Spending Bills Clear Congress, Despite Delays

After more than a few budget antics this weekend, both the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 3979) and FY15 Omnibus (H.R. 83), or “Cromnibus,” have cleared Congress.

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees completed behind-the-scenes negotiations on the NDAA on December 1st then moved on to a vote in the House on December 5th, where the bill passed 300-119. On December 12th, the Senate lent its approval to the bill by a vote of 89-11, marking the 53rd consecutive NDAA approved by Congress.

Analysis of the NDAA and Cromnibus

Monstrous names must follow monstrous documents, because the so-called “Cromnibus,” filed yesterday in the House, clocks in at just over 1,600 pages. Now I know you were really excited to sit down with a cup of cocoa and read through them all, and I …

Front and Center


An update on arms control, national security & politics from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

October 11-October 26 WHAT’S NEW:

An Evening in Boston
Save the date: On the evening of November 6th, we’ll be in Boston for a night of expert analysis, substantive discussion, and fun! We’ve invited Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, among other notable speakers, to lead our Election Forum and Reception on the Future of National Security. Best part? It’s free! We hope you can join us. Space is limited, so RSVP today.


Growth in Pentagon Spending Since 2001
We’ll start with the good news: the overall trend for the U.S. defense budget is on a downward slope. That said, the U.S. is spending $7-10 million per day on its new war in the Middle East against the Islamic State, meaning Congress may decide to up the ante in Fiscal Year 2015. Check out our reporton the center site to learn more. [10/20]

2001-2015 budget

Window of Opportunity to Change US Nuclear Spending:
“Folks are understandably confused by the juxtaposition of the exorbitant price tag attached to current plans to upgrade all three legs of the triad at once, and the waning U.S. budget,” writes Katie McCarthy on the Nukes of Hazard blog. That’s why, rather than modernize the triad, the time is now to reassess exactly what we need and what we can afford. [10/24]

But What About Grandma?
It’s a well-known fact that Western sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran were key in bringing the Iranians to the negotiating table. What’s less well-known is exactly how these sanctions have impacted your everyday Iranian citizen. Sarah Tully provides a few personal accounts of the effects of these sanctions and the domestic pressure that has arisen. Rouhani may have no choice but to stay at the table until a deal is reached. [10/21]


Infographic: Not Getting a Deal Won’t Make Us Any Safer
Remember BiBi’s infamous “red line?” Well, this week, one former US official put the kibosh on Israel’s “no deal is better than a bad deal” rhetoric. The highly respected former Under Secretary of State, Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat told the Jerusalem Post that failing to get an Iran deal should not be considered a success. We loved Eizenstat’s argument so much, we made an infographic. Don’t forget to share it on Facebook, Twitter, or by email! [10/24]

No Iran Deal Is Not a Success

Report Illuminates Potential Spending Catastrophe; Nukes Part of Problem

The original version of this post erroneously stated that Todd Harrison’s report states that nuclear weapons are unaffordable. The post has been updated to correct the error.

The U.S. Defense Department is careening towards a seemingly inevitable budgetary catastrophe. On September 4, Todd Harrison, the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessment’s well-respected defense budget extraordinaire, released an eye-opening assessment of this year’s defense budget request. Harrison’s report highlights the many ways in which the Pentagon’s current spending plans over the next decade assume the availability of billions of dollars that are unlikely to be available. In other words, these plans are a fantasy.

What the report also shows is that nuclear weapons and missile defense make up a significant portion of this planned spending – contrary to those who argue that nuclear weapons “don’t actually cost that much.” In fact, so staggering are the expected costs of existing plans to build new ballistic missile submarines and nuclear-capable long-range bombers that military planners won’t be able to afford them without gutting conventional forces.

Fortunately, the United States can scale back its current nuclear spending plans while still maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent – and save billions of dollars too.

Assumptions and underestimations = Simply not enough dough

According to Harrison, the Pentagon’s Fiscal Year (FY) 2015 “budget appears insufficient to support the defense program and strategy articulated in the 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG) and the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)”.

The Pentagon’s five-year spending plan, known as The Future Years Defense Program (FYDP), exceeds the Congressionally mandated budget caps contained in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2013 by $116 billion over the next five years and $168 billion over the next ten.

Imagine the defense department were planning to build a giant, nay, the MOST giant pizza ever made. While during the prep stage, there may be enough scraps to begin the process, in the end there just won’t be enough dough. That’s the situation the Pentagon finds itself in.

Harrison identifies a litany of unsupportable or unsustainable assumptions built into the budget request. For example:

1) The budget request does not fund Army and Marine Corps end strength and Navy aircraft carriers to the levels outlined by the QDR as necessary – roughly $20 billion short over the FYDP;

2) The budget assumes that some programs and activities typically funded by the base budget, can be moved to the Oversees Contingency Operations (OCO) account, which funds U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and is not restricted by the Congressional budget caps. Based on recent trends, the Pentagon may be expecting $10-$20 billion annually in OCO funding for non-Afghanistan related activities that belong in the base budget, totaling $50-$100 billion over the FYDP;

3) Historically, large acquisition programs are 20 to 50 percent over their planned budget estimates. Harrison approximates that the “acquisition funding included in the budget is likely to be insufficient to execute all of the currently planned acquisition programs”.

