Hiding the Costs of Armageddon: GOP Tries to Hide the Costs of US Nuclear Arsenal
May 6, 2016
Alex Emmons / The Intercept
Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives have lined up to quietly kill a cost estimate of the Pentagon's three-decade nuclear modernization program, which experts predict will exceed $1 trillion. With America's infrastructure -- roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, water supplies -- crumbling, the Pentagon is moving to refurbish its 1,900 deployed nuclear warheads and replace each leg of its nuclear triad -- its land, sea, and air-based delivery systems.
Republicans Don't Want to Know Costs of US Nuclear Arsenal
Alex Emmons / The Intercept
(May 2, 2016) -- Republican lawmakers in the House of Representatives have lined up to quietly kill a cost estimate of the Pentagon's three-decade nuclear modernization program, which experts predict will exceed $1 trillion. The vote was mentioned briefly in Politico's morning briefing list last week but otherwise received no media coverage.
The Pentagon is already moving to refurbish its 1,900 deployed nuclear warheads and replace each leg of its nuclear triad -- its land, sea, and air-based delivery systems.
In October, the DOD signed a contract with Northrop Grumman to produce a new long-range strike bomber, and its proposed budget plan sets aside hundreds of billions of dollars to buy a new generation of ICBMs, nuclear submarines, and cruise missiles.
In the mid-2020s, those expenses are scheduled to overlap with major purchases of aircraft carriers and the F-35 joint strike fighter, leading to a surge in spending that experts have called "unsustainable," "unaffordable," and "a fantasy."
Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters in October that the Pentagon was "wondering how the heck we're going to pay for it," and that current leadership is "thanking [their] stars we won't be here to have to answer the question." In November, the Pentagon comptroller called the cost of nuclear modernization "the biggest problem we don't know how to solve yet."
On Wednesday, four hours into a marathon hearing of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., proposed a measure that would require the Congressional Budget Office to predict the cost of modernization over 30 years. The CBO is currently required to estimate the costs only 10 years out, which would overlook the longer-term surge.
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., spoke in support of the amendment.
"We're going to spend an incredible amount of money on what amounts to a new nuclear arms race. It will take money from other programs. . . . We ought to be aware of it, but we will be blind to the total cost," Garamendi said.
Republican Michael Rogers, R–Ala., rallied his colleagues against the amendment, claiming that a 30-year cost estimate may not provide reliable data.
"In all candor, a multi-decade cost estimate wouldn't be worth the paper it was written on," said Rogers. "This amendment would result in false, unreliable data in the public debate."
But Aguilar fired back, pointing to a 30-year cost estimate of shipbuilding programs the committee's Republicans had approved. "If we're not going to do long-term planning," Aguilar said, "then let's be honest about it."
The measure was defeated 26-36, with all Republicans voting in opposition.
In the last election cycle, Rogers received more than $65,000 in campaign contributions from defense contractors, including $5,000 from Northrop Grumman, the company producing the new long-range strike bomber.
Nuclear policy experts were quick to condemn Rogers's dismissal of a long-term study.
"Rep. Rogers continues to believe that ignorance is bliss when it comes to increasing transparency about the long-term cost of US nuclear weapons," said Kingston Reif, director of threat reduction policy at the Arms Control Association.
"Yes, it's true that 30-year costs are speculative. But Congress should want all the information it can get about the cost of these plans, especially in the 2020s and 2030s."
It is unclear whether the Senate Armed Services Committee will consider a similar measure in coming months.
Obama's Russian Rationale for $1 Trillion Nuke Plan Signals New Arms Race
Alex Emmons / The Intercept
(February 23, 2016) -- The Obama administration has historically insisted that its massive $1 trillion nuclear weapons modernization program does not represent a return to Cold War-era nuclear rivalry between Russia and the United States.
The hugely expensive undertaking, which calls for a slew of new cruise missiles, ICBMs, nuclear submarines, and long-range bombers over the next three decades, has been widely panned by critics as "wasteful," "unsustainable," "unaffordable," and "a fantasy."
The administration has pointed to aging missile silos, 1950s-era bombers, and other outdated technology to justify the spending, describing the steps as intended to maintain present capabilities going forward -- not bulking up to prepare for a future confrontation.
Last year, speaking to NATO allies, Defense Secretary Ashton Carter insisted that "the Cold War playbook . . . is not suitable for the 21st century."
But President Obama's defense budget request for 2017 includes language that makes it clear that nuclear "modernization" really is about Russia after all.
The budget request explicitly cites Russian aggression, saying, "We are countering Russia's aggressive policies through investments in a broad range of capabilities . . . [including] our nuclear arsenal."
In December, Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, testified before Congress: "We are investing in the technologies that are most relevant to Russia's provocations . . . to both deter nuclear attacks and reassure our allies."
The public acknowledgement that Russia is the impetus for US modernization has critics concerned the Cold War-era superpowers are now engaged in a "modernization" arms race.
"Both Russia and the United States are now officially and publicly using the other side as a justification for nuclear weapons modernization programs," said Hans Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project, in a statement emailed to The Intercept.
Early in his presidency, Obama was an outspoken advocate of nuclear disarmament. In April 2009, he pledged his commitment "to achieving a nuclear free world," together with former Russian President Dimitri Medvedev.
Later that month, Obama delivered a celebrated speech in Prague, saying he sought "the security of a world without nuclear weapons." And he negotiated a 2011 nuclear treaty with Russia, which required both countries to reduce their arsenals to 1,550 operational warheads each.
But according to Obama's advisers, Russia's invasion of Crimea halted his disarmament efforts. In a 2014 interview with the New York Times, Gary Samore, one of Obama's top first-term nuclear advisers, said, "The most fundamental game changer is Putin's invasion of Ukraine. That has made any measure to reduce the stockpile unilaterally politically impossible."
Former officials have proposed ways of trimming the trillion-dollar budget. In December, former Defense Secretary William Perry called for the Pentagon not to replace its aging ICBMS, arguing that submarines and bombers were enough to deter nuclear threats.
Retired Gen. Eugene Habiger, the former head of US Strategic Command, which overseas the Pentagon's nuclear weapons, has argued that US nuclear forces have little to no deterrent effect on Russia and China, and that the US can safely reduce its active arsenal to 200-300 weapons.
Last year, in an effort to cut the costs of nuclear modernization, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., introduced a bill that would reduce the number of planned missile-bearing submarines from 14 to eight. The bill, which would save an estimated $4 billion per submarine, was co-sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, the Vermont Democrat who is now running for president.
When asked about nuclear modernization at a campaign event in Des Moines, Iowa, Hillary Clinton responded, "Yeah, I've heard about that, I'm going to look into that, it doesn't make sense to me." Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio, on the other hand, supported the expense, saying, "Deterrence is a friend to peace."
Religious groups have also voiced opposition to nuclear modernization. "We were pleased with the president's statement calling for a world without nuclear weapons," said Mark Harrison, director of the Peace with Justice program at the United Methodist General Board of Church and Society.
David Culp, a legislative representative at the Quaker-affiliated Friends Committee on National Legislation, said, "The increased spending on US nuclear weapons is already provoking similar responses from Russia and China. We are slowly slipping back into another Cold War, but this time on two fronts."
Contracts are already being signed. In October, the Pentagon awarded Northrop Grumman the contract for the new long-range bomber. The total cost is secret, but expected to exceed $100 billion.
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