One of the things that right-wing politicians and commentators talk about is the need to increase growth in the economy and the wastefulness of government bureaucracies. However there has always been one sacred cow: the military budget. Republicans always emphasise how, irrespective of their tax policies or which cuts they would make, they want to increase the military budget. This isn’t a unique problem to nowadays, it was an idea that came from Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of inane policy, but this has led to self-styled ‘deficit hawks’ refusing to consider cutting the military. It’s time the military budget was cut and where I would start is nuclear weapons.
Whenever the Democratic base is asked which government spending should be cut the answer is always the military budget. But many time they don’t specify what in the military should be cut. This is where my argument comes in because, on purely a financial level, nuclear weapons should be scrapped for being an inefficient investment.
In 2001 former Democratic Senator Sam Nunn and billionaire media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner established a non-partisan think-tank called the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). NTI’s remit is assessing global threats to people around the world with a particular focus in nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons. This group conducted some analysis on the spending operations of the Pentagon particularly in regards to nuclear weapons to ascertain how much money the US spends on its nuclear arsenal. The answer is eye-watering.
According to NTI’s analysis, the US is predicted to spend an average of $20 billion per year on the nuclear triad, but that isn’t even the whole story. The Pentagon does not identify the amount of money that it spends on maintaining nuclear weapons as much of the cost incurred is difficult to attribute solely to nuclear weapons. More specifically, NTI showed that the cost of replacing technology is increasing. In 2010 the US spent $16 billion but in 2018 that figure is expected to rise to $25 billion, hence the average of around $20 billion. To put that into context, the amount of money spent on the federal prison system is $6.9 billion; the nuclear weapons budget, excluding money spent on general maintenance, is around three times this figure.
Unfortunately, due to the nature of this topic, the Department of Defense haven’t published the number of personnel employed to operate these weapons, or if they have I can’t find it, but I would bet that there are better ways at generating growth in the economy than through a very dangerous form of military Keynesianism. Investing in capital project like bridges, railroads, and waste water plants would generate economic growth in both the private and public sectors. Alternatively, the $20 billion currently spent on nuclear weapons could be spent on scientific research, which historically has always spurred economic growth.
The ‘deficit hawks’ on the Right do not support this policy of investment in order to increase growth an/or productivity, but that doesn’t necessarily matter. The argument could be that such a significant cut in the military budget could be used to reduce the deficit or pay off some of the national debt. The amount spent on nuclear weapons is obscene and this money should be used to improve American society rather than maintaining and upgrades the US’ arsenal of WMDs.
The argument against my financial point is that it would be dangerous to act unilaterally, although I would dispute this, let’s take this as a genuine response. Russia has around the same number of nuclear weapons as the US so the negotiations would have to be with Moscow, if the unilateralist approach was rejected. President Obama has implemented another such treaty which expires in 2021, but negotiations should commence sooner rather than later to see another treaty in place by the time of the current one’s expiration. I would identify Putin a dyed-in-the-wool IR realist and is solely concerned with issues like the balance of power and perceptions of Russia around the world. This does make negotiations more difficult however, considering that the Russian economy is currently contracting due to international sanctions, I think the idea of reducing stockpiles of weapons that are so costly may appeal to Darth Vladimir.
I’ve set out my stall quite clearly but I’ll say it again anyway: the US should abolish its nuclear weapons. In a purely financial sense much more good could be done in the world with that money being spent on investing in the American economy or spending that money or humanitarian aid. I do believe that nuclear weapons should also be abolished for a whole other set of reasons, namely the ethical implications of using them and the fact that they don’t work as a deterrent, but from a financial standpoint it is also inane. The nature of this critique is about the weapons not militarism more broadly. I do philosophically want to see nations moving towards disarmament, but in the interim I would settle for dismantling weapons that could annihilate the entirety of humanity in the space of a few hours.