As Risk of Nuclear War Grows, So Does US Spending on Nuclear Weapons
January 27, 2015
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & The Ploughshares Fund & Kingston Reif / Arms Control Association
The president who once vowed to rid the world of nuclear weapons now presides over a budget that directs $348 billion over the next 10 years just on maintaining Washington's existing arsenal of nuclear weapons. In total the US is set to spend as much as $661 billion on atomic weapons and related programs.
Report: US to Spend $348 Billion
Over Next Decade to Maintain Nukes
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(January 23, 2015) -- The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has released a new report projecting that the US will be spending $348 billion over the next 10 years just on maintaining its existing arsenal of nuclear weapons.
The costs are split between two departments, with the Energy Department on the hook for $121 billion and the Pentagon paying the other $227 billion. The report warns that significant parts of the arsenal are going to be nearing the end of their service lifetimes, and that the cost could spiral over the next two decades.
Thus many are arguing that the $348 billion is misleadingly low, and that the already huge cost will get much worse in the mid-2020s as new weapons are ordered.
For decades, the costs of the nuclear weapons program were not well documented, but even now that the CBO releases these regular reports there is considerable dispute over the accuracy of the numbers. The most recent figures from Ploughshares argued that the overall costs, including cleanup and missile defense related expanses, brought it closer to $640 billion.
CBO: Nuclear Arsenal to Cost
$348 Billion over Decade
Martin Matishak / The Hill
(January 23, 2015) -- The US will need to spend $348 billion over the next decade to maintain its nuclear arsenal, according to a new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released on Thursday.
The nonpartisan agency said that, while the estimated price tag is lower than a previous estimate of $355 billion in December 2013, the figure still amounts to 5percent-6 percent of the Obama administration's national defense plan over the next 10 years
The CBO attributes the lower tab to "budget-driven delays in several programs, including a three-year delay for the new cruise missile and its nuclear warhead."
The Defense Department would be on the hook for $227 billion in costs, while the Energy Department would spend $121 billion, the agency estimates.
The updated estimate comes as the administration is set to unveil its fiscal 2016 budget on Feb. 2, and with sequester cuts set to resume, the timing could not be worse for the three legs of the US nuclear "triad."
What Nuclear Weapons Cost Us
The Ploughshares Fund
The US is on track to spend between $620 billion and $661 billion on nuclear weapons and related programs over the next decade. Do we really need to be spending so much on weapons that military experts don't believe are relevant to today's threats? Find out exactly where the money is going below.
Just how many nuclear weapons are associated with these mounting costs? Currently, the US has 8,000 warheads in its stockpile making it the second largest nuclear weapons holder in the world.
CBO: Nuclear Weapons Still Expensive
Kingston Reif / Arms Control Association
(January 22, 2015) -- This planned spending encompasses a massive rebuild of all three legs of the existing nuclear "triad" of land-based missiles, submarines-based missiles, short- and long-range bombers and their associated warheads.
The enormous price tag for nuclear weapons comes at a time when other big national security bills are coming due. Congress has mandated reductions in planned military spending, and the President's military advisors have determined that the United States has more nuclear weapons than it needs for its security.
Today's report is an update to the cost study that CBO released in December 2013, which put the anticipated price tag for US nuclear forces between FY 2014 and FY 2023 at $355 billion. The update, which estimates the cost between FY 2015 and FY 2024, is slightly less than last year's estimate due to "budget-driven delays in several programs, including a three-year delay for the new cruise missile and its nuclear warhead."
CBO's spending projection is approximately $51 billion more than the $297 billion ten-year estimate the Defense and Energy Department's provided to Congress last year. The difference would be even larger but for the fact that CBO only counts 25% of the costs of the next generation long-range strategic bomber as nuclear-related, whereas the Defense Department estimate counts the entire cost of the new bomber.
Neither the CBO nor executive branch estimates include the 10 percent annual increase in funding over the next five years proposed by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel late last year in response to the raft of professional and ethical lapses and poor morale in the US nuclear force. This could add at least another $6-$7 billion in costs.
CBO's update reinforces a number of concerns and recommendations made by the Arms Control Association about current nuclear weapons spending plans and the policy assumptions that are driving them.
First, though the military has already determined that the United States can reduce the size of its deployed strategic nuclear arsenal by up to one third below the New START level of 1,550 warheads, the current spending plans would allow the United States to deploy far more weapons than this lower level into the 2080s. While such an excessive capability might be nice to have, it is gratuitously redundant and the projected cost is a threat to other defense priorities.
Second, the CBO and executive branch estimates only capture part of the nuclear modernization cost. The biggest bills aren't slated to come due until the early- to mid-2020s, meaning a significant portion of the costs fall outside the ten-year window. "We've got a big affordability problem out there with those [nuclear modernization] programs," Frank Kendall, Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics, said last month.
Congress would benefit from a clearer picture of the longer-term costs. Lawmakers should require that the Pentagon and the Department of Energy to provide it with a detailed estimate of the remaining life-cycle-costs of the existing triad and estimates (or a range of estimates where necessary) of the full life cycle costs for newly planned systems.
Third, pursuit of the current nuclear spending plan will force irrational cuts to other defense and national security priorities. In 2011, Congress approved the Budget Control Act, which places limits on discretionary spending, including military spending. These caps would require significant reductions in military spending from current projections through the end of the decade. It has been reported that the Pentagon's FY 2016 budget request will exceed the budget caps by approximately $34 billion. If Congress doesn't overturn the caps, the Defense Department will take a hit equivalent to 6% of its budget.
Faced with increasing pressure to reduce military spending, the recent National Defense Panel report called the Obama administration's plans to rebuild the nuclear arsenal "unaffordable" and a threat to "needed improvements in conventional forces."
Fourth, while the budget challenge facing the military can't be solved on the back of nuclear weapons, billions could be saved by trimming portions of the arsenal and scaling back current modernization plans. According to a CBO report published last November, the Defense Department could save approximately $55 billion over the next decade by reducing the number of ballistic missile submarines from 12 to 8 and deferring development of 80-100 new long-range bombers, some or all of which may be nuclear-capable. (The Air Force is pursuing a new long-range penetrating bomber primarily for conventional reasons, but CBO estimates 25% of the costs as nuclear-related.)
Last October the Arms Control Association released a report that outlined ways to save roughly $70 billion between FY 2014 and FY 2023 across all three legs of the triad and the warheads they carry. Included in this figure are the savings from adjusting the plans for new ballistic missile submarines and bombers, as well as options for scaling back or delaying other expensive new delivery systems and taking a more disciplined approach to rebuilding warheads.
CBO's reports on the projected costs of nuclear forces have brought a much-needed dose of fiscal perspective to the debate about the future of the US nuclear arsenal. Whether one thinks the United States has too many or too few nuclear weapons, it is no longer possible to hide from their immense cost.
A new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) released today estimates that the United States will spend $348 billion on nuclear weapons over the next decade, or 5 percent to 6 percent of the total costs of the administration's plans for national defense. But this is just the tip of the coming budget bow wave. Over the next 30 years, the bill could add up to $1 trillion, according to recent report of the National Defense Panel Review of the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review.
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