The House of Representatives has taken one step toward preventing the deterioration of America’s nuclear forces.

It approved an amendment to the defense appropriations bill for fiscal year 2013 last Thursday that would prohibit the Obama Administration from using the funds provided in the bill to reduce the nuclear forces of the United States.

The amendment comes in the context of press reports that the Administration is on the cusp of completing the Nuclear Posture Review Implementation Study (NPRIS). Since the report has yet to be released, the action by the House represents a preemptive step. Preemptive action, however, is what is needed here.

Established Obama Administration policy in favor of eliminating U.S. nuclear weapons means that the NPRIS is certain to recommend reductions in U.S. weapons for the reason of advancing the disarmament policy at the expense of other policy considerations, such as strengthening deterrence, the survivability of the nuclear force, international stability, and the nuclear umbrella that helps assure the security of U.S. allies around the world.

The Administration will be tempted to use the report to leave the impression that these other policy considerations were addressed in the course of the study, when in reality they were subordinated to the disarmament agenda.

If, in fact, the study subordinated other critical policy considerations to the Obama Administration’s disarmament agenda, the report should be expected to contain a number of critical structural weaknesses, including:

  • A weak or contradictory policy for assigning targets for U.S. nuclear weapons;
  • A recommendation for a nuclear force structure that is nowhere near as survivable as it should be against an enemy strike;
  • A nuclear force structure that fails to complicate enemy attack options against both the U.S. and its allies;
  • A nonsensical recommendation to de-alert the U.S. nuclear force;
  • An insufficient commitment to modernizing the U.S. nuclear weapons complex, the weapons themselves, and the delivery means;
  • No recommendation for updating and strengthening the command-and-control structure for the U.S. nuclear force;
  • An insufficient commitment to modernizing the short-range (“tactical”) nuclear force in a way that bolsters the long-established policy of extended deterrence for the protection of U.S. allies and that reassures the allies about the U.S. commitment to their security;
  • A lack of integration of U.S. nuclear weapons into a broader strategic posture, which should also include conventional strike systems and defense systems; and
  • No cost-effectiveness assessment of the nuclear force relative to other elements of the overall U.S. defense posture.

Congress has little choice but to take preemptive action if it wants to preserve its policymaking prerogatives and the effectiveness of the U.S. nuclear deterrent. In the past, U.S. arms control and disarmament options were established in order to advance the effectiveness of the U.S. strategic and nuclear postures. The Obama Administration is likely pursuing the NPRIS in a way that turns that process on its head and establishes U.S. arms control and disarmament options without consideration of their negative impact on the overall effectiveness of the U.S. strategic and nuclear postures, or perhaps even explicitly at the expense of the effectiveness of these postures.

Accordingly, Congress is right to intervene now. Redressing the shortcomings of a flawed NPRIS only at a later date will permit significant damage to the overall national security of the U.S. and its allies.