Pentagon Officials: Modernizing Nukes ‘Crucial’ To Security, Yet Obama Wants To Disarm

Russ Read | Pentagon/Foreign Policy Reporter

Several top Department of Defense officials told Congress Thursday a multi-billion dollar nuclear modernization effort is key to maintaining U.S. security, though President Obama plans to push for U.S. nuclear disarmament in his final months in office.

“Our capabilities as a whole have lasted well beyond their designed service life,” said Navy Adm. Cecil Haney, commander of U.S. Strategic Command in his testimony. “It is crucial that we modernize our strategic deterrence capabilities, which underpin our national and global security.”

Robert Scher, assistant secretary of defense for strategy, plans and capabilities, and Air Force Gen. Robin Rand, joined Haney during the hearing. Scher said a full nuclear modernization effort would cost the U.S. $350 to $450 billion over 20 years. While Scher recognized the significant cost, he defended his point as key to future security interests.

“While not a small amount of money, … the total defense budget in fiscal year 2016 alone was over $580 billion,” he said. “The cost for nuclear modernization is substantial, but it is not unreasonable for what [Defense Secretary Ash Carter] has called the bedrock of our security.”

Despite placing such importance on the nuclear arsenal, Scher also reiterated Obama’s plan for nuclear security: pushing for a world free of nukes, and maintaining “effective deterrence along the way.”

While the Obama administration has stated reduction in nuclear arms as its policy, the reality is that nuclear disarmament has actually slowed during the president’s tenure. A Pentagon census of the nuclear stockpile released earlier this year shows the Obama administration has dismantled fewer nuclear weapons than any other presidency since the end of the Cold War.

Despite Obama’s failure to enact a disarmament policy during most of his presidency, he reportedly is going to make some major changes to U.S. nuclear policy in the final months of his tenure. Included in those changes would be switching to a “no first use” policy regarding the nuclear arsenal, which would be a landmark change. Regarding modernization, it is believed that Obama may also create a panel which will look into ways to actually cut back on nuclear modernization efforts.

Haney warned Congress in his testimony the president’s proposed 2017 defense budge “supports my mission requirements,” but warned that “there are no margins to absorb new risk.”

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