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Nuke Mod Funding Faces Hurdles: U.S. State Dept. Official

Sep. 26, 2012 - 02:46PM   |  
By JOHN T. BENNETT   |   Comments
The B-52 Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit, nuclear-capable aircraft, are shown Feb. 1, 2010. Securing billions of dollars to modernize the U.S. nuclear arms fleet will be challenging as Washington wrestles with its shabby finances.
The B-52 Stratofortress and B-2 Spirit, nuclear-capable aircraft, are shown Feb. 1, 2010. Securing billions of dollars to modernize the U.S. nuclear arms fleet will be challenging as Washington wrestles with its shabby finances. (Air Force)
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Securing billions of dollars to modernize the U.S. nuclear arms fleet will be challenging as Washington wrestles with its shabby finances, a senior State Department official said Sept. 26.

Additionally, the Obama administration plans a “persistent” push to convince the Senate to ratify a key nuclear arms treaty, said Rose Gottemoeller, acting undersecretary of state for arms control and international security.

The U.S. possesses 1,737 deployed strategic nuclear warheads that are fitted on land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and bombs dropped from Air Force aircraft. The Obama administration, in its fiscal 2013 budget request, is seeking a 5 percent hike for all nuclear arms activities.

What’s more, over the next four years, the administration intends to spend $9.6 billion to maintain and modernize the atomic arsenal, according to the Arms Control Association.

“We’re going to have to work with Congress on the … request for the infrastructure modernization and stockpile stewardship part to make sure that funding is forthcoming,” Gottemoeller told a forum in Washington.

She noted officials and lawmakers face a “very complicated situation on Capitol Hill” to find the billions necessary for the pricey work “with the fiscal cliff [and] with sequestration looming out there.”

The fiscal cliff Gottemoeller was referring to is a term used inside the Beltway to describe the perceived effect of a number of budgetary and fiscal laws slated to expire Dec. 31: George W. Bush-era tax cuts, temporary payroll tax cuts and tax reductions for business. That also is when the health care law President Barack Obama pushed through Congress kicks in.

Additionally, twin $500 billion, decadelong cuts to planned federal defense and domestic spending will take effect under a process called sequestration unless Congress produces a $1.2 trillion deficit-reduction plan that either President Obama or GOP nominee Mitt Romney would sign into law.

To keep the nuclear modification work funded, Gottemoeller said Obama administration officials must form “deep partnerships” with key lawmakers and aides. Despite the 2013 modernization plans, some hawkish congressional Republicans charge that the White House is blocking efforts to modernize the U.S. nuclear arms fleet.

“The president has really emphasized the funding for infrastructure modernization and the stockpile stewardship program,” Gottemoeller said. “He has been clear. We will continue to drive forward to get the funding we need for those.”

Meantime, she also announced the administration is preparing to make a new push to convince the Senate to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

That international pact would “institute a worldwide ban on nuclear tests and the use of networks to apply pressure against states like Iran and North Korea,” according to the American Security Project, a nonpartisan Washington think tank.

“Ratification would be significant affirmation to the importance the U.S. gives the international nonproliferation regime,” Gottemoeller said. “U.S. ratification would increase” global efforts to reduce the number of nuclear weapons around the world, she said.

If the Senate ratified the treaty, “states interested in nuclear weapons would … face international condemnation,” Gottemoeller said.

Treaty proponents believe if the U.S. ratifies it, many other nations will follow suit. A wave of such approvals would make it easier to pressure North Korea to give up its nuclear arms and convince Iran to cease its pursuit of them, proponents argue.

But some in Washington don’t buy the alleged virtues of the CTBT.

“Opponents maintain that there can be no confidence in existing warheads because many minor modifications will change them from tested versions, so testing is needed to restore and maintain confidence,” states the Congressional Research Service.

But Gottemoeller says verification technologies and tactics have improved greatly over the last decade, making evasion tougher.

The Obama administration has “no timetable” for a Senate vote on the measure, but made clear officials plan to meet with key senators and staffers in an attempt to gain their vote.

“We will be patient,” she said. “But we will also be persistent.”

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