A recent New York Times editorial is turning one of the significant nuclear weapons’ benefits for the U.S. national security on its head, charging that the nuclear weapons budget is “bloated.”
This is simply incorrect. Nuclear forces have been very cost effective relative to conventional forces and historically have consumed less than 5 percent of the Department of Defense’s budget. After the end of the Cold War, the funding for nuclear weapons infrastructure plummeted. For instance, the U.S. has not developed a new warhead or delivery vehicle for the past two-plus decades.
Yet nuclear weapons continue to play an invaluable role in the U.S. strategic posture. More than 30 countries all over the world rely on the U.S. nuclear security umbrella. If the credibility of the U.S. deterrent is hampered, allies will end up developing their own nuclear weapon capabilities. The paradoxical result of the “road to zero” could be more proliferation.
The editorial proposes “scaling back unnecessary modernization programs, and delaying or scrapping plans to replace some delivery systems,” as this would “help make the world safer.” Currently, the average age of U.S. delivery platforms is 41 years for the Minuteman III, 21 years for the Trident II D-5 SLBM, 50 years for the B-52H bomber, 14 years for the B-2 bomber, and 28 years for the Ohio-class submarine.
The U.S. produced its last nuclear warhead in 1989. This has led to anything but a safer world, as Pakistan, India, and North Korea have tested their nuclear weapons and Iran is well on its way to obtaining a nuclear weapon.
The Obama Administration already started unilateral reductions when it negotiated the New Strategic Arms Reductions Treaty (New START) with the Russian Federation. Since the treaty entered into force in February, the State Department’s release has made official what the experts had been alerting the Senate to prior to the treaty’s ratification: that Russia is already below New START’s limits. Even worse, as it turns out, Russia is actually building up its forces under New START.
While the United States is engaging in unilateral disarmament, all other nuclear weapon states are modernizing their strategic arsenals and building up their nuclear forces. U.S. nuclear weapons history demonstrates that the funds spent on nuclear weapons are a small price to pay for the nation’s ultimate “insurance policy.”