WASHINGTON – There is little hope for the non-proliferation community to slow down nuclear weapons modernization in the next few years, a Democratic lawmaker said Wednesday.
Rep. John Garamendi, a California Democrat who sits on the House Armed Services Strategic Forces subcommittee, said he expects his colleagues to push ahead with the full nuclear modernization plan.
"I think the reality is that the momentum that has been built into the nuclear modernization issue, in all of its elements, is significant and in the near-term, that is this year -- this year's appropriation, continuing resolution, omnibus, whatever it happens to be -- will further that momentum and push it one more year forward, creating even greater momentum," he said.
"So at least in the short term, that is this year and next year, I don't think that is going to change," Garamendi added. "We are on a trajectory with a lot of momentum behind it that will carry these issues forward."
Under the Obama administration, the Pentagon is working towards modernizing its fleets of nuclear-capable submarines, bombers, ICBMs and cruise missiles, as well as updating nuclear warheads. It is a major effort that budget experts warn could eat the Pentagon's funding over the next decade, but one that Secretary of Defense Ash Carter has called the "bedrock" of American security.
The congressman was speaking at an event hosted by the Ploughshares Fund, a nuclear non-proliferation group that Wednesday presented a new report on nuclear advice for the next president. Garamendi praised the group’s work, but expressed doubt that it would penetrate with either the current Congress or the new administration of Donald Trump.
"It needs to be studied. It needs to be taken into account in the days ahead," he said. "Having said that I have a pretty clear notion that it won’t be, and that concerns me greatly. I’m really, really concerned that the ideas, the direction that are put forth here may very well not be looked at."
Garamendi, who predicted the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) would get done in the next two to three weeks, also sounded the alarm that unless Congress reverses course on supporting broad nuclear modernization, there would be wide-reaching implications.
"The United States, Russia and China are clearly marching down the path of a new nuclear arms race," he warned. "Here we go again. Tit for tat, escalate here, escalate there. That’s where we’re going folks, as sure as we’re all in this room, that’s exactly where we’re going."
Aaron Mehta was deputy editor and senior Pentagon correspondent for Defense News, covering policy, strategy and acquisition at the highest levels of the Defense Department and its international partners.