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Lawmakers question Obama's pledge to scale back US nuclear arsenal

 

President Obama’s pledge to cut the United States' nuclear arsenal by one-third is sending the wrong message to the global community, some Washington lawmakers said Wednesday.  

“Now is not the time to pursue further strategic nuclear force reductions,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., said following Obama’s speech in Berlin, Germany.

Inhofe was among several lawmakers who warned that cutting the country’s strategic nuclear arsenal by one-third would put America at a disadvantage against countries like Russia, North Korea and Iran. Inhofe said the president’s plan wrongly assumes that reducing the role of nuclear weapons would make the world safer.

“Instead, our experience has been that nuclear arsenals -- other than ours -- are on the rise, Russia defies us at almost every turn, efforts to curb the nuclear ambitions of North Korea and Iran are failing, and our allies grow increasingly uneasy about the reliability of U.S. nuclear guarantees,” Inhofe, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said.  

The president called for further reducing nuclear stockpiles, and ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons, during an address in Berlin on Wednesday. "So long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe," he said. 

In the near-term, if the Senate approves the U.S.-Russia proposal, Obama would reduce the current limit for each country of 1,550 by a third, which would potentially bring the warhead stockpile to as low as 1,000. 

Sen. Kelly Ayotte, a freshman Republican senator from New Hampshire, called the president’s decision to pursue additional reductions “misguided and dangerous.”

“A robust and reliable U.S. nuclear arsenal discourages nuclear proliferation and deters nuclear attacks on the United States and our allies,” Ayotte said in a statement.

Ret. Gen. Jack Keane told Fox News the country needs to do the opposite of what the president is proposing and instead should ramp up and modernize the program.

“Our (nuclear program) is in very bad shape and we have decorating capabilities,” he said.

Some lawmakers, though, applauded the president’s plan.

Democratic Rep. Adam Smith, ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, praised Obama's approach.

“The president’s announcement today will allow the United States to lead the way on nuclear weapons reductions in a manner that strengthens our national security,” he said in a statement, adding that Obama “clearly understands that a strong nuclear deterrent remains essential. We have, and would retain, the ability to destroy the world many times over." 

During his speech in Berlin, Obama said “this is the moment to begin the work of seeking the peace of a world without nuclear weapons."

It was the same message he told a crowd of 200,000-strong in Germany back in 2008 while he visited the country during his presidential campaign. 

Obama also said, upon his return to the U.S., he will ask the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty which has failed to make any significant strides in the Senate. During Wednesday’s speech, Obama also announced plans to attend a summit on securing nuclear material in 2014 in the Hague, an extension of the series of international meetings he initiated in 2009.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin seemed to question Obama’s sincerity and dismissed his statements.

“Obama’s calls to reduce nuclear arms cannot be taken seriously given that the U.S. is still ramping up its missile defenses,” Rogozin  told Reuters.  

At the end of the Cold War with Russia in 1991, America had deployed more than 10,000 warheads on delivery vehicles. Since then, the number has decreased to fewer than 2,000 warheads, and is slated to fall further in the next five years, after the new START Treaty completes implementation.

The current cost of the U.S. arsenal and its support infrastructure surpasses $31 billion a year.

In April 2010, the U.S. and Russia signed the New START Treaty which the Senate approved in December 2010. The new START superseded SORT-- the Strategic Offensive Reductions Treaty, which was signed by the two nations in 2002 and was scheduled to expire at the end of 2012.

Under the terms of the New START agreement, each side would limit its number of deployed nuclear weapons delivery systems to no more than 700. The number of deployed strategic nuclear warhead stockpiles were capped at 1,500.

Presently, the administration is completing a review of the size of its nuclear force as well as a review of the country’s employment policy.

The president has also said publicly that the U.S. may be able to cut its numbers of deployed and non-deployed warheads even more. According to press reports, the Pentagon is now reviewing the number of alternatives and that the White House is likely to shave the number of nukes even more to 1,000 warheads. However, Obama insists that any major movements would be done in parallel with Russia.

There are a growing number of countries who have access to nuclear weapons.

According to the Arms Control Association, China has 240 total warheads, France has fewer than 300 and Russia has 1,480 deployed strategic warheads. The Federation of American Scientists estimates that Russia has another 1,022 non-deployed strategic warheads and another 2,000 tactical nuclear warheads. Russia has thousands of others waiting to be dismantled. The United Kingdom has a stockpile of 225.

Part of the global concern over nuclear capabilities stems from the widespread catastrophic damage that could occur if the weapons were placed in the wrong hands especially in countries of instability like North Korea and Syria.