Committee on Armed Services
Hearing on the Results of the 2001 Nuclear Posture Review
February 14, 2002

Opening Statement of Chairman Senator Carl Levin

The Committee meets this morning to receive testimony on the results of the 2001 congressionally-mandated Nuclear Posture Review from Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith, the Administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration General John Gordon, and the Commander in Chief of United States Strategic Command Admiral James Ellis, Jr. This is Admiral Ellis' first opportunity to testify before the committee as Commander in Chief of Strategic Command. I welcome all of you back to the committee.

After the Cold War, the United States forged a new relationship with Russia, including the first strategic arms control agreement – the 1991 START I Treaty – that significantly reduced U.S. and Russian nuclear forces. At Helsinki in 1997, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin pledged that – following the entry into force of START II, with its additional reductions – our two nations would work toward a START III agreement, with a deep reduction in the number of nuclear warheads to between 2,000 and 2,500 by the end of 2007. Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin specifically said that: "START III will be the first strategic arms control agreement to include measures relating to the transparency of strategic nuclear warhead inventories and the destruction of strategic nuclear warheads."

President Bush pledged to seize the historic opportunity afforded by our new relationship with Russia. Declaring that Russia is "no longer our enemy," then-Governor Bush stated in a May 23, 2000 speech that, "it should be possible to reduce the number of American nuclear weapons significantly further than what has been already agreed to under START II." Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said in a speech at the National Defense University just two weeks ago that "through our Nuclear Posture Review, we adopted a new approach to strategic deterrence that increases our security while reducing the numbers of strategic nuclear weapons."

But the recommendations of the Nuclear Posture Review may not in fact reduce the actual number of nuclear warheads in the U.S. arsenal. Because instead of destroying warheads, as Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin envisioned under a START III agreement, the NPR proposes to shift some or all of the warheads removed from missiles, bombers and submarines to a "responsive" force – in other words, a backup force. Instead of being irreversible, those warheads could be redeployed in a matter of weeks or months. The Nuclear Posture Review proposes simply to move those warheads from one location to another. But just as Enron couldn't make its debts disappear by moving them from one set of books to another, we are not going to make nuclear warheads go away by moving them from launchers to warehouses.

This approach surely will make it highly unlikely that Russia will destroy its nuclear warheads. If we store our nuclear weapons, Russia is likely to follow suit. And if there are more warheads retained by Russia, the threat of proliferation of nuclear weapons will increase. That was the danger cited in last year's bipartisan task force led by former Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker and former White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler. The task force concluded that: "The most urgent unmet national security threat to the United States today is the danger that weapons of mass destruction or weapons-usable material in Russia could be stolen and sold to terrorists or hostile nation states and used against American troops abroad or citizens at home." By failing to destroy nuclear warheads, the Nuclear Posture Review would increase the threat of proliferation at the very time when the al Qaeda terrorist network is known to be pursuing nuclear weapons.

In addition to compounding the proliferation threat, this new approach to nuclear weapons appears to compound the military threat to our nation. One of the significant achievements of START II was that it would have eliminated Russia's land-based multi-warhead missiles, its so-called MIRVed ICBMs. By essentially abandoning efforts to bring START II into force, the Administration leaves open the possibility that Russia may retain missiles that it was prepared just recently to destroy.

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld says that this new approach "increases our security." I fear the opposite is true: over time, America would be less secure.