4) The biggest assumption in the budget is that Congress will allow the Pentagon to exceed the Congressional budget caps by $116 billion over the next five years. While the caps were raised modestly by Congress for FY 2014 and FY 2015, no relief appears on the horizon for FY2016 and beyond.

Nuclear weapons and missile defense spending atop the spending charts

In what might come as a surprise to many, the four most expensive Pentagon acquisition programs over the next decade and beyond are all exclusively or partly nuclear weapons related:

a) The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (some later versions of which will be endowed with a capability to deliver B61 nuclear bombs); estimated cost: $351 billion;

b) The Ohio Class Replacement submarine (exclusively nuclear); estimated cost $90 billion;

c) The Long-Range Strikes bomber (LRS-B) (the Air Force is pursuing a new long-range penetrating bomber primarily for conventional reasons, but the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates 25% of the costs as nuclear-related); estimated cost: $73 billion; and

d) The Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) (key aspects of which are designed to defend against nuclear attacks); estimated cost: over $151 billion.

While some modernization of our nuclear weapons is necessary, the current U.S. nuclear arsenal of approximately 4,800 nuclear weapons greatly exceeds U.S. security requirements. Moreover, both former and current military leaders agree that planned spending on nuclear weapons, which could top $1 trillion over the next thirty years, is unaffordable. Harrison concurs, notes that, given current budget constraints, the Pentagon will not be able to afford its currently proposed buys for the Ohio replacement and Long-Range Strike bomber without making cuts elsewhere.

Ultimately, Harrison concludes that “[i]f the budget caps are not raised by Congress, DoD will be forced to fund this shortfall by making additional cuts to force structure, personnel, acquisitions and readiness beyond what is proposed in the request”, meaning greater risk in implementing the defense strategy. Not only would scaling back current spending plans save billions that could be better spent on more urgent national security priorities, but doing so would not jeopardize our safety or deterrent capability.

26 Senators sign letter to Obama administration urging increased nuclear security funding

Earlier today (August 18) Senators Jeff Merkley (D-OR) and Feinstein (D-CA) released a bipartisan letter calling on the Obama administration to support increased funding for vital programs at the Department of Energy to keep nuclear and radiological materials out of the hands of terrorists. The full text of the letter is pasted below the jump. You can read the Merkley and Feinstein press release announcing the letter here.

26 Senators signed the letter, including 22 Democrats, 2 Independents, and 2 Republicans.

The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and Council for a Livable World strongly support the letter’s message and urge the White House to act on this bipartisan call for increased funding to prevent nuclear and radiological terrorism.

The Obama administration’s recent budget requests have not reflected the rhetorical emphasis it has rightly placed on combatting nuclear terrorism. The FY 2015 budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) reduces funding for the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) and the International Nuclear Materials Protection Program (IMPC) by 25% and 27%, respectively, signaling a major retreat in the Obama administration’s effort to secure nuclear and radiological materials at an accelerated rate. This is the third year in a row of budget cuts to these core nonproliferation programs. The proposed budget cuts to these programs are difficult to understand since the danger of nuclear and radiological materials falling into the hands of terrorists remains a serious threat.

Reducing funding for these programs increases the amount of time it will take to secure or eliminate dangerous materials that could be used by terrorists in an improvised nuclear explosive device or a dirty bomb. This is an unacceptable risk to U.S. national security. Important nuclear security efforts should not be slowed by lack of funds.

Fortunately, both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee significantly increased funding above the budget request for NNSA’s core material security and nonproliferation programs. However, it remains to be seen if these higher funding levels will survive and whatever final authorization and appropriations bill is passed by Congress for FY 2015.

For more information on the budget cuts, see our handy fact sheet. For a more detailed discussion of the Obama administration’s nuclear security request and the harmful impacts of budget cuts, see this excellent recent report by Harvard’s Managing the Atom Project co-authored by Nukes of Hazard alum Nickolas Roth.

August 13.2014

Mr. Shaun Donovan
Oftice of Management and Budget
725 I th St NW
Washington, DC 20503

Dear Director Donovan,

We write to request the Administration, in its next budget request, seek increased funding for vital nuclear material security and nonproliferation programs. We have been concerned that the President has proposed cuts to these programs over the last several years. We believe that unsecured nuclear material poses an unacceptable risk to U.S. national security and hope future budgets will reflect the importance of nuclear security efforts.

The President has said that nuclear terrorism is the most immediate and extreme threat to global security.” He followed these words by hosting the first Nuclear Security Summit in 2010. While we applaud the President’s leadership in spearheading an accelerated international effort to enhance the security of nuclear and radiological materials, we remain concerned about what the future would look like if we slow these programs. For example, through programs such as the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), thirteen countries eliminated all the highly enriched uranium (HEU) or separated plutonium on their soil since 2009, including all HEU from Ukraine. I applaud those efforts been slowed by anemic funding, it is possible that the United States would face the threat of weapons-grade nuclear material in the hands of Ukrainian separatists.

