Last decade’s bipartisan consensus, that arms-control diplomacy and the refurbishment of the nuclear arsenal should walk hand-in-hand, does not exist anymore, according to a former Republican Senator who helped forge the consensus.
“Right now, we do not have the consensus that ostensibly existed back in 2010,” former Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.) said Wednesday during a webcast hosted by the Washington-based Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
Kyl spoke a few hours before the Biden administration, which is conducting a closed-door review of all ongoing nuclear modernization programs, said it would release at least a partial 2022 federal budget request by Friday.
Kyl is the former Republican whip in the upper chamber. He ran point for the resistance to the New START nuclear arms control treaty between the U.S. and Russia, working to condition the Senate’s advice and consent for the treaty on the GOP minority’s demand to overhaul aging U.S. nuclear weapons, delivery vehicles and production infrastructure.
Kyl essentially got his way on the modernization spending but ultimately voted against New START ratification on Dec. 22, 2010, citing objections to the treaty’s terms. The Democratic majority got more than enough Republican support to ratify New START in a 71-26 vote over which Biden, then the vice president, presided.
The U.S. and Russia extended New START Feb. 3, less than a month after Biden took office and only days before the pact was set to expire. But by that time, Kyl said Wednesday at Heritage, the U.S. nuclear modernization program stood no chance of wrapping up in the 10 to 15 years envisioned during the New START deal-brokering of the Obama administration.
Kyl blamed the Obama administration for not supporting 5 percent to 7 percent annual growth in defense spending that the ex-senator and others said was necessary to keep the planned modernization of all active nuclear warheads, bombs, delivery vehicles and carrier craft on the pace envisioned around 2010. He also grumbled about “appropriators over in the House of Representatives who were not particularly helpful.”
On the other hand, Kyl said, Congress was “somewhat helpful” during the Trump administration, when lawmakers granted Trump’s request to sharply increase funding for the civilian nuclear weapons complex without taking a concurrent bite out of other marquee programs such as the Virginia-class attack submarine.
Some left-leaning progressives in the House of Representatives have supported shrinking the U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile fleet by extending the life of the Air Force’s Minuteman III missiles, pulling some of those missiles out of silos to keep for spares and testing, and slowing or stopping procurement of the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) missiles slated to replace the legacy rockets starting around 2030.
Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the House Armed Services chair, supports a hard look at a Minuteman III extension and a GBSD pause, but has said this year that most House Democrats probably would not vote for such provisions.
Meanwhile, in a separate webcast hosted earlier on Wednesday by the Atlantic Council, a former Obama secretary of defense urged Congress and the White House to stop shuffling their feet about refurbishing the nuclear arsenal.
“[T]he world has deferred interest on nuclear capabilities and deterrence probably since the implosion of the Soviet Union,” Chuck Hagel, secretary of defense from 2013 to 2015 and a former U.S. senator from Nebraska, said during the Atlantic Council webcast. “So it’s time we deal with this, because we know what North Korea is doing, we know what the Chinese are doing, we know the Russians are modernizing their forces and we’ve got to get back on top of this.”