The House Armed Services Committee’s version of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) builds upon good policies some Members of Congress embraced in previous years.
The bill upholds the policy of limiting exchanges on ballistic missile defense information with Russia and does not provide funding for such activities. Indeed, it emphasizes the role of NATO in the face of Russia’s blatant aggression in Ukraine. The bill endorses the Administration’s policy to limit military-to-military relations with Moscow and the National Nuclear Security Administration’s military contact and cooperation.
The bill places an increased emphasis on proficiency and education in nuclear weapons policy for both U.S. military personnel and decision makers in NATO. To accomplish the latter, it calls for an establishment of a NATO center of excellence on deterrence. This would be a great first step to revive interest in nuclear weapons policy issues, especially as Moscow is violating the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.
The bill requires a report on options for deploying U.S. dual-capable aircraft in states within range of the Russian INF-class systems. The report would also look into potential locations for tactical nuclear weapons storage and security system vaults in East Asia and Europe to reduce the response time and increase proximity to potential threats.
The committee also recognized the inadequacy of the President’s budget request for the National Nuclear Security Administration weapons activities. The committee authorized $8.5 billion for these activities (an increase of $147.7 million). While this is still below President Obama’s not-so-enduring commitment to nuclear weapons modernization that he made to get the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty ratified, the increase signals the importance that the committee assigns to the role of U.S. nuclear weapons in national security. Equally important is the committee’s endorsement of reviving the capabilities to assess foreign nuclear weapons programs, especially since, unlike the U.S., all the other weapons states are vigorously modernizing their nuclear capabilities.
On missile defense, the NDAA provides $20 million for planning activities related to the establishment of an additional East Coast ballistic missile defense interceptor site. Currently, the U.S. is lagging behind the threat, and it is essential that it improve its chances of shooting down incoming ballistic missiles. In addition to considering a ground-based missile defense site, the government should also consider modifying Aegis missile-defense-capable ships for a homeland ballistic missile defense role.
Congress can correct the Administration’s tepid support of the missile defense program. Its support for Israel’s Iron Dome air defense program, which was increased to $351 billion (by $175 million from the level set in the President’s budget request), has been unwavering over the years. The bill also endorses Israeli co-production of the system with the U.S.
The NDAA’s prohibition on integrating the Chinese missile defense systems into the U.S. missile defense network is a prudent policy born out of concern for Chinese cyber activities. The task before Senate leaders is to maintain and strengthen some of these good policies.