Armed Services chair plots move ‘to kill’ Trump’s plan for low-yield nuke

The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Tuesday he plans to try to block funding for President Trump’s low-yield nuclear weapon program as part of this year’s defense policy bill.

“I would like to kill the low-yield nuclear weapon, I don’t think it’s a good idea, and we’re going to try to do that,” Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said at the Carnegie International Nuclear Policy Conference.

Still, acknowledging that Republicans control the Senate and Trump ultimately has to sign the defense bill, Smith said, “many others disagree with me on that, and we’ll see how that plays out.”

{mosads}Smith has opposed Trump’s efforts to build a so-called low yield nuclear warhead since it was first announced as part of the administration’s Nuclear Policy Review last year, but his comments Tuesday were his clearest yet about his plans now that he is chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

The administration started production on the first unit of the warheads, dubbed W76-2s, in January. Trump’s budget blueprint for fiscal 2020, released Monday, “completes development and production of the W76-2 warhead.”

The Trump administration argues a low-yield warhead is necessary to deter Russia as Moscow might miscalculate that the United States would be unwilling to use its current nuclear weapons in response to a Russian low-yield nuclear strike because the U.S. yield is too high.

But Smith and other opponents of the plan dismiss that argument.

“The argument is … ‘Well, if the Russians have a low-yield nuclear weapon, and they launch a nuclear weapon at us, and we don’t have anything but a bigger nuclear weapon, well then, what can we do?’” Smith said. “We launch the bigger nuclear weapon is what we do. That’s the deterrent.”

Smith also indicated he would like to change language that has been in the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for years that prohibits military-to-military cooperation between the United States and Russia.

The language was first added to the bill after Russia annexed Crimea in a move considered illegal by the international community.

But Smith expressed concern that the provision is preventing communication to avoid a “Dr. Strangelove”-type scenario.

“We should reopen the military-to-military conversation,” Smith said. “There’s the speculation that Russia has a policy of escalate to deescalate, the idea that they’ll use a low-yield nuke in a conventional war thinking that … they’ll win the war, but it will be a low enough yield nuclear weapon that nobody will do anything. And one of the things I would like to communicate with the Russians is, it doesn’t work that way.”

Smith has also questioned the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal. On Tuesday, he said he was not sure if the best way to reduce the number of U.S. nuclear weapons is the get rid of a leg of the triad or reduce the number of warheads in each leg. The triad refers to the three means of delivering nuclear weapons.

Smith said his talk on the nuclear arsenal has “freaked out” some of his congressional colleagues and the Pentagon.

That’s because of, he said, “the mere fact that I don’t want to spend as much money as is humanly possible on what they want.”

Again, though, he acknowledged the difficulty of getting cuts through Congress.

“At the end of the day, I know we have to pass the bill, and we’re going to work together to get it. But I want to spur the conversation, and hopefully get a more efficient, more effective Pentagon where it really matters where you spend the money,” he said.

Smith also stressed he is opposed to completely eliminating the U.S. nuclear arsenal.

“You cannot unring the bell,” he said. “And as long as that technology is out there, we need to be in a position to deter anyone from using it. And the only way to deter them is to have a nuclear deterrent.”

Tags Adam Smith Donald Trump Nuclear weapons

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