House panel would block deployment of low-yield nukes

House panel would block deployment of low-yield nukes

The Democratic-led House Armed Services Committee’s version of the annual defense policy bill would prohibit funding to deploy low-yield nuclear warheads, committee staffers said Monday.

The inclusion of the provision in the strategic forces subcommittee’s portion of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) is unsurprising, given that Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithThe House Democrats who voted to kill impeachment effort Overnight Defense: Esper officially nominated for Defense secretary | Pentagon silent on Turkey getting Russian missile system | House, Senate headed for clash over defense bill House and Senate head for showdown on must-pass defense bill MORE (D-Wash.) has said he wants to “kill” the low-yield warhead.

But it is the first concrete example of Smith working to fulfill his goal of curtailing the U.S. nuclear arsenal since he became chairman this year.

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And it portends a partisan fight as the committee considers the bill, starting with the strategic forces subcommittee’s markup on Tuesday.

A spokesman for Republicans on the committee said Rep. Mike TurnerMichael Ray TurnerTrump taunts 'squad' in new video 82-year-old House Democrat asks 'The Squad' if he can join Merriam-Webster appears to jab Brit Hume for citing its first definition of racism to defend Trump MORE (R-Ohio), the subcommittee’s ranking member, and Rep. Mac ThornberryWilliam (Mac) McClellan ThornberryHouse and Senate head for showdown on must-pass defense bill House approves defense bill after adding liberal sweeteners Overnight Defense: Dems confident defense bill will pass despite party infighting | GOP chairman's bill would review US, Saudi ties | Senators briefed on sexual assault allegation against top general MORE (R-Texas), the full committee’s ranking member, “fundamentally disagree” with provisions in the subcommittee’s portion of the bill.

“Mr. Turner and even Mr. Thornberry view some of the provisions of this mark as a departure from the bipartisan tradition of the committee pushing those more contentious issues to the full committee, and they fundamentally disagree with some of the policy choices in the mark,” spokesman Claude Chafin told reporters.

In a statement later, Turner and Thornberry added that they think the bill "makes us less safe, hinders our ability to defend ourselves, weakens our ability to deter our adversaries, and therefore enables them to challenge us."

The Trump administration proposed the low-yield warhead, known as the W76-2, as part of its Nuclear Posture Review. The National Nuclear Security Administration is expected to finish production of the warhead this year, but the Pentagon still needs money to deploy them.

The subcommittee’s portion of the NDAA would also throw Congress’s support behind a multilateral agreement known as the Open Skies Treaty, which allows signatories to conduct unarmed observation flights over the entirety of others' countries in hopes of increasing transparency and reducing the risk of miscalculation.

Republicans have targeted the treaty over alleged Russian violations including claims that Moscow is denying requests to fly over some parts of its country. NDAAs the last two years, when Republicans controlled both chambers of Congress, have restricted funding related to the treaty.

But now that Democrats control the House, this year’s House Armed Services NDAA would fence off funding for any Pentagon effort to withdraw from the treaty unless certain conditions are met, including Russia being in material breach and coordination with allies.

The Trump administration is in the process of withdrawing from a separate arms control treaty with Russia known as the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. Arms control advocates also fear the administration will scrap another nuclear treaty with Russia known as New START.

Right now, there are no provisions in the strategic forces portion of the NDAA dealing with either the INF Treaty or New START, and a staffer would not comment on if those will be addressed by the full committee’s draft of the bill.

The strategic forces subcommittee is also in charge of space. But its portion of the bill says nothing about the Trump administration’s proposed Space Force military branch.

The staffer said Space Force will be “addressed” at the full committee level, without elaborating on how.

Updated at 4:11 p.m.