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Monday, October 24, 2016

Russia has invaded Ukraine. Tough sanctions and a unified negotiating front are proving the only tactics able to slow Iran’s previous march to the bomb. And Pakistan, the world’s most unstable nuclear power, might be overthrown by thousands of fanatical protesters led by a cricketer-cum-cleric.

Don’t we have a nuclear deterrent to prevent these sorts of things from happening? As we contemplate spending a third of a trillion dollars updating our nuclear weapons, perhaps it’s time to rethink whether our Cold War strategy still works in a post-9/11 world.

Our nuclear arsenal needs updating. We have 450 Minuteman-III ICBMs that started rolling off the line in 1970. We commissioned the Ohio class nuclear submarines in 1981. The B-52s were built in the ’60s, and their more controversial B-2 cousins date back to 1989. Many of these armaments — technological marvels in their time — were built so we’d never use them, but they won’t last forever. If we don’t deal with our aging stockpile of Armageddon, we might end up nuking ourselves.

We’ve got about 4,800 nuclear bombs nearing their sell-by dates, and now we have to modernize this arsenal that we never intend to use. And it’s not just the missiles themselves — the subs and the bombers also contribute to what’s called the “strategic triad.” Add in the chillingly euphemistic “tactical” nukes (weapons optimized especially for short-range fighting), and the price tag for updating our Cold War rumpus room is staggering.

The Congressional Budget Office says modernizing our nuclear arsenal will cost us $355 billion over the next decade. And because they’re the experts on estimating what things will really cost in Washington, the CBO included $59 billion in expected cost overruns. Apparently we just expect to get robbed by our own defense contractors now and write it into the budget.

As if that weren’t enough, a recent panel of former government and military officials stated that spending on nuclear weapons could hit $1 trillion over the next 30 years. That’s trillion, with a “t.”

Just so we’re clear, we are going to borrow billions of dollars from China to pay defense contractors to overcharge us to dismantle weapons we never used to make room for new weapons we’ll never use to… well, to do what, exactly?

Sure, as long as other states possess nuclear weapons, the United States should possess a core arsenal to deter a potential, though extremely unlikely, nuclear attack. But Kingston Reif, the Director of Nuclear Non-Proliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, raised a good point in a recent column for Real Clear Defense: Our arsenal was built to counter the one in Russia, which is still the only other country with more than 300 nuclear warheads. And while you don’t need to look into Vladimir Putin’s eyes to tell that we ain’t exactly friends these days, the nature of our enmity has changed radically in that, as Reif notes, we aren’t “global ideological rivals” anymore.

No longer a godless horde of Commies — or the Soviet Union, for that matter — Russia is now worried about Islamic terrorism and dependent on the price of oil, just like we are. We only exist as a jealous counterpoint in Russia’s popular thinking as the ones responsible for their current low state.

Putin’s recent incursions into Georgia and Ukraine — both non-NATO countries — were expressions of a yearning for Russia’s former greatness, not aggression towards the United States. This would be like if the U.S. was overcompensating for feelings of inadequacy by invading Toronto because they have a baseball team. Picking on Ukraine makes Putin look desperate for validation; his actions are more tantrum than realpolitik.

And how are we countering this? The Obama administration is speaking softly and imposing big sanctions. Thanks to banking regulations put in place to stop terrorists from moving money, we have the power to systematically shut down Russia’s economy. And with the cooperation of our European allies, that’s exactly what is happening. For the last two months, Russia’s economy has shrunk as the country moves into a recession.

Our economies are far more interconnected than they were in the Cold War. We make more progress with diplomacy, foreign trade, and international economic development — the tools of soft power — than we ever did threatening mutually assured destruction. And our entire budget for the State Department and foreign operations is $49 billion, less than even the expected cost overruns for modernizing our nuclear arsenal.

Our missiles are aimed into the past at a world that has changed, but our bills will extend not just ten years into the future, but as long as the debt stays on our books. It’s high time to ask why we are rearming for a war we’ll never have with an enemy that no longer exists at a cost we can’t afford.

