Obama Wants to Spend a Trillion Dollars on New Generation of Nuclear Weapons
News organizations love anniversary stories and if for some reason you haven't heard, it's the 70th anniversary of when the U.S. dropped two atomic bombs on Japan. The first exploded over Hiroshima on Aug. 6 and the second over Nagasaki on Aug. 9.
— Mines Action Canada (@MinesActionCan) August 5, 2015
Not surprisingly, there's been a proliferation of print and broadcast stories on the making of the bomb, the politics of the bomb, the dropping of the bomb, the survivors of the bomb—you name it. The Washington Post even ran a story about a 390-year-old Japanese white pine now in the U.S. National Arboretum that survived the Hiroshima blast.
Despite all this coverage, however, I didn't notice any stories that bothered to mention the fact that the Obama administration wants the U.S. government to spend as much as $1 trillion over the next three decades on a new generation of nuclear warheads, bombers, submarines and intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
Isn't it time, as nutritionist Susan Powter used to say, to stop the insanity?
U.S. Military Budget Higher than Cold War Average
Having grown up during the Cold War, nuclear bombs are all too familiar. In October 1962, during the Cuban missile crisis, my elementary school conducted regular drills, lining up all the boys and girls and leading us single file to the building's basement fallout shelter. In retrospect, it was a moderately better option than cowering under our desks. Years later, in the mid-1980s, I was the editor of Nuclear Times, a bimonthly magazine that covered what turned out to be the end of the Cold War. When Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev waved the white flag at the United Nations (UN) in 1988, there was great excitement about what was then called the "peace dividend." No more Cold War, no more Cold War defense spending. Perhaps the U.S. government could finally use the billions it was lavishing on the military, the nuclear weapons complex and defense contractors for other, more socially useful, ends.
But the peace dividend never happened. At $610 billion, the annual U.S. military budget today is actually higher than it was on average during the Cold War and is more than the combined military budgets of the next seven countries: China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, India and our longtime NATO allies France, Germany and the United Kingdom (UK). It eats up more than half of the U.S. annual discretionary budget.
To be sure, thanks to a series of treaties, both the U.S. and Russia have cut their respective nuclear arsenals considerably since the end of the Cold War. In 1988, the Soviets had 37,000 nuclear weapons and the U.S. had 23,000. Today, Russia has an estimated stockpile of 4,500 warheads, of which 1,800 strategic warheads are deployed on missiles and at bomber bases. The U.S., meanwhile, has an estimated stockpile of 4,800 warheads. Approximately 2,100 of them are deployed on ballistic missiles or at bomber bases. That's a lot less than 30 years ago, but keep in mind that just one of those warheads is five to 40 times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Nagasaki, which exploded with a force of 20,000 tons of TNT.
The 3+2 Warhead Plan Doesn't Add Up
In April 2009—just a few months after taking office—President Obama gave a widely acclaimed speech in Prague that focused largely on the threat posed by nuclear weapons. "The existence of thousands of nuclear weapons is the most dangerous legacy of the Cold War," he said. "And as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the U.S. has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it." He then cited some of the "concrete steps" the U.S. would take "toward a world without nuclear weapons."
Later that year, Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, largely because of that speech. And in April 2010, he was back in Prague to follow through with one of his promised concrete steps: to sign a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia, further cutting both countries arsenals and reinstituting a strict verification system that the Bush administration had dropped.
Since then, however, the Obama administration has apparently forgotten that Obama called for putting an "end to Cold War thinking" during that Prague speech. Remarkably, the administration is proposing that the U.S. government spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years to refurbish or replace the current nuclear arsenal.
Approximately $60 billion is slated to replace existing nuclear weapons with a suite of new warheads, a task that would be handled by the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), a semi-autonomous agency within the Department of Energy. The NNSA plan specifically calls for building new nuclear material production facilities and consolidating the current stockpile of seven types of warheads into five. The arsenal of tomorrow would consist of three warheads deployed on Air Force and Navy long-range missiles and two types of air-delivered weapons deployed on cruise missiles and bombers.
The so-called "3+2" plan, however, violates the spirit if not the letter of the Obama administration's pledge to not develop new nuclear weapons. Besides that, it's fiscally irresponsible and technologically problematic, according to a 2013 Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) report.
"The U.S. needs to extend the life of its nuclear arsenal, but it should refurbish its existing weapons instead of spending tens of billions of dollars to build new ones," said report co-author Lisbeth Gronlund, co-director of UCS's Global Security Program.
