Bipartisan congressional task force recommends extending nuclear treaty with Russia
A bipartisan congressional task force is recommending the extension of a nuclear arms treaty between the United States and Russia that is set to expire in February.
The recommendation to extend the New START treaty was one of several in the final report of the Future of Defense Task Force, a panel of eight House Armed Services Committee members from both parties tasked with examining long-term strategy to meet emerging threats.
“With a rapidly approaching expiration date, the United States and Russia should extend the highly successful Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) while negotiating a follow-on agreement,” the task force wrote in its 87-page report released Tuesday after a year of work.
The recommendation comes as the Trump administration has been ramping up pressure on Russia to meet its demands on conditions for extending the treaty.
The New START treaty caps the number of deployed nuclear warheads the United States and Russia can have at 1,550 a piece. It also places limits on weapons capable of delivering the warheads and establishes a verification regime.
The treaty is set to expire in February, but has the option of a five-year extension without needing new approval from either country’s legislature.
President Trump’s arms control envoy, Marshall Billingslea, has said he would recommend extending the pact if Moscow also agrees to a separate political framework that pledges China’s participation in future arms control talks and an expansion of the treaty to include more classes of weapons. Billingslea recently said U.S. demands would increase after the November presidential election.
Arms control advocates fear the Trump administration is making unreasonable demands to run out the clock, warning their real intention is to scrap the treaty.
In the task force report, lawmakers noted that New START remains the last treaty constraining the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals after the Trump administration withdrew from the separate Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 2019.
“Its lapse at a time when China and North Korea (and potentially Iran) are increasing their nuclear capabilities and arsenals would send a harmful message to adversaries and partners alike while further undermining the global Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT),” the report added.
The recommendation on New START came in a broader call for strengthening existing alliance and security agreements while forging “new and creative partnerships,” such as increasing cooperation with nontraditional allies in Asia and Africa.
The task force was co-chaired by Reps. Seth Moulton (D-Mass.) and Jim Banks (R-Ind.), and consisted of Reps. Susan Davis (D-Calif), Chrissy Houlahan (D-Pa.), Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), Scott DesJarlais (R-Tenn.), Paul Mitchell (R-Mich.) and Michael Waltz (R-Fla.).
“America needs a plan to confront the dual threats of Russia’s aggression and China’s rise,” Moulton said in a statement. “This is it. For the first time, there is agreement among both parties in Congress about the path forward, we can take it no matter the outcome of the November election.”
In a separate statement, Banks said the report “details a vision of the future of defense –specifically a smart, whole-of-nation strategy addressing the rise of China — and I will be dedicating the rest of my career on the House Armed Services Committee to making sure it comes to fruition.”
The report said Russia poses the most immediate threat to the United States because of its nuclear arsenal and efforts to undermine Western democratic governments. But, the report added, China represents the most significant economic and national security threat to the United States over the next 20 to 30 years.
The report also highlighted as a threat divisions within the United States that “have become incubators for disinformation campaigns and subversion by the Russian and Chinese governments, who have mastered the ability to weaponize a free and open society.”
It also identified climate change as a “threat multiplier,” something Defense officials have also said but have tip-toed around amid Trump’s approach to climate change.
To counter emerging threats, the report recommends several sweeping reviews, including studying all legacy platforms to determine their relevance in 50 years and requiring every major defense acquisition program evaluate using artificial intelligence.
“Using the Manhattan Project as a model, the United States must undertake and win the artificial intelligence race by leading in the invention and deployment of AI while establishing the standards for its public and private use,” the report said.
The report also called for a reconfiguration of the national security structure that was built “primarily to focus on the rise of communism.” Under the reimagined structure, according to the report, the State Department would partner with the Pentagon “to ensure diplomatic parity and leadership.”
The report went on to say that the United States should lead the formation and ratification of a global treaty on artificial intelligence; expand voluntary national service programs because “an engaged and informed electorate is essential for a republic to endure”; commit to spending at least one percent of the country’s gross domestic product on government-supported research and development in order to increase investment in foundational science and technology research; and increase funding for Pentagon innovation projects such as the Defense Innovation Unit, AFWERX and Army Futures Command.
It also called for Congress to pass an updated authorization for the use of military force (AUMF). The United States relies largely on the 2001 AUMF passed after the 9/11 attacks for legal authority for military operations around the world.
“Emerging threat streams require the United States to make strategic choices and prioritize its military actions,” the report said. “Revising the AUMF ensures that the United States can operate in a dynamic threat environment while signaling to both allies and adversaries that America is committed to the lawful pursuit of its military endeavors.”