Quietly, Obama Gets a START Victory

Tomorrow, some of the principal authors of the president's nuclear nonproliferation strategy  -- Tom D'Agostino of the National Nuclear Security Administration, Jim Miller, the principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, and Gen. Kevin Chilton of STRATCOM -- are testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee in what will probably be the final START hearing. It will be a deliberate show of force from the keeper of the nukes, the keeper of the nuke policy, and the keeper of the nuke forces. They all strongly support the treaty. Ultimately, the Senate will decide whether to ratify it.

One thing that will sway Republican senators is the extent to which they believe that the current nuclear stockpile is properly maintained. And that's where the Energy and Water Development subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee comes in. Last week, this subcommittee, traditionally (at least when controlled by Democrats) quite hostile to nuclear weapons projects of any sort, greenlighted virtually everything President Obama asked for in terms of the NNSA's budget. This being an election year and money being tight, the administration and some in the activist community worried that the panel would gut the NNSA's budget in exchange for politically popular water or energy projects. The committee didn't. Instead, it funded NNSA to the tune of $7 billion worth of new activities, including money that could go to helping scientists develop parts of new warhead designs.

Fully funding NNSA has key START implications. Because the agency was given more money to refurbish and modernize the stockpile, it is intimately tied up with the nuclear posture review (which is predicated on the U.S. maintaining a credible deterrent) and might even benefit ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban treaty, which will get its turn in the merry-go-round next year.