Despite these noteworthy achievements, significant work remains to be done. There are still
hundreds of sites spread across 30 countries that have weapons-usable nuclear material. Many of these locations have very modest or insufficient security measures. For these reasons and others. the FY 201 5 Senate Energy and Water bill increased funding for these programs above the President’s budget request by $136 million for the GTRI, $33 million for research and development, and $50 million for the International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation program.

Reducing budgets for agencies and programs that help keep nuclear and radiological materials out of the hands of terrorists is out of sync with the high priority that President has rightly placed on nuclear and radiological material security and signals a major retreat in the effort to lock down these materials at an accelerated rate. The recent spate of terrorism in Iraq, Pakistan, and Kenya is a harrowing reminder of the importance of ensuring that terrorist groups and rogue states cannot get their hands on the world’s most dangerous weapons and materials.

Given current world events, now is not the time to pull back on nonproliferation, a major U.S.
policy objective. Going forward, we urge you to work with us to ensure that critical nuclear
material security and nonproliferation programs have the resources they need. We seek your
support for a FY 2016 budget that builds on the Senate Energy and Water proposed FY 2015 funding levels to further accelerate the pace at which nuclear and radio logical materials are secured and permanently disposed.


Uranium Seizure in Iraq Sheds New Light on Abysmal Nonproliferation Budget

Iraq’s ambassador to the U.N stated in a July 8 letter to U.N Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon that roughly 88 pounds of uranium compounds had been seized by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) after the group took control of the city of Mosul.

The nuclear material was being used for scientific research at a university in Mosul.

Any loss or theft of enriched uranium, plutonium or other types of radioactive material is potentially alarming, as terrorist groups could try to use them to fashion a crude nuclear device or a “dirty bomb.”

Fortunately, the IAEA reported last Thursday that the material in question was low grade (either natural or depleted uranium), and thus useless for terrorist groups seeking to make a nuclear bomb or a dirty bomb. Furthermore, it is not clear whether the incident demonstrates a genuine interest by ISIS in acquiring nuclear material for a bomb, or whether the group simply looted whatever happened to be present at the university.

While many in the international community will be tempted to exhale a sigh of relief and focus their attention on the next crisis that will inevitably plague the region, the incident deserves attention because it sheds light on the larger and more important issue of nuclear security.

As Matthew Bunn pointed out in an excellent piece in the National Interest last week, the Islamic State’s newly found control over huge swaths of strategic territory in Iraq and Syria has opened the floodgates for the creation of a safe haven for hostile groups and countries to train and plot attacks. He notes that for having a giant, lawless playground—as the situation in Iraq and Syria is certainly shaping up to be—makes a huge difference in terrorists’ ability to execute a really complicated plot, such as building a nuclear bomb.

Such concerns do not exist in the realm of impossibility or fantasy. Al Qaeda’s interest in carrying out a nuclear or radiological attack on a Western target has been well documented. Al Qaeda operatives have made repeated attempts to buy nuclear material for a nuclear bomb, or to recruit nuclear expertise—including two extremist Pakistani nuclear weapons scientists who met with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri to discuss nuclear weapons. Today, ISIS or others who seek sanctuary in the group’s territory may well try and take advantage of the region’s chaos to go down a similar path.

At a time like this, we should be grateful that the Obama administration’s stated policy is to keep wayward nuclear weapons and radioactive material out of the hands of terrorists, right?

Well. Not really.

Unfortunately, in its Fiscal Year 2015 budget request, the Administration shocked many by running completely contrary to its stated non-proliferation priorities. The White House made it overwhelmingly clear through its request that it would not accelerate the securing of nuclear and radiological materials around the globe despite the growing need to do so.

Overall, the FY 2015 budget request cut $534 million in funding (relative to the enacted Fiscal Year 2014 funding level) for nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear terrorism prevention programs at the Department of Defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Some of the most critical and effective threat reduction and non-proliferation programs, such as the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI) and the International Materials Protection and Cooperation (IMPC) program, were slashed nearly eighteen percent. This is the third year in a row the NNSA budget submission has put core nuclear and radiological material security programs on the chopping block.

This year’s deep cuts to non-proliferation are particularly incomprehensible given President Obama’s statement a few months ago that “loose nukes” were the main thing keeping him up at night.

So while the uranium seizure in Iraq last week was not a nuclear threat in and of itself, the incident once again underscores the need to make securing dangerous nuclear material around the globe—particularly in those areas of the world beset by instability and conflict—a top priority.

B61s in Europe: Sharing is Caring

One of the more glaring head-scratchers about U.S. nuclear policy is that we continue to forward deploy roughly 180 tactical B61s in Europe despite the fact that the military mission for which these weapons was originally intended – stopping a Soviet invasion of Western Europe because of inferior US/NATO conventional forces – no longer exists.