There’s a new nuclear weapon that’s intended to lower the threshold for nuclear war: the “W76-2” warhead, a.k.a. the “easy-fire nuke.” This weapon has been branded rather euphemistically as a more “usable” nuclear weapon—meaning it has an even greater risk of being actually launched in a nuclear strike, with all the catastrophic damage to human life that that entails. That’s certainly what the Trump administration wants potential adversaries to believe: that we would actually use this warhead in conflict.
Thankfully, we have champions in Congress who are working hard to prevent deployment of such a dangerous, “usable,” warfighting nuclear weapon. Representative Adam Smith (WA), the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), has expressed determination to prevent the W76-2 from being deployed.
Here’s what’s happening, and what you need to know:
In House Appropriations: The Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Pete Visclosky (D-IN) zeroed out $19.6 million Trump requested to support the W76-2 low-yield nuclear weapon. The Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, chaired by Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), eliminated $10 million of Energy & Water funding Trump requested for the low-yield warhead.
On May 21, the full House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Nita Lowey (D-NY) passed both the FY 2020 Defense Appropriations and FY 2020 Energy and Water Appropriations on a party line vote.
In House Authorizations: Rep. Cooper (D-TN,) Chair of the HASC Strategic Forces Subcommittee, zeroed out funding for the easy fire nuke from his draft budget, (also known as the “Chairman’s Mark.” This drew a sharp rebuke from across the aisle. In a statement released on June 3, Rep. Mac Thornberry (R-TX), Ranking Member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Mike Turner (R-OH,) Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, slammed Rep. Cooper’s draft budget, saying, “This is a partisan and irresponsible subcommittee mark that makes us less safe, hinders our ability to defend ourselves, weakens our ability to deter our adversaries, and therefore enables them to challenge us. This subcommittee mark is a significant departure from the Armed Services Committee’s tradition of bipartisanship. We hope that the full committee markup works in a continued bipartisan basis to support our men and women of the armed forces. It is clear that this subcommittee markup does not meet that standard.”
Then, on June 4, Representatives Liz Cheney (R-WY) and Turner (R-OH) offered an amendment to put funding for the low-yield warhead (and some other items) back into the budget, but they were defeated on a 10 to 8 party line vote. Funding for the low-yield warhead remained at zero.
On June 12, the full House Armed Services Committee debated amendments and at the urging of Chairman Smith, as well as PSR and our partner organizations, 100 percent of the HASC Democrats voted against Rep. Liz Cheney’s amendment to re-add funding Trump had requested for the Trident “low yield” nuclear warhead. Now, the House Defense, Appropriations, and Energy & Water Committees’ versions of the FY 2020 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) ALL have zero funding for the low yield warhead included. Appropriations bills are being debated on the floor this week, with a floor vote on a Cheney low-yield amendment expected on June 17 or thereafter. The Authorizations debate is expected after July 8.
Chairman Smith expects that the House Defense Authorization bill will be considered by the full House in July. At that point, PSR will be on the lookout for amendments to put funding for the W76-2 back into the budget, which we will need to vigorously oppose.
These are important moves that show that advanced-thinking members of Congress are serious about reducing nuclear weapons risks, and stopping the easy-fire nuke.
But Congress needs to hear from constituents like you: it is critical that the FY 2020 budget does not fund easy-fire nuclear weapons.
So what’s wrong with smaller nuclear weapons? Smaller MIGHT be better if the easy fire nuke was small. It’s not. Don’t let the term “low yield” fool you. The W76-2 is powerful enough to wipe out entire towns and cities in moments. It is a 6.5 kiloton weapon. That is 43% of the yield of the Hiroshima bomb and 591 times more powerful than the largest conventional weapon in the US arsenal, the ten-ton GBU-43/B Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB), also known as the “Mother of All Bombs,” which was only used once in combat, in April 2017 in Afghanistan. Remember the bomb detonated by Timothy McVeigh in 1995 in Oklahoma City that killed 168 people? The “easy-fire” nuke is 2,600 times more powerful than that bomb.