by Erica Fein, WAND Nuclear Weapons Policy Director
The Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 budget is out and, to our disappointment, calls for an unabated rise in spending on nuclear weapons of questionable value. In brief:
- At the Department of Energy, spending on nuclear weapons activities is to rise by 8 percent from last fiscal year.
- At the Department of Defense, billions are requested to modernize the systems on which these weapons are delivered – i.e., ballistic missile submarines, bombers, cruise missiles, and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs)—known collectively as the nuclear triad.
- Outgoing Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has committed billions more over the next several years to support force improvements in response to the breakdown in morale and performance among airmen who operate ICBMs (known as missileers) and their commanding officers (and this story from yesterday, as if you needed one more example.)
Because the U.S. government is not, and has never been, required to release a comprehensive nuclear weapons budget, a precise total figure for nuclear weapons for the coming year is unavailable. However, a 2013 report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) (updated last month) determined that the United States spends an average of $56 billion per year on nuclear weapons and related costs, such as ballistic missile defense and Cold War-legacy environmental clean-up activities at nuclear weapons sites. Here is a sample of what the government is asking to buy:
The National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) weapons activities: $8.8 billion for managing and upgrading the U.S. nuclear stockpile. To put this in context, our friend Jay Coghlan at Nuclear Watch New Mexico explains,
“This [figure] is statistically equal to the Cold War high point in 1985 under President Reagan’s military buildup. Moreover, the NNSA’s nuclear weapons budget is slated to rise to $9.8 billion by 2020, nearly double that of the Cold War average.”
The new Air-launched Cruise Missile (ALCM): over $200 million (DOD and DOE costs combined). The ALCM is a weapon that can be launched by an Air Force bomber and penetrate enemy air space without having to get close to the target. Given the other capabilities of our nuclear weapon delivery systems, rebuilding this weapon is in fact highly redundant and duplicative – perhaps the quintessential example of overkill. To wit:
- The Air Force is planning to spend about $900 million per plane to build a new stealthy Long Range Strike Bomber that would be able to penetrate enemy air defenses undetected. The estimated total cost for these bombers is around $90 billion. Newly-upgraded B61 bombs (costing a total of $12 billion to upgrade) would be carried on the Long Range Strike Bomber. The new ALCM and the stealthy bomber with the new B61 bomb would essentially be performing the same mission.
- The U.S. military has two other unique means of delivering nuclear weapons from a distance and hitting targets: ballistic missile submarines and Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), both of which also require decades-long, billion dollar upgrades in coming years.
Such wasteful spending on the ALCM has us moving backwards. As Tom Collina of the Ploughshares Fund argues,
“Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, we can no longer remain on autopilot, replacing nuclear systems just because we had them before… if we did not have an ALCM already, would we buy a new one now? Not likely.”
NNSA Programs, Budget Pressure, and Congress
We were pleased to see the budget request a modest, several percent increase for nuclear nonproliferation programs, which are vital to preventing nuclear terrorism — especially because last year’s budget request cut these programs by 20 percent.
One thing to note, however, is that the President’s request is far from the law of the land. In fact current law, known as the Budget Control Act (BCA), caps overall “national defense” spending, which includes funds for DOD and DOE nuclear weapons among other things. The President’s budget request intentionally exceeds the BCA, adding $38 billion over the national defense cap for a total of $561 billion. It is now Congress’s responsibility to make budget decisions that live within statutory spending restrictions.
In light of this, Congress has four options for the year. It could
- a) appropriate above the BCA caps and see across-the-board cuts mandated by the law (which everyone agrees is a senseless way to conduct spending policy),
- b) amend the law and lift the BCA caps,
- c) prioritize programs and budget within the BCA caps, or
- d) appropriate at last year’s level through a continuing resolution (CR).
Whatever comes to pass, the NNSA will likely not receive the substantially increased funding levels outlined in the budget request for FY 2016. What we have seen in the past is that under tight budget constraints, nuclear weapons are prioritized over nonproliferation programs. This is unfortunate given that our current arsenal is not sized for 21st century security and nuclear terrorism is widely considered to be one of the greatest threats to mankind.
Obama’s Missed Opportunity
What’s left? A lot. The Arms Control Association’s Kingston Reif has a comprehensive summary of many of the Department of Defense’s nuclear weapons program requests for fiscal year 2016, including this handy chart.
At WAND, we are left with the sinking realization that President Obama meant well when he laid out a long-term vision for a nuclear-weapon-free world in Prague in 2009. But, ultimately, he has not moved the ball much closer in that direction.
Bureaucratic inertia, vested interests, and politics often get in the way of the best laid plans. Nonetheless, in the coming year, we will be counting on our members, new and old, to spread the word about the excessive and expensive nuclear weapons arsenal. At the end of the day, women want programs that invest in real security not those that reinforce a Cold Warrior mentality and line the pockets of defense contractors in the meantime.
In that vein, stay tuned for action alerts and analysis and stay in touch via twitter with WAND’s Nuclear Weapons Policy Director, Erica Fein: @enfein.