Finding Cents in Common Sense

The era of unlimited military spending is clearly over. With a huge focus on cutting the budget in all areas of federal spending, 64 Members of Congress are joining forces to highlight the nuclear weapons budget as a prime place for cuts.

Today, Ploughshares Fund’s Joe Cirincione joined Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) and Lt. General Robert G. Gard, to call on the congressional Super Committee to cut hundreds of billions from the U.S. nuclear weapons budget before targeting programs for seniors, families and the sick. Markey, who serves as Ranking Member of the House Natural Resources Committee and senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, announced that 64 representatives back his proposal.

Citing Ploughshares Fund estimates, Markey said that the U.S. will spend more than $700 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next ten years. Nuclear weapons and missile defense alone will consume more than $500 billion. The congressional Super Committee was established to make recommendations for at least $1.2 trillion in cuts to the federal deficit. In the next few weeks, the panel is due to finalize its plan. Markey’s proposal advocates cutting at least $20 billion per year from the $50 billion nuclear weapons budget, for a total $200 billion the next 10 years.

Writing in Politico, Markey calls his plan the “nuclear option” for deficit reduction. “The Berlin Wall fell. The Soviet Union crumbled. The Cold War ended. Yet 20 years later, we continue to spend more than $50 billion a year on an excessive nuclear arsenal. This makes no sense. The Soviets are long gone, yet the stockpiles remain. These funds are a drain on our budget and a disservice to the next generation of Americans.”

Some members of the military agree. Markey cited a high ranking military official who believes it will be counterproductive to make unsustainable, open-ended commitments to hugely expensive programs that are irrelevant to the most likely threats we face.

"We can save hundreds of billions of dollars by restructuring the U.S. nuclear program for the 21st century," said Rep. Markey. "We can no longer afford to rob the future to pay for unneeded weapons of the past."

The letter to the Super Committee points to specific targets. For example, cancel or scale back new programs such as the plan to build 12 new nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines and new facilities to support the nuclear weapons force. Markey implies that it makes double sense from a national security standpoint to make cuts now. First, a stronger economy bolsters national security. Second, cuts to unnecessary nuclear weapons programs reduces Russia’s to rebuild its arsenal.

Markey is joining fiscal-minded Republicans who have already called for nuclear budget cuts. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), who voted against the New START nuclear reductions treaty in December 2010, has proposed a deficit reduction plan that would cut $79 billion in spending on nuclear weapon systems over the next decade by reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal to below the New START limit of 1,550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads and cutting the number of delivery systems and warheads in reserve and by delaying procurement of a new long-range bomber until the mid-2020s.

“Representative Markey’s letter to the Super Committee shows there is a growing bipartisan consensus that we have to cut unnecessary nuclear programs in order to fund more pressing priorities. Senator Coburn says cut close to $80 billion, Representative Markey says $200 billion. This is the kind of bidding war we like,” said Cirincione.