All 40 Republican senators and one independent wrote to President Obama on Wednesday reminding him that the current defense authorization law links modernization of the aging U.S. nuclear arsenal to further U.S.-Russian arms reductions.
The law applies to the not-yet-finished successor to the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), which expired on Dec. 16.
The 41 senators - enough to block formal ratification of a new treaty, which requires 67 votes - stated in the letter that they agree with the defense legislation’s language that says modernizing the aging U.S. nuclear stockpile is critical to further U.S.-Russian arms cuts.
“In fact, we don’t believe further reductions can be in the national security interest of the U.S. in the absence of a significant program to modernize our nuclear deterrent,” the senators stated.
A Republican Senate aide said the letter is intended to put the White House on notice that formal ratification of a new START accord must include specific plans and funding for upgrading U.S. nuclear weapons outlined in Section 1251 of the Democrat-drafted 2010 National Defense Authorization Act, which was signed into law by Mr. Obama on Oct. 28.
A White House National Security Council spokesman had no immediate comment on the letter.
The senators stated that a bipartisan commission headed by former Defense Secretary William J. Perry and former Energy Secretary James R. Schlesinger first drew the linkage between proposed new arms cuts under START and modernizing U.S. nuclear weapons.
The commission members “were unanimously alarmed by the serious disrepair and neglect they found [in the nuclear arsenal], and they made a series of recommendations to reverse this highly concerning situation,” the letter says.
Specifically, the senators called for full and timely life-extension upgrades to the B61 and W76 warheads; funding for “a modern warhead” with new features for life extension; full funding for nuclear stockpile surveillance; and full funding for timely replacements of the Los Alamos plutonium plant, the Oak Ridge uranium plant and a modern nuclear-pit facility.
The senators made clear to the president their view that the nuclear-modernization plan should be fully funded beginning with the fiscal 2011 budget and that the new treaty should be sent to the Senate for ratification with the plan.
The senators also stated that the president should follow the defense authorization provision that the new treaty “must not limit U.S. missile defenses, space capabilities, or advanced conventional modernization, such as non-nuclear global strike capability.”
Russia’s government has linked the new treaty’s arms cuts to limits on U.S. missile defenses.
Taliban insurgents recently posted on the Internet a propaganda video showing their version of a deadly attack on the U.S. military outpost near Kamdesh and the aftermath, according to a U.S. intelligence report.