The stakes couldn’t be higher as Biden prepares his nuclear posture review

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States in the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons will meet for the first time June 21-23, 2022, in Vienna.

This year, America’s long debated nuclear weapons modernization has reached a critical juncture as the Biden administration develops its nuclear posture strategy. Right now, the global trip wire is incredibly taut. The world is witnessing a new nuclear arms race as Russia and China undertake comprehensive modernization efforts simultaneously with the United States. Alarmingly, these dynamics greatly increase the risk of miscalculation and conflict. While there is a critical need to maintain a safe, secure, and effective nuclear deterrent system, aspects of current modernization plans are extraneous and unnecessary to maintain a capable deterrent to protect the United States and its allies from a nuclear attack in the foreseeable future.

As chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, I have studied this issue at length and worked with key personnel responsible for executing U.S. nuclear modernization efforts. This work has shown me that the risk for nuclear conflict is the greatest it has been in over three decades. After visiting the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming last week, the launching site for America’s nuclear bomb caring Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), I am more convinced than ever that we must have a serious and thoughtful discussion on our nation’s nuclear modernization plans.

Precipitous advances in nuclear weapons by the great powers have led each nation to view each other with concern, and advances in nuclear weapons are being complemented by rapid developments in conventional, cyber, and space capabilities by all sides. As the United States works to outdistance competing nations’ modernization efforts, it has risked transforming its modernization strategy into one that is predicated on dominance instead of deterrence. This creates an incredibly dangerous geopolitical dynamic that provides fodder for a modern nuclear arms race. The actions by previous administrations have led us down this path, and today our current nuclear arsenal exceeds our deterrence requirement. This trend will only be exacerbated if we proceed with the planned modernizations programs.

In addition to undermining global strategic stability, the United States’ current modernization strategy has caused the cost of our nuclear weapons programs to balloon. Estimates by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) state that America’s current nuclear modernization program will cost at least $634 billion from 2021-2030, $140 billion more than previous estimates. The GAO also noted that the current plan to modernize every part of the U.S. nuclear arsenal simultaneously is a recipe for schedule delays. We also have reason to believe it will lead to costly overruns.

Supporters of the current modernization approach tell us that the only choice is proceed full steam ahead with the current modernization plans or allow our arsenal to rust into obsolescence. This is a false choice. There are several straight-forward actions we could take this year to address these unnecessary and unmanageable programs. For instance, the Minuteman III ICBM program could be life-extended and its planned replacement, the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), could be paused. Air Force leadership has previously confirmed that an extension to the Minuteman III is possible before a new missile is needed. This single commonsense step would cost billions less than developing and deploying the GBSD through 2036. There are scores of adjustments like this that we can make to our modernization strategy that would save billions of dollars that could be better spent on priority defense needs, such as maintaining America’s conventional military edge over its adversaries.

Arms Control negotiations are imperative, and the good news for America and the world is that President Biden wants to chart a new course. In March, the interim National Security Strategic Guidance called for a reduced role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and to re-establish the U.S. as a leader in arms control. Additionally, President Biden extended the New START treaty for five years, which caps the amount of deployed nuclear warheads and gives us the ability to conduct intrusive inspections of Russia’s strategic nuclear forces. As a co-chair of the newly formed bicameral Nuclear Weapons and Arms Control Working Group, I, along with other members of Congress, sent a letter to President Biden commending this action, and encouraging more concrete steps to avoid a costly and dangerous arms race. These actions will all culminate when the Biden administration finalizes its Nuclear Posture Review, which will have lasting effects on U.S. nuclear policy.

The recent bullish and helter-skelter decisions pertaining to the United States’ nuclear modernization strategy made by previous administrations and Congresses are not set in stone. There are several commonsense changes we can make today to our nuclear modernization efforts to build upon the progress the Biden administration has made and free up much-needed funds while staving off a costly and deadly nuclear arms race. As the chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness, I intend to do everything in my power to chart a new course in our modernization efforts — one that brings us back to a policy of deterrence rather than one of dominance. This issue is far too important to get wrong, and all of us in elected office have a responsibility to address this issue earnestly and thoroughly before we cross a line from which we cannot return.

John Garamendi represents the 3rd District of California and chairman of the Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness.

Tags Joe Biden John Garamendi Nuclear weapon
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