Budgeting for Fewer Nuclear Weapons
Members of Congress are under pressure to trim federal spending and cut the budget deficit. This era of belt-tightening is leading some members to take a hard look at the high cost of the U.S. nuclear weapons program and could pave the way for some long overdue cuts. At the same time, funding for programs to stop the spread of nuclear weapons and materials is as critical as ever.
Opportunity to Reduce Nuclear Weapons Funding
The United States, even 20 years after the end of the Cold War, has a large nuclear arsenal and infrastructure to support it. Of the nearly 5,000 strategic nuclear weapons in the U.S. stockpile, more than 1,700 of them are still deployed and ready to be used. In addition, hundreds of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), tens of nuclear bombers, and 14 ballistic missile submarines are maintained to deliver those warheads to their targets. The United States also maintains several nuclear weapons facilities as part of the nuclear weapons complex. This complex is aging, and the U.S. spends billions of dollars every year to keep up, renovate and replace parts of the system—everything from ballistic submarines to a uranium processing facility at Oak Ridge, TN.
Already, both the Defense Department and the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) in the Energy Department have reduced planned spending on the nuclear weapons complex. The Defense Department, which maintains the ICBMs, ballistic missile submarines and bombers that deliver nuclear weapons, has delayed the planned replacement of the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarines by two years. The Pentagon has also not committed to giving its new generation of bomber plane a nuclear mission. Eventually, however, the Defense Department still plans to replace the current stock of all types of its nuclear delivery systems.
The NNSA, which is responsible for maintaining and developing nuclear warheads, has deferred the construction of a multi-billion dollar plutonium bomb facility at Los Alamos National Lab in New Mexico for five years. Additionally, the planned uranium processing facility in Tennessee is being reduced in scope and size. That facility may ultimately serve only for dismantling retired nuclear weapons rather than for the manufacture of new weapons components.
In the current fiscal climate, members of Congress from both political parties say they want to reduce spending on nuclear weapons further. In 2011, Sen. Tom Coburn (OK), a Republican, put forward a deficit reduction plan that would cut $79 billion in spending on nuclear weapons over the next 10 years. This year, Rep. Ed Markey (MA) proposed even deeper cuts of around $100 billion over 10 years in his Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditure (SANE) Act, H.R. 3974. Among other cuts, the SANE Act would limit the number of ICBMs to 200, reduce the number of submarine-based missiles to 250 and cancel new nuclear weapons facilities. FCNL has been a leader in the arms control and religious communities to encourage support for the SANE Act, which as of June 2012 has 46 cosponsors.
The Modernization Controversy
Not everyone agrees that these reductions in nuclear weapons spending are a good thing. Some members of Congress, including Rep. Mike Turner (OH) and Sen. Jon Kyl (AZ), want to ensure that the U.S. commits to “modernize” its nuclear weapons by building weapons facilities and replacing older weapons and delivery systems.
The administration agreed in 2010 to protect funding for these “modernization” programs as part of a deal to secure ratification of the New START arms reduction treaty with Russia. Rep. Turner, who chairs the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Strategic Forces, claims the administration has abandoned that deal because the president’s budget proposal for FY 2013 reduced funding for modernization programs by $372 million from previous estimates—mostly due to the delay of the construction of the plutonium plant at Los Alamos.
NNSA Administrator Tom D’Agostino’s recent Senate testimony says that the administration remains committed to modernization, albeit with a slower pace and a lower price tag. D’Agnostino testified that much of the work planned to be done at the New Mexico facility could be done in existing buildings without waiting for a new facility to be constructed.
At FCNL, we don’t think tax dollars should be spent on nuclear weapons. Security can be achieved only by investing in peaceful solutions to war, not by developing tools to fight new and deadlier conflicts.
What Needs Funding: Nuclear Nonproliferation Programs
A key part of averting these conflicts is locating and securing bomb-grade nuclear material throughout the world. The same budget pressures that are leading nuclear weapons funding to decrease are also threatening funding for these nuclear nonproliferation programs in the NNSA. A 2011 Harvard University report, “The U.S.-Russia Joint Threat Assessment on Nuclear Terrorism,” found that the threat of nuclear terrorism is greater today than at any point during the Cold War. While the possibility of violent extremists stealing and using a nuclear bomb is relatively low, the risk of a group using stolen nuclear material to create a crude nuclear weapon remains high.
Two core programs within the NNSA, the International Nuclear Materials Protection and Cooperation (INMP&C) program and the Global Threat Reduction Initiative (GTRI), are particularly important to this effort. The INMP&C program protects nuclear materials and warheads at more than 100 sites, mostly in Russia. In the last two years alone, the GTRI has removed more than 882 pounds of highly enriched uranium—enough to produce 16 nuclear weapons—from 10 countries.
The administration’s FY 2013 budget proposal would cut spending for the INMP&C and GTRI programs by more than $290 million from the programs’ current budgets. However, these two programs still have important work to do. In 2013, the NNSA is planning to use the INMP&C program to complete security upgrades on more than 200 buildings containing weapons-grade nuclear material in Russia and to complete installation of equipment designed to detect smuggled nuclear material at nearly 500 sites. The GTRI program will be used to remove an additional 838 pounds of weapons-grade nuclear material from vulnerable sites and provide protection for an additional 150 buildings containing weapons-grade nuclear material. Budget cuts would delay this work.
FCNL will continue to play a key role in efforts to keep and even increase funding for these nuclear nonproliferation programs, working with grassroots lobbyists in the states and districts of the budget decision-makers. You have a key role, too, in advocating for nonproliferation funding and cuts in other nuclear weapons programs. By lobbying your members locally or coming to Washington in November for our Quaker Public Policy Institute and Lobby Day, you can make a difference at this critical moment.
In difficult economic times, Congress needs to spend our tax dollars wisely. Sensible reductions in spending on current and new nuclear weapons are important to move us closer to a world free of nuclear weapons, as is funding for efforts to rid the world of loose nuclear materials.
Find out more about how you can be part of this work to support a world free of nuclear weapons.