Cutting Where It Counts

 In January, then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned us that government’s fiscal management might at some point become one of the nation’s largest threats to national security:

This country’s dire fiscal situation—and the threat it poses to American influence and
credibility around the world—will only get worse unless the U.S. Government gets its
finances in order. And as the biggest part of the discretionary federal budget the Pentagon cannot presume to exempt itself from the scrutiny and pressure faced by the rest of our government.

But, the good news is, as President Obama put it yesterday, that these “problems are eminently solvable and we know what we need to do to solve them.”

For the defense budget, one piece of that solution is clear: cutting the nuclear weapons budget. Our nation maintains a nuclear arsenal geared specifically to fight the major threat of the 20th Century: a massive surprise nuclear attack from Russia. Nuclear weapons are expensive – costing around $54 billion each year – and an increasing number of military and civilian experts agree that it is not useful against the threats that we face today, particularly nuclear terrorism.

In a piece published this week in the Brown Journal of World Affairs, Joe Cirincione argues that cutting this outdated arsenal would provide an unqualified win for the United States – helping us to streamline both our budget and our defense systems to meet the needs of the 21st Century. He writes:

“Reconfiguring the nuclear force to address the threats posed in the 21st century would reduce force numbers dramatically over the next decade without sacrificing vital military missions and yield savings equal to half of the current nuclear weapons budget. Negotiating with other nations to verifiably eliminate nuclear weapons over the next two decades would allow the government to shift almost all the remaining funds to other pressing defense and domestic needs and avoid the planned expenditure of several hundred billion dollars for a new generation of long-range nuclear weapon delivery systems.”

Turns out, an increasing number of Americans are starting to agree. A recent Rasmussen poll found that a plurality of Americans, some 48% “feel it is possible to significantly reduce military spending without putting the American people at risk.” A November 2010 poll by Financial Times/Harris Interactive found that internationally, when people supported defense cuts, cuts to nuclear programs ranked first under specific programs to cut.

The reductions called for in last week's "Budget Control Act of 2011" will slow the rate of increase in the Department of Defense's budget; further reductions could begin to shrink the budget. But it’s important that we cut in the right places. As Joe Cirincione elegantly argues, nuclear weapons are a great place to start.

photo by Mike (Inbet_1979)