The NNSA plan's major technical drawback, she added, is that it could be difficult for the agency to certify that its new warheads are safe, secure and reliable without nuclear explosive testing. The U.S., which conducted its last explosive test in 1992, has signed but not ratified the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty prohibiting them.
"The NNSA can vouch for the safety and reliability of currently deployed or refurbished warheads," she said, "but the same level of confidence may not be possible if the agency makes substantial modifications."
The Air Force and Navy Want New Toys
While the Energy Department is counting on funding for new warhead designs, the Defense Department is queuing up for new nuclear bombers, cruise missiles and submarines.
The Air Force wants a new stealth plane, dubbed the Long Range Strike Bomber, or B-3 bomber for short, that can reach targets deep inside Russia and China. The Air Force would like 80 to 100 of them at an estimated cost of $550 million each. Loren Thompson, an executive at the defense contractor-funded Lexington Institute, estimates the plane will more likely cost $900 million per plane, after factoring in inflation and a $20-billion research and development program to figure out its design. The planes wouldn't be operational until at least 2025.
Northrop Grumman and Boeing, the two main contractors that produced the problem-plagued B-2 stealth bomber, are vying for the contract. You may remember the bat-shaped, black B-2. At $3 billion apiece in today's dollars—the most expensive plane ever built—it didn't quite perform as advertised. It turned out the bomber only worked properly in fair weather. Its skin, which gives it its radar-evading "stealth," deteriorated in rain, heat and humidity. The Air Force originally planned to order 132 B-2s, but settled for only 20 after the Soviet Union collapsed.
Even so, do we really need a new stealth bomber? The Air Force has been spending billions of dollars to upgrade the three bombers it already has, the Center for Public Integrity reported in a March 2012 exposé and "has acknowledged the B-1 and B-52 will be structurally sound for at least another 29 years—and the B-2 potentially for another 50 or more."
The Air Force also covets a new nuclear-armed cruise missile to replace its Air-Launched Cruise Missile, due for retirement in 2030. Called the Long-Range Standoff (LRSO) weapon, its proponents bill it as "a hundred times" more capable than its predecessor—faster, more accurate, stealthy, longer range—and nuclear-tipped. The estimated LRSO budget is pegged at as much as $32 billion: $20 billion for the missile and $8 billion to $12 billion for the warhead.
Putting aside the cost, the LRSO is both unnecessary and dangerous, according to UCS senior analyst Stephen Young.
"The Air Force is already counting on an updated B61-12 [nuclear] gravity bomb and the Long Range Strike Bomber, the new super-stealthy penetrating bomber," Young pointed out in a blog post earlier this year. "Why exactly do we need both a penetrating bomber with a gravity bomb and a long-range cruise missile that would be carried by the same bomber?"
More troubling, "nuclear-armed cruise missiles create a real risk of miscalculation and unintended escalation," Young added. It would be impossible for an adversary to know whether the U.S. had launched a conventional or nuclear cruise missile, which could very well trigger a nuclear war.
Not to be outdone, the Navy wants a dozen new-generation, nuclear-armed submarines to replace its Ohio class subs by 2030. It estimates the total cost of the new subs at $79 billion, or on average $6.6 billion each, while the Congressional Budget Office projects a total cost of $92 billion, or $7.7 billion each.
Does the Navy really need 12 new nuclear subs? Critics say no. With budget constraints likely to continue into the future, the Pentagon will have to weigh the cost of that many subs against other pressing needs.
Let's Really Put an End to Cold War Thinking
Fortunately, cooler heads in Congress are pushing back on the rush to saddle U.S. taxpayers with a trillion-dollar bill for weapons that can never be used. Massachusetts Sen. Edward Markey and Oregon Rep. Earl Blumenauer have reintroduced legislation this session that would cut $100 billion over the next 10 years from U.S. nuclear weapons programs.
Among other things, the proposed bill—aptly titled the Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures (SANE) Act—would pay for only eight new replacement submarines, cut new warhead programs and defer development of new ICBMs, delay development of the B-3 and cancel new nuclear weapons-making facilities.
"We cannot afford these weapon systems and we don't need them," Blumenauer said in a press release he and Markey issued when they originally introduced the bill in February 2014. "They are dangerous and costly to store and maintain. We can make the world and our country, safer by reducing spending on these programs that we haven't used in 69 years and are better suited for the Cold War than the strategic challenges we face today."
