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Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill

Senate Democrats push for arms control language in defense policy bill
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Eighteen Senate Democrats are pushing for three arms control provisions to make it into the final version of the annual defense policy bill.

The Democrats, led by 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenThe Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation Disney laying off 32,000 workers as coronavirus batters theme parks Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams among nominees for Time magazine's 2020 Person of the Year MORE (Mass.), penned a letter to the leaders of the Senate Armed Services Committee pushing for the inclusion of provisions that would block a low-yield nuclear warhead, urge the Trump administration to extend the New START Treaty and deny funding for intermediate-range missiles.

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Five other presidential candidates also signed the letter: Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation Clyburn: Biden falling short on naming Black figures to top posts Prepare for buyers' remorse when Biden/Harris nationalize health care MORE (I-Vt.), Kamala HarrisKamala HarrisThe Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation Biden can rebuild trust in our justice system by prioritizing prosecutorial reform Harris says she has 'not yet' spoken to Pence MORE (D-Calif.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandDemocratic senators urge Facebook to take action on anti-Muslim bigotry Social media responds to Harris making history: 'I feel like our ancestors are rejoicing' Ocasio-Cortez says she doesn't plan on 'staying in the House forever' MORE (D-N.Y.), Cory BookerCory BookerSenate Democrats reelect Schumer as leader by acclamation  Hill associations push for more diversity in lawmakers' staffs Sanders celebrates Biden-Harris victory: 'Thank God democracy won out' MORE (D-N.J.) and Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube suspends OANN amid lawmaker pressure | Dems probe Facebook, Twitter over Georgia runoff | FCC reaffirms ZTE's national security risk Democrats urge YouTube to remove election misinformation, step up efforts ahead of Georgia runoff YouTube temporarily suspends OANN account after spreading coronavirus misinformation MORE (D-Minn.).

All three provisions were included in the House version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), but are fiercely opposed by Senate Republicans and the White House.

The White House has threatened to veto the House version of the bill, in part citing the provisions on the low-yield warhead and intermediate-range missiles.

Supporters of the submarine-launched low-yield nuclear warhead, dubbed the W76-2, argue it 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.

In their letter, the Democrats argued the warhead “is a dangerous, costly, unnecessary, and redundant addition to the U.S. nuclear arsenal.”

“The W76-2 would reduce the threshold for nuclear use and make nuclear escalation more likely,” they wrote to Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeHouse Democrats back slower timeline for changing Confederate base names Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee Overnight Defense: Trump orders troop drawdown in Afghanistan and Iraq | Key Republicans call Trump plan a 'mistake' MORE (R-Okla.) and ranking member Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedTop Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper | Worries grow about rudderless post-election Pentagon | Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up | Pelosi says Esper firing shows Trump intent on sowing 'chaos' Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up MORE (D-R.I.). “It is designed to be a nuclear war-fighting weapons with a reduced yield that is intended to match the lower yield of some Russian systems. Supporters of this warhead argue this make its use more credible. In other words, it is specifically intended to be a more useable nuclear weapon.”

The ground-launched intermediate-range missiles, meanwhile, are being developed following President TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE’s withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.

The INF Treaty banned the United States and Russia from having nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles.

Trump officially withdrew from the treaty earlier this month in response to repeated Russian violations, and the Pentagon conducted a test Sunday of a missile that was banned by the treaty.

The House NDAA would prohibit funding for the missile banned by the treaty unless certain conditions are met.

“The United States and its NATO allies can and must respond to Russia's violation of the INF Treaty, but we must do so in a way that does not contribute to a renewed arms race or drive a wedge in our existing alliances," the senators wrote in their letter. “The House bill sensibly denies funding for new INF-type missiles until pragmatic diplomatic and strategic planning steps are taken.”

Finally, the senators pushed for the inclusion of a provision that expresses support for the United States remaining in the New START Treaty.

New START, negotiated by the Obama administration, caps the number of deployed nuclear warheads the United States and Russia can have at 1,550 each.

New START is up for renewal in 2021. The Trump administration has indicated it wants to expand the scope of the treaty as a condition of extension, by taking steps such as folding in China and other weapons not currently covered by the agreement.

The senators argued that New START both provides “much needed nuclear stability” and “affords the United States with invaluable insight into Russia's nuclear arsenal.” 

“Furthermore, extending the treaty for another five years would provide a foundation for the Trump administration to achieve its goal of negotiating more comprehensive follow-on arms control agreements,” they wrote. “Negotiating further strategic arms control treaties without such a stable foundations will be considerably more difficult.”