Even in a government where Democrats will control the White House and at least one chamber of Congress, political consensus appears to favor continuing the nuclear modernization program the Obama administration started in 2016, the head of the House Armed Services Committee said Monday.
“Any effort to change that is running into very strong political headwinds,” Smith told reporters. “Which is a very sort of fancy way of saying ‘we don’t have the votes.’”
To help get the New START nuclear arms-control treaty through the Senate over GOP skepticism in 2010, the Obama administration agreed to a 30-year nuclear modernization regimen that would refurbish just about every warhead, bomb, delivery platform and carrier vehicle in the U.S. arsenal at least once.
The Trump administration added to those plans a low-yield, submarine-launched nuclear warhead — the W76-2 — and a moratorium on retiring the B83 megaton-capable gravity bomb.
These programs all started with a solid bipartisan consensus, and, for the most part, they still have it, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.) said Monday during an impromptu online press conference.
Since Democrats won back the House in 2018 and Smith got the Armed Services gavel, the loquacious, blunt, movie-reference-spouting congressman from Seattle has staked out nuclear weapons policy somewhere between nuclear abolitionists, including some in his own caucus, and mainstream congressional thought, which according to votes in recent years means backing the existing modernization program.
A regular speaker at disarmament-advocacy groups in Washington, Smith on Monday repeated many of his usual talking points: submarines are the most survivable leg of the U.S. nuclear triad, then bombers, then intercontinental ballistic missiles, the latter of which Smith believes might be removed from the arsenal without putting the U.S. at risk of a strategic checkmate at any point during or preceding a military conflict.
“We want more survivable weapons systems,” Smith said. “The lack of survivability of our weapons systems is one of our biggest problems. We need to look at where we have our nuclear weapons stored, where we have our delivery systems stored, how survivable are they?
“A power like the United States of America is going to have to have a nuclear arsenal that is strong enough to deter any adversary from ever thinking that using a nuclear weapon is a smart idea,” Smith said. “I just think that we could … have an adequate deterrent for less.”
But “currently, I am losing that argument,” Smith said.