Politics Behind Nuclear Overkill in Military Budget

Arnie Alpert on October 04, 2015

The military spending bill working its way through Congress includes an endorsement of the trillion nuclear weapons overhaul and includes a special fund to cover the cost of a fleet of new submarines with nuclear firepower sufficient to destroy the world several times over.  It's no surprise that the firms which stand to get the contracts are big contributors to a key member of the House Armed Service Committee.   

The $604 billion Defense Authorization bill passed by the House of Representatives last week includes $1.4 billion for the “National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund,” also known as the funding mechanism for the “Ohio-class Submarine Replacement Program,” also known as a new fleet of submarines carrying enough nuclear warheads to destroy life on the planet.

The fleet of 14 Ohio-class submarines, also known as “Tridents” for the names of the missiles they carry, are slated to be replaced as part of a trillion dollar overhaul of the nation’s nuclear warheads and the ships, missiles, and bombers designed to deliver them to targets.   The 12 new submarines are expected to cost almost $100 billion assuming no major cost overruns.  

12 submarines X 16 missiles X 8 warheads = 1536 total warheads

Each sub will be able to launch 16 missiles, each missile with up to 8 independently targetable nuclear warheads, each warhead ranging from 100 kilotons (or nearly 8 times the size of the bomb that demolished Hiroshima) to 475 kilotons (more than 36 times the size of the Hiroshima bomb).  In other words, we are talking about a range of 12,000 to 55,000 Hiroshimas.  There is no conceivable justification for such levels of destruction.  

Except politics.  And money.  But perhaps that is a redundancy. 

“The Navy’s effort to find non-Navy offsets to pay for its new ballistic missile submarines was thought a hopeless cause when it began last year. But with the help of House Armed Services Committee seapower subcommittee chairman Randy Forbes (R-VA), the Navy has so effectively lobbied Congress that the plan received a strong vote of support earlier this year on the House floor and made it through conference unscathed,” reports Breaking Defense.

Congressman Forbes’ district, in southeastern Virginia, sits next to the Norfolk Naval Station, the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, and Huntington Ingalls’ shipyard in Newport News.  OpenSecrets.org lists “Miscellaneous Defense” and “Defense Aerospace” as the two business sectors most devoted to his election campaigns.  Among Forbes’ most faithful donors over his 13-year Congressional career are shipbuilders Huntington Ingalls and General Dynamics, as well as Lockheed Martin, which builds the Trident missiles (at a cost of $37 million each).  Other Forbes backers include Leidos, Honeywell, Northrup Grumman, and BAE.  

The overall package, which still has to be approved by the Senate and is likely to be vetoed by President Obama, contains $515 billion in regular funding plus another $89 billion for “overseas contingency operations,” a euphemism for wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East.

The NDAA gives explicit endorsement to plans for a massive overhaul of the U.S. nuclear arsenal, which in addition to the new fleet of submarines includes a new bomber, new cruise missiles, new land-based missiles, and “modernized” nuclear warheads.  The project is expected to cost about a trillion dollars.   

Also buried in the thousands of pages of policies and budget items is an explicit prohibition on the use of funds to take land-based missiles off hair trigger alert, unless it must be done to comply with the New START Treaty.    

“Except as provided by subsection (b), none of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or otherwise made available for fiscal year 2016 for the Department of Defense may be obligated or expended to reduce, or prepare to reduce, the responsiveness or alert level of the intercontinental ballistic missiles of the United States.”

 In other words, it is the “sense of Congress” [emphasis added] that U.S. nuclear missiles should remain on hair-trigger alert, ready to wipe out large swathes of humanity if a hot-headed Commander-in-Chief or perhaps a faulty computer believes we are about to be attacked. 

The military spending bill is likely to pass the Senate and be vetoed by President Obama, who apparently objects to the use of the “overseas contingency operations” spending to evade budget caps.  Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said he supports the veto, and accused Congress of trying “to evade responsibility with the so-called OCO gimmick.”  But according to Breaking Defense, an online publication, “when this bill eventually receives his signature later this year or early next year, it will be—for all practical purposes—a near-exact version as to what is now public.” 


Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert

Arnie Alpert is co-director of the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Program, which he has led since 1981.  In that time he has been involved in movements for economic justice and affordable housing, civil and worker rights, peace and disarmament, abolition of the death penalty, and an end to racism and homophobia.