A former Bush Administration official says the Omaha/Council Bluffs region could see tremendous hardship if Offut Air Force Base is closed — which he believes is a possibility under upcoming changes in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, or START. Ambassador Robert Joseph is with the National Center for Public Policy.

Until mid-2007, Joseph was the Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. “The current START agreement expires on December 5th of this year,” Joseph says “The Obama Administration, like the Bush Administration, is working to replace that treaty with a new treaty and the Obama Administration has said they’re optimistic they’ll have an agreement with modest cuts in the first round, but with the follow-on agreement with major cuts.”

Those major cuts, Joseph says, could target bases which focus on the nation’s nuclear arsenal. While there are a lot of “ifs” before the new agreement is reached, Joseph says several major military bases, including Bellevue-based Offutt, could close. Joseph says, “The impact for the local economy from a START follow-on agreement could be substantial, but ultimately, it’s going to depend what limits the new treaty will set for both the United States and Russia and how the Obama Administration will implement the agreement.”

He says if the arms control community gets its way, reductions in the nuclear arsenal could be very deep and costly for areas like Omaha/Council Bluffs. “Where are they going to take the cuts from? Whether it’s going to be from the bomber force or from or sea-based or land-based missiles,” Joseph says. “If the decision is to reduce the ICBM force further, below the current 450, I think the local impact could be significant.” Joseph says national security must remain top-of-mind.

“If we start cutting those elements of our nuclear deterrent that are essential for our national security, we’re going to be creating more problems than solving them,” he says. “There’s been a lot of talk about going to zero, about a nuclear-free world. That doesn’t correspond well with what’s going on in the world, countries like India, Pakistan, Iran and North Korea.” Joseph says these countries are aggressively pursuing nuclear weapons and even countries like Russia and China are modernizing forces and expanding in certain areas.

He says, “It’s only the United States that isn’t doing that and in the context of any agreement, we must modernize our force to keep it affective and reliable.” Joseph says along with our national security, we need to keep the local economy in mind. If Offutt were to close, he says it could mean thousands of local jobs would be lost along with millions of dollars in tax revenue.

Contributed by Karla James