Money for Obama’s nuclear upgrades better spent on conventional weapons

March 31, 2016
A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria, in this U.S. Air Force handout photo taken early in the morning of September 23, 2014. These aircraft were part of a large coalition strike package that was the first to strike ISIL targets in Syria. At least 14 Islamic State fighters were killed in air strikes by U.S.-led forces overnight in northeast Syria, a group monitoring the war said on September 25, 2014, and the Syrian air force bombed rebel areas in the west of the country. REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Matthew Bruch/Handout  (IRAQ - Tags: POLITICS CONFLICT) FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS.  early in the morning of

A pair of U.S. Air Force F-15E Strike Eagles fly over northern Iraq after conducting airstrikes in Syria, September 23, 2014. REUTERS/U.S. Air Force/Senior Airman Matthew Bruch/Handout

As they prepare to leave office, presidents often seek to do something about nuclear weapons. President Bill Clinton tried to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, only to be blocked by a Republican Congress. President Ronald Reagan negotiated a treaty with the Soviet Union banning intermediate-range nuclear forces, and dreamed of doing away with nuclear weapons altogether.

President Barack Obama entered office concerned about the dangers posed by nuclear weapons. In his April 2009 Prague speech, Obama pledged “to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.” His initial efforts produced a stabilizing arms-control treaty with Russia and a series of international summits that made modest progress in securing nuclear material. Since then, however, the effort to control the world’s most dangerous weapons has stagnated.

Without progress this year, Obama could leave his successor an ambiguous and unsustainable nuclear policy. Lack of progress also makes it far more difficult for Washington to provide effective leadership at the president’s fourth Nuclear Security Summit in Washington on Thursday and Friday.

This December 11, 2002 file photo shows an unarmed minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile being launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and streaking across the Pacific Ocean as part of a test in support of the Missile Defence Program. The U.S. suffered its third failure in eight test attempts to shoot down a dummy warhead in space over the Pacific Ocean last Wednesday. U.S. President George W. Bush on December 17, 2002, ordered the military to begin deploying a national missile defence system with 10 interceptor rockets at a base in Alaska by 2004, a decision that came despite last week's failure of an anti-missile test over the Pacific Ocean. REUTERS/Tom Rogers TR/ME/AH/AA

Unarmed Minuteman II intercontinental ballistic missile launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, as part of a test, December 11, 2002. REUTERS/Tom Rogers

In the past few years, the United States has begun a vast effort to modernize its nuclear arsenal. Nearly every piece of the nuclear triad — submarines, aircraft and land-based missiles — is reaching the end of its service life and must be retired, replaced or refurbished. The military services, bound by the president’s nuclear guidance, are planning to rebuild the triad piece by piece, an effort that could raise the cost of nuclear deterrence to as much as $1 trillion over the next 30 years. Many consider that figure untenable.

Rather than tackle the problem, the president’s last budget, released in February, stays the course by adding more than $1.5 billion in new funding for major nuclear acquisitions programs. The Pentagon is “wondering how the heck we’re going to pay for” the rebuilding program, Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Brian McKeon recently told a reporter, “and probably thanking our stars we won’t be here to have to answer the question.”

Yet, Congress has placed limits on defense spending, even as the Pentagon is starting other large programs to acquire conventional weapons that the services say they need. Every dollar spent on nuclear weapons endangers one that could be invested in more useful military capabilities or in vital domestic spending priorities. Because Congress is unlikely to provide full funding, the nation’s next nuclear arsenal could be shaped by partisan infighting rather than by prudent strategy.

In any case, pressing ahead with the current nuclear modernization plans is unnecessary and unsustainable. Only the president can ensure that the next nuclear arsenal is strategically rational and fiscally prudent.

Obama can still take steps to ensure that his Prague agenda endures and that the next president has the flexibility and data necessary to make the hard choices of paring back the modernization plans.

The Ohio-Class ballistic missile submarine USS Nevada (SSBN 733) returns to homeport at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor following a strategic deterrent patrol, in Bangor, Washington, in this March 4, 2014, handout photo provided by the U. S. Navy. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ahron Arendes/Handout via Reuters    FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. IT IS DISTRIBUTED, EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS

The Ohio-Class ballistic missile submarine USS Nevada (SSBN 733) returns to homeport at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor in Bangor, Washington, March 4, 2014. REUTERS/U.S. Navy/Chief Mass Communication Specialist Ahron Arendes/Handout

First, Obama should have the Pentagon conduct a comprehensive study on the expected costs of nuclear modernization that could be ready for the next president on day one.

Second, he should alter guidance that forces the military to replicate the current arsenal piece for piece.

Third, before leaving office, Obama should cancel — or at least pause — programs that are getting to the point where it will be difficult to call them off because of too much money spent and too many contracts signed. The new air-launched cruise missile, for example, is a slower and riskier way of threatening targets that can be struck by ballistic missiles. The Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missile does not need to be replaced with a new equivalent missile.

In addition, cancelling a program to refurbish 180 tactical nuclear bombs stationed in Europe could save $28.8 billion — too much money for too little deterrence.

Instead of varying the number of ballistic-missile submarines from 14 to 12 to 10 and back up to 12, as planned, the next administration should order that the submarine fleet be immediately reduced to 10 — and kept there. It should also vigorously pursue a new arms-control agreement with Russia to limit the most dangerous elements of their modernization plans.

Each of these steps could save between $20 billion to $30 billion over the next 25 years. The savings could be used to fund more useful military capabilities. Cutting just one of these systems, for example, could cover the recently quadrupled program to fortify deterrence in Europe against an aggressive Russia for the better part of a decade. Alternatively, it could provide major funding for education, poverty relief or scientific research here at home.

Obama’s last chance to reduce the role of nuclear weapons — and provide the necessary leadership for encouraging nuclear security around the globe — is likely also his best. He could ensure that the country remains on the long path to a world without nuclear weapons rather than sliding headlong into a new arms race.

2 comments

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Scientist Linus Pauling estimated over 60 million cancer/deaths were attributable just to humans being exposed to the radiation from above-ground nuclear tests.

That radiation STILL persists in our food, oceans, water, air, etc.

Add to that the radiation from nuclear energy power plants which spew radiation daily and nuclear meltdowns like Chernobyl and Fukushima which have added to “background” radiation.

Now you know the reason for the high cases of cancer in countries with nuclear weapons and nuclear power plants.

Humans do not do well being exposed to nuclear radiation.

The cost in terms of money and in human health are astronomical.

Posted by DontBeLate | Report as abusive

I totally agree with the first poster.

That is exactly why we need a viable deterrence.

Modernization of our nuclear forces is essential.

Posted by WayneVan | Report as abusive