The aspiring chair of the House Armed Services Committee said here Wednesday he wants to scrap the Trump administration’s nuclear posture review, whip up a multilateral intermediate-range nuclear forces-style treaty, and take a run a making no-first-use the nuclear law of the land.
Speaking here at the Ploughshares Fund’s “Future of U.S. Nuclear Policy” conference, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) enumerated his three-point nuclear policy plan for the 116th Congress set to gavel in on Jan. 3:
“Totally redo the nuclear posture review is number one,” Smith said from the podium. “Number two is the importance of multilateral arms deals. We need more multilateralism. We should work with China and Russia to redo the INF treaty. We should certainly make sure that we maintain New START. The other thing is to avoid the miscalculation of stumbling into nuclear war. This is where I think the no first use bill … is incredibly important.”
After his speech, Smith told reporters that paring back the ongoing intercontinental ballistic-missile (ICBM) modernization programs at the Department of Energy and the Pentagon “would be one way” of furthering his nuclear policy aims.
New ICBMs — designs for which Boeing [BA] and Northrop Grumman [NOC] are maturing under 2017 Pentagon contracts worth a combined $2 billion or so over four-and-a-half years — will require new plutonium pits that the Department of Energy’s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) plans to build at expanded facilities in New Mexico, and new facilities in South Carolina. The upgrades at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico alone will cost more than $1 billion over the next five years.
Meanwhile, Smith also reiterated his opposition to the low-yield, submarine-launched ballistic-missile warhead the GOP-controlled Congress funded this year at President Trump’s request. The weapon, planned as a dialed-down version of the existing W76 warhead carried on Trident II-D5 submarine missiles, is the only nuclear-weapons program Smith mentioned by name here Wednesday.
“We’re going to stop the use of low-yield nuclear weapons,” Smith said. “It makes no sense for us to build low-yield nuclear weapons [and] I think we’ve got an opportunity in this session to reset.”
Some of the legislative grunt-work for that reset will be laid by Sen. Edward Markey (D-Mass.), who spoke at the conference before Smith. Markey said he will be refiling legislation that would if passed forbid the United States from making a nuclear-first strike. Markey also said he would refile a bill to ban the low-yield submarine-launched ballistic-missile warhead funded this year. Smith is a cosponsor on that bill, which will be null and void after the current Congress gavels out.
In U.S. elections last week, Democrats won enough seats in the House of Representatives to return to the majority in the House of Representatives come Jan. 3. However, President Trump has at last two more years in office, and a GOP majority that has already lined up en bloc behind his 2018 nuclear posture review still controls the Senate.
In that environment, Smith moved to temper expectations among the decidedly dovish audience here that a single Democrat-controlled chamber could make more than incremental progress trimming the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
“I would be being unbelievably dishonest with you if I said I have some vision, some plan, that’s going to eliminate nuclear weapons,” Smith said. “It’s a complicated, difficult world.”
A former staffer for former Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) made a similar point in a panel discussion after Smith’s speech.
In the 116th Congress, “it might be hard to build a consensus for cuts,” said Mieke Eoyang, onetime Kennedy staffer and current vice president for the national security program for the Washington-based Third Way nonprofit. “A divided government tends to push towards the status quo.”