Jason Stanford is a partner with the Truman National Security Project. He is also a national Democratic consultant based in Austin, Texas, and writes regular columns for The Austin American-Statesman and The Quorum Report.

Photo: An unarmed U.S. Air Force LGM-30G Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile launches during an operational test at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif., Dec. 17, 2013 (A1C Yvonne Morales/Wikimedia Commons)

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  • Lynda Groom

    Follow the money and you will find the answer.

    • joe schmo

      You liberals always talk about money and greed coming mainly from the RIGHT. Maybe a layperson like yourself feels that we should ‘CoExist’ but our government and the wealthy 1% of Liberals (and believe me they are the new 1% and not in a good way) is a whole different entity.

      When we are all holding hands in fairyland then I can see changes. Until then we need to be sure we can back ourselves up even if we never use nuclear weapons.

      • Lynda Groom

        No. Money is money. Just follow the money to where it brings you. Liberal, or not, has little to do with the money trail when in comes to our many decades old nuclear arsenal issue. Since I’m not a traditional ‘liberal’ maybe you were talking to someone else.

      • Sand_Cat

        Well, since you are already in fairyland, maybe you could try.
        Or are you even beyond fairyland?

      • RobertCHastings

        The wealthy 1% of liberals (Buffett, Gates, Soros) have contributed, to CHARITY, about 20%, annually, of their great wealth. The Koch brothers donate a little over 1%, while the Walton family (the wealthiest conglomerate in the US) contribute less than 1% of their wealth to charity. Conservatives, today, are the ones we have to fear because they feel no compunction in creating a world in which everyone is fighting so they can make money from it. Conservatives benefit from government largesse through subsidies of the corporations in which they have their wealth invested, and in buying legislators who will assure their wealth is protected. And this is NOT the first time in American history such a condition has existed. But, then, you wouldn’t know about that, would you?

  • Dominick Vila

    I don’t support unilateral nuclear disarmament, but our focus on building a nuclear arsenal – and a conventional force – capable of pulverizing the entire planet when the only real foes we have, Russia and China, are more interested in building an industrial capacity that can match or exceed ours and improve their standard of living, deserves attention and debate.
    The answer to the author’s rhetorical question is: greed. There is simply too much money to be made to embrace concepts such as peaceful coexistence and a greater focus on the well being of the American people.

    • joe schmo

      The enemies always change and they have throughout history, Dom. Do you really want to be completely defenseless because that is what you are eluding to. I don’t believe we have evolved enough yet….. Sorry

      We humans haven’t come to a place of CoExist.. That word has got to be the most ridiculous notion that your side promotes. Of course, this coming from the people of the 60’s who were ten times more violent than any Conservative has ever been……doesn’t really surprise me.

      • Dominick Vila

        Did you read my first sentence? Neither Republicans nor Democrats are proposing unilateral nuclear disarmament, and we are all well aware that peaceful coexistence is a pipe dream. The question is: do we need the nuclear arsenal the size it currently is? Do we need more sophisticated, and expensive, jet fighters and bombers to fight people firing AK47s from the beds of pickup trucks? Do we need a Navy the size of all the fleets in the world combined to fend off potential attacks from countries that don’t even have a Navy or that are more interested in economic and social expansion than military adventures?

        • Sand_Cat

          He probably didn’t read any of your post.

          • Dominick Vila

            You are probably right. The only responses we get from our right wing friends are canned answers from FOX and Rush.

      • RobertCHastings

        In 1964, Barry Goldwater, running as the Republican nominee for president, touted his belief that a nuclear war was both winnable AND survivable. NO other candidate espoused such a belief, conservative OR liberal. You have either no concept of history or, like Beck and O’Reilly, wish to write your own revision of it.

  • Joseph Kelsall

    I believe that there is an analogy between Russia and the Ukraine and Cuba and USA. The USA has tried every dirty trick in the book to retake Cuba. Go take a look; Cuba is fine.

    • RobertCHastings

      If one examines the economy of Cuba, it is difficult to make the claim that Cuba is “fine”. The sanctions against Cuba have made what pictures we DO see of Havana quite nostalgic, as all one sees are US autos from the 1950s. As Cuba is in THIS hemisphere and, as such, falls within the strictures of the Monroe Doctrine, there is very little similarity between the situation in Cuba with that in Ukraine.