The SANE Act doesn't have a ghost of a chance to pass Congress. But there are a number of things President Obama can do on his own—without Congress and without Russia—during the final lap of his last term to make good on the promises he made in Prague six years ago. David Wright, co-director of UCS's Global Security Program, spelled them out in a July blog post:
The president should take U.S. land-based missiles off hair-trigger alert and remove options from U.S. war plans to launch nuclear weapons based on warning of an attack. This option has led to the increased risk of a nuclear launch a disturbing number of times in past decades and has been called for by high-level military and political officials—including President Obama.
He should also declare a policy of "sole purpose," that is, make it U.S. policy that the only use for its nuclear weapons is to deter and if necessary respond to, a nuclear attack. Today, the U.S. reserves the option to use nuclear weapons first.
[Finally,] he should require that the U.S. not develop new nuclear weapons, but instead refurbish U.S. warheads as they age to keep the U.S. deterrent credible. Currently the administration is proposing a new, untested warhead design that may lead to pressure on a future administration to restart nuclear testing. A resumption of testing would undermine the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty as well as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Again, President Obama has the authority to take these concrete steps before he leaves office. And what more fitting way to commemorate the atomic bomb's 70th anniversary by doing just that? Otherwise, perhaps he should give his Nobel Peace Prize back.
Elliott Negin is a senior writer at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
To hear many journalists tell it, the spring of 2020 has brought a series of extraordinary revelations. Look at what the nation has learned: That our health-care system was not remotely up to the challenge of a deadly pandemic. That our economic safety net was largely nonexistent. That our vulnerability to disease and death was directly tied to our race and where we live. That our political leadership sowed misinformation that left people dead. That systemic racism and the killing of Black people by police is undiminished, despite decades of protest and so many Black lives lost.
- Climate Crisis Brings India's Worst Locust Invasion in Decades ... ›
- Climate Crisis Made Australia's Historic Wildfires at Least 30% More ... ›
- 4 Climate Crisis Solutions No One Is Talking About - EcoWatch ›
- Top Government Scientist Transferred After Questioning Trump ... ›
- Trump Admin Manipulated Wildfire Science to Encourage Logging ... ›
- NOAA Officials Backed Trump's False Dorian Claims Under Threat ... ›
- Coronavirus and the Terrifying Muzzling of Public Health Experts ... ›
- 'Science Under Siege' From Trump Admin: New Report Warns We ... ›
More than 350 elephants have died in Botswana since May, and no one knows why.
- Botswana Auctions Off First Licenses to Kill Elephants Since Ending ... ›
- 'Heartbreaking' Vulture Poisoning in South Africa Raises Alarm ... ›
The chance that UK summer days could hit the 40 degree Celsius mark on the thermometer is on the rise, a new study from the country's Met Office Hadley Centre has found.
- As Extreme Weather Turns Deadly in the UK, Climate Activists Are ... ›
- UK Parliament First in World to Declare Climate Emergency ... ›
By Melissa Hawkins
After sustained declines in the number of COVID-19 cases over recent months, restrictions are starting to ease across the United States. Numbers of new cases are falling or stable at low numbers in some states, but they are surging in many others. Overall, the U.S. is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of new cases a day, and by late June, had surpassed the peak rate of spread in early April.
Seven day rolling average of number of people confirmed to have COVID-19, per day (not including today). This chart gets updated once per day with data by Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins university doesn't provide reliable data for March 12 and March 13. Johns Hopkins CSSE Get the data
To Have a Second Wave, the First Wave Needs to End.<p>A wave of an infection describes a large rise and fall in the number of cases. There isn't a precise epidemiological definition of when a wave begins or ends.</p><p>But with talk of a <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/27/new-covid-19-clusters-across-world-spark-fear-of-second-wave" target="_blank">second wave in the news</a>, as an <a href="https://www.american.edu/cas/faculty/mhawkins.cfm" target="_blank">epidemiologist and public health researcher</a>, I think there are two necessary factors that must be met before we can colloquially declare a second wave.</p><p>First, the virus would have to be controlled and transmission brought down to a very low level. That would be the end of the first wave. Then, the virus would need to reappear and result in a large increase in cases and hospitalizations.</p><p>Many countries in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-020-0908-8" target="_blank">Europe and Asia have successfully ended the first wave</a>. <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/jun/08/new-zealand-abandons-covid-19-restrictions-after-nation-declared-no-cases" target="_blank">New Zealand</a> and <a href="https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2020/06/08/how-iceland-beat-the-coronavirus" target="_blank">Iceland</a> have also made it through their first waves and are now essentially coronavirus-free, with very low levels of community transmission and only a handful of active cases currently.</p>
