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Congress looks at trading missile development for vaccine funding

Published: Mar. 31, 2021 at 4:39 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON, D.C. – An act introduced in Congress this week would shift funding from the development of nuclear weapons to a universal vaccine for the coronavirus, but North Dakota’s delegation is not on board with the idea.

Facilities in North Dakota are involved in the United States’ Intercontinental Ballistic Missile program, one of the legs of the nuclear triad that is meant to deter attack from America’s enemies.

“Maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent is the only thing guaranteeing our enemies won’t launch a full-fledged attack on American soil and plunge us into another world war. Modernizing it is of the utmost importance for national security,” said Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-ND.

The bills, introduced in part by Sen. Edward Markey, D-Massachusetts, would take funding from development of the next generation of missiles and nuclear warheads, and funnel it toward development of a universal coronavirus vaccine.

“Redirect those savings to the clear and present dangers posed by coronaviruses and other emerging and infectious diseases. The devastation sown by COVID-19 would pale in comparison to that of even a limited nuclear war,” said Markey.

We reached out to North Dakota’s delegation for reaction.

“This legislation absolutely goes the wrong direction because it would take away funding from modernizing our nuclear forces. We need to be stronger than our adversaries in both conventional and nuclear capabilities,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-ND.

“When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, North Dakota is a national leader in vaccine distribution. I hope the country can utilize and learn from the processes we have in place to increase vaccine availability without harming national security,” said Rep. Kelly Armstrong, R-ND.

The bills of the act were referred to committee.

The act is split into two bills, one to end nuclear weapon development, and one to fund research against disease.

Here are the full statements from the North Dakota delegation:

Sen. Hoeven: “By defunding the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, this legislation would leave our country at a severe disadvantage at a time when our adversaries continue to invest in strengthening their nuclear capabilities. Our nation’s nuclear forces, including the ICBMs in Minot, are the most cost-effective aspect of our nation’s defense and are critical in protecting us and our allies against threats across the globe. In order to maintain a credible deterrent, I’ve worked through my role on the Defense Appropriations Committee to fund the modernization of our nuclear triad and keep these efforts on schedule.”

Sen. Cramer: “The United States maintaining a credible nuclear deterrent is the only thing guaranteeing our enemies won’t launch a full-fledged attack on American soil and plunge us into another world war. Modernizing it is of the utmost importance for national security, and further delaying those efforts would give our adversaries a leg up while imperiling the safety of the American people. If Democrats actually wanted to prioritize COVID vaccine availability, they should have spent more than 1 percent of their $1.9 trillion spending bill on it.”

Rep. Armstrong: “This naive view of the strategic threats the U.S. faces is really dangerous to the country’s national defense. North Dakota contributes greatly to America’s defense, including through our nuclear capabilities at Minot Air Force Base. I have been a strong supporter of maintaining the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent, which will modernize and increase the reliability of our nation’s nuclear triad. When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, North Dakota is a national leader in vaccine distribution. I hope the country can utilize and learn from the processes we have in place to increase vaccine availability without harming national security.”

Statement from Sen. Markey of Massachusetts: “The United States should invest in a vaccine of mass prevention before another new land-based weapon of mass destruction. The ICBM Act makes clear that we can begin to phase out the Cold War nuclear posture that risks accidental nuclear war while still deterring adversaries and assuring allies, and redirect those savings to the clear and present dangers posed by coronaviruses and other emerging and infectious diseases. The devastation sown by COVID-19 would pale in comparison to that of even a limited nuclear war. The ICBM Act signals that we intend to make the world safe from nuclear weapons and prioritize spending that saves lives, rather than ends them.”

Also introducing the act was Rep. Ro Khanna, D-CA: “With all of the global challenges we face, the last thing we should be doing is giving billions to defense contractors to build missiles we don’t need to keep as a strong nuclear deterrence. Proud to introduce this important legislation with Senator Markey in a bicameral effort to bring back some semblance of rationality into our defense spending and common sense in our nuclear modernization policy. The GBSD program is unneeded and projected to cost $100 billion, there is simply no logical reason to allow the program to move forward. For much cheaper, we can extend the lifespan of the Minuteman III missiles we already have and instead focus on investing in the urgent national security threat in front of us: the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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