Nuke the Budget

Tom Z. Collina, “Nuke the Budget,” Foreign Policy, August 9 2013

Consider this: The Pentagon, as directed by Congress, must dramatically cut its budget. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel warns the projected cuts are so large that they would “break” key parts of the military’s national security strategy, and even then “the savings fall well short” of meeting the $500 billion 10-year target.

At the same time, President Barack Obama, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Pentagon have determined that the United States has more strategic nuclear warheads than it needs to deter potential threats and can therefore reduce the deployed stockpile by up to one-third, to about 1,000 warheads. Hagel supported even deeper nuclear reductions before he was tapped to head the Pentagon.

Perfect target for budget cuts, right? Wrong, says Hagel, who has taken the U.S. nuclear weapons budget off the chopping block, all $31 billion per year of it. …

Of course, the United States should base decisions about its nuclear arsenal on strategic calculations, not just budgetary savings. But the strategic thinking has already been done. With full Pentagon backing, President Obama announced on June 19 in Berlin that “we can ensure the security of America and our allies, and maintain a strong and credible strategic deterrent, while reducing our deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to one-third” below the limits established by the 2010 New START Treaty. …

However, independent estimates of total spending on nuclear weapons, which include significant costs borne by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), run twice that to about $31 billion per year. Moreover, these costs are expected to significantly increase as older delivery systems and warheads are replaced. For example, the Navy wants 12 new ballistic missile submarines that would cost $90 billion. The Air Force is seeking up to 100 new, nuclear-armed strategic bombers for at least $68 billion, as well as a new fleet of land-based ballistic missiles, price unknown. The NNSA plans to spend $60 billion for a new family of “interoperable” warheads for the arsenal.

Relative to the overall defense budget, these numbers might seem small, but given the budget crunch, every dollar counts. Reductions to the nuclear weapons budget won’t solve the Pentagon’s or the NNSA’s budget woes, but they could offset some of the more painful cuts. Here are several ways that the administration and Congress can scale back U.S. nuclear spending and save about $45 billion over the next decade:

Read the full article here.