Should the US Spend $1 Trillion on Nuclear Weapons?
Image Credit: US Navy

Should the US Spend $1 Trillion on Nuclear Weapons?

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The United States will have to spend $18 billion a year for 15 years starting in 2021 to keep its nuclear weapons operational, Kris Osborne over at military.com reports.

His assessment is based on the testimony of U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary Bob Work in front of the House Armed Services Committee yesterday. The subject of the hearing was nuclear deterrence.

“We’ve developed a plan to transition our aging system. Carrying out this plan will be an expensive proposition. It is projected to cost DoD an average of $18 billion a year from 2021 through 2035,” Work noted.

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The Pentagon is in the middle of initiating the modernization of its nuclear triad (land-based missiles, submarine-launched missiles, and long-range bombers).

Among other DoD programs to upgrade nuclear weapons complexes, the Navy is trying to work out a deal with Congress over its $80 billion Ohio Replacement Program (12 new ballistic missile submarines to enter service in the 2030).

The Air Force is speeding up the development of its Long-Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) to enter service in 2025 in addition to initiating a new mobile land-based intercontinental ballistic missile program and upgrading 480 B61-12 bombs (to be carried by the F-35 A).

Total cost of modernizing the United States’ nuclear triad over 30 years could be as high as $1 trillion, with $348 billion spend over the next ten years, according to a proposed modernization plan of the Obama White House.

The Arms Control Association reports that the United States currently has 1,597 deployed and 2,800 non-deployed strategic nuclear warheads, and 500 tactical nuclear warheads. Work, in his testimony, tried to convince lawmakers of the urgent need to begin modernization U.S. nuclear forces given the growing nuclear arsenals of countries opposed to American interests:

While we seek a world without nuclear weapons, we face the harsh reality that Russia and China are rapidly modernizing their already capable nuclear arsenals – and North Korea intends to develop nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them against the United States. A strong nuclear deterrent force will remain critical to our national security.

However, the director for disarmament and threat reduction policy of the Arms Control Association, Kingston Reif, is skeptical of the Pentagon’s current plans:

 Instead of moving forward with an overly ambitious and excessively expensive modernization plan that would recapitalize a US nuclear force that is, by the Pentagon’s and the president’s own analysis, far larger than US nuclear deterrence needs require, the White House, Pentagon and Energy Department should examine common-sense options for reshaping the arsenal in ways that would save billions and still provide more than adequate nuclear deterrence capabilities,” he said. “Such options exist.

As I reported earlier this week, a new study by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies entitled “A Competitive Strategies Approach to Defining U.S. Nuclear Strategy and Posture for 2025-2050,” argues that the current U.S. nuclear force posture is inadequate to address security challenges in this new more volatile nuclear threat environment and that, as a consequence the United States should consider to actively deploy tactical nuclear weapons.

Nevertheless, the appendix of the study contains an analysis by two scholars that comes to a very different conclusion than that of the main report and (again) is worthwhile quoting in full:

Nuclear weapons do not achieve U.S. policy objectives, dominant conventional forces do. The U.S. interest lies in seeking to minimize the importance accorded to nuclear weapons by narrowing the roles they are perceived to play. U.S. doctrine, policy, forces, and diplomacy should all be configured to support this interest. The posture described in this paper achieves just that, in contrast to postures that imagine uses of nuclear weapons that have never actually been demonstrated. After 70 years of indulging fantasies of what nuclear weapons can do, it is high time to acknowledge that they do very little and adapt U.S. nuclear policy, strategy, and forces to those facts.

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