Republicans Call For Expansion Of U.S. Nuke Arsenal

Kerry Picket Political Reporter
Font Size:

WASHINGTON — House Armed Services Committee (HASC) Chairman Mac Thornberry told reporters at a press briefing Monday the United States should expand its missile defense capabilities and build up its nuclear arsenal as a result of missile threats posed by Iran and North Korea.

“If you look at what’s happening around the world, I would mention Iran and North Korea, the importance of missile defense is increasing,” Thornberry said.

The Texas Republican went on to say, “I think there are real needs in our arsenal both in quantity and evolving the technology. Because remember–the missile technology is not stagnant. Actors around the world are building missiles that are harder to stop.”

He added, “That means our missile defense has to evolve too and so evolving the technology as well as increasing the number of sites and so forth is important.”

Thornberry’s remarks come at a time when Iran tested its ballistic missiles in defiance of a U.N. resolution and Defense Sec. James Mattis assured South Korea the U.S. would help deploy a missile defense system to protect its people from the threat of North Korea.

HASC member Arizona Republican Rep. Trent Franks, chairman of the missile defense caucus, released a letter he sent to the White House Monday night asking him to take action on building up U.S. missile defense.

“Iran’s missile test on Sunday reinforces just how serious and growing is the threat from ballistic missiles. President Trump has a tremendous opportunity to rapidly advance our missile defense system. The FY17 NDAA completely changed our nation’s missile defense policy from a ‘limited’ defense to a ‘robust’ defense, capable of defeating evolving threats. After underfunding our missile defense budget for eight years under the Obama Administration, our near-peer competitors are rapidly developing ballistic missile capabilities aimed at exploiting the gaps and seams in our missile defense architecture,” Franks stated.

The Defense Science Board at the Pentagon recommended in an unpublished December report, first obtained by CQ Roll Call last Thursday, that the Trump administration allow the U.S. arsenal to be capable of “limited” atomic war.

According to the report, such an option could be created by modifying current and potential arsenal to get a greater number of lower-yield weapons that could produce a “tailored nuclear option for limited use.”

“There’s one role — and only one role — for nuclear weapons, and that’s deterrence. We cannot, must not, will not ever countenance their actual use,” California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein said of the report. “There’s no such thing as limited nuclear war, and for the Pentagon’s advisory board to even suggest such a thing is deeply troubling.”

Republicans, however, contend that Russia is already experimenting with such weapons and the U.S. needs to have similar capabilities in its arsenal.

“We know from testimony that Russia, among others, are fielding new nuclear weapons with new capabilities for new employment doctrines,” Alabama Republican Rep. Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, told Roll Call. “We would be irresponsible not to evaluate what these developments mean for the U.S. and our modernization programs.”

Follow Kerry on Twitter