  • James Bowen

    This is crazy. The atomic bomb is what has kept the peace between the major powers since World War II. Without a nuclear deterrent, we would be much, much more vulnerable than we are now. Our mistake has been in sending the message that we are not going to use these weapons. That was foolish. A deterrent, i.e. threat, is only effective if it is one we are willing to carry out.

    • RobertCHastings

      The death penalty is NOT an effective deterrent to murder, because, even though since we have had a death penalty, even a period in our history when executions were public, murders continue to occur. There are, today, how many MAJOR powers? Do you think either Russia or China want to go up against us? What will happen to North Korea IF they launch a pre-emptive strike against a neighbor? What will happen to Iran IF they launch one against Israel? There is, at present, no effective deterrent to prevent crazy people from doing crazy things.

      • James Bowen

        The Soviet Union did not want to go up against us because we possess nuclear weapons. If they deterred Stalin, they can deter most people. As for crazy people, let’s see how many people they attract to their side if we demonstrate a willingness to use to annihilate them with nuclear weapons. We live in a world where raw might and destructive power matter. Not saying that I like it like that, but that’s the way it is.

        • RobertCHastings

          Kruschev and the others who replaced Stalin had no fear of our retaliative ability, or they would not have installed missiles in Cuba. Who blinked first? History paints a fuzzy picture of that, but it looks like Kennedy acquiesced by removing some of the missiles in Europe aimed at Moscow. And Castro would have shown no compunction in using the tactical nuclear weapons in place in Cuba against an invading (and unprepared) American force.

          • James Bowen

            Kruschev was very worried about not just our retaliatory capability but our overall nuclear superiority. That was part of the reason he installed missiles in Cuba–to try to somewhat nullify that advantage by putting many of our bases and major cities within just a five-minute reach of those missiles. The other part of the reason was that we had installed missiles in Turkey and Cuba was a logical counterbalance to that. At the same time, he did not have much respect for Kennedy and thought he could get away with it. Kennedy had learned a lot since his early mistakes though, and Kruschev was completely unprepared for Kennedy’s response. The U.S. Navy was deployed around Cuba with orders to halt all inbound Soviet submarines and ships carrying missiles. It was also prepared to launch an amphibious invasion of Cuba if ordered. The Soviet Navy was no match for the U.S. Navy at this time, and Kruschev was left with little choice but to negotiate.

            He and later Soviet leaders were also deterred from the NATO threat to use nuclear weapons to halt any invasion of West Germany, something they could have easily done without those NATO tactical nukes given their enormous advantage in ground forces.

  • RobertCHastings

    The last man to run for president with a plank in his platform that claimed a nuclear war was winnable and surviveable was Barry Goldwater, in 1964. We all have come to realize just how crazy that was, although, at the time, I canvassed a neighborhood for him with my father. The policy of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) was an effective deterrent, for many years, until both the US and the USSR realized that, with their massive arsenals of nuclear weapons aimed at one another, it was necessary to scale back to AVOID destruction. Kennedy did not know that Cuba already had a number of tactical nuclear weapons, ready to repel whatever American troops might invade Cuba, and Kruschev did not know that Kennedy had already made plans to dismantle the US missile sites in Europe aimed at Moscow. Miscalculations or mistakes by EITHER would have resulted in a true Armageddon from which humanity may never have recovered. The crude bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, had they been dropped on DC or Chicago, would have killed millions instead of just tens of thousands. Were the warheads available to us today to be dropped upon population centers, especially those near major geologic fault lines, the scenario depicted in the first Superman movie would become not just a cinematic trick, but reality. We have today bombs with the capacity to not just irradiate one of the New York City buroughs, but to make the entire New England area uninhabitable for thousands of years, in one, single, 20 megaton package. Where New York HAD existed would be similar to the huge crater created by the meteor that killed off the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. The MAD policy is still an effective deterrent, even if we scale back to 10% of our current arsenal.