The $640 Billion Question

Whether or not the nation zooms over the fiscal cliff, the Pentagon’s budget is going to get tighter. This may be a challenge for some. But it’s also an opportunity for the Pentagon to shift away from Cold War weapons and reshape the U.S. military to deal with 21st century realities.

It comes down to a simple question: Should the U.S. put its money toward a Cold War nuclear strategy? Or should those funds be spent to equip the military to address 21st century realities?

That is the subject of a new ad that Ploughshares Fund is running today in Politico:

The U.S. is on track to spend $640 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next ten years, according to a recent Ploughshares Fund analysis. In a zero-sum budget environment, every dollar spent maintaining nuclear weapons is a dollar not spent supporting our troops in the field.

Bipartisan experts agree that the United States can meet its security needs with fewer nuclear weapons. A recent report from Global Zero, chaired by Gen. James Cartwright, said the U.S. can meet its security needs with an arsenal of 900 nuclear warheads total - a fraction of today's arsenal.

Keeping a large stockpile of nuclear weapons is taxing on security budgets. For that reason, as former Secretary of State Colin Powell once said, “There is no incentive to keep more than you need for the security of the nation.”

If we need fewer nuclear weapons and they are expensive more than security budgets can manage, why not cut them and pocket billions in savings?

That logic is gaining traction in Washington. Walter Pincus at The Washington Post says that making significant arsenal reductions and eliminating one leg of the nuclear triad could save up to $100 billion over the next ten years.

Such cuts could help address two pressing needs: getting rid of the dangerous excesses of the Cold War and keeping the U.S. from going over the fiscal cliff.


Tri-Valley CAREs in Livermore, CA is calling for a BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) type process for the Dept. of Energy (DOE) nuclear weapons complex in order to eliminate some of the duplication and "make work" that costs taxpayers billions of dollars each year for no commensurate benefit to the nation. This process has been undertaken by the DoD, now it's time for it to happen at DOE. Moreover, in recent reports, the DOE Office of the Inspector General has taken up this very same call - and for the very same reasons. It's time for a trim.

This is a terrific ad that should get politicians thinking. Perfect timing too, with our nation approaching the "fiscal cliff." It just makes no sense to spend tens of billions on nuclear weapons designed for archaic Cold War missions. This is especially true when considerable taxpayer money will be used to make major changes during gold-plated "Life Extension Programs" to existing, extensively tested nuclear weapons already known to be highly reliable. The last thing that should be done is to undermine confidence in stockpile reliability through a bunch of make-work for the nuclear weapons labs and their production complex. Instead, this nation should pursue a conservative strategy of vigorous surveillance and stringent maintenance while we progressively lead by example toward a future world verifiably free of nuclear weapons. Thank you Ploughshares for helping to propel us in that direction! [Disclosure: my organization Nuclear Watch New Mexico is a Ploughshares Fund grantee.]

Thanks, Ploughshares, for your leadership. I live downstream of Los Alamos National Labs and have worked hard for 25 years to educate myself and others about the economic and environmental consequences of nuclear weapons production. It is clear that far-reaching national and international consequences result from policies that are driven by pork-barrel economics. The revenue stream is what they really care about. Meanwhile, there is chemical and radioactive contamination everywhere nuclear weapons are made. We are awash in the dregs of patriarchy. Thanks for your voice.

Add new comment