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 Ann WarrenGun control: Campaigning vs. legislating Booker defends middle-ground health care approach: 'We're going to fight to get there' Democrats spar over electoral appeal of 'Medicare for All' 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 SandersGun control: Campaigning vs. legislating Booker defends middle-ground health care approach: 'We're going to fight to get there' Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate MORE (I-Vt.), Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisHarris bashes Kavanaugh's 'sham' nomination process, calls for his impeachment after sexual misconduct allegation Gun control: Campaigning vs. legislating Booker defends middle-ground health care approach: 'We're going to fight to get there' MORE (D-Calif.), Kirsten GillibrandKirsten GillibrandAt debate, Warren and Buttigieg tap idealism of Obama, FDR Trump court pick sparks frustration for refusing to answer questions Klobuchar, Buttigieg find themselves accidentally flying to debate together MORE (D-N.Y.), Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerSunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate Booker defends middle-ground health care approach: 'We're going to fight to get there' Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate MORE (D-N.J.) and Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharSunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate Klobuchar: Investigation into Kavanaugh 'a sham' Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate 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 InhofeIs the Senate ready to protect American interests in space? Republicans grumble over Trump shifting military funds to wall Gun debate to shape 2020 races MORE (R-Okla.) and ranking member Sen. Jack ReedJohn (Jack) Francis ReedIs the Senate ready to protect American interests in space? Trump moving forward to divert .6B from military projects for border wall GOP lawmakers call for provisions barring DOD funds for border wall to be dropped 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 TrumpHarris bashes Kavanaugh's 'sham' nomination process, calls for his impeachment after sexual misconduct allegation Celebrating 'Hispanic Heritage Month' in the Age of Trump Let's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy 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.”