Listen: Top Armed Services Dem worried about race to war

Listen: Top Armed Services Dem worried about race to war

President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE’s posture toward North Korea could “bluster” the United States into a nuclear war, says the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, who described that possibility as “the biggest thing we need to avoid.”


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Rep. Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithStumbling plutonium pit project reveals DOE's uphill climb of nuclear modernization Congress should control its appetite for legacy programs when increasing defense budget House panel advances 8B defense bill MORE (D-Wash.), the committee’s ranking member, believes North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is a “rational actor” who understands that any decision to attack the United States would mean he and his country would “cease to exist” in the wake of war.

“The fear that I have is that our president and potentially some of our military leaders could bluster our way into one,” Smith told The Hill’s Power Politics podcast during an interview Wednesday.


Smith, a committee member since arriving in Congress in 1997, said he’s opposed to pre-emptive aggression against North Korea as a means to prevent the country from achieving its goal of becoming a nuclear state.

“Are we prepared to start a war that could potentially kill millions of people, obliterate South Korea and Japan and cost us hundreds of thousands of lives in order to stop that?” he said during a conversation in his office. “I’m not. I don’t think any of us should be. It’s not acceptable.”

Smith told The Hill he wants to see the administration exhaust diplomatic tools and sanctions to pressure Pyongyang.

“They expect us to invade at any moment,” he added. “I think our response has to be very straightforward: We’re going to continue to apply economic and diplomatic pressure to try to get you to stop from continuing to build nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles,” he continued.

“But we are aware that it might not work. It hasn’t worked to date, and actually probably won’t,” Smith said, conceding that military conflict could potentially “be the best of a series of very bad options.” 

At the same time, Smith said he opposes the administration’s push to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal because “we can’t afford it.”

Rising federal debt and $1.5 trillion in new tax cuts enacted in December as part of the GOP tax plan render the latest proposals unrealistic in light of other needs, he said.

The congressman spoke to The Hill two days before the Pentagon released the administration’s Nuclear Posture Review. It proposed building smaller, less powerful nukes, describing them as “tactical” bombs necessary to deter Russia and other nuclear states using “tailored deterrence.”

In a statement Friday, Smith said the proposals take the United States “in a dangerous direction that will undermine our defense posture.”

During the conversation Wednesday, the congressman argued for “a national security strategy that realistically reflects the amount of money that we’re going to have.”

After weighing intelligence and military scenarios about the capabilities to counter multiple and simultaneous attacks, from Russia and China for example, Smith said he concluded, “The risk of that is very low.”

And what would be necessary to counter all those conceivable threats would be a “friggin’ miracle,” he added.

The United States has finite resources and strategic choices it must make, he said. “One of the things that I would not do is build as many nuclear weapons.”

“It’s in the trillions of dollars, and meanwhile we want a 355-ship Navy, we want a 570,000-person Army and a Marine Corps — we don’t have the money,” Smith said.

And that fact won’t change in the short term, he argued.

“The Pentagon spends all their time coming over to the Armed Services Committee, telling us, `We don’t have this; we need this, we need that. Just once, I’d like them to come over and say, `here’s where we’re going to save money.’ ”

Power Politics, hosted by The Hill’s Alexis Simendinger, airs Saturday mornings.