The High Costs of Nuclear Arsenals
November 2, 2011
David Krieger / The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation & The New York Times
Nine countries currently claim more than 20,000 nuclear weapons and spend $105 billion annually on their nuclear arsenals. That will amount to more than $1 trillion over the next decade. The US, which has spent nearly $8 trillion building, stockpiling and maintaining its atomic arsenal, accounts for about 60 percent of this amount. For comparison, the World Bank has estimated that spending $40 to $60 billion a year could end global poverty by 2015.
The High Costs of Nuclear Arsenals
David Krieger / The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation
(October 31, 2011) -- Nuclear weapons are costly in many ways. They change our relationship to other nations, to the Earth, to the future and to ourselves. In the mid-1990s, a group of researchers at the Brookings Institution did a study of US expenditures on nuclear weapons. They found that the US had spent $5.8 trillion between 1940 and 1996 (in constant 1996 dollars). This figure was informally updated in 2005 to $7.5 trillion from 1940 to 2005 (in constant 2005 dollars). Today the figure is approaching $8 trillion, and that amount is for the US alone.
There are currently nine countries with a total of over 20,000 nuclear weapons, spending $105 billion annually on their nuclear arsenals and delivery systems. That will amount to more than $1 trillion over the next decade. The US accounts for about 60 percent of this amount.
The World Bank has estimated that $40 to $60 billion in annual global expenditures would be sufficient to meet the eight agreed-upon United Nations Millennium Development Goals for poverty alleviation by 2015.
Meeting these goals would eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality/empowerment; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and develop partnerships for development.
The US is now spending over $60 billion annually on nuclear weapons and this is expected to rise to average about $70 billion annually over the next decade. The US spends more than the other eight nuclear weapons states combined.
We are now planning to modernize our nuclear weapons infrastructure and also our nuclear weapons and their delivery systems. This was part of the deal that President Obama agreed to for getting the New START agreement ratified in the Senate. It may prove to be a bad bargain.
The US foreign aid contribution in 2010 was $30 billion; in the same year, we spent $55 billion on our nuclear arsenal. Which expenditures keep us safer?
Another informative comparison is with the regular annual United Nations budget of $2.5 billion and the annual UN Peacekeeping budget of $7.3 billion. UN and Peacekeeping expenditures total to about $10 billion, which is less than one-tenth of what is being spent by the nine nuclear weapon states for maintaining and improving their nuclear arsenals.
The annual UN budget for its disarmament office (United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs) is $10 million. The nuclear weapons states spend more than that amount on their nuclear weapons every hour. Or, to put it another way, the nine nuclear weapons states annually spend 10,000 times more for their nuclear arsenals than the United Nations spends to pursue all forms of disarmament, including nuclear disarmament.
The one place the US is saving money on its nuclear weapons is where it should be spending the most, and that is on the dismantlement of the retired weapons. The amount that the US spends on dismantlement of its nuclear weapons has dropped significantly under the Obama administration from $186 million in 2009 to $96 million in 2010 to $58 million in 2011. In the 1990s the US dismantled more than 1,000 nuclear weapons annually. We dismantled 648 weapons in 2008 and only 260 in 2010.
The US has about 5,000 nuclear weapons awaiting dismantlement, which, at the current rate of dismantlement, will take the US about 20 years. There are another 5,000 US nuclear weapons that are either deployed or held in reserve.
Beyond being very costly to maintain and improve, nuclear weapons have changed us and cost us in many other ways. They have undermined our respect for the law. How can a country respect the law and be perpetually engaged in threatening mass murder?
These weapons have also undermined our sense of reason, balance and morality. They are designed to kill massively and indiscriminately -- men, women and children. They have increased our secrecy and undermined our democracy. Can you put a cost on losing our democracy?
Uranium mining, nuclear tests and nuclear waste storage for the next 240,000 years have incalculable costs. They are a measure of our hubris, as are the weapons themselves.
Nuclear weapons -- perhaps more accurately called instruments of annihilation -- require us to play Russian Roulette with our common future. What is the cost of threatening to foreclose the future? What is the cost of actually doing so?
