Great Falls Tribune: Malmstrom supporters cautiously optimistic new nuclear strategy won't hurt base

Malmstrom Air Force Base’s main mission may be safe for now under a Nuclear Posture Review released Tuesday by the Obama administration.

The base, located just east of Great Falls, oversees 150 nuclear-tipped missiles in launch facilities scattered around central Montana.

“Basically, it looks like we are secure at least through 2012,” said Great Falls’ David Weissman, chairman of the Great Falls Chamber of Commerce’s Central Montana Defense Alliance. Another 300 land-based missiles located at two bases in North Dakota and Wyoming also appear to be safe from cuts, he said.

“We’re glad that it’s all 450 (missiles),” Weissman said. “We’re feeling that we’re pretty confident for the next couple of years.”

President Barack Obama released the review Tuesday, and most of the media’s attention focused on when the United States would consider using nuclear weapons against another country or a terrorist group. However, the report made no mention of reducing the number of land-based missiles in the U.S. arsenal, which officials from the states where the missiles were located took as good news.

The office of U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., Tuesday suggested that Obama decided to keep all of the nation’s 450 operationally deployed intercontinental ballistic missiles through at least 2012.

“This is the right call for America and our national security,” Tester said in a news release. “It’s the right call for Montana and the strong relationship our communities have with the Air Force. And it’s the right call for Malmstrom and the folks who serve our country there.

“After years of pushing two administrations to keep our ICBM force at its current level, and after countless meetings and phone calls, this goes to show that working together, opening the lines of communication — and a lot of persistence — pays off,” Tester added. “When it comes to our national security and Malmstrom Air Force Base, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Tester, a member of the Senate Appropriations and Homeland Security committees, and senior Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., met last month with Vice President Joe Biden to urge the administration not to make any cuts to the nation’s ICBM force.

The other two members of Montana’s congressional delegation were more cautious about the Nuclear Posture Review’s effects on Montana.

“Malmstrom Air Force Base plays a vital role in our homeland security mission,” said Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., adding that he hopes to discuss the proposal’s impact on the country’s national security, Malmstrom’s mission and the Great Falls area. Rehberg added he is “greatly concerned” that Obama has told the world he would deploy nuclear weapons under fewer scenarios.

“Now is not the time to be weakening the strongest deterrent that we have,” Rehberg said.

Baucus said he was pleased with Tuesday’s report.

“It affirmed the importance of our nation’s 450 ICBMs,” Baucus said in a statement released Tuesday. “I was also happy to hear that the Department of Defense plans to continue the Minuteman III Life Extension program, with the aim of keeping the fleet in service until 2030.”

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