Thursday, July 26, 2007

John Isaacs: "Democrats Controlling Congress: A Six-Month Assessment"

The Center's Executive Director, John Isaacs, wrote an article published today in Right Web, in which he provides a comprehensive look at how the Democrats have fared on national security issues six months after taking the helm in Congress.

While the article breaks down progress (or lack thereof) on a slew of national security issues, ranging from Iraq and Iran to National Missile Defense, Isaacs argues that Democrats have had the most success on the nuclear weapons front:

While working for a quick end to the Iraq War has consumed a great deal of Democrats' time, the greatest early national security successes came on nuclear weapons issues, particularly in the House.

Isaacs provides a detailed look at where we stand today on a range of nuclear weapons projects. Below is an abbreviated laundry list of programs he covers:

In making its case, the administration ran into a formidable buzz saw: Energy and Water Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-IN) and former chair of the same subcommittee Rep. David Hobson (R-OH). In previous years, the duo had helped to kill the Reliable Replacement Warhead's predecessor, the nuclear "bunker buster" (the Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator).

In hearings this year, the two representatives were scathing in their criticism of the Department of Energy's handling of nuclear programs.

The "scathing" criticism Isaacs refers to has led to major cuts in Congress for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program, including the House Appropriations Committee having zeroed out funding for RRW. You can get my take on Senate and House funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead program here.

PLUTONIUM PITS, NONPROLIFERATION: Success in Senate, Bigger Success in House
The House took a number of other positive steps on nuclear weapons issues. It cut all $24.9 million for a new plant to build plutonium pits and added almost $900 million for nuclear nonproliferation programs, bringing the total to $2 billion...


While the Senate Appropriations Committee also eliminated the plutonium pit production money and added $200 million for nonproliferation programs, it cut the funding request for the plutonium reprocessing program from $405 million to $243 million.

COMPREHENSIVE TEST BAN TREATY: Positive Progress, but Still Up in the Air
There has also been a tussle over the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), an agreement signed by President Bill Clinton and rejected by the Senate in 1999. In a bid to rebuild support for the treaty and prepare for its eventual reconsideration, the Senate Armed Services Committee adopted a non-binding provision in its bill that said simply: "The Senate should ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty."


Senator Kyl made it clear that he was less than pleased by the provision. In his July 10 speech, he strongly objected to the CTBT provision: " Tucked away near the end of this bill, very much in the fine print, is an unprecedented attempt to preordain the ratification of a treaty—a treaty already overwhelmingly rejected by this body—the CTBT. ... This sense of the Senate should be called just what it is—a sham."

NUCLEAR STRATEGY DEBATE: Democrats Succeed in Starting the Debate
There is one provision in several of the bills that is likely to survive: a requirement that the United States conduct a new assessment of its nuclear weapons policy to reflect changed circumstances in the post-Cold War, post-9/11 world.

News on Iran and missile defense has been mixed. There are many who fear that Bush, while at a complete loss on coping with the Iraq quagmire, will launch an attack on Iran before he leaves office. In part to respond to U.S. concerns about Iran, a U.S. proposal to build a third National Missile Defense site in Poland and the Czech Republic to guard against an Iranian attack has kicked up a furor in Europe. The House cut $160 million from the administration's $310 million request for the third site while the Senate Armed Services Committee cut $85 million. In both cases, Congress recommended a go-slow approach to the third site.


Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), while declining to reinsert the money, successfully offered a sense of the Senate amendment stating that U.S. policy should be "to develop and deploy, as soon as technologically possible, in conjunction with its allies and other nations whenever possible, an effective defense against the threat from Iran." After the amendment was softened from an earlier draft presented to the Senate, it was approved overwhelmingly, 90-5. Senators apparently did not want to appear "soft" on the Iranian threat.

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