Update (Wednesday, 10/3): Yesterday, the Project of Government Oversight (POGO) released a response to the two Post articles analyzing their authenticity and focus. The posting also includes a rebuttal from Dana Priest, author of the two Post articles, regarding the statements made by POGO. You can check it out here.
There has been much debate lately concerning what amount of defense spending is necessary for national security. But what’s to be said when appropriate methods for defense become misunderstood and perpetuate spending that drains tax payer’s dollars on outdated weapons?
Recently, journalist Dana Priest of the Washington Post released two feature articles examining the topic of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, specifically the growing costs and key decision points associated with sustaining and renewing our weapons. In addition to containing numerous factual errors, the articles give short shrift to the bigger picture about the appropriate role and mission of nuclear weapons in the 21st century.
Two decades after the Cold War, the security threats of the 21st century have changed dramatically. As a deterrent, the estimated U.S. arsenal of approximately 5,000 warheads is superfluous. Only two nuclear weapons have been used in our history (on Nagasaki and Hiroshima at the end of World War II) and that was over six decades ago. No longer do we exist in a world where it is necessary to maintain such a large armory of nuclear weapons
As noted recently by Ajay Patel and Ben Wachendorf, a retired U.S. Navy rear admiral, “Russia can hold our land-based forces at risk, but it can’t threaten our SSBNs [ballistic-missile submarines] at sea. China is investing heavily in missile and space programs, but it is only a regional military power. The possibility that rogue states and terrorist groups could attack using nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction has increased, but if those elements are deterred by U.S. nuclear-weapon capability, the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal is not a significant factor in that deterrence.”
Or as former Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. James Cartwright put it to Priest: “What we have is way more than what we need.” Priest’s discussion of this fundamentally important question was buried at the end of her story.
A recent study by the Stimson Center indicates that billions of dollars would be required to update and maintain the aging nuclear arsenal amidst the looming $1.2 trillion automatic budget spending cuts that could occur this January.
Emphasis should not be placed on how to afford the extravagant costs of maintaining an excessively large nuclear arsenal, but on how to reshape our military for 21st century realities. This could help to alleviate the pressure of defense cuts by eliminating redundant and unnecessary spending on nuclear weapons.