This speech was delivered by Senator Edward Markey (D-MA) on May 26, 2016. A video of the speech appears at the bottom of this article, courtesy of C-SPAN.
Mr. President, tomorrow President Obama will make a historic visit to Hiroshima: the sight of the first atomic bombing. He will become the first sitting president of the United States to do so, and I commend him for this long overdue presidential recognition. Having traveled to Hiroshima in 1985 to witness the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of that atomic bombing, I know from personal experience that any visit there serves as a powerful reminder of America’s responsibility to reduce the risk of nuclear war. That risk remains as real today as it was nearly 71 years ago, when we dropped that bomb that killed 140,000 people in one day.
In the last few decades, important progress has been made to reduce the threat of nuclear war. The United States and Russia have reduced the size of their nuclear arsenals. And the beginning of an additional change is going to happen in 2018—when both the United States and Russia will have no more than 1,550 deployed strategic warheads, after implementation of the New START Treaty. But that progress has come at a cost. In exchange for the support of Senate Republicans for passage of the New START Treaty in 2010, President Obama promised to fund major upgrades to America’s nuclear arsenal. Since then, the extent of these upgrades and their costs has swelled. Today, it is estimated that President Obama’s nuclear modernization plan will end up costing U.S. taxpayers nearly $1-trillion over the next 30 years.
However, this “modernization plan” is little more than a plan to expand America’s capabilities—its nuclear capabilities. It would create new nuclear weapons, including a dangerous nuclear air launched cruise missile that will cost tens of billions of dollars over the next two decades. Nuclear cruise missiles are of particular concern because they are difficult to distinguish from non-nuclear cruise missiles. As a consequence, if the United States used a conventional cruise missile in a conflict with Russia or China, it would lead to devastating miscalculation on the other side—and, as a result, to accidental nuclear war. Worse still, the Defense Department has justified this new nuclear cruise missile by asserting that it is needed for purposes beyond deterrence. The Pentagon explains that the new nuclear cruise missile could be used to respond “proportionately to a limited nuclear attack”. Meaning that this weapon, this nuclear weapon, becomes useable, more useable in a standoff with Russia, or China, or some other country.
When President Obama visited Prague in 2009, he pledged to reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security. If the president wants to truly make good on this promise, I think it’s important for him to stop these nuclear expansion efforts. He should cancel the funding for the new nuclear cruise missile, which would make the prospect of fighting a nuclear war more imaginable. In the meantime, Congress can and must act, rather than plunging blindly ahead by spending money on this dangerous new weapon. We can call for a timeout while we evaluate its cost and for its risks. And that is why I have introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act that would delay any spending on the nuclear cruise missile for one year. So that we can have the full debate on this weapon. So that we can ensure that we understand the consequences of building this new weapon. So that we can understand how the Russians and the Chinese might respond to it. So that each member of the Senate can understand that it in fact has nuclear war-fighting capabilities. It’s not just a defensive weapon; it has the ability to be used in a nuclear war-fighting scenario. How do I know this? It’s because this Pentagon, this Department of Defense says that it is useable, that it can be used in a limited nuclear war. Do we really want to be authorizing here in this Senate that kind of new weapon—the kind of weapon that makes fighting a nuclear war more imaginable?
I think that Americans deserve an opportunity to consider whether tens of billions of their tax dollars should be spent on a redundant and destabilizing new nuclear missile. And they expect that we will ask the tough questions about the need for $1 trillion in new nuclear weapon spending. But they especially want us to ask questions about new weapons that the Pentagon is saying makes possible to contemplate a limited nuclear war. That is a debate which this body needs to have. That’s a weapon system that we should be discussing. This is the tip of the new $1 trillion nuclear modernization program—this new cruise missile with nuclear warheads. We should debate that first. We can examine the rest of the modernization program, the other new nuclear programs. But we should at least have that debate, that vote out here. And we should give ourselves at least one year before we allow it to commence so that we can study it. Then, next year we can have the vote on whether or not we want to commence.
But i don’t think we, as yet, have had the debate, have a full understanding of what the implications of this weapon are. Plans to build more nuclear weapons would not only be expensive, but they could trigger a 21st century arms race with Russia and China—who are unlikely, very unlikely, to stand idly by as we expand our nuclear arsenal. This, as a result, would be a tragic return to the days of the Cold War. Both sides built up ever-greater stockpiles of nuclear weapons as we got closer and closer to the contemplation that both sides could actually consider fighting a nuclear war. Our goal should be to push us further and further and further away from the concept that it’s possible to fight a nuclear limited war on this planet.
