US President Barack Obama announced to a crowd in Berlin that he is set to propose slashing the US nuclear arsenal by up to 1,000 warheads, below the level already targeted under a treaty signed by the United States and Russia in April 2010. (Air Force)
WASHINGTON — US President Barack Obama upped the ante in a growing political debate, announcing to a crowd in Berlin that he is set to propose slashing the US nuclear arsenal by one-third, or about 500 warheads, in the coming years.
Speaking at the famous Brandenburg Gate, where US presidents from John Kennedy to Ronald Reagan have made dramatic policy speeches, the president said that while “we may no longer live in fear of global annihilation, but so long as nuclear weapons exist, we are not truly safe.”
After a review of the nation’s nuclear posture, “I’ve determined that we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third,” he announced.
He added that he intends “to seek negotiated cuts with Russia to move beyond Cold War nuclear postures.”
The head of the Republican-controlled House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon, R-Calif., was quick to shoot back in a sharply worded statement.
“The President’s desire to negotiate a new round of arms control with the Russians, while Russia is cheating on a major existing nuclear arms control treaty, strains credulity,” he wrote.
McKeon said that he has asked the president to more thoroughly investigate Russian violations, but has yet to receive any response from the White House.
A growing voice on defense issues and close ally of fellow Senate Republican hawks John McCain and Lindsey Graham, Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., called the proposal “misguided and dangerous.”
“What Obama sees as compromise, Putin sees as weakness. The US should negotiate with the Kremlin from a position of strength and make clear that we are not willing to ignore Putin’s continued support of Assad’s murderous regime.”
In its version of the 2014 defense budget passed on June 5, House legislation would ban further reductions in nuclear stockpiles on top of those already agreed to under the New START agreement (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) between the US and Russia.
“There is bipartisan agreement that faithfulness and an honest, open exchange are the heart of any successful arms control process,” McKeon wrote, noting that the president has threatened to veto any defense bill that reaches his desk that would limit his negotiating options with Russia.
An amendment to the bill offered by Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., would withhold $75 million for arms reductions outlined under New START “unless [the Obama administration] tell us what they’re going to do with it,” Rogers said.
Rogers also sponsored a measure that would curtail the president’s power to sign any new agreement with Russia to further reduce the US nuclear arsenal. A bid by House Democrats to knock down the two measures failed.
Signed in Prague in April 2010, New START ties the United States and Russia to a program that would reduce their nuclear warhead arsenals to 1,550 from 2,500 by 2018.
Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., also assailed the plan, saying that “with Russia, China and North Korea expanding their nuclear arsenals, and Iran working furiously to develop a deliverable nuclear weapon, it makes no sense to cut our levels by another third beyond” the New START agreement, which has yet to be implemented.
The steady post-Cold War cuts to the nation’s nuclear arsenal are dangerous, he continued.
“We simply do not know what lower numbers mean in a world with an increasing number of nuclear competitors.”
Hoeven’s state hosts Minot Air Force Base, a key facility in the US nuclear arsenal.
In what is likely a prelude of fights to come, retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, applauded the president’s speech, saying, “we hope to see further reductions in nuclear weapons which provide no added security and an expensive bill for taxpayers.”