House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Adam Smith Opening Statement

Full Committee Hearing on Outside Perspectives on Nuclear Deterrence (As Prepared)

Video link to Chairman Smith’s opening remarks here | March 6, 2019

More than a decade ago in a 2007 op-ed George Schultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, and Sam Nunn warned that “Unless urgent new actions are taken, the U.S. soon will be compelled to enter a new nuclear era that will be more precarious, psychologically disorienting, and economically even more costly than was Cold War deterrence.” And just last month, Senator Nunn and Secretary Moniz said in a joint op-ed “The US and Russia are sleep-walking toward nuclear disaster.”

“Given the President’s erratic tweets about having “a much bigger and more powerful” nuclear button, we need to ensure that we move away from a button-measuring policy that could devolve into a button-pressing policy.”

I would like to welcome Joan Rohlfing, Dr. Bruce Blair and Frank Miller to our committee, and to thank them for appearing today. Their testimony will be instrumental to our evaluation of the US nuclear posture and the role of our nuclear forces.

We are headed in a dangerous direction. With nearly 4,000 nuclear weapons today and plans to spend $1.2 trillion on nuclear weapons modernization and sustainment over the next thirty years with peak costs starting in ten years, bureaucratic inertia and fear of a nuclear weapons gap has led us down a path of reinvesting in every single nuclear weapons platform, nuclear warhead, and missile, retaining megaton-yield nuclear bombs that were slated to be retired, and increasing the capacity of the nuclear production complex.  Nuclear recapitalization will be a large portion of the defense acquisition budget for the next few decades, and will force hard trade-offs with the conventional weapons our troops need to defend this country and our interests day in and day out.

We need to invest in an effective and reliable nuclear deterrent, including in our nuclear command and control capabilities, but like everything else to which we devote taxpayer money, we must make smart choices.  The Trump administration is requesting new nuclear weapon systems and additional capacity that is not necessary for deterrence and may, in fact, be destabilizing.

As we expand the nuclear enterprise, I am concerned that we may increase the risk of nuclear disaster.  We are lucky we barely made it out of the Cold War alive, but we can’t afford to ignore the proven tools of dialog and confidence-building that made our luck possible.  Unfortunately, we do not have the plans in place to reduce the risks of miscalculation leading to a nuclear war, and the Trump administration is compounding the problem.

I particularly concerned that the Trump 2018 Nuclear Posture Review takes the United States in a dangerous direction that will undermine our defense posture. In addition to further exacerbating our national security budgeting difficulties, it lowers the threshold for using nuclear weapons and increases the risk of miscalculation and ambiguity in a crisis. Given the President’s erratic tweets about having “a much bigger and more powerful” nuclear button, we need to ensure that we move away from a button-measuring policy that could devolve into a button-pressing policy.

Adding new low-yield nuclear weapons is unnecessary as it disregards the large number of low-yield and non-strategic weapons which are already in the U.S. arsenal and which we are already modernizing. More importantly, it moves us in the direction of adding more options for nuclear warfighting, as opposed to using nuclear weapons for deterrence purposes. The “limited” use of low-yield nuclear weapons could rapidly lead to an uncontrolled escalation and all-out nuclear war. They are weapons of last-resort, not weapons to be used in lieu of conventional forces or in a way that would recklessly risk escalating to an all-out nuclear exchange. We must not forget President Reagan’s admonition that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.”

Increased emphasis on new low-yield nuclear weapon devalues our nuclear forces and jeopardizes our strategic deterrence capabilities. U.S. nuclear forces are second to none, and they ensure that we have an extremely robust, highly credible nuclear deterrent that is capable of responding to a nuclear attack against the United States or its allies with decisive force. Replacing our strategic capabilities with low-yield warheads on nuclear ballistic submarines, could, if used undermine the most reliable and survivable leg of the triad. We cannot put our most valuable nuclear forces at risk.

In addition, the Trump administration is abandoning decades of nuclear arms control.  This approach could remove any legal barrier, and drive incentives, for Russia to increase its number of nuclear weapons and feed a dangerous nuclear arms race.  Trump recently announced withdrawal of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and is now considering whether to abandon the US-Russian New START Treaty that limits the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons to 1550 on each side.  Dismissing Reagan’s legacy on arms control — and associated verification measures to ensure Russian compliance — undermines not only US security but also that of our allies.

Moreover, there is a renewed push in some circles for a return to nuclear testing. We are far from President Obama’s 2010 vision of ratifying a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty that would ban nuclear testing while locking in US advantage.

We must move forward with a robust posture that deters adversarial aggression.  This approach must be pursued in parallel with meaningful efforts to reduce the risk of nuclear war.  As was envisioned in the context for the bipartisan consensus struck during the Obama Administration, we must focus on ways to reduce the dangers of nuclear weapons and the risk of an arms race, demonstrate leadership toward meaningful nuclear weapons reductions, increase transparency, reevaluate whether we could reduce the number of deployed inter-continental ballistic missile, and reduce the risk of mistakes in a crisis.  I have advocated establishing direct military-to-military dialogues and regular high-level engagements with Russia, China, and North Korea to reduce the risks of miscalculation that could lead to nuclear war.  In addition, adopting a U.S. policy against using nuclear weapons first would also reduce the risk of miscalculation while ensuring we retain the capacity to deter and respond to any nuclear attack on the United States or its allies. We should also revisit the necessity of a launch-on-warning posture, as Senator Sam Nunn, Secretary George Shultz and Secretary William Perry have recommended. These measures should be a top priority, and the misguided recommendations of the Nuclear Posture Review only make them more urgent.

It is time for a serious dialog on these important issues. I look forward to receiving our witnesses’ testimony to inform this much-needed public debate.

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