly different threat environment.  Oh, and let’s not forget all the nattering on about the national debt and the impending sequestration.  It seems that some in Congress are more willing to spend irrational sums of money on nuclear weapons we no longer need instead of keeping only what we need and then bolstering the comparatively tiny “discretionary budget” to invest in those things that help make our country competitive like, say, science education.

James Cartwright

General James Cartwright. Source: Wikipedia

What’s also clear is that certain members of Congress believe they know more than someone like former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Cartwright.  General Cartwright led a blue ribbon commission which issued a report last month pressing for “an urgent and transformational change in U.S. nuclear force structure, strategy and posture” over the next 10 years. It also recommended reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal to 900 warheads from the nearly 5,000 currently, which would cut spending on nuclear weapons programs by as much as $100 billion over the next decade. According to the report:

“The strategy inherited from the Cold War, which remains in place, artificially sustains nuclear stockpiles that are much larger than required for deterrence today…The actual existing threats to our two countries (and the globe) cannot be resolved by using our nuclear arsenals. No sensible argument has been put forward for using nuclear weapons to solve any of the major 21st century problems we face -– threats posed by rogue states, failed states, proliferation, regional conflicts, terrorism, cyber warfare, organized crime, drug trafficking, conflict-driven mass migration of refugees, epidemics or climate change. A large standing Cold War-like nuclear arsenal cannot productively address any of these dangers.”

The commission also included Republican senator Chuck Hagel, former chief START negotiator Richard Burt, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Thomas Pickering and former Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic for NATO, retired Gen. Jack Sheehan.

But the House knows better than those who actually commanded the nation’s nuclear forces, right?

The Administration took umbrage with the NDAA language, and issued a veto threat in its  March 15 “Statement of Administration Policy” or SAP, expressing its concerns with the bill’s attempts to constrain the President’s ability to reduce nuclear forces.

From the SAP:

“The Administration strongly objects to sections 1053-1059, which would impinge on the President’s ability to implement the New START Treaty and to set U.S. nuclear weapons policy. In particular, sections 1053 and 1055 would set onerous conditions on the Administration’s ability to implement the Treaty, and section 1058 would set onerous conditions on the President’s ability to retire, dismantle, or eliminate non-deployed nuclear weapons. Further, section 1054 raises constitutional concerns as it appears to encroach on the President’s authority as Commander in Chief to set nuclear employment policy – a right exercised by every president in the nuclear age from both parties. If the final bill presented to the President includes these provisions, the President’s senior advisors would recommend that he veto the bill.”

Congressman Edward Markey, stalwart anti-nukie, led a letter signed by 32 of his House colleagues protesting the NDAA nuke language and backing up the Administration’s threat to veto the bill because of these provisions.

“The Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) embraces Cold-War era defense policies and limits the President’s ability to make nuclear weapons reductions…this bill will make the U.S. less safe.”

The bill has since been sent over to the Senate Armed Services Committee where, one would hope saner heads will prevail.  But, with the shaky ground that the Senate’s elder nonproliferation statesman, Richard Lugar, is on with regard to re-election, and the uncertainty surrounding the outcome of the November elections, the House restrictions may have legs.



Jodi Lieberman

Jodi Lieberman is a veteran of the arms control, nonproliferation, nuclear terrorism and nuclear safety trenches, having worked at the Departments of State, Energy and Nuclear Regulatory Commission. She has also served in an advisory capacity and as professional staff for several members of Congress in both the House and Senate as well as the Senate Homeland Security Committee. Jodi currently spends her time advocating for science issues and funding as the Senior Government Affairs Specialist at the American Physical Society. The views expressed in her posts are her views based on her professional experience but in way should be construed to represent those of her employer.