Nuclear Weapons: At What Cost?

Cover of Nuclear Weapons: At What CostNuclear weapons were supposed to provide ‘more bang for the buck (US dollar)’. The facts, expertly researched and presented by Ben Cramer in the book Nuclear Weapons: At What Cost, demonstrate the opposite. Military expenditures have increased in every country ‘joining the nuclear club’. The nine nuclear weapon States collectively spend about US$90 billion annually on nuclear weapons programmes. This is about 8% of the global military budget – or about the amount required to meet the UN Millennium Development Goals of ending hunger; providing universal primary education; reducing child and maternal mortality by 2/3rds, ensuring environmental sustainability (including combating climate change), achieving greater gender equity, and combating HIV/AIDS, malaria and other major diseases.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in his five-point plan for nuclear disarmament, lists this opportunity cost of nuclear weapons as an important point in building the political momentum for disarmament. The Nuclear Age Peace Foundation has produced a chart on what could be accomplished globally with the annual $55 billion the U.S. spends on nuclear weapons.

In February 2010, US President Obama requested an increase in funding for the US nuclear weapons complex (See Obama budget seeks 13.4 percent increase for National Nuclear Security Administration). According to a November 2010 White House Fact Sheet An Enduring Commitment to the U.S. Nuclear Deterrent, the US Administration’s plan “to invest more than $85 billion over the next decade to modernize the U.S. nuclear weapons complex.. [is a] level of funding unprecedented since the end of the Cold War.” According to some analysts this additional funding ‘was the price exacted by the U.S. military-industrial complex and its representatives in the Senate for Senate ratification of the new START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty) on December 22, 2010’.

US Rep Ed Markey and a number of other Congress members sent a letter to the House Appropriations Sub-committee criticizing specific aspects of the funding request, including the increase in funding requested for the production of plutonium pits and uranium processing that could be used to manufacture new nuclear warheads, and the decrease in funding requested for warhead dismantlement. Markey and the co-authors argued that the government should prioritise nuclear security funding for warhead dismantlement and stockpile reduction to support multilateral disarmament, rather than the modernization and production of warheads which are a stimulus to proliferation.

See also Nuclear Security Spending: Assessing Costs, Examining Priorities by Stephen Schwartz and Deepti Choubey.

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