Lots of debate in the blogosphere among the kids about the Kyl Admendment and modernization.
Allow me to recap. Senator Kyl proposed an amendment that would have prohibited any reductions under START Follow-on until the Administration did a bunch of stuff he liked. A much-watered down amendment passed, along with some other provisions including reauthorization of the Strategic Posture Commission. At the end of the day, no harm done. All of this is explained in letter perfect detail by Kingston Reif, who is just blogging up a storm over at Nukes of Hazard.
Chris Jones, over at PONI, took issue with one element of Kingston’s post, arguing that there exists today a bipartisan consensus in the Senate that “modernization” of the nuclear weapons stockpile is a precondition for ratification fo the START Follow-on:
Kyl’s article in the National Ledger is far from a solo cry for modernization. He writes:
That’s why I offered an amendment that requires the President to deliver a plan to modernize our nuclear deterrent. My amendment, as well as a letter to the President signed by Senators Byrd, Levin, McCain, Kerry, Lugar and me, makes clear that modernization of the nuclear deterrent must accompany START ratification.
Those are some pretty heavy hitters, particularly on national security issues, from both sides of the aisle to agree on modernization measures as a necessary condition for START 2.0.
The problem is, that is not even remotely what the letter said. Here is the full-text of the letter:
July 23, 2009.
President Barack Obama,
The White House,
Dear President Obama:
We believe that when the START treaty is submitted, you should also submit a plan, including a funding estimate for FY11 (and out years across the next decade), to enhance the safety, security and reliability of the nuclear weapons stockpile, to modernize the nuclear weapons complex (i.e. improve the safety of facilities, modernize the infrastructure, maintain the key capabilities and competencies of the nuclear weapons workforce — the designers and the technicians), and to maintain the delivery platforms.
Jon Kyl, U.S. Senator.
John McCain, U.S. Senator.
Richard Lugar, U.S. Senator.
Carl Levin, U.S. Senator.
John Kerry, U.S. Senator.
Robert C. Byrd, U.S. Senator.
Modernize the nuclear weapons complex. Note, there are no indications about modernizing — whatever that means — the stockpile itself, which gets “enhanced” safety, security and reliability.
If there is any doubt that Kyl mischaracterized the letter, Kerry made a floor statement that made clear he saw enhancements in terms of Stockpile Stewardship:
I believe that this administration has the will to maintain our nuclear stockpile, and the successes of stockpile stewardship over the last decade have been greater than even its proponents predicted when we last considered CTBT. The report required by this amendment would offer an opportunity to explain to the Senate how far we have come, where we are going next, and how we will fund stockpile stewardship to ensure that we will sustain our deterrent posture even as the United States works with other countries to reduce the numbers and importance of these weapons worldwide.
The full text is in the comments.
The M Word
I wish, by the way, wonks would stop using “modernize” as though it has some technical meaning. If it has any meaning, we are modernizing now, though it seems clear that is not what advocates of modernization mean by the word.
I tend think think that the ongoing Life Extension Program counts as modernization — and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Replacing an old fuse with a modern fuse to give the W76 a capability it didn’t have before, to pick one example, seems like modernization to me. So do most of the other improvements in the ALT and MOD process.
I see clearly the domestic political advantage in selling a weapons activity as modernization, just as clearly as I see the international downside of doing so. Whether to use “modernization” is an issue of salesmanship and priorities; it doesn’t affect which option along the now famous “spectrum” of activities a policymaker chooses.
On the substance, to borrow Senator Kyl’s taxonomy, it is an open question about whether to refurbish, reuse or replace. For what it is worth, I tend to think that we ought to seek to preserve current capabilities at the lowest cost and technical risk.
Replacement, it seems to me, is unlikely ever to be the optimal option to minimize cost and risk, though I think that option should be available to policymakers as a last resort in the event that something goes terribly wrong in a LEP. WR1 certainly wouldn’t have met this test, given that JASON found certification could not be assured and there was insufficient data to assess the cost.
“But wait!” you complain, “NNSA never got to finish the certification work or complete a cost study because Congress cut them off at the knees!” Well, that is a fair point — though I tend to blame NNSA for getting all starry-eyed about building a new warhead before they got their ducks in row.
Advanced Certification and other activities ought to be completed so that policy-makers have options in the event that a FOGBANK-like foul-up turns fatal for a future LEP. (Say that three times fast.)
Is that moderization? Hell if I know. But my thoughts on the matter are outlined in “After the Reliable Replacement Warhead,” Arms Control Today December 2008.