Khanna and other Democrats are wrangling over funding for nuclear power in the coming months, including cutting money for a new fleet of intercontinental ballistic missiles and new missiles launched by the sea.
“The signal this budget is sending is in full steam: ‘We love what Trump was doing and we want to do more,’ said Tom Collina, policy director at the Plowshares Fund, a leading disarmament group. “That’s not the message Biden was sending as a candidate. What we have here is that Biden is essentially endorsing the Trump nuclear plan, in some cases going beyond that.”
Emma Claire Foley, a researcher at Global Zero, a disarmament group, said the latest budget “essentially preserves the priorities of the Trump administration,” despite the new administration’s rhetoric about pursuing a more responsible nuclear posture.
During the 2020 campaign, Biden told the Council for a Livable World, an arms control group, that the current arsenal is “sufficient” and that the United States does not need new nuclear weapons. In July 2019, Biden also called Trump’s decision to introduce new abilities a “bad idea.”
The Democratic Party’s platform in 2020 also stated bluntly that “the Trump administration’s proposal to build new nuclear weapons is unnecessary, unnecessary and indefensible.”
The former vice president, who has long advocated for less reliance on nuclear weapons, warned against investing in nuclear expansion just days before stepping down in 2017.
“If future budgets reverse the choices we made and invest additional money in nuclear build-up, it is reminiscent of the Cold War and will do nothing to increase the daily security of the United States or our allies,” Biden said. told the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
But its budget plan now reflects different priorities. In total, Biden is asking for $ 43.2 billion for nuclear weapons, a slight drop from the $ 44.2 billion allocated in fiscal 2021.
This includes the modernization of the three components of the nuclear triad: strategic ground deterrence, which replaces the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile fleet; Columbia-class guided missile submarines; and the new B-21 stealth bomber.
The budget also proposes $ 609 million for the Long Range Standoff missile, which is designed to be equipped on bombers. It’s $ 250 million more than what had been projected by the Trump administration for fiscal year 2022.
More controversial, the Pentagon’s request maintains the low-output W76-2 warhead that is now equipped on submarines and sets aside $ 5.2 million for a new sea-launched cruise missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. . An additional $ 10 million is requested for the warhead in the budget of the National Nuclear Security Administration, a branch of the Department of Energy.
The low-yield warhead, which has less explosive power than other atomic bombs, was recommended by the Trump administration’s 2018 nuclear posture review, which concluded that Russia’s growing dependence on the consideration of these weapons in planning for war forced the United States to develop more “flexible” options. to discourage their use.
“Expanding flexible US nuclear options now, to include low yield options, is important for preserving a credible deterrent against regional aggression,” the study said.
The weapon is a new version of an existing warhead. “The modification had already been purchased and commissioning began in FY2020 and may already be completed,” said Kingston Reif, director of disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association. .
Trump’s nuclear review also argued for building a new version of a sea-launched cruise missile that could carry a lower-yield warhead, a class of weapons that has been taken offline at the end of the cold war. Biden’s research and development budget includes a provision to “design, develop, produce and deploy a nuclear maritime-launched cruise missile.”
The arms control and disarmament community clearly expresses its disappointment. “President Biden has led a campaign to overturn the budget and the scandalous policies proposed by the Trump administration,” the Council for a Livable World said in a statement on Wednesday. “However, this budget expands almost all of the nuclear programs offered by this administration. This is unacceptable. “
As a “long-time proponent of arms control and nuclear threat reduction,” the group said, Biden “can – and should – do better.”
Collina also noted the contradiction in Biden’s previous statements and the budget request. “Now Biden wants to fully fund all of Trump’s nuclear weapons,” he said. “Who is the real Biden?” “
A White House spokesperson deferred to the DoD. A Pentagon spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The decision to keep the low yield weapon is seen as particularly concerning as it would have been relatively easy to drop compared to some of the other major programs.
“I would say that the preservation of the low yield weapons project is quite daunting,” said Foley of Global Zero, who published his own review of alternative nuclear posture in 2018.
“There are a number of systems, like the low output warhead for submarines and nuclear cruise missiles, which Trump started under his watch that are completely unnecessary and would have been fairly easy for the administration to get rid of. Biden, ”Collina added. . “They were the fruits at hand.”
He also cited proposed funding increases for projects such as the long-range missile. “They added to the momentum,” Collina said. “The more billions you inject into these things, the harder it is to kill.”
Foley sees the budget as proof that the new administration is taking the view that the United States must match any weapon developed by Russia or China.
“We don’t need this capability match mentality, which drives this low yield weapon and drives the ICBM conversation,” she said. “If we think in terms of deterrence, we have to deal with the threats that exist, which we can do with a smaller force of bombers and submarines. We don’t need to have everything everyone has. It is not a strategically valid thought.
Progressive Democrats who have sought to cut a number of programs, including the GBSD, LRSO, the low-yield warhead and the new cruise missile, also see the current approach as “misguided.”
Khanna and Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Another vocal progressive, oppose Biden’s nuclear budget request and argue that the money could be better spent on national programs and efforts to fight the coronavirus pandemic.
Lawmakers are pushing legislation to ban funding for the GBSD program or the new W87-1 missile warhead and to shift $ 1 billion from research efforts on the new ground missile to the coronavirus vaccine.
“Spending trillions of dollars on the Pentagon budget has not stopped this devastating pandemic, and I will continue to fight for cuts to this perpetually inflated budget item,” Markey said.
Representative John Garamendi (D-Calif.), A senior member of the House Armed Services Committee, told POLITICO he also “strongly” believes that “the United States needs to change its strategy from modernizing to one based on domination to a strategy based on deterrence.
Other senior Democrats want to block funding for the new nuclear cruise missile, a version of which was pulled from Navy ships in the early 1990s and officially withdrawn in 2013.
Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), A member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Representative Joe Courtney (D-Conn.), Who chairs the House Armed Services Seapower Panel, have sponsored legislation to overturn any funding for it.
Van Hollen criticized the Biden administration for pushing the agenda forward, calling it “not only reckless, but costly and unnecessary.”
“I will work to keep extra funds from going into this business and to ensure that Navy funding goes where it’s needed most,” Van Hollen said.
Some supporters of the current nuclear portfolio have suggested that the Biden budget may simply be a “placeholder” until the administration completes its own review of the nuclear posture.
Tim Morrison, who oversaw the nuclear portfolio at Trump’s National Security Council and is now a senior researcher at the Hudson Institute, said he believes any major proposals to cut weapons programs will first require identifying a consensus within the executive before trying to convince Congress.
“The most dangerous place I think they can be is cutting down or downsizing programs before you can take these exams,” Morrison said. “It would show that such decisions were based on ideology. If they want to kill the triad, they need their membership. The last thing they want is for these military leaders to say that they weren’t consulted on any decision.
“This is a sustaining action while they are doing their exams,” he added. “We’ll see next year.
Collina sees it differently. “For me, if you went to a placeholder, you would freeze or take a break,” he said. “It makes me worry that the NPR is not an open review, but what we are seeing is some kind of government pointing their fingers, that they are not going to devote any political time to it. They let themselves be locked up. “