Reducing funding for nuclear weapons and related facilities is no longer a taboo subject among the nuclear cognoscenti. This change reflects the change in our strategic environment. The security threats we face today are not the threats we faced in the Cold War. A 21st century security strategy should not employ Cold War weapons.
The growing consensus for a new nuclear strategy includes most former flag officers of STRATCOM, missile commands, and large commands, along with former national security officials. Some of these leaders are Republicans; some are Democrats. They may not agree on many national security issues, but they do agree that the U.S. can maintain a nuclear deterrent with far fewerthan the 1550 warheads allowed under the New START Treaty.
The new nuclear consensus includes former STRATCOM Commander General James Cartwright, who chaired a bipartisan commission that recommended a nuclear force of 450 deployed and450 non-deployed warheads. These military leaders are joined by policymakers like Chairman of the Armed Services Committee Senator Carl Levin, who notes that nuclear weapons are “totally useless.”
Most believe that U.S. reductions must be taken in the context of arms control negotiations with Russia, on the grounds that it would be unwise to reduce when Russia does not. While this is a sensible approach, there is no reason why planning areduced arsenal could not begin now, when the United States is at an “inflection point” where many decisions about the future strategic force are hanging free.
Of course, revising the outdated nuclear strategy impliesending the Department of Energy’s plans to build expensive bomb-making factories. We don’t need facilities to pump out new bomb components that we will never deploy, not even as a hedge.
The U.S. spends over $30 billion on nuclear weapons each year. There’s a lot of room in there for smart, strategy-based cuts. Every dollar spent on unnecessary nuclear programs is a dollar not spent on programs and weapons our troops really need. Trimming the nuclear budget could save billions of dollars – dollars that would be better spent on other defense programs.
Some policymakers and experts remain vehemently opposed to a reduced arsenal, but their numbers are quickly dwindling. Many of arguments against revising the nuclear strategy can be traced back to politics – because President Obama supports nuclear reductions, his political opponents argue against it.
Some take a more strategic approach, arguing that the more nuclear weapons we possess the stronger the stronger our security. But, as former STRATCOM Deputy Commander Lt. General Dirk Jameson has written, “Having more nuclear weapons doesn’t mean we are winning… It merely reflects that our strategy is ill-suited to our times.”
Clinging to an outdated strategy is dangerous. As Defense Secretary Panetta recently remarked, “protect[ing] particular constituencies that may not be critical to our national defense capabilities…could harm our ability to pursue the high-priority investments that we think are essential to the force that we need for the 21st century.”
When pundits and policymakers argue for protecting unnecessary nuclear programs at the expense of vital defense capabilities, it’s hard not to see these nuclear warriors as a gang that time left behind.
Lodge is the director of nuclear security at the American Security Project, a non-partisan educational institute.