By J C Suresh
A new study throws limelight on the skyrocketing costs of the current plan to sustain and upgrade U.S. nuclear forces and outlines several pragmatic options to maintain a credible, formidable deterrent at less cost.
The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study published on October 31 estimates that sustaining and upgrading U.S. nuclear forces will cost taxpayers $1.24 trillion in inflation-adjusted dollars between fiscal years 2017 and 2046. When the effects of inflation are included, the CBO expects the 30-year cost to exceed $1.5 trillion. These figures are significantly higher than the previously reported estimates of roughly $1 trillion.
“The stark reality underlined by CBO is that unless the U.S. government finds a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the nuclear weapons spending plan inherited by the Trump administration will pose a crushing affordability problem,” said Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association.
The CBO study comes amid reports that the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review, which is scheduled for completion by the end of the year, could propose new types of nuclear weapons and increase their role in U.S. policy.
“If the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review by the administration does not scale-back current nuclear weapons spending plans – or worse, accelerates or expands upon them – expenditures on nuclear weapons will endanger other high priority national security programs,” Reif noted.
The CBO report evaluates roughly a dozen alternatives to the current plans to manage and reduce the mammoth price tag. For example, according to CBO, roughly 15 percent, or nearly $200 billion, of the projected cost of nuclear forces over the next three decades could be saved by trimming back the existing program of record while still maintaining a triad of delivery systems. Additional savings could be found by shifting from a triad to a nuclear dyad.
“The report blows apart the false choice repeatedly posited by Pentagon officials between the costly ‘all of the above’ plan to maintain and upgrade the nuclear force and doing nothing. There are cost-cutting alternatives that would still maintain a U.S. nuclear force capable of obliterating any potential nuclear adversary,” said Daryl G. Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association.
“The trillion and a half dollar triad is not just unaffordable, it is unnecessary. The United States continues to retain more nuclear weapons, delivery systems, and supporting infrastructure than it needs to deter or respond to a nuclear attack,” Kimball added.
Over the past several years, the Arms Control Association has repeatedly raised concerns about the need and affordability of the current spending plans, argued that these plans pose a threat to other military priorities, and suggested more cost-effective alternatives.
In an issue brief titled ‘The Trillion (and a Half) Dollar Triad?’, posted on August 18, Reif referred to a tweet on August 9 by Donald Trump in which he said that his “first order as President was to renovate and modernize our nuclear arsenal. It is now far stronger and more powerful than ever before.” He reiterated this claim in a press briefing August 11.
“Like many of the president’s utterances, these assertions don’t come close to resembling the truth,” noted Reif. In fact the U.S. nuclear arsenal is no more, or less, powerful than when Trump took office January 20, 2017. The president did order the Pentagon to conduct a Nuclear Posture Review to examine and provide recommendations on U.S. nuclear weapons policy and posture, but that review, which officially began in April, is still ongoing and won’t be completed until the end of this year at the earliest, he added.
“In fact, it was President Barack Obama that set in motion plans to undertake a massive and costly rebuild of the arsenal. Much of this effort is still in its infancy, and will take decades to complete,” Reif stated. “Trump inherited this program, and his first budget request, which has yet to be acted on by Congress, proposes to move full steam ahead with the Obama approach. This is not surprising, given that the administration has yet to put its own stamp on U.S. nuclear policy.”
Reif added: What has been lost in much of the important fact checking of Trump’s erroneous (and dangerous) nuclear saber-rattling is that while the capability of the U.S. nuclear arsenal hasn’t changed over the past seven months, the projected annual costs of the current all-of-the-above upgrade plans are rising significantly – and not because of anything Trump has done.
The Arms Control Association’s director for disarmament referred to Congressional Budget Office report in February, which estimates that the United States will spend $400 billion on nuclear weapons from fiscal year 2017-2026. That is an increase of $52 billion, or 15 percent, from the CBO’s previous 10-year estimate of $348 billion, which was published in January 2015.
“The 10-year estimate captures the beginning of the major planned ramp-up in spending to recapitalize all three legs of the existing nuclear ‘triad’ of submarines, missiles, and bombers and their associated warheads and supporting infrastructure, but even larger bills are still to come,” noted Reif.
The Arms Control Association is an independent, membership-based organization dedicated to providing authoritative information and practical policy solutions to address the threats posed by the world’s most dangerous weapons.