December 25, 2013
By Mark Thompson
The U.S. spent two generations building a nuclear triad of bombers, land-based ICBMs and missile-firing submarines to prevail in the Cold War against the Soviet Union. A generation ago, the Soviet Union went away, and we continued maintaining the triad on some kind of Strangelovian autopilot.
Now those aging weapons need to be replaced, and the Congressional Budget Office has just told us how much it’s going to cost to keep the older ones afloat while developing their replacements: $355 billion between now and 2023 (not including $74 billion getting rid of old weapons and $105 billion for missile defenses to protect against enemy missiles).
That’s a cool half-trillion dollars over the coming decade for weapons most of the world hopes are never used. It, too, is happening on autopilot. The public pays little attention to the mammoth investment it represents, and the continuing hazards of having the nation’s nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert more than 20 years after the foe they were aimed at went away.
That $355 billion to support the nation’s nuclear forces works out to $35.5 billion annually, nearly $100 million a day, $4 million an hour, $1,000 a second as far as the eye can see. And that’s only the down payment. “Annual costs are likely to continue to grow after 2023,” the CBO reports, “as production begins on replacement systems.”
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