U.S. Nuclear Spending Hits Record Level

Tuesday, September 23, 2014
First Nuclear Test Explosion (Trinity) July 16, 1945 (photo: Jack W. Aeby)

President Barack Obama, who campaigned on the idea of ridding the world of nuclear weapons, now wants to commit the nation to spending more money than ever before on such armaments.


If the administration’s current 30-year plan for modernizing the arsenal is fully implemented, the government will wind up spending $872 billion to more than $1 trillion on new warheads, missiles, submarines and other facets of the program, according to a new report from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. These estimates ignore possible price increases and costs of dismantling retired weapons systems.


Jeffrey Lewis at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, who participated in the study, told The New York Times that the saving grace of the cost estimates is that it’s unlikely the government will be able to afford this kind of spending over the next three decades. “There isn’t enough money,” Lewis said. “You’re going to get a train wreck.”

The U.S. nuclear program is referred to as a triad, with missile-carrying submarines, land-based missiles and strategic bombers part of the plan. The vehicles used in all three legs of the triad are scheduled for replacement.


An independent defense review, ordered by Congress and the Defense Department, in July, declared it unaffordable. “The Department is committed to a recapitalization of the triad, which under current budget constraints is unaffordable, especially considering that the nuclear deterrent’s supporting infrastructure, command and control system, and other enabling capabilities also require expensive renovations,” the report read.


Former members of Congress and aides to the president have been left wondering what happened to the arms-reduction version of Obama who took over the Oval Office.


Former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn of Georgia, whose positions favoring nuclear disarmament reportedly meant something to Obama at one time, told the newspaper that the president’s new position is “hard to explain.”


Others like Gary Samore, Obama’s top nuclear advisor during his first term, said Russia’s aggressive geopolitical moves in Ukraine, among other international and domestic developments, have made it impossible for the president to seriously consider arms reduction.


“The most fundamental game changer is Putin’s invasion of Ukraine,” Samore told the Times. “That has made any measure to reduce the stockpile unilaterally politically impossible.”


The United States last tested a nuclear weapon on September 23, 1992.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

U.S. Ramping Up Major Renewal in Nuclear Arms (by William Broad and David Sanger, New York Times)

The Trillion Dollar Nuclear Triad (by Jon B. Wolfsthal, Jeffrey Lewis and Marc Quint, James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies) (pdf)

Is Money Wasted on Nuclear Weapons being Driven by Lobbyists? (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)

Nobel Peace Prize Winner Obama Increases Spending for Nuclear Weapons (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)


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