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Ranking Member Risch Opening Statement at Hearing on Arms Control and Deterrence

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Jim Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, today gave the following opening remarks at a full committee hearing on the future of arms control and deterrence. Witnesses included The Honorable Bonnie Jenkins, under secretary for arms control and international security at the State Department.

Ranking Member Risch gave the following remarks:

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

“I agree with some of the things that you’ve said. I’ve been asking for this hearing for over a year and this is a really, really important hearing. Global events right now make this a troubling hearing, at a troubling time. 

“Why is this so important? Well, our Foreign Relations Committee prides itself as being the soft power committee – we look after national security by using soft power. But soft power only works when it’s backed up by hard power – not only hard power, but the best in the world. Our enemies and our friends must believe that we will actually use it when it’s appropriate to do so.

“For deterrence to be credible, it must be backed by capability and the political will to follow through on the threat. While we retain the world’s strongest military, its effectiveness has declined significantly, first under Obama and now under the Biden Administration. Our enemies need to believe that when we tell them ‘don’t’ and they do, that indeed they’re going to get fire and brimstone raining down on their head. They don’t believe that anymore.

“First, nuclear weapons are the ultimate foundation of deterrence and have kept regional conflicts from becoming global wars. Despite this, the Biden Administration has doubled down on the Obama-era talking point of ‘reducing the role’ for nuclear weapons in our national security strategy. You don’t reduce the role of your ultimate foundation for deterrence and that’s what the thought process is here by these two administrations.

“In fact, the administration demonstrated its commitment to disarmament by extending the New START treaty with Russia within the first hours of taking office. There was no rigorous policy process to support this decision, just blind faith in arms control. When everybody knew that Russia was cheating everyday – it was a gift to Russia.

“In truth, the nuclear landscape of the Cold War no longer exists. Our adversaries have changed their strategies. Russia and China have, and every day are, developing new nuclear weapons and increasing their reliance on them. They are willing to cheat on treaties to gain an upper hand. As the chairman noted, the only way we know about this, many times, is through the use of overhead observance. They don’t tell the truth; they lie to us. Despite this fact, the administration continues Obama’s policy of begging China to engage in talks about strategic stability. Meanwhile, China ignores our solicitations and is racing to nuclear parity.

“These misguided policies communicate to our adversaries that we so desperately want arms control that we will surrender our own security. Currently, the U.S. nuclear arsenal is required to maintain parity with Russia under the New START treaty, which Russia violates, and a 2010 security environment when China had fewer than 200 nuclear weapons.

“U.S. allies are understandably anxious about the explosive growth of Chinese nuclear weapons and their delivery systems and the likelihood that Russia will rely more, not less, on these weapons.

“Meanwhile, rogue nations like North Korea and Iran pursue nuclear weapons. The instability spreading around the world only encourages more proliferation as other countries seek to replace lost American deterrence and their growing dissatisfaction with reliance on America’s commitments.   

“In Asia, extended deterrence is particularly weak. Unlike in Europe, we withdrew all of our nuclear weapons from the region. East Asian allies not only worry about China and Russia, but a North Korea that is on track to field a diverse nuclear arsenal in the hundreds. 

“The U.S. should modify our nuclear forces to reassert deterrence and reassure our allies. Importantly, we should explore options for returning nuclear weapons to the theater for the purpose of assuring our allies. Discussing this should not be a taboo, our enemies are watching.

“On the conventional weapons side, we experience the same problems. The administration was right to pursue the idea of AUKUS, but it has proven long on rhetoric and short on results. Three years after AUKUS was announced, we are still operating under the same defense trade rules from the Cold War.

“The administration needs to certify our allies, take advantage of the ITAR exemption in the 2024 NDAA, and provide a clear path for expedited cooperation on capabilities not covered by the exemption – like hypersonics and unmanned systems. This is necessary if AUKUS is going to help deter China.

“In Israel and Gaza, the Biden Administration is abandoning Israel as it battles to ensure the lasting defeat of Hamas. The lasting defeat of Hamas is the only way forward. Make no mistake – America’s allies and adversaries are watching. They’re drawing the conclusion that the U.S. is becoming an unreliable friend. And the Democrats’ vendetta against Prime Minister Netanyahu, coupled with this administration’s disastrous arms sales policies and executions, is politicizing weapons sales and threatening America’s ability to recruit and retain partners and friends.

“U.S. credibility has been severely eroded by the Biden Administration’s vacillating support for Israel.

“This follows similar behavior in supporting Ukraine. The Biden Administration’s fear of escalation, from the beginning, led to costly delays in providing critical weapons to Ukraine at crucial moments. This constant dithering showed Russia that the Biden Administration was self-deterred and exploiting this fear of escalation would ensure U.S. inaction.

“Who knows what lesson Kim Jong Un has learned from our resolve. Even more consequentially, one has to ask what China has learned? It’s time to understand the world is different and requires a dramatic shift in thinking about global security. If we don’t reestablish deterrence, through strength and resolve, instability will only increase.

“Mr. Chairman, Chairman McCaul and I have written a letter to the administration raising a number of these issues and asking for some answers. I’d like to include that in the record, please.”

These remarks have been lightly edited for clarity. Witness testimony is available on