U.S. Senator Roger Wicker, R-Miss., ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee took to the Senate floor to address the acute nuclear weapons threats posed by China and Russia and a roadmap to improve U.S. deterrence against those threats.
In his remarks, Wicker emphasized that for the first time in its history the United States needs to confront a reality where it must deter multiple major nuclear-armed adversaries – China and Russia – at once. This massive challenge, Wicker said, demands immediate and sustained investment in America’s nuclear arsenal.
“Russia, China, and North Korea are rapidly growing their nuclear stockpiles, and Iran stands on the brink of building its own arsenal,” Wicker said. “Facing multiple nuclear-armed enemies at the same time should prompt us to urgently rethink how we plan to modernize our nuclear capabilities.
Wicker also mentioned the potential nuclear breakout and associated threat of two regional adversaries, North Korea and Iran. The Mississippi senator said that the Biden administration’s attempts thus far to contain either country have been insufficient and the growing belligerence of both Iran and North Korea challenge American national security.
“Two other nations present significant threats to the United States. North Korea might now possess enough missiles to overwhelm our homeland missile defenses. They have expanded their nuclear forces with little pushback from the Biden administration,” Wicker said. “Worse still, Iran may be only weeks away from building his own weapons, putting regional stability and our ally, Israel, at grave risk. The administration has shown little resolve to thwart Iran’s nuclear program before it’s too late.”
While our adversaries make major investments in their own nuclear forces, Wicker noted that the United States has not made major updates to its own posture since the 1980s. As ranking member on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Wicker suggested that improving the infrastructure and systems necessary to maintain a strong nuclear deterrent should be a Congressional priority.
“The Biden administration has seen the same news I have. As we watch Russia fully update its arsenal and China continue its historic nuclear breakout, the Biden administration has no excuse to sit idly by,” Wicker said. “Yet it fails to take these threats seriously and does not hold anyone accountable for missing program development targets.”
Read Wicker’s remarks below or watch them here.
Today, I call on my colleagues to join me in supporting the effort to rebuild the United States’ nuclear deterrent. For most Americans, this issue seems like a relic of the Cold War. But to those of us tasked with funding our national defense, nuclear threats are not a thing of the past. Nuclear threats are a present-day issue.
America successfully deterred nuclear attacks in the Cold War. Back then, when we had one, clear foe. But today’s national security situation is the most complex we have faced since World War II. Russia, China, and North Korea are rapidly growing their nuclear stockpiles, and Iran stands on the brink of building its own arsenal. Facing multiple nuclear-armed enemies at the same time should prompt us to urgently rethink how we plan to modernize our nuclear capabilities.
Let me first briefly outline the nuclear threat posed by our primary adversaries and then list four steps Congress can take in response.
In the past, the Soviet Union and the United States possessed nuclear weapons stockpiles that dwarfed China’s. Beijing has set out to change that. China has so rapidly expanded its nuclear arsenal that it may be a match for our own by the end of the decade. With breathtaking speed, China completed a nuclear triad of intercontinental ballistic missiles, long range bombers, and ballistic missile submarines.
China’s pace and sophistication took us by surprise, frankly. We were caught flat-footed as China built hundreds of new ballistic missile silos. And then, they developed a “fractional orbital bombardment system.” Orbital – that is as startling as the name sounds. With this system, China can place a nuclear warhead into the earth’s orbit and then drop it anywhere in the world with little warning. This is a fact.
The U.S. and the Soviet Union negotiated these weapons away during the Cold War partially because of the extreme danger that such systems posed to global stability. As Xi Jinping develops this system for China, he makes it clear that causing international instability does not keep him up at night. In fact, Xi seems to thrive on it.
The situation with Russia is hardly better. Vladimir Putin still owns the world’s largest, most modern, and most diverse nuclear arsenal and is willing to threaten the use of nuclear weapons to get what he wants. He did this to keep NATO from intervening as he invaded Ukraine and has repeatedly done so since then to register his displeasure with our aid to the Ukrainian people.
On their own, China and Russia represent bad news for our interests. But there is still news. Moscow and Beijing have decided to work together. Earlier this year, China purchased over 28 tons of highly-enriched uranium from Russia, which will likely be used to produce plutonium for additional nuclear weapons.
Two other nations present significant threats to the United States. North Korea might now possess enough missiles to overwhelm our homeland missile defenses. They have expanded their nuclear forces with little pushback from the Biden administration. Worse still, Iran may be only weeks away from building its own weapons, putting regional stability and our ally, Israel, at grave risk. The administration has shown little resolve to thwart Iran’s nuclear program before it’s too late.
Surveying these nuclear threats prompts us to examine our own nuclear capabilities. When we do, we find them lacking.
The last time we made real investments in our nuclear arsenal was the 1980s, and almost all the nuclear forces we have today are from that decade. These systems only hold together because of the hard work of our service members. The National Nuclear Security Administration’s industrial capabilities for maintaining our nuclear weapons stockpile are so antiquated they are literally falling apart before our eyes. For example, the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, Tennessee is in a state of disrepair. Y-12 is a symbol of the broader issue– because we have not kept our nuclear capacity up to date, we are the only nuclear-armed country in the world that cannot build a single new nuclear weapon.
Around 2010, the Obama administration and Congress agreed to begin replacing our aging nuclear forces and revitalize our nuclear infrastructure, including programs such as the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarine, the B-21 bomber, and the Sentinel intercontinental ballistic missile. More than a decade later, we are still waiting for these efforts to come to fruition.
The Biden administration has seen the same news I have. As we watch Russia fully update its arsenal and China continue its historic nuclear breakout, the Biden administration has no excuse to sit idly by. Yet it fails to take these threats seriously and does not hold anyone accountable for missing program development targets.
Instead, every single U.S. nuclear modernization program has been delayed, reduced in scope, or cancelled. Amazingly, despite over $500 million in additional funds for the National Nuclear Security Administration last year to help restore our ability to build plutonium cores for our weapons, we see no real progress. Considering the rising threats from China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran, our complacency is unacceptable.
I want to commend Senators King and Fischer on both sides of the aisle, the chairman and ranking member on the Strategic Forces subcommittee. They have led bipartisan efforts to advance our overdue modernization programs, and I applaud them for their leadership – Senator King from Maine, Senator Fischer from Nebraska. Now, Congress needs to come together to take even stronger actions to ensure the Department of Defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration urgently prioritize the modernization of our nuclear forces.
Specifically, I believe we should take the following four steps:
First, increase investments to accelerate the rebuilding of our nuclear forces, and restore the basic capabilities needed to maintain our nuclear stockpile – and do this as soon as possible.
Second, remove regulatory barriers hindering the success of our nuclear modernization programs and also hold the Department of Defense and the National Nuclear Security Administration leadership accountable for performance.
Third, immediately commit to expanding and diversifying our nuclear forces. An essential first step is establishing and funding a formal program to build the sea-launched cruise missile.
Fourth, re-posture U.S. forces to bolster deterrence and reassure our allies in NATO and Asia of U.S. commitment to deterring Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.
These are significant, but necessary, steps, Mr. President. In today’s world, we must deter multiple adversaries at once – that’s just the reality now. This demands the preparation and investment I just outlined.
During the Cold War, we understood what it meant to face down an existential threat. We prevented nuclear conflicts then by remaining true to President Reagan’s “peace through strength” doctrine. We would do well to return to that vision today.
Thank you, Mr. President.