Kingston Reif and I argue in World Politics Review today that growing the US nuclear weapons budget is the wrong priority in a time of such fiscal austerity…
A few highlights:
A close look at the Pentagon budget reveals numerous programs that are more suitable to defeating the Cold War-era Soviet Union than to addressing current security threats, such as weak and failing states, cyberattacks and nuclear terrorism. A particularly egregious example is the budget for nuclear weapons programs.
The plan to recapitalize the triad includes around $110 billion to build a new fleet of 12 nuclear-armed submarines. The Pentagon estimates the total cost of building and operating each new submarine at nearly $350 billion over its 50-year lifespan. It also plans to spend $55 billion on procurement of 100 bombers and an unknown sum on a new intercontinental ballistic missile. Additionally, the National Nuclear Security Administration plans to spend $88 billion over the next decade to refurbish existing nuclear warheads and rebuild the factories that make key nuclear warhead parts.
The U.S. nuclear arsenal of more than 5,000 active weapons may be useful in deterring a large-scale conventional or nuclear attack from a state, but it cannot prevent terrorists from acquiring or using a nuclear device, thwart the spread of nuclear weapons to additional states or ensure a stable and predictable relationship between the U.S. and Russia.
In the fight for scarce resources among national security programs, investments should match capabilities to current threats. The need to prioritize is particularly important as the Pentagon calculates the opportunity costs of building new nuclear-weapons delivery systems at the expense of other defense priorities, such as upgrading conventional air and naval power projection capabilities, confronting unconventional challenges in countries such as Afghanistan and keeping up with the growing medical costs for veterans.