Thursday, July 12, 2007

Bush Administration Responds to Senate Defense Authorization Bill

The White House’s Office of Management and Budget released on Tuesday its “Statement of Administration Policy” on the Defense Authorization Act for FY 2008 (S. 1547). The Statement details what the administration finds objectionable in the bill (or potential amendments to the bill) and then offers a few suggestions on what should be included instead.

The Statement politely begins, “The Administration appreciates the Senate Armed Services Committee’s continued strong support of our national defense. However, the Administration has a number of significant concerns with S. 1547, which the Administration looks forward to addressing with Congress as the bill moves through the legislative process.”

(For highlights of Senate Armed Services Committee Action on the FY 2008 Defense Authorization bill relating to nuclear weapons and nonproliferation issues, see my previous post.)

While veto threats abound on a number of topics, including potential amendments on U.S. withdrawal from Iraq, Iran, and Guantanamo, the Statement also hits upon three areas relevant to nuclear weapons and nonproliferation issues:

Reductions and Requirements for Weapons Systems: A number of provisions negatively impact weapons systems and are objectionable, such as:

W76 Life Extension Program Cut: The $60 million cut to the $236 million request would significantly delay warhead production and, in turn, delivery schedules to the U.S. Navy. These funds are needed to maintain an adequate sea-based nuclear strategic deterrent consistent with national security.

Missile Defense: The Administration strongly opposes the reductions of $85 million for the U.S. missile defense site in Europe and the limitations on the availability of funds for procurement, construction, and deployment of missile defense assets in Europe, which would delay the fielding of missile defense assets to protect the U.S. and Europe against the emerging missile threat from Iran. The Administration is also strongly opposed to the $200 million cut for the Airborne Laser program, which would delay DoD’s most promising program to counter missile threats in their boost phase.

Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT): While supporting the continued voluntary moratorium on testing, the Administration strongly opposes a provision of section 3122 that calls for the ratification of the CTBT. It would be imprudent to tie the hands of a future administration that may have to conduct a test of an element of an aging, unmodernized stockpile in order to assure the reliability of the nuclear deterrent force. Absent such a test, the United States may not be able to diagnose or remedy a problem in a warhead critical to the Nation’s deterrent strategy.

None of these were considered deal-breakers worthy of a veto
, however, and there were no complaints for adding funds to either the DoD’s Cooperative Threat Reduction program (“Nunn-Lugar”) or the DoE’s nonproliferation programs.

It is also very interesting to note that while the Statement criticizes cuts to the W76 Life Extension program (and mentions warhead production), it does not include a specific objection to cuts in the Reliable Replacement Warhead program. It will be interesting to see if the same holds true for the administration’s Statement on the House’s version of the Defense Authorization bill, where deeper cuts are likely. Could be a story here…

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