The 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) recently passed by the House of Representatives includes several provisions affecting U.S. strategic nuclear policy. Republican Congressman Michael Turner of Ohio, chairman of the House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee, spoke about the NDAA, the modernization of U.S. nuclear forces, and future reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Carnegie’s George Perkovich moderated.

Maintaining a Credible Deterrent

Turner observed that as long as nuclear weapons exist, the United States must maintain a credible deterrent. He argued that indications about the Obama administration’s interest in further nuclear reductions is premature, given that the modernization of the current complex remains insufficiently funded and that the Administration has not announced a plan yet for implementing New START. 

  • The Status of the Current Nuclear Complex: Turner described the U.S. nuclear complex as “atrophying,” quoting a 2008 speech in which then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that existing facilities in the nuclear complex are “decrepit” and the “intellectual infrastructure there is in serious trouble.” 
  • Cutting Funding: Turner strongly supported the Obama administration’s budget request for fiscal year 2012, based on agreements reached during the New START ratification process, to spend $85 billion over ten years to ensure the reliability and modernity of U.S. nuclear weapons. Turner criticized the House Appropriations Committee decision to cut funding for the National Nuclear Security Administration by $1.1 billion. 
  • Reductions and Modernization: Turner argued that reductions should be more clearly linked to modernization; any further reductions should be contingent on full funding for and construction of the capabilities needed for modernization. 
  • Nuclear Security and the Energy Department: Since the National Nuclear Security Administration is part of the Department of Energy, its appropriation is handled by the Energy and Water Subcommittee. Turner contended that this is problematic; NNSA is a defense function and “nuclear weapons should not have to compete with water projects,” for appropriations, Turner said.

On Future Reductions

  • Non-Deployed Weapons: The United States maintains thousands of non-deployed nuclear weapons that have not been dismantled, which Turner described as a “hedge against both technical and geopolitical uncertainties.” He stated that redeploying these weapons remains an option that should not be squandered.
  • Reciprocity: Turner expressed concern that the United States would opt for unilateral reductions in NATO’s nuclear forces—against the will of Alliance members and undermining transatlantic unity—in the hope that Russia would reduce or relocate its stockpile, thereby foolishly sacrificing what he sees as the sole bargaining chip in convincing Russia to relinquish its tactical nuclear weapon stockpile. 
  • Nuclear Strategy and Future Reductions: The president should consult with Congress before and throughout arms control negotiations, Turner said. Rather than asking the Defense Department to conduct a review that includes options for further nuclear reductions, he suggested that the Obama administration should ask the agency what size nuclear stockpile is needed to ensure effective deterrence. 
  • Maintaining a Triad: Turner argued that the triad should be maintained and that switching to a dyad would undermine U.S. security. He also expressed concern that the administration will force a minimum deterrence approach that switches from counterforce to countervalue targeting. 

Turner emphasized that Congress has historically been successful in dealing with nuclear policy issues on a bipartisan basis and should continue to do so.