The National Defense Authorization Act also contains another misguided provision that would lay the groundwork for a spiraling nuclear weapons buildup. Currently, our policy—the United States policy—states that we will pursue a “limited missile defense”. This approach is meant to protect our territory against missile attacks by countries such as Iran and North Korea, without threatening Russia or China’s nuclear deterrence. As recognized by generations of responsible policy-makers, constructing missile defenses aimed at Russia or China would be self-defeating and destabilizing. Dramatically expanding our missile defenses could cause Russia and China to fear that the United States seeks to protect ourselves from retaliation from Russia or China, so that we can carry out a preventive nuclear attack on China or on Russia. That plays into the most militaristic people inside of those countries, who will then say that they too need to make additional investments. And that cycle of offense and defense continues to escalate until you reach a point where we are back to where we all started: with those generals, with those arms contractors then dictating what our foreign policy is, what our defense policy is. And they were wrong in the 1950’s, 1960’s, 1970’s, 1980’s—and they are wrong today. That is just the wrong way to go. We have to ensure that we are backing away, not increasing the likelihood that these weapons can be used. We don’t want to be empowering those in our own country—either at the Pentagon or the arms contractors—because they will have the same people in the Kremlin, and their arms contractors, that will be rubbing their hand saying ‘Great, let’s build all of these new weapons—both offensive and defensive’. They would love this. That’s why we have to have the debate out here on the Senate floor.
This generation of Americans deserves to know what its government is planning in terms of nuclear war-fighting strategy. That is what a limited war is all about. That is what this new cruise missile with a nuclear bomb on it—that’s more accurate, more powerful, more likely to be used in a nuclear war—is all about. That’s why the Pentagon wants it. That’s why the arms contractors want to make it. But it’s just a return to the earlier era where every one of these new nuclear weapons systems had blueprints, were on the table over at the Pentagon, or over on the defense contractors, got the green-light: “Build it”. And what happened? Every single time, the Soviet Union said, ‘We’re building the exact same kind of counterpower system’. Was that making us more or less safe? Was that bringing us closer or further away from a nuclear war?’ Which was the correct direction for our country to be headed?
Thank God we began to talk at Reykjavik—President Reagan and President Gorbachev. Thank God we now have a New START Treaty. But as part of the New START Treaty, there was a Faustian deal. And that Faustian deal was that we’re going to build a new generation of usable war-fighting nuclear weapons in our own country. And that Faustian deal is one that will then be lived with with this next generation of Americans and citizens of this planet. So we need to ensure that we can have this debate.
The fears that I think are going to be engendered into the minds of those in China and Russia would result in a new dangerous nuclear competition that would have our new defenses be responded to—by them building new additional nuclear weapons and by putting them on high alert. You would have to put them on high alert if you were in Russia or China, if you thought that we had a defensive system that could knock you down…if our planning included attacking them. And we don’t want either country to be on high alert for a nuclear war. I don’t want that — You don’t want that. That’s where we were in the 1980’s. That’s where we were in the 1970’s, both sides with their fingers on the button. It’s unnecessary, it’s dangerous, it’s a repetition of history and it’s something we should be debating out here. It can’t be something that’s casually added without a full appreciation in our country for what the consequences are going to be long-term.
So we’ve got an incredible opportunity. It’s timely. The president is visiting Hiroshima. It should weigh on the consciences of everyone that we have the responsibility of decreasing and not increasing the likelihood of a nuclear war. I filed an amendment to strike the Provision from the NDAA. I urge all of my colleagues to support it. I think that second amendment is also one that deserves a full debate out here on the Senate floor. If we want other countries to reduce their nuclear arsenals and restrain their nuclear war plans, the United States must take the lead instead of wasting billions of dollars on dangerous new nuclear weapons that do nothing to keep our nation safe.
President Obama should scale back his nuclear weapons build-up. Instead of provoking Russia and China with expanding missile defenses that will ultimately fail, we should work towards a new arms control agreement. As President Obama said in Prague in 2009, “Let us honor our past by reaching for a better future”. A lesson of the past and a lesson of Hiroshima is clear: nuclear weapons must never be used again on this planet.
President Obama did an excellent job in reaching a nuclear arms control agreement with Iran. That was important. Because if Iran was right now on its way to the development of a nuclear weapon, there’s no question that Saudi Arabia and other countries in that region would also be pursuing a nuclear weapon. And we would then have a world where people were not listening to each other, people were threatening each other—with annihilation, with total destruction. And here’s where we are. We’re either going to live together or we’re going to die together. We’re either going to know each other or we’re going to exterminate each other. The final choice that we all have—if that point in the future is reached and those missiles are starting to be launched that have nuclear warheads on board—the least that we should be able to say is that we tried, we really tried to avoid that day.
That’s our challenge here on the Senate floor: to have this debate. To give ourselves the next year to have this question raised, as to whether or not we want to engage in a Cold War-like escalation of new offensive and new defensive nuclear weapons to be constructed in our country. For sure then triggering the same response in Russia and China. And by the way, for sure saying to Pakistan, to India, to Iran, to Saudi Arabia—to any other country that harbors their own secret military desire to have these weapons—that they should not listen to the United States because we are preaching temperance, nuclear temperance, from a bar-stool. We are not in fact abiding by what we say that the rest of the world should do, so we should be debating it right now. We should have this challenge presented to us, to have the words be spoken as to what the goals are for these weapons. If the Defense Department says to us this year, that this leads to a capacity to use nuclear weapons in a limited nuclear war—and they’re saying that to us in the last six months—Do we really want to have these weapons then constructed in our country? Is that really what we want to have as our legacy?