David Krieger is President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
The Bloated Nuclear Weapons Budget
Editorial / The New York Times
NEW YORK (October 29, 2011) -- Twenty years after the end of the cold war, the United States still has about 2,500 nuclear weapons deployed and 2,600 more as backup. The Obama administration, in an attempt to mollify Congressional Republicans, has also committed to modernizing an already hugely expensive complex of nuclear labs and production facilities. Altogether, these and other nuclear-related programs could cost $600 billion or more over the next decade. The country does not need to maintain this large an arsenal. It should not be spending so much to do it, especially when Congress is considering deep cuts in vital domestic programs.
A war with Russia is now unthinkable, conventional weapons are increasingly capable, and the main nuclear threat comes from Iran and North Korea. To have the credibility to try to contain their ambitions, the United States needs to be weaning itself from its reliance on nuclear weapons. Reducing the number of weapons, scaling back unnecessary modernization programs, and delaying or scrapping plans to replace some delivery systems will save billions and help make the world safer.
President Obama can start by speeding up already negotiated reductions in deployed weapons and committing to further cuts, unilaterally if necessary.
Washington and Moscow pledged in the 2010 New Start treaty to reduce their number of deployed long-range nuclear weapons to 1,550 from 2,200 by 2017. But unless something changes, both countries will increase nuclear spending in coming years, as they replace or upgrade aging nuclear production facilities and delivery vehicles -- submarines, missiles and bombers. That makes no sense.
The Global Zero campaign believes that as an interim step, the country can go down to 1,000 warheads, deployed and stored, without jeopardizing security. We agree.
President Obama endorses the goal of a nuclear-free world. But he has not gotten very far with his promise to negotiate even deeper reductions with Moscow.
In his push to win votes for the New Start treaty, Mr. Obama gave away far too much to balking Republican senators. He promised to invest an extra $85 billion over 10 years for the nuclear labs to maintain and modernize the arsenal, including overhauling thousands of older bombs that should be retired. He proposed spending $125 billion over the next decade for a new fleet of nuclear-armed submarines, 100 new bombers, a new land-based intercontinental ballistic missile and two other missiles.
Senior military officials acknowledge that hard decisions must be made -- including possibly eliminating one leg of the nuclear triad. In July, Gen. James Cartwright, then vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called for a reassessment of where nuclear weapons fit in today's world.
All Americans need to be part of that discussion, as does the Congressional "supercommittee," charged with coming up with a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Here are sound cuts for the nuclear budget:
• Senator Tom Coburn, one of the few Republicans to support nuclear reductions, has called for cutting the number of deployed strategic warheads to 1,220, the ballistic missile submarine fleet to 11 from 14, and intercontinental ballistic missiles to 300 from 500. He also favors delaying the purchase of new bombers until the mid 2020s. Total savings, according to Mr. Coburn, would be at least $79 billion over the next decade. It is a smart beginning.
• Don't modernize the B61 tactical nuclear bombs in Europe. No one can imagine that the United States would ever use a nuclear weapon on a European battlefield, and Washington is in discussions with NATO to bring them home to be dismantled. If the Europeans want to keep them for political reasons, let them pick up the tab. Savings: $1.6 billion.
• Halt construction of the new plutonium storage facility at Los Alamos National Laboratory. Costs have increased tenfold, and there are serious safety questions about the location -- along a fault line and near an active volcano. Savings: $2.9 billion.
• Halt construction of the Energy Department's Savannah River facility that is supposed to recycle plutonium from dismantled weapons into MOX, a fuel for nuclear power plants. The sole customer for the fuel dropped the contract. Savings: $4 billion.
• Cancel the uranium processing facility in Oak Ridge, Tenn. The nonpartisan Project on Government Oversight says that with $100 million in upgrades, another facility there can do the work. Savings: $6 billion.
• Down-blend more of the 400 metric tons of highly enriched uranium in United States weapons stocks for sale to nuclear power plants. The administration has neglected this, while investing in programs that increase the life of nuclear warheads. Revenue: $23 billion.
The country will need some number of nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future. And it must ensure that they are safe and reliable. But spending on the arsenal must be rational and consistent with national security goals -- not driven by inertia or politics.
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