As congressional budget battles loom, 22 leading nuclear arms control advocates have joined in an effort to urge President Barack Obama to protect funds for nuclear non-proliferation and securing of loose nuclear material.
"We strongly urge you to make every effort to ensure that threat reduction and nonproliferation programs are funded at the Senate Appropriations Committee-approved level in the fiscal year 2012 energy and water appropriations bill," the arms control leaders wrote to Obama on Oct 27. "Based on reports from Hill staff, we are concerned that while the final funding level remains unresolved, the administration is not forcefully making the case for the Senate version of the bill, which in key respects is identical to your request."
The Senate will take up a series of appropriations bills this week as part of the process to fund the government before the current continuing resolution expires on Nov. 13.
The deficit-conscious House is looking to cut U.S. funding for nuclear nonproliferation programs well below the White House's requested levels. For one non-proliferation program -- the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), which secures loose nuclear material around the world -- the Senate's appropriations bill matches the administration's request of $508.3 million, while the House bill would cut the program by $85 million.
For a related program, the International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation program, the Senate bill matches the administration's request of $571.6 million while the House would cut $75.2 million from that program.
"Failure to approve the Senate-passed levels would significantly hamper U.S. efforts to secure vulnerable weapons and materials around the world," the arms control leaders wrote.
The signers included Ambassador Kenneth Brill, former U.S. ambassador to the IAEA; David Culp, legislative representative for the Friends Committee on National Legislation; Charles Ferguson, president of the Federation of American Scientists; John Isaacs, executive director of the Council for a Livable World; Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association; and Stephen Young, senior analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists.
On Oct. 11, many of the same arms control leaders circulated a letter to congressmen asking for help in pressuring the "supercommittee" to reduce spending for nuclear weapons in favor of supporting other priorities in the nuclear budget, such as programs to secure loose nuclear material.
"Much of this spending is designed to confront Cold War-era threats that no longer exist while posing financial and opportunity costs that can no longer be justified," the arms control advocates wrote. "By responsibly pursuing further reductions in U.S. nuclear forces and scaling back plans for new and excessively large strategic nuclear weapons systems and warhead production facilities, the United States can help close its budget deficit."
The White House did make the case for non-proliferation funding in its Oct. 19 letter to Congress, which threatened to veto spending bills that don't protect administration spending priorities.
"The administration urges the Congress to support robust funding for NNSA [the National Nuclear Security Administration] to continue the commitment to modernization of the nuclear weapons complex and to upgrading the stockpile set forth in the Nuclear Posture Review and reaffirmed as part of the New START Treaty ratification process," wrote Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jack Lew.
But arms control advocates are worried that despite these words from OMB, funding for nuclear reduction programs could be on the chopping block when House and Senate negotiators meet behind closed doors to reach a compromise on their differing spending priorities..
"Nuclear terrorism is the ultimate preventable catastrophe. If highly enriched uranium and plutonium are adequately secured or eliminated, they cannot be stolen for use in a nuclear device," they wrote. "No less than America's national security is at stake."
John Hudson reports on national security and foreign policy from the Pentagon to Foggy Bottom, the White House to Embassy Row, for The Cable.