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Reining in Nuke Spending the Smart Way | Commentary

Budget belt tightening seems to apply to everything but nuclear weapons. Basic necessities for United States citizens struggle to find funding, while the nuclear weapons budget is insulated from fiscal reality.

Luckily, several members of Congress have filed legislation that would curtail nuclear weapons modernization before bank-breaking costs start to soar.

Last month Sen. Edward J. Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., introduced near identical pieces of legislation. Markey’s “Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures Act” and Blumenauer’s “Reduce Expenditures in Nuclear Infrastructure Now Act” would save taxpayers $100 billion on nuclear weapons over 10 years. The pieces of legislation are praised by nuclear weapons experts.

The 10-year cost of nuclear modernization is a steep $355 billion, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office. A separate analysis by the Monterey Institute has the 30-year cost at an astonishing $1 trillion dollars.

The proposals save money in a targeted way. Three recommendations are particularly appealing. SANE and REIN-IN would scale back the resource-draining new submarine. They would price cap the exorbitant tactical nuke modernization. Finally, they would scrap the F-35 fighter’s nuclear mission. SANE and REIN-IN would do all of this without bringing the United States below requirements of the U.S.-Russian nuclear arms reduction agreement, the New START Treaty.

First, the Ohio class nuclear missile submarine fleet would be reduced from 14 to eight submarines and its replacement would be delayed by 5 years. The Ohio replacement would be delayed to the year 2024 and the replacement submarine fleet would be limited to eight submarines, as well. Proponents of a large nuclear arsenal may cry wolf at this idea, however, a smaller submarine fleet could still deploy the administration’s expected warhead distribution of 1,000 to 1,100 warheads for submarines.

Navy Secretary Ray Mabus admitted the new subs will drain half of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget during the 2020s and 2030s. Reducing the number of current submarines, delaying the replacement submarine by five years and limiting the fleet to eight would save $16 billion.

Second, SANE and REIN-IN would cap the B61 tactical nuclear bomb modernization. The administration’s plan would apply to about 400 bombs and cost $12 billion. Half of the bombs are currently stationed in European countries on European military bases. At the estimated price, each of these Cold War relics would cost more than twice their weight in solid gold. SANE and REIN-IN smartly limit the program to $5 billion.

To achieve the $5 billion cap, the U.S. should only modernize 200 B61 bombs stationed in the United States and remove and retire the roughly 200 B61 bombs stationed in Europe. This could reduce the project’s scope and cost by half.

European politicians are increasingly opposed to stationing U.S. nuclear weapons on their soil. NATO’s nuclear sharing arrangement allows European pilots to drop the B61 bomb if the U.S. president gave the order. A holdover from the Cold War, the B61 was built to thwart a Soviet land invasion of Eastern Europe but is still stationed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey.

U.S. B61 bombs stationed in Europe did not deter Russia from invading Georgia in 2008 or from invading Crimea in Ukraine this year — they have never been used, thankfully. A former commander of all nuclear forces, Gen. James Cartwright, said the military value of the B61 bomb is “practically of nil.” SANE and REIN-IN are wise to curb B61 modernization.

Third, SANE and REIN-IN limit the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter to a conventional role, canceling its proposed nuclear mission. Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey plan to replace their nuclear capable fighter jets with the F-35. However, last year a majority of politicians in the Netherlands opposed a nuclear role for the F-35.

At the same time, the recent U.S. omnibus spending measure cut funds for the F-35 nuclear role. The administration’s 2015 budget request for the Defense Department did not include funds for the F-35 nuclear role either. The F-35 should not have an unnecessary nuclear ability and SANE and REIN-IN scrap the mission and save taxpayer dollars.

Baltic nations and Poland feel a reliance on perceived U.S. security assurances provided by U.S. nuclear weapons stationed in other European countries. Instead, the United States should continue to expand joint training exercises with NATO militaries. The March 5 announcement to bolster training with Poland’s air force is a step in the right direction.

Joint military exercises may prove to be more effective in demonstrating U.S. resolve to the shared security of NATO. In today’s threat environment, the alliance should not rely on assurances from an antiquated nuclear weapon and U.S. taxpayers should refuse to pay for it.

Markey and Blumenauer’s proposals are sensible and restrain excessive nuclear weapon projects. Every member of Congress should support SANE and REIN-IN and citizens should encourage their senators and representative to do so. Make the smart choice and reduce nuclear weapons spending.

Eric Tamerlani is the program assistant for nuclear disarmament at the Friends Committee on National Legislation.

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