Do we really want to give Trump a new nuke?
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On Thursday, the House is expected to vote on whether to give President Donald TrumpDonald TrumpScaramucci says he will contact FBI, Justice Dept. over leaked financial disclosure Dem rep to introduce measure requiring White House to disclose pardons Lawmakers push to toughen foreign lobbying rules MORE a new, more “usable” nuclear weapon. The clear answer is “No.”

Even President Trump’s own secretary of defense, Gen. James Mattis, remains unconvinced that we need this new weapon, which will cost up to $30 billion and could make nuclear war more likely.

The weapon in question is a new nuclear-armed cruise missile, called the Long-Range Standoff weapon or LRSO, which would be launched from new B-21 bombers.

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Gen. Mattis has stated numerous times that he is not sold on the LRSO and wants to wait until the administration reviews the project as part of its ongoing nuclear posture review, expected to be completed by the end of the year.

As Gen. Mattis told Congress in June about his position on the LRSO, “I'm going to wait until we have the study done and then I can let you know.”

This is a perfectly reasonable position. There are many good questions to ask about the cruise missile, and the Pentagon should carefully review the pros and cons before making a decision.

But here is the problem. The Pentagon wants to dramatically ramp up funding for the LRSO now, before the review is done. This makes no sense. It’s like doubling your bid on a new house before you decide to buy it.

The 2017 budget for the LRSO and its nuclear warhead is $316 million. For 2018, the Trump administration is seeking $888 million, an increase of $572 million or 181 percent. Huge.

Congress simply should not approve a funding increase of 181 percent for any weapon that the secretary of defense is still questioning. At a minimum, Congress should cap LRSO funding at 2017 levels until the posture review is completed.

Luckily, House members will be able to vote for an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that does just that. Reps. Earl BlumenauerEarl BlumenauerHouse committee kills amendment allowing VA doctors to recommend medical marijuana GOP Senator forces Dems to vote on single payer Overnight Healthcare: Senate rejects repeal-only ObamaCare plan | Ads target Heller, Capito over vote | Dem says ObamaCare repeal effort moving US 'toward single-payer' MORE (D-Ore.), John GaramendiJohn GaramendiCoast Guard OKs kayakers on river near Trump's Virginia golf course Dems blast river closure aimed at protecting Trump while golfing NRCC uses digital ads to target California Dems who opposed Water Act bill MORE (D-Calif.), Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) and Adam SmithAdam SmithOvernight Defense: Trump transgender ban sets off storm Trump triggers storm with transgender ban Armed Services leaders appoint strategy panel members MORE (D-Wash.) are offering an amendment that caps cruise missile funding until the posture review is complete and answers some key questions, like: Does the new cruise missile have a unique mission? Does it make sense to put a “penetrating” cruise missile on a “penetrating” bomber? Will the weapon be destabilizing? Will it make nuclear war more likely?

Indeed, the cruise missile has drawn more opposition than any other part of President Trump’s nuclear rebuild plan, which is now expected to cost more than $1.2 trillion over 30 years.

The list of LRSO critics is steadily growing. In 2015, former secretary of defense William Perry and former assistant secretary Andy Weber wrote that the weapon should be killed. They argued that nuclear cruise missiles were destabilizing since they could be “launched without warning and come in both nuclear and conventional variants.”

Perry developed the first nuclear cruise missile while at the Pentagon during the Carter administration and he has worked closely with Gen. Mattis. Now, Perry believes that the refurbished B61 nuclear bomb makes it possible for the Defense department to maintain an effective nuclear-armed bomber force without a nuclear cruise missile.

Leaders in Congress oppose the nuclear cruise missile too. In November, Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne FeinsteinLewandowski clashes with ABC host over whether Trump can fire Mueller Overnight Cybersecurity: Senate Judiciary reportedly drops Manafort subpoena | Kushner meets with House Intel | House passes Russia sanctions deal | What to watch at 'hacker summer camp' Manafort agrees to speak with investigators after subpoena MORE (D-Calif.), ranking member of a key appropriations subcommittee, and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, wrote that the cruise missile was unnecessary, “incredibly expensive and would move the United States closer to actually using a nuclear weapon — an unthinkable action.”

Feinstein and Smith argued that it would be “far wiser to invest in conventional standoff capabilities, including the Air Force’s Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile and the Navy’s Tomahawk cruise missile.”

Wherever one stands on the new nuclear cruise missile, all members of Congress should be able to agree that we should not ramp up spending on a system that is not supported by the sitting secretary of Defense. It is time to bring some common sense to this debate.

Tom Z. Collina is director of policy at Ploughshares Fund, a global security foundation in Washington, D.C. He served as lead editor of the recent Ploughshares Fund report, “Ten Big Nuclear Ideas for the New President.”


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