For much of the past six years, President Obama has talked about working toward a world without nuclear weapons. Yet his administration is now investing tens of billions of dollars in modernizing and rebuilding America’s nuclear arsenal and facilities, as The Times reported in detail on Monday. And after good progress in making nuclear bomb material more secure around the world, Mr. Obama has reduced his budget requests for that priority. This is a shortsighted and disappointing turn.
Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
U.S. Ramping Up Major Renewal in Nuclear ArmsSEPT. 21, 2014
With the fight against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria dominating news headlines, it is easy to forget the threat that nuclear weapons and nuclear material continue to pose around the world. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists says there are 16,300 nuclear weapons located at some 98 sites in 14 countries, a vast majority in the United States and Russia. There are also 25 countries that possess enough nuclear and radiological materials to build a weapon, with such material held at hundreds of sites, many vulnerable to extremists.
When he first came to office, Mr. Obama was clearsighted about nuclear dangers and ambitious in his disarmament goals. His major arms control achievement was the New Start treaty with Moscow aimed at reducing deployed strategic nuclear weapons to 1,550 on each side, down from 2,200, by February 2018. But to win Republican support for the treaty in 2010, Mr. Obama made a Faustian bargain, promising to spend $84 billion to upgrade aging nuclear weapons over the next decade, a $14 billion increase over the regular $70 billion modernization budget.
But the Congressional Budget Office now estimates that Mr. Obama’s plans will cost $355 billion over the next decade; other studies put the price at $1 trillion over three decades. The wish list includes 12 new missile submarines, up to 100 new bombers, 400 land-based missiles, plus upgrades to eight major plants and laboratories.
There has been little debate among members of Congress and the public about the decision by Mr. Obama and Congress to pour billions of dollars into new nuclear weapons systems — even as other government programs have been cut significantly.
Not only is this spending unwise and beyond what the nation can afford, multiple studies by the Government Accountability Office have described the modernization push as badly managed. In a statement released on Monday, nuclear weapons experts from the Arms Control Association, the Federation of American Scientists and others called the modernization plan excessive and said the country can reduce the number of missiles and bombers it buys and still maintain a safe and reliable nuclear arsenal.
Worse yet, the administration is making a foolish trade-off — pouring money into modernization while reducing funds that help improve security at nuclear sites in Russia and other countries where terrorists or criminals could get their hands on nuclear materials.
Since Mr. Obama took office, he has pushed the international community to improve nuclear security. The result is that 13 countries have eliminated their nuclear materials stockpiles and 15 others removed or disposed of portions of theirs. But a report by experts at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government says the Obama administration’s proposed 2015 budget would cut spending for nuclear security by 21 percent, from $700 million this year to $555 million. While Congress restored some of that money in a stopgap spending bill, it expires in December and no one knows what happens after that.
Fortunately, 26 senators have recognized that such cuts are dangerous and urged that they be reversed. Investing in nuclear security protects Americans more than unwise investment in new nuclear weapons.