Statement of Senator Michael B. Enzi
On National Defense Authorization Act
December 18, 2013
Mr. President, I rise today to express my disappointment that the National Defense Authorization Act that we will soon be voting on is the product of another deal instead of the result of discussion, debate, and the committee process. Once again the Senate has failed to do its job. The Senate Majority Leader has blocked all but two amendments to the NDAA from consideration. That is not right. If you want to know what is wrong with the Senate and why people of all political persuasions are upset with Congress, that is a big part of the answer right there.
This is a very important bill for our country and there are a lot of important issues that we need to discuss. We haven’t considered issues relating to our nuclear deterrent, privacy concerns relating to the NSA, detention of U.S. citizens, the need to address sexual assault in the military, or a number of other important issues. In the past, we’ve spent multiple weeks on the defense bill and considered dozens of amendments. That’s what we should be doing this year, too. Our national security needs to be fully debated by the entire Senate. Every voice needs to be heard. That’s the way it’s supposed to happen and that’s the way the Senate does its best work.
One of those important issues that we are skipping over is our nuclear deterrent. I offered several amendments on this issue because I believe the Administration is playing a dangerous game with our national security. The solution I proposed in my amendment was simple and straight-forward. It would have ensured that American citizens and our allies would not be harmed by this Administration’s bad policy decisions – both today and for years to come – by ensuring that any further reductions in our nuclear arsenal could not be done by the Administration unilaterally.
As background, here in the Senate I have the honor of representing the city of Cheyenne, Wyoming which is the home of F.E. Warren Air Force Base and the 90th ICBM Missile Wing. Those who proudly serve there have an awesome responsibility and a history of doing excellent work. We have entrusted the most powerful of our weaponry to the best, to those most capable of managing these weapons in a thoroughly professional and reliable manner.
Every day, the top notch men and women who are stationed at F.E. Warren work together to maintain the world’s most powerful military force, our ICBMs. Seven days a week, 24 hours a day, they stand guard to ensure our safety and our freedom. They maintain a constant vigil from which they can never “stand down” because their mission is that critical. In a very real sense, that’s why each one of us is able to sleep well at night. Moms and Dads and Grandpas and Grandmas all across America know that when they tuck their kids in at night someone is on duty, and will continue to be, watching through the lonely hours of the night to make sure their little ones are safe and secure.
Unfortunately, there are those in this Administration who take the contributions of our military for granted. They don’t have the sense of history that is needed to fully appreciate why these weapons were designed and put into operation in the first place. They don’t see how much they are needed today and will still be needed tomorrow to ensure our future. They don’t fully appreciate the key role they have played in the past either; they seem to think that nuclear weapons are part of a bygone era – a relic of the past – that has not been needed since the Cold War ended.
The adoption of such a position is dangerous because it takes our position of strength for granted. What they fail to understand is the power of this deterrent and how it has kept us safe for decades. In the past, any nation that gave even a casual thought to threatening us or trying to do us harm had to quickly shelve those plans when the realization of what they would be up against was made clear. That is, after all, the point of having these weapons. That is one of the reasons why they are necessary -- they have served us well ever since they were first deployed.
The Administration’s views on our nuclear deterrent should come as no surprise to us or anyone who has watched the development of these ideas since they were first offered for consideration. We’ve seen President Obama promise to do all that he can to reduce our nuclear arsenal – step by step. First, he rammed the New START Treaty through the Senate by promising commitments that he ultimately did not keep. One of those was the promise to modernize our nuclear force, which we’re still waiting on. I voted against ratification of the New START Treaty because I believe maintaining a strong nuclear force is a critical part of protecting our country. It still is.
I believe very strongly that if you like the protection these weapons provide to Americans and American interests all over the world, you ought to be able to keep them. But don’t get me started on that.
The Obama Administration has stated its intention to reduce the number of deployed nuclear warheads to as few as 1,000, which would be 550 less than is allowed under the New START Treaty. What’s more, in the fact sheet on the Nuclear Posture Review Implementation Study, it states that the President could go outside the formal treaty making process and reduce our nuclear arsenal unilaterally. That has bad idea written all over it. It means that the Administration can still make drastic nuclear reductions even if Russia will not agree to do the same. Does that make any sense? That’s something that should give us all pause and encourage us to go on record as to what needs to be done to keep our people safe.
In case you think I might be overreacting, last year President Obama was caught on an open microphone promising former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that he would have more flexibility to negotiate on nuclear defense issues after his election. Those comments are still before us and they don’t exactly instill trust and confidence that the President won’t choose to bypass Congress and act unilaterally on nuclear reductions.
All we have to do is look around the world to see why we should be concerned. Everywhere you look, nations are looking to increase – not decrease – their weaponry. In fact, as the President makes plans for reducing our own nuclear arsenal, it appears that Russia and China are looking for ways to modernize and update their own arsenals of these weapons.
These are dangerous weapons and we need to be certain that we do everything we can to ensure that they continue to be fully monitored. They must never be used. But it seems to me that the best way to make certain that they are never used is to be certain that no one would ever dare think of using them against us or our allies. The concerns I have that some other country might use these weapons first are increased not decreased when I see the Administration sending signals that they might not wait for everyone to disarm – they might do it on their own – first.
It would be like taking your own team off the field and allowing the other team to score at will. Relying on the goodwill of an opponent rarely works. It’s clearly not a good strategy.
One final point – we aren’t the only ones who are relying on our nuclear arsenal for our safety and security. There are other countries that rely on the United States for their national security. If we make it clear that we’re dropping out of this vital source of our strength as a nation, this could encourage other countries to increase their own nuclear capability because they will suspect they can no longer rely on us. Increasing the number of nations who have a nuclear capability is clearly something we dare not encourage.
Simply put, this is exactly what my amendment was trying to stop. It would have ensured that any further reductions in our nuclear arsenal could not be done on a unilateral basis. Instead, any changes would have to follow the application of the treaty system – which would give the Senate an opportunity to weigh in on this matter again – when a proposal in the form of a treaty is brought before us for our consideration.
Unfortunately, due to the Majority Leader’s actions we will not be able to debate this and other important issues. For all of these reasons, I cannot support moving forward to the Defense bill. I hope that on our next Defense bill we all will recognize the importance of being allowed to fully debate these issues so that our men and women in uniform can continue to fulfill their mission of keeping our nation safe, secure and free.
Something as important as the Defense bill must not be drafted or taken up for a vote until it has made it through the full legislative process. The legislative process was created for a reason and we do ourselves, our constituents, and those who serve in our armed forces a disservice when we fail to make full use of it. This bill hasn’t made it through each step of the process. In my opinion, that’s a fatal flaw. We can do better.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.