Different States, Different Trends<p>Looking at U.S. numbers as a whole hides what is really going on. Different states are in <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html" target="_blank">vastly different situations right now</a> and when you look at states individually, four major categories emerge.</p><ol><li>Places where the first wave is ending: States in the Northeast and a few scattered elsewhere experienced large initial spikes but were able to mostly contain the virus and substantially brought down new infections. <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/new-york-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">New York</a> is a good example of this.</li><li>Places still in the first wave: Several states in the South and West – see <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/texas-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Texas</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/california-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">California</a> – had some cases early on, but are now seeing massive surges with no sign of slowing down.</li><li>Places in between: Many states were hit early in the first wave, managed to slow it down, but are either at a plateau – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/north-dakota-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">North Dakota</a> – or are now seeing steep increases – like <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/oklahoma-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Oklahoma</a>.</li><li>Places experiencing local second waves: Looking only at a state level, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/hawaii-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Hawaii</a>, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/montana-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Montana</a> and <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/alaska-coronavirus-cases.html" target="_blank">Alaska</a> could be said to be experiencing second waves. Each state experienced relatively small initial outbreaks and was able to reduce spread to single digits of daily new confirmed cases, but are now all seeing spikes again.</li></ol><p>The trends aren't surprising based on how states have been dealing with reopening. The virus will go wherever there are susceptible people and until the U.S. stops community spread across the entire country, the first wave isn't over.</p>
What Could a Second Wave Look Like?<p>It is possible – though at this point it seems unlikely – that the U.S. could control the virus before a vaccine is developed. If that happens, it would be time to start thinking about a second wave. The question of what it might look like depends in large part on everyone's actions.</p><p>The <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1086%2F592454" target="_blank">1918 flu pandemic</a> was characterized by a mild first wave in the winter of 1917-1918 that went away in summer. After restrictions were lifted, people very quickly went back to pre-pandemic life. But a second, deadlier strain came back in fall of 1918 and third in spring of 1919. In total, <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918-commemoration/1918-pandemic-history.htm" target="_blank">more than 500 million people were infected</a> worldwide and upwards of <a href="https://theconversation.com/compare-the-flu-pandemic-of-1918-and-covid-19-with-caution-the-past-is-not-a-prediction-138895" target="_blank">50 million died</a> over the course of three waves.</p><p>It was the combination of a quick return to normal life and a mutation in the flu's genome that made it more deadly that led to the horrific second and third waves.</p><p>Thankfully, the coronavirus appears to be much more <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.meegid.2020.104351" target="_blank">genetically stable</a> than the influenza virus, and thus less likely to mutate into a more deadly variant. That leaves human behavior as the main risk factor.</p><p>Until a <a href="https://theconversation.com/what-needs-to-go-right-to-get-a-coronavirus-vaccine-in-12-18-months-136816" target="_blank">vaccine or effective treatment is developed</a>, the tried-and-true public health measures of the last months – <a href="https://theconversation.com/this-simple-model-shows-the-importance-of-wearing-masks-and-social-distancing-140423" target="_blank">social distancing,</a> <a href="https://theconversation.com/masks-help-stop-the-spread-of-coronavirus-the-science-is-simple-and-im-one-of-100-experts-urging-governors-to-require-public-mask-wearing-138507" target="_blank">universal mask wearing</a>, frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces – are the ways to stop the first wave and thwart a second one. And when there are surges like what is happening now in the U.S., further reopening plans need to be put on hold.</p>
- U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Now No. 1 in World - EcoWatch ›
- U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Pass 100,000 - EcoWatch ›
- U.S. Coronavirus Cases Top 2 Million as All 50 States Start ... ›
By Eoin Higgins
Climate advocates pointed to news Sunday that fracking giant Chesapeake Energy was filing for bankruptcy as further evidence that the fossil fuel industry's collapse is being hastened by the coronavirus pandemic and called for the government to stop propping up businesses in the field.
- Fracking Industry's Propaganda Hypes Shale Gas Production and ... ›
- Another Blow to the Fracking Industry—Chesapeake Energy's ... ›
- Former Chesapeake Energy CEO Aubrey McClendon Is Back to ... ›
By Neil King and Gabriel Borrud
Human beings all over the world agreed to strict limitations to their rights when governments made the decision to enter lockdown during the COVID-19 crisis. Many have done it willingly on behalf of the collective. So why can't this same attitude be seen when tackling climate change?
- The Crunch Question on Climate: How Can I Help? - EcoWatch ›
- The Power of Collective Action Gangnam Style - EcoWatch ›
- Scientist Finds Remarkable Way to Connect People Emotionally ... ›