By Rati Bishnoi
Inside the Pentagon
House Democrats, led by Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), are calling for tripling the budget for the Pentagon’s Cooperative Threat Reduction program and other nonproliferation initiatives as part of a new national security strategy unveiled Sept 15.
Preventing nuclear proliferation to keep the world’s most dangerous weapons out of terrorists’ hands is one of the cornerstones of the 15-page comprehensive plan backed by Reps. Ike Skelton (D-MO) and Ellen Tauscher (D-CA), among others.
The document reflects a number of legislative proposals Democrats have made in the area of national security. It also includes new ideas that could be the basis for recommending legislation in coming years, a congressional source told Inside the Pentagon this week.
The Democrats urge enhanced cooperative efforts between the United States and Russia to inventory nuclear stockpiles and remove “a significant number” of nuclear weapons from hair-trigger alert.
CTR, instituted after the Cold War with Defense Department funding, works to dismantle delivery systems for strategic weapons once deployed by the Soviet Union.
“Targeting rogue states that traffic in weapons of mass destruction” is also one of the proposals set forth in the paper.
When asked about the group’s stance on President Bush’s policy of pre-emption, Skelton, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, said, “Diplomatic efforts should be fully explored in any situation before troops are deployed, and I have doubts as to whether that was done in [Iraq’s] case.”
The Bush administration’s policy, unveiled in September 2002 as part of the National Security Strategy, emphasized the use of pre-emptive attack in the case of an “imminent” threat from terrorists or rogue states possessing WMD.
“While the United States will constantly strive to enlist the support of the international community, we will not hesitate to act alone, if necessary, to exercise our right of self-defense by acting pre-emptively against such terrorists, to prevent them from doing harm against our people and our country,” Bush wrote in the strategy.
Other recommendations from the Democrats include fostering alliances to strengthen the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and ratifying the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty was rejected by the Senate in 1999 (ITP, Sept. 16, 1999, p5). The United States signed the treaty in 1996 -- four years after its last underground nuclear test.
On other fronts, the paper cites the need for “allied assistance” in protecting Iraq’s borders and integrated diplomatic efforts to tackle global problems such as terrorism, poverty and AIDS.
“We need nothing less than new alliances and a new division of labor among our allies to make sure that Iran and North Korea stop their nuclear programs, stop them where they are, and disavow, verifiably, any sale of nuclear material to terrorists,” Rep. John Spratt (D-SC) said at a Sept. 15 press briefing on the strategy document.
The paper, which does not speak for the Democratic caucus, chides the administration for the use of supplemental “emergency” budgets for funding many war-related costs, but it does not offer fiscal projections of its own. In Hoyer’s words, the strategy is a “beginning, not an end.”
The document recommends reinstating “budget enforcement rules, including pay-as-you-go budget rules that govern spending and revenue.”
“We must end the dangerous practice of paying for counterterrorism with supplemental budgets,” said Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking member on the House intelligence committee. “This practice prevents congressional oversight, and it hinders the ability of our intelligence officers to plan operations.”
Although no member provided specifics for funding changes or sources, Spratt alluded to room in the missile defense budget for some funding for the Democrats’ proposed initiatives.
Echoing his comments, Skelton told ITP that missile defenses would still be deployed under the strategy, even though one or two aspects of the overall program backed by the administration could be up for review. He would not specify which ones.
When asked why the group was releasing the report now, just two weeks after the widely perceived as flawed Katrina relief efforts, Hoyer answered that the proposal has been in the works since February and was a way to show the American public that the Democrats are focused on improving national security.
“The inept federal response to Hurricane Katrina two weeks ago -- almost four years to the day after the terrorist attacks on 9/11 -- has only heightened concern regarding this nation’s ability to respond to another catastrophe,” Hoyer said during the briefing.
The strategy calls for an increase in military end strength by 100,000. The lawmakers say this move would ease the strain on the services caused by deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.
Moreover, equipping U.S. soldiers and Iraqi security forces properly is a key to leaving Iraq successfully after erecting a functioning government, the proposal also notes.
“We support an increase in end strength of 100,000 troops, along with enhancements to recruiting and retention that help relieve the burden on the National Guard and reserves,” the document states.
To foster Iraq’s stabilization, the Democrats support creation of a U.N. commission to “undertake the work of nation building.”
“The new council would require its members to meet human rights standards and no member could currently be under sanctions for human rights violations,” the document adds.
The lawmakers also call for other reforms at the United Nations.
“Its ineffectiveness and inaction in the face of ethnic cleansing and genocide in Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda and Sudan are the most recent examples” of U.N. failures, according to the lawmakers. “Furthermore, the U.N. has shown that it does not have the will to act against rogue states and dictators who flout international law. And it has damaged its own credibility by taking absurd actions, such as allowing Libya to head the U.N. Human Rights Commission.”
The Democrats call for implementing “financial oversight and accountability reforms to address the repeated incidents of scandal and corruption . . . [and] end the disgraceful conduct of some of its peacekeepers” who have violated the “trust of the civilians that they have been sent to protect.”
The strategy also urges the United Nations to impose sanctions against those who commit genocide and other human rights violations.
The document addresses homeland security by asking for more money for Border Patrol agents, radiation monitors at ports and securing nuclear, chemical and energy plants.
The lawmakers call for increased support for the national intelligence director in recruiting and training intelligence officers with pertinent language and culture skills for crises in Iran and North Korea and elsewhere.
In another effort to emphasize the party’s focus on national security, Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), chairman of the House Democratic Causus Task Force on Defense and Military Personnel, released four essays Sept. 19 highlighting areas for defense reform. Many of the details in the essays echo themes highlighted in the strategy document unveiled earlier in the week.
For example, an essay from Skelton calls for change in military education to mirror the evolving needs of the battlefield.
“Warfare is becoming more complex, and as soldiers at every level are taking on more decision-making responsibility, our professional military education system must continue to evolve to develop the thinking warriors the future will require,” he wrote.