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The Russian incursion into Ukraine and the fast-paced annexation of Crimea has, as Josh Harkinson at Mother Jones points out, given hawks an extra boost in their efforts to add scores of billions of dollars to the Pentagon's budget to modernize and upgrade U.S. nuclear forces. Indeed, there have been more than 20 recent articles published on the subject taking President Obama to task for risking U.S. security with what they consider inadequate funding for the nuclear arsenal.

On the other side, where voices are not as amplified by the national media, are critics who say there's a trillion-dollar price tag attached to the upgrade over the next 30 years. Not affordable. And not necessary.

Among those calling for upgrading is Loren Thompson—a defense insider who is the chief operating officer of the non-profit Lexington Institute, which receives hefty contributions from major military manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin. At Forbes last week, he wrote:

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where this debate will end up in Washington: the delicate balance of terror—the nuclear balance—is back on the table as an active concern. Why? Because the White House was already reorienting (no pun intended) America’s military posture to East Asia, where both of our prospective adversaries possess atomic weapons, and now the world’s other nuclear superpower, Russia, has muscled its way back into U.S. military calculations. [...]

The Pentagon has plans for developing new subs and bombers before the current arsenal has to be retired, but funding is problematic—particularly with spending caps imposed by the 2011 Budget Control Act.

By murky shifting of dollars and pressure on Congress, the Pentagon has evaded many of the spending cuts the act was supposed to impose. But upgrading the nuclear arsenal in the way the hawks want would require additional spending, not just sparing as much as it can of the existing military budget.

That's additional dollars for a U.S. military that already spends more than the next 10 nations' military forces combined. Which is the opposite direction we should be headed. Democratic Sens. Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Jeff Merkley of Oregon set the tone when they introduced legislation in February: "America faces a real choice: Spend billions on nuclear weapons we no longer need or fund programs that educate our children and help find cures to deadly diseases."

There is more about this below the fold.

Thompson told Harkinson that a Russian assault on the Baltic states on in the Black Sea would require "weapons that are flexible and survivable"—meaning able to emerge after a nuclear attack and take out Russian targets. If this kind of talk gives you the shivers, you're not alone. Americans in older age cohorts well remember those shivers from the days decades ago when our teachers told us to "duck and cover" and face away from the windows.

President Obama, who wasn't born soon enough to participate in such drills, wants zero nukes, even though he knew when he first suggested the idea that this would never be accomplished in his terms of office. He wasn't, however, the first president to push for nuclear arms reductions. They began more than four decades ago.

That icon of Republican hawkishness, Ronald Reagan, said in his 1984 state of the union address: “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used. But then would it not be better to do away with them entirely?” And in his 1985 inaugural speech, he said, “We seek the total elimination one day of nuclear weapons from the face of the Earth.”

But while President Obama has talked about getting to zero, promoted reductions in America's and Russia's nuclear forces through the New START treaty and argued for a further decrease to perhaps 1,000 nuclear warheads apiece, he has also endorsed  modernization of U.S. forces. His 2014 fiscal year budget for upgrading and maintaining the U.S. nuclear arsenal is $23.1 billion, five times as much as the federal government spends for public health. Over the next decade, the administration estimated in 2012, the U.S. would spend $208.5 billion on maintaining and upgrading that arsenal.  

But the Congressional Budget Office concluded in a report in December that this is not enough. The actual cost, the authors state, will be a good deal more—nearly $150 billion more between 2014 and 2023, for a total of $355 billion. Specifically, modernizing and maintaining submarines, bombers and missiles will cost about $136 billion. Weapons, warship reactors and weapons labs will cost $105 billion. Atop that, $56 billion on command and control systems plus "cost growth" of $59 billion will be required.

Over the next 30 years, according to Jon B. Wolfsthal, Jeffrey Lewis and Marc Quint at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, the cost of the U.S. nuclear arsenal could hit a trillion dollars.

Even that's not enough for the superhawks.

Tom Z. Collina, research director for the Arms Control Association, told Harkinson: "Our nuclear weapons did not stop Russia from going into Crimea. [...] There's a case that what we really need to do is spend more on economic aid and that money needs to come from somewhere."

Chopping the nuclear budget by a hefty amount would not harm America's security, according to Collina. Markey and Merkley agree. In February, they proposed the SANE Act—the Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures—that would cut the nuclear budget by $100 billion over the next decade. Markey has previously introduced SANE in the House. It got 41 co-sponsors and went exactly where everything Democrats propose in the House these days goes—nowhere.

One example of their proposals: Reduce the dozen Ohio-class nuclear-armed submarines to eight and order only eight instead of 12 new replacement submarines and outfit each of them with more warheads. Savings over the next decade, $14.7 billion. Between now and 2040, $46 billion.

The SANE legislation—S. 2070—tracks some ideas for significant cuts that the Arms Control Association has put forth in its "Trimming the Bloated Nuclear Arms Budget":

• Cut warhead life-extension programs and defer the development of new ICBMs—saving $15 billion.
• Remove the nuclear mission from the F-35 fighter and delay the new long-range bomber until the mid-2020s—saving more than $32 billion.
• Cancel nuclear weapon-making facilities and missile defense programs—saving $37 billion.

Other possibilities:

• Delay development of the long-range standoff cruise missile: Savings $6 billion over a decade.
• Scale back the upgrading of the nuclear B61 gravity bomb by half, saving $5 billion over 10 years.

The Pentagon could also reduce its 480 land-based ICBMs to 300 by cutting one squadron from each of the Air Force bases where these are deployed and not replace them.

After all, each submarine in the nuclear-armed fleet carries enough nuclear warheads to obliterate a couple of dozen targets and kill millions of people. If that's not enough of a deterrent, an extra couple hundred ICBMs aren't going to do the trick.

Negotiated cutbacks in America's and Russia's nuclear arsenals over the next 30 years could easily obviate the need for much, if not most, of both countries' nuclear spending. With that as the agenda, then perhaps we could see some of these same lobbyists proposing trillion-dollar budgets for, say, some global warming-related projects.

Such talk, obviously, makes me a dreamer. Thankfully, I am not the only one.

Originally posted to Meteor Blades on Tue Mar 25, 2014 at 04:07 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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