Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Co-Chairs of the Senate ICBM Caucus, today joined other caucus members in applauding the Defense Department’s decision to keep the nation’s 454 inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos operational, securing the missiles’ critical role in protecting the nation’s security.
Tester and Enzi recently led the bipartisan coalition, which includes Senators John Hoeven (R-N.D.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and John Walsh (D-Mont.), in telling the Defense Department to maintain a strong ICBM force as it complies with the New START Treaty. Tester and Hoeven, members of the Senate Appropriations Committee, included a provision in this year’s defense appropriations bill prohibiting the department from conducting any environmental assessment on the effects of eliminating ICBM silos.
Despite the provision, which was supported by the entire ICBM Coalition in a letter to Appropriators earlier this year, the Defense Department tried to find a way around the Hoeven-Tester language, but pressure from the coalition forced the department to back off.
“Today’s announcement is a big win for our nation’s security, and I’m glad the Defense Department listened to our call to maintain a strong ICBM force,” said Tester, co-chairman of the Senate ICBM Coalition. “ICBMs are the most cost-effective nuclear deterrent, and keeping silos warm is a smart decision and the kind of common-sense Montanans and Americans expect from their leaders.”
“A strong national defense begins with a strong nuclear deterrent and this means a strong ICBM force,” said Enzi, co-chairman of the Senate ICBM Coalition. “The announcement today by the Department of Defense reinforces the important role that F.E. Warren and the other missile bases play in keeping our country safe. I will keep working with the coalition to ensure that the world’s most powerful military force, our ICBMs, is maintained.”
“I am pleased to see that the Pentagon agreed to adhere to the Hoeven-Tester amendment, which we passed as part of the Defense Appropriations bill,” Hoeven said. “That measure made clear in legislation that Congress wants a robust ICBM force. ICBMs represent the cheapest form of nuclear deterrence while presenting any potential adversary with an overwhelming deterrent threat. For these reasons, it is clear that we need to retain all of our ICBM silos.”
“Today the Defense Department heeded my concerns, and those of the entire bipartisan ICBM Coalition, and will preserve North Dakota’s missile silos,” Heitkamp said. “We were able to push back against potential efforts to eliminate a crucial part of our military. But we can’t be complacent and I will continue to work to protect our nation’s ICBMs. These weapons, supported by the incredible service members at Minot Air Force Base, offer the best deterrent to potential enemies who may wish the United States and our allies harm.”
“I’m pleased the Administration recognizes the importance of allowing Wyoming and other missile states to keep and maintain our unused silos in a reserve status. Maintaining these silos is another critical deterrent against countries that are seeking to expand their nuclear programs,” Barrasso said. “I will continue to oppose the President’s decision to cut our nation’s ICBMs and weaken our security.”
“Today’s news is welcome, but the fight is not over, and I will be on the frontline to make sure Malmstrom continues to play an important role in our nation’s defense,” Walsh said. “ICBMs continue to be the most cost-effective part of our nuclear defenses and at a time of instability in eastern Europe, it is critical that the ICBM mission remains strong.”
Keeping silos on warm status ensures that they remain under the watch of Air Force security and maintenance personnel.
Today’s announcement is the result of President Obama reaching a decision on the U.S. strategic force structure to comply with the New START Treaty. The announcement also detailed U.S. plans for reductions in submarine-launched nuclear weapons as well as a decrease in the nuclear bomber fleet. To comply with the treaty, Russia is reducing its number of nuclear warheads by nearly one-half compared to 2010 levels.
New START cuts must be fully implemented by February 2018. The nation’s entire ICBM fleet is located at Air Force bases in Montana, North Dakota and Wyoming.