Militarization, Its Costs, and the Nuclear Weapons Component: A Bad Dream?

As a citizen and your chapter president, I am incensed by the over-militarization of our American culture and our parallel addiction to military spending on behalf of local economic "vitality." Our bloated military establishment and its profligate missions hardly surface as an issue for the American public. Our public policy perspective – that this is normal or inevitable – only serves to forestall the debate we should be having on how the nation allocates its resources to appropriately address its common needs.

According to the 2008 official Pentagon inventory of our military bases around the world, our empire consists of 865 facilities in more than 40 countries and US Territories. We deploy over 190,000 troops in 46 countries. According to Anita Dancs, an analyst for the website Foreign Policy in Focus, the US spends approximately $250 billion each year just maintaining this global military presence.  The total estimated cost of our military and national security programs is estimated to be nearly a trillion dollars a year. These figures, of course, are numbing – impossible to truly comprehend. But common sense tells us that this is both unsustainable and clearly starving other sections of civil society – everything else the federal government has not been adequately funding for years, including investments in improved infrastructure, education, and human services.

Nowhere is this misallocation of federal dollars better illustrated than in the nuclear weapons budget. A May 2014 report by the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability entitled "Billion Dollar Boondoggles" assessed where we are.  In 2000 Congress created the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) within the Department of Energy to be in charge of DOE's nuclear weapons research and production programs. The NNSA has proposed a program to "modernize" US nuclear weapons. The money would continue to flow into the sprawling complex for making nuclear weapons that consists of eight major plants and laboratories employing more than 40,000 people. Much of the 60-year old infrastructure of these plants is characterized by accidents, fires, and explosions.

But more sobering is the plan for overall weapons "modernization." Plans call for overhaul of all three legs of the weapons triad: 12 new Trident submarines, up to 100 new bombers, and 400 land-based missiles, either new or refurbished. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that the cost to taxpayers will be $355 billion on modernization over the next ten years.  The following two decades will be even more expensive. The plan calls for spending more than $1 trillion dollars on nuclear weapons and their missiles, subs and bombers over the next 30 years.

The sheer bizarreness of this plan is illustrated by the fact that the budget for nuclear weapons and research exceeds the all-time record set by Ronald Reagan at the height of the Cold War. In a world with thousands of fewer nuclear weapons than at the peak of the Cold War, and when the threats of the Cold War have largely disappeared, why is the nuclear weapons budget higher than at any point in history?

Part of the blame rests with the NNSA, impacted by the power of the defense contractors and the nuclear bureaucracy. The NNSA continues to mislead Congress by obscuring the true costs of modernization, as well as ignoring the risks inherent in the program. In response to NNSA's dysfunction, Congress (usually a puppet for military expenditures) has commissioned two panels to review and make recommendations for governance of the nuclear weapons complex.  The preliminary findings of one of these panels declared that the agency is a "failed experiment."

What this entire effort really illustrates is the greed of contractors and especially the extent to which Congress and the Departments of Defense and Energy are stuck in a Cold War mentality. Our nuclear policies have no relationship to real and current threats to national security, a world without the nuclear enemy that existed at the height of the Cold War.

Of great regional concern has to be the location of the nuclear submarine component of our nuclear triad which is home-ported on Hood Canal, 20 miles from Seattle. Right now more than half of the US Trident fleet homeports there.  Each of the 12 new Trident warships under the modernization would carry 96 hydrogen warheads. And EACH warhead outsizes the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima by a factor of 7 to 30 times.

"The hostile use of any modern nuclear weapon for deterrence or whatever other justification would constitute a crime against humanity by any of the standards leveled against aggressors in past wars," argues Dr. David Hall, Chair of WPSR's Nuclear Weapons Task Force. This is our argument as physicians and other clinicians against our current nuclear policies. Further investment in nuclear weapons is economic lunacy. What's more, it is morally indefensible.

WPSR and PSR nationally have to push back against policies which further proliferate these life-destroying weapons (whether used or not) with the full vigor of our being.  We have to use every means possible to bring our policy makers to their senses in a relentless push to stop further funding of nuclear weapons modernization. Join with us.

We have a plan to meet with most of our members of Congress in WA and OR. We're working with several allies in these delegations (like Rep. Jim McDermott, WPSR member) to form a "Northwest Congressional Coalition for Nuclear Sanity."  We will need WPSR and OPSR members from each Congressional district to be partners with us when we hold these individual meetings.  We are committed to develop a bi-state Congressional coalition that other Congresspersons can be recruited to, specifically by enlisting the participation of other PSR chapters across the country.

Our north star in this work is our profession's faith in prevention as the only medicine, clearly illustrated when considering the use of nuclear weapons.

Bruce Amundson, MD
WPSR President