Towards 21st century security and harmony

The president’s effort to recast our outdated Cold War nuclear stance is precisely right, given today’s security needs.  As Gen. James E. Cartwright, retired vice chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and former commander of the U.S. nuclear force, has said, “The world has changed, but the current arsenal carries the baggage of the cold war…Our current arsenal does not address the threats of the 21st century.”
 
Reducing the expense of the U.S. nuclear arsenal also aligns with the goals of fiscal responsibility. Should we really spend between $600-700 billion on nuclear weapons and related activities over the next decade?  With the sequester axe falling, the Pentagon is going to have to make deeper cuts somewhere. Which senator would prefer those cuts come from the needs of our troops instead of from our expensive overkill nuclear arsenal?
 
And I’m quite sure that every senator concerned with America’s security would agree that there are very good reasons for the United States to vigorously lead efforts to secure vulnerable nuclear materials and strengthen efforts to prevent nuclear terrorism.
 
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It is that group of lawmakers who are pushing against the measures offered in the president’s speech who seem to be out of touch with the 21st century – and with the growing bipartisan consensus for aligning nuclear capabilities with current security needs. President George H.W. Bush and President George W. Bush led the way by eliminating thousands of nuclear weapons and delivery systems, preferring to invest in more practical programs. After all, as former Secretary of State Colin Powell once noted, nuclear weapons come at the expense of other defense capabilities.

“They take away from lots of things,” Powell said. “There is no incentive to keep more than you believe you need for the security of the nation.”
 
Unfortunately, Graham and company are clashingly tone deaf with today’s security needs and fiscal realities.  On June 14th the House passed a Defense Authorization Bill driven by a Dr. Strangelove a cappella choir from the Armed Services Committee.  One particularly out of tune provision would prioritize spending on the expensive B-61 nuclear bomb to be upgraded and deployed in Europe in the next decade, over critical efforts to secure vulnerable nuclear materials.
 
It should be noted that not all of the administration’s actions are in alignment with the 21st century security environment.  Just last week, the National Nuclear Security Administration released its Stockpile Stewardship and Management Plan which includes budget busting plans for gold-plated refurbishments of nuclear weapons.  This is just the freshest example of NNSA’s infamous record of epic cost overruns, poor management and advocacy for programs and approaches that prove unnecessary. It is apparent that these nuclear-weaponeers need to trade the Cold War “anything goes” tunes for the new song book for the 21st century – the one where rampant profligate spending is frowned upon.
 
We cannot let Cold War inertia accompanied by a few in Congress who are stuck on the nuclear weapons oldies’ tunes be the soundtrack for the 21st century. Instead we should listen to the overwhelming chorus of foreign policy and military leaders striving to ensure our security with the right tools for today’s security threats and without bankrupting spending on excessive weapons designed for a bygone era.
 
Robinson is senior public policy director for Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND).