Republicans and Democrats joined forces against President Joe Biden to fund the continued development of a Trump-era sea-launched nuclear missile. Biden proposed canceling the missile earlier this year — a move that aligned with his goal of working toward “a world without nuclear weapons.”
Biden’s FY2023 defense budget sought to cancel the sea-launched cruise missile-nuclear, dubbed SLCM-N, but both the House and Senate Armed Services committees have since authorized Pentagon funding for the weapon, Politico reported last month. The House passed the $840 million defense funding bill last month which includes SLCM-N funding and would block Biden’s attempts to quash the missile. The Senate has not yet passed the bill.
A White House National Security Council spokesperson said in a statement last month that the Biden administration “stands by the President’s budget submission, which canceled the SLCM-N,” adding that the decision to end the nuclear missile’s development “was based on the findings and recommendations” of the Nuclear Posture Review.
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) wrote the House proposal to keep the missile, which was initiated by former President Donald Trump in 2018. Cooper argued in June that “it’s important to keep this option available” due to “an uncertain world.”
Democrats were swayed to support the weapon after top military leaders, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, expressed support for the missile.
“I will say that to you though, as members of Congress who have oversight responsibilities, my position on SLCM-N has not changed,” Milley said in April, according to Politico. “My general view is that this president or any president deserves to have multiple options to deal with national security situations.”
Tom Collina, Ploughshares Fund policy director, said Biden would direct Milley to oppose the nuclear weapon if doing so was a high priority.
“If the president was making [the missile] a high priority, he’d tell the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to oppose the [missile],” Collina said. “So I think the administration made a decision that this simply wasn’t a high priority for them.”
“Once you have the administration saying one thing and the military brass saying something else, in this case, supporting continued development of the [missile] … then you’re not going to have the Democrats falling in line behind the system,” he added.
Patty-Jane Geller, a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, asserted that the U.S. needs the nuclear weapon in order to deter powerful adversaries like China and Russia.
“If we were to keep our nuclear force posture the same then that’s essentially just ceding this advantage to Russia and China because as they build up, especially their regional nuclear capabilities,” Geller said.
Earlier this month, the top United Nations official warned that humanity is just one “misunderstanding” or “miscalculation” away from “nuclear annihilation.”