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Kyl Amendment Seeks to “Modernize” U.S. Nuclear Weapons

Posted by Laicie Olson on July 23, 2009

An amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Bill (S.1390) outlines a plan to cut funding from nuclear weapon reduction activities.  Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Joe Lieberman (D-CT) introduced the Amendment (S. 1760) on behalf of McCain (R-AZ), McConnell (R-KY), Sessions (R-AL) and other prominent members of Congress.  This Amendment attempts to both stifle nuclear disarmament negotiations between the U.S. and Russia and strengthen U.S. missile defense systems. 

Crippling Negotiations

The Kyl Amendment states that any funds appropriated “or otherwise made available” to the Department of Defense for fiscal year 2010 may not be used to reduce the U.S. nuclear stockpile  “pursuant to any treaty or other agreement entered into between the United States and the Russian Federation on strategic nuclear forces.” 

The amendment provides three stipulations that might allow the Administration to request an exception.  These stipulations are: 1) The treaty must provide “sufficient” mechanisms to verify compliance; 2) The treaty must place no limitations on ballistic missile defense systems, space capabilities or advanced conventional weapons; 3) The fiscal year 2011 budget must provide the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) with sufficient funds to “maintain the reliability, safety, and security” of U.S. nuclear weapons and “modernize and refurbish the nuclear weapons complex”. 

Further, the amendment requires the President to report, no later than 90 days after the date of its enactment, on the current stockpiles of both the U.S. and Russia.  In debate on the Senate floor today, Senators McCain, Levin (D-MI) and Sessions came out in support of stronger missile defense systems.

New Nuclear Weapons

Disregarding the obvious unfeasibility of providing classified information on both the U.S. and Russian nuclear stockpiles to Congress, this amendment contains more than a few disturbing elements.  Most importantly, the amendment calls on the much-repeated use of the term, “modernization.”  To “modernize” our stockpile essentially means new nuclear weapons, not no nuclear weapons, and has been classically used to justify the U.S. Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW). 

Though the RRW development program is essentially dead, the use of the term constitutes an ever-present danger.  This amendment allocates a significant chunk of money not only in 2010, but in 2011, to “modernize and refurbish” the U.S. nuclear arsenal, a goal that will, no doubt, go far beyond stockpile stewardship.  This fact is bolstered by the amendment’s focus on ballistic missile defense systems, kept separate from advanced conventional weapons “specifically designed not to carry a nuclear payload”.

An Unacceptable Request

In an attempt to both cripple the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) and bolster missile defense systems, the Kyl Amendment would constitute a major setback for nuclear disarmament and provide further obstacles to the successful implementation of any future nuclear reductions treaty between the U.S. and Russia. 

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