On June 6, the Council for a Livable World, along with its sister organizations Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and Council for a Livable World’s PeacePAC, celebrated its 50th anniversary.
The Council hosted a forum in the Capitol Hill Visitor Center that included remarks from six Senators: Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry (D-MA), Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI), and Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD).
Council for a Livable World has a long and close relationship with each of the Senators. They have all been leading advocates in the Senate for sensible national security policies, such as reducing the dangers posed by weapons of mass destruction, reigning in the bloated defense budget, and bringing an end to the War in Afghanistan.
Senator Merkley praised the Council’s work on the New START treaty and advocacy for a swift drawdown of US troops in Afghanistan. Senator Merkley has been a Senate leader on this issue. He focused in particular on his work on Afghanistan, noting that the legislative efforts of those opposed to the war have given space to the President to drawdown troops more quickly than he otherwise might have. Senator Merkley also lamented the extreme abuse of the filibuster, and outlined his efforts with Senator Tom Udall to reform the process.
Senator Reed, recently returned from a trip to Afghanistan, generally agreed with the Administration’s timeline to withdraw all combat troops by the end of 2014. He and Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin has made numerous visits to that country. When asked about prospects for reducing nuclear weapons spending, Senator Reed noted that Republicans have been propping up the nuclear weapons budget. He argued that it is time to rethink the nuclear triad and that intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are the most vulnerable leg. Senator Reed stated that we should pursue further nuclear weapons reductions, but that politically it would be necessary to do so bilaterally with Russia. When asked what should be done to reduce the Pentagon budget, Senator Reed said reductions in war spending alone will not produce the necessary savings. He identified expensive conventional weapons systems, nuclear weapons, personnel costs as candidates for cuts.
Chairman Kerry spoke primarily about US nuclear weapons policy and the UN Convention on the Law of the Seas. While his remarks were off-the-record, he remains a champion of the New START Treaty and is working hard to build a coalition in favor of the Law of the Seas Treaty.
Senator Udall discussed the war in Afghanistan and stated that the US has already achieved the goals for which it originally went to war and that what has transpired since is an example of mission creep. He made the case that in future conflicts we must more clearly define our objectives and a strategy for achieving them in order to prevent mission creep. Senator Udall also spoke about the importance of reforming the filibuster rule in the Senate, a rule that has hindered legislative progress..
Chairman Levin remarked that we have seen progress in Afghanistan and that we should continue to drawdown our troop presence while providing aid and support to the Afghan National Army. He said he is not clear what the Administration’s next steps are after the withdrawal of more combat troops. Senator Levin also highlighted some of the differences between the Senate and House versions of the Fiscal Year 2013 defense bill that will need to be ironed out when the two sides meet in Conference. Levin criticized provisions in the House bill (1) requiring construction of a missile defense site on the East Coast of the United States, (2) that would restrict the President’s ability to engage in talks on missile defense cooperation with the Russians and (3) restrictions on chaplains conducting marriages of two gay people..
Senator Cardin discussed what he termed “big picture” concerns. He stated we need to conceive of national security spending as including much more than the military budget, such as investments in international development and diplomacy. However the budgets for development and diplomacy don’t reflect their essential importance to national security. He argued that the US must exhibit stronger leadership in these areas. Senator Cardin also lamented the situation in Syria and Russia’s role in aiding Assad. He noted that while he believes Assad must resign, there is no guarantee that his replacement will be better.
The event was a powerful reminder of the Council’s 50-year role in building in the Senate a strong cadre of progressive Senators on national security issues.
To read about the the evening reception at the Newseum in downtown Washington, click here..