How much would you borrow to buy something that you would never use and might kill you and everyone around you? If we're talking about Uncle Sam's outdated and useless nuclear arsenal, the price tag is $1.1 trillion. A better—and cheaper—idea might be doing what Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan and a host of others wanted to do in the first place: Get rid of nuclear weapons.
Here's the basic problem: We've got about 4,800 nuclear weapons in silos, on submarines, and in airplane hangars that need to be fixed like old root canals. They're way past their sell-by date and more dangerous to us than to an enemy that no longer exists, writes Eric Schlosser in "Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion of Safety." By the way, that is now the scariest book I've ever read. It makes Revelations look like a Lifetime Movie.)
In a 2007 Wall Street Journal oped titled "A World Free of Nuclear Weapons," noted hippies and peaceniks George Schultz and Henry Kissinger (both former Republican Secretaries of State) and William J. Perry and Sam Nunn (each a Democratic hawk), argued that deterrence was dead as a military strategy because of the threat of nuclear terrorism. Intelligence, not realpolitik, is what stops terrorists from getting the bomb. And what's stopping Iran's nuclear program isn't our ICBMs but economic sanctions and diplomacy.
Getting nuclear weapons off this planet before we're all killed is a bipartisan idea. At the Reykjavik summit, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev briefly agreed to "eliminate... all nuclear weapons" before hotter heads prevailed. Reagan wouldn't give up our missile defense program, not understanding that the Soviet Union saw that as a threat.
Inspired by Nunn, then-Sen. Obama worked diligently on nuclear non-proliferation in the Senate and made a nuclear-free world a goal of his foreign policy as president that he articulated best in 2009 speech in Prague.
"As the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act," said. "So today, I state clearly and with conviction America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons." In awarding him the Nobel Prize for Peace that year, the Nobel Committee specifically mentioned "special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons."
Then Russia waged cyber war with Georgia and invaded Ukraine. Despite the fact that our vaunted arsenal failed to deter him—an economic sanctions are the only thing working right now—that invasion seems to prove the need for nukes.
The most insidiously stupid rationale for reloading America's nuclear arsenal is that the China is building up its military. First of all, their navy currently consists of what has been described as a "crappy aircraft carrier" and a converted cruise ship.
Second, who do you think is lending us the trillion dollars? Canada? Are we really so scared of a recycled Chinese love boat that we need to go into debt to deter our creditors' hypothetical future aggression?
Almost no one with any expertise thinks we need a Cold War-sized nuclear arsenal. The National Defense Panel's quadrennial review calls the plans to "recapitalize" our nuclear arsenal "unaffordable," and in 2010 the Air Force estimated that we can get by with 311 nuclear weapons.
But no. We've already built a $700 million weapons factory in Missouri. Only about $1 trillion more to go, and we'll have another nuclear arsenal ready to deter any and all enemies, not including foreign and domestic terrorists, rogue nations, and non-state Islamic jihadist armies such as ISIL. We'll be spending our great-grandchildren's money to protect us from a 1960's world. It's the one promise we can't afford Obama not to keep, and we have miles to go before we sleep.
© Copyright 2014 Jason Stanford, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.
Jason Stanford is a regular contributor to the Austin American-Statesman, a Democratic consultant and a Truman National Security Project partner. You can email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JasStanford.