Rogers amendment pushes back at Obama nuke cuts
by Tim Lockette
tlockette@annistonstar.com
Jul 23, 2013 | 3432 views |  0 comments | 56 56 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Mike Rogers is shown at an election-night gathering at Classic on Noble in Anniston. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
Mike Rogers is shown at an election-night gathering at Classic on Noble in Anniston. (Anniston Star photo by Bill Wilson)
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President Barack Obama wants Russia and the United States to cut their nuclear arsenals, but that goal doesn't have support from Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Saks.

Rogers plans to introduce a proposal in Congress Wednesday that could choke off any funding for implementation of the New START treaty, a 2009 agreement to trim the arsenals of both nuclear superpowers. Rogers’ proposal would also block further nuclear cuts.

"The president must come to Congress and explain how he intends to reduce our nuclear forces per the New START treaty before Congress can responsibly give him funding to do so," said Rogers' spokeswoman, Shea Snider, in an email to The Anniston Star.

The House of Representatives has been debating a defense authorization bill that would determine the Defense Department's funding for fiscal 2014, which begins Oct. 1. According to the Associated Press, House members have piled a number of amendments onto that bill, including amendments that would limit funding for any military intervention in Syria and block the National Security Administration from collecting citizens' emails without a warrant.

Rogers, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, has drafted an amendment to the bill that would block any spending on compliance with New START unless the Defense Department submits a plan to Congress explaining how the reduction will be done. It would also block funding unless the president certifies to Congress that he won't cut the arsenal below the levels called for in the New START treaty.

Neither requirement would immediately kill Obama’s plans for nuclear cuts, but both could make the president’s plans harder to implement.

New START requires both countries to limit their arsenals of deployed strategic warheads – that is, nuclear weapons mounted on missiles, in submarines or at bomber bases – to 1,550 each by 2018. Both countries have thousands of additional warheads in storage, but the numbers are far smaller than at the height of the Cold War.

In a speech in Berlin last month, Obama called for "negotiated cuts" in which Russia and America might trim their arsenals to about 1,000 deployed warheads each — even lower than the cuts in New START. Rogers' amendment would effectively block funding for New START if Obama made those additional cuts without a binding treaty, something Rogers and other Republicans have warned could happen.

Historically, most nuclear cuts in America and Russia have come as a result of a treaty. One notable exception came at the end of the Cold War in 1991, when both countries pulled back some of their nuclear forces without an official agreement to do so.

In a letter to Obama in May, Rogers' subcommittee said the cost of implementing the New START treaty would be around $75 million.

"President Obama is asking Congress for a blank check, and that's inappropriate for any president," Snider said.

Trimming the nuclear arsenal would save money in the long run, said Steven Pifer, director of the Arms Control Initiative for the Brookings Institution. Pifer said the U.S. spends between $30 billion and $60 billion per year maintaining a nuclear deterrent, he said. An exact number is elusive, he said, because some elements of the nuclear force, such as bombers, can also be used for non-nuclear roles.

Even if the nuclear arsenal were cut to the levels Obama proposed in his Berlin speech, the nation would be able to deter a nuclear attack, Pifer said.

“I’m pretty comfortable that with 1,000 warheads we could have an effective deterrent,” he said.

He noted that China has only a few hundred warheads. He said China follows a policy of “classic minimum deterrence,” which assumes most leaders would be reluctant to attack if it resulted in even a few nuclear detonations on their own soil.

During the Cold War, Pifer said, America and Russia followed a different policy, planning conflicts that included multiple waves of nuclear strikes.

“I think both sides are coming to the conclusion that that doesn’t make sense at all,” he said.

Hans Kristensen, an analyst for the Federation of American Scientists, said the New START and Obama’s proposals aren’t as dramatic as they may sound. New START has both countries putting weapons into storage, but not destroying them, he said.

So far, the Russians have signaled little interest in further reductions, said Kristensen.

They’ll likely warm to the idea, he said, because their own nuclear arsenals are expensive to maintain.

“At the outset, the Russians always say nyet,” he said.

Capitol & statewide correspondent Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.

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