With the 70th anniversary of the only offensive use of nuclear weapons occurring this month eyes have begun shifting to a U.S. nuclear arsenal that continues to show signs of age. Current cost estimates of upgrading America’s arsenal are now put at a stunning $1 trillion over a period of 30 years, far higher than previously thought. Considering that the U.S. nuclear stockpile consists of 7,300 warheads, that averages out to over $135 million per warhead, raising fresh questions about how well spent this money will be.
As President Obama continues to shore up support for his Iran nuclear deal, the maintenance of an arsenal that is an order of magnitude larger than other nation’s arsenals save for Russia’s may provide plenty of fodder for critics, not to mention presidential candidates.
The U.S. arsenal of over 7,000 warheads comes in just behind Russia’s at over 8,000, but is far beyond potential aggressor China’s 240. The new cost projections are far beyond the Manhattan Project’s price tag of $20 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars. A fraction of the U.S. arsenal is still maintained on “hair trigger” alert, able to fire within minutes.
The projected spending would be aimed at shoring up the so-called “nuclear triad” composed of intercontinental ballistic missile, submarines, and aircraft. With the total U.S. military budget expected to remain just below $600 billion for the next few years, the average cost per year over 30 years for the nuclear upgrades would amount to around 5% of the total yet in an age of terrorism and insurgents deliver almost no tangible result.
President Obama has presided over an administration that has expanded surveillance activities on Americans, as well as continuing to wage war in the Middle East without appearing too eager about it. Just as he has reneged on previous campaign promises, he looks to do the same regarding nuclear weapons.
If the plan is implemented it will push disarmament further out into the future, as well as weaken our credibility with aspiring nuclear powers, who are frequently scolded for pursuing expensive nuclear weapons programs to the detriment of needy populations. Perhaps the time has come for America to show leadership and look to meaningfully staunch the fiscal hemorrhaging our nuclear program causes.