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Minot Air Force Base is Cornerstone of U.S. National Defense

Ambassador Marshall Billingslea’s visit to Minot Air Force Base this week demonstrates what Theodore Roosevelt meant when he said “speak softly and carry a big stick.” As the President’s Special Envoy for Arms Control, Ambassador Billingslea’s words as a diplomat carry great weight thanks to the awesome power of the missiles and bombers residing just northeast of Roosevelt’s North Dakota ranch. I spoke with Ambassador Billingslea prior to his visit to Minot to outline the vital importance of the nuclear forces at Minot Air Force. They provide the cornerstone of our national defense, and also underwrite our nation’s credibility when confronting our adversaries like China and Russia. The maintenance and modernization of our nuclear force must therefore remain a top priority.

The fall of the Soviet Union could have meant the end of nuclear competition with Russia. Instead, Russia has engaged in a multi-decade program to upgrade its weapons systems, develop new nuclear arms, and modernize its warheads. Meanwhile, the U.S. stopped upgrading its nuclear forces and now relies on equipment that has been extended well beyond its originally intended service life.

China presents another nuclear challenge. Beijing’s claim that it has only a minimal deterrent is undermined by aggressive efforts to deploy a nuclear triad of missiles, bombers and submarines while disclosing few details about the size and posture of its arsenal. These forces will continue to become larger and more capable until Beijing demonstrates otherwise.

As a member of the Defense Appropriations Committee, I am committed to strengthening our deterrent in the face of these growing challenges. This includes providing funding to replace our ICBM fleet and our nuclear cruise missiles, upgrading the B-52 with new engines and radars, and procuring modern helicopters to secure the missile fields. Also, through my position on the Energy and Water Appropriations Committee, I continue to support funding to keep our nuclear warheads safe and effective, including the warheads carried on our ICBMs and the nuclear cruise missiles at Minot Air Force Base.

President Trump has asked whether China and Russia would be willing to join negotiations that could improve stability and launch what Ambassador Billingslea has called “a new era” in arms control. Some in Washington, however, believe that pursuing an arms control agreement means we do not need to modernize our forces. This is short sighted. As he testified last week, efforts to reach an effective agreement go “hand-in-hand” with modernizing our nuclear forces. Upgraded nuclear forces can help ensure that Ambassador Billingslea is able to negotiate from a position of strength.

Credible and capable U.S. nuclear forces must be a top priority. We wish Ambassador Billingslea well as he begins new arms controls discussions and appreciate his visit to Minot Air Force Base to review our nuclear deterrent first-hand. Whether these negotiations are able to garner greater cooperation, we can remain proud that in defense of the American people and in support of our nation’s diplomacy, Minot Air Force Base continues to carry the big stick.

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