Could US Nuclear Costs Be Reduced?

The Arms Control Association (ACA), a US-based non-governmental organisation known for its developments in deterring the use of nuclear missiles, anti-ballistic missiles and other types of weapons, as well as for strengthening international security, has prepared a critical report on US President Donald Trump’s nuclear weapons policy and how much he plans to spend on them, which the experts at ACA believe is too much. The recently published report, entitled “U.S. Nuclear Excess: Understanding the Costs, Risks, and Alternatives”, consists of 50 pages.

Its key finding is that the US president’s policy is aimed at preparing for a potential conflict using weapons of mass destruction, although the report’s authors believe that the likelihood of a Russian nuclear strike is extremely low. The report says: “the current course is unnecessary, unsustainable, and unsafe—and must be rethought. It is not too late to pursue a different path. Now is the time to re-evaluate nuclear weapons spending plans before the largest investments are made.”

And Washington is not hiding how much these “investments” in nuclear weapons will be. By 2028, they will make up 7 per cent of the country’s total defence spending. Up to $500 billion in absolute terms will be spent on modernising the country’s nuclear arsenal over the next decade, while between $1.2 trillion (in 2017 constant dollars) and $1.7 trillion (taking into account expected inflation) will be spent on creating and maintaining a completely new strategic nuclear triad over the next 30 years.

The report condemns the Trump administration’s decision to build and use low-yield nuclear warheads.

The ACA experts also note that the Trump administration is not only increasing spending on modernising its nuclear arsenal, but is also on course to withdraw from a number of international arms control agreements. In this regard, it will be recalled that Washington has already announced its withdrawal from the INF Treaty, which is set to take place at the beginning of August this year. The report also points out that, although the White House said it wouldn’t set out its position on the New START Treaty until next year, representatives of the State Department are still assessing it negatively, which is completely in line with the opinion expressed by Donald Trump himself during his election campaign.

us_triad_spending_chart_1Anatoly Antonov, Russian ambassador to the US, gives his explanation for the hefty increase in US nuclear spending: “The problem is that the Americans are again using Russia as a bogeyman to justify the rise in military spending and the nuclear buildup. We realize this comes from their desire to inject more money into the military industry sector, we know the price tag is trillions of dollars.”

For their part, the report’s authors suggest ways to reduce defence spending.

The first option is to eliminate the additional costs proposed by the Trump administration to modernise the country’s nuclear arsenal, as committed to during Barack Obama’s presidency. The association believes that this would save almost $29 billion.

The second option involves the more cost-effective deployment of the 1550 or so strategic nuclear warheads stipulated in the New START Treaty. In particular, the report suggests reducing the number of Ohio-class nuclear submarines armed with ballistic missiles and land-based Minuteman III ICBMs, as well as not extending the life of the latter. The association estimates that this option could save the US $120.5 billion. If we add to this the elimination of additional costs included in the first option, then the amount saved increases to almost $150 billion.

The third option, which the association’s experts believe would save the most, involves eliminating the land-based ICBMs and reducing the number of strategic nuclear warheads to 1000, i.e. to about the level proposed by the Obama administration. You will recall that Barack Obama called for each side to reduce the number of strategic nuclear warheads to 1000–1100.

Thus, the association believes that, over the next 30 years, America could save around $253 billion on the previously announced amount to modernise its nuclear arsenal and up to $281.8 when combined with eliminating the additional costs initiated by Donald Trump.

In my view, the amounts given in the report that the US could save on developing its nuclear weapons are large, but they are not considerable. In fact, if we compare the amount of the reduction in US nuclear spending with the maximum expenditure ceiling for the trillion-dollar nuclear triad, then the reduction is just 16.5 per cent. It’s not that much.

But the money left over after the proposed reductions will still enable the Pentagon to aggressively and substantially modernise its strategic nuclear weapons over the next three decades, without actually reducing its considerable number of strategic nuclear delivery vehicles. If we also take into account air-launched cruise missiles, then the total number of these delivery vehicles could amount to 1700, i.e. the 692 delivery vehicles of the strategic nuclear triad plus 1000 ALCMs. And it should be remembered that all this could still be used to launch the first nuclear strike against a large group of countries.

US nuclear submarine
The Ohio-class guided-missile submarine USS Michigan arrives in Busan, South Korea.

The White House is also not going to eliminate its land-based ICBMs, as suggested by the ACA experts, in order to create a nuclear “dyad”. Such a strong policy stems from the US nuclear strategy approved by Donald Trump in February 2018. The fact is that America’s senior political and military leaders believe each element of the current strategic nuclear triad has its own functional tasks and its own advantages over the other two components, that is, submarine-launched ballistic missiles and strategic heavy bombers. Modern US ICBMs are an element of the country’s strategic nuclear forces that are at the highest degree of combat readiness (up to 98 per cent) and so can be deployed in a very short period of time compared with the other two.

Reading through the ACA report, it should be noted that it doesn’t give a full picture of Washington’s negative attitude towards international arms control treaties and agreements. There are 13 such treaties and agreements, including six agreements that are directly related to nuclear weapons, but the ACA report makes very little reference to them. In this regard, the US should be advised to take its contractual obligations more seriously and act more responsibly in this area, where a deep canyon has formed because of America.

And one final point. The current US administration is unlikely to accept the proposals prepared by this US NGO. Why? The answer can be found in its report: America wants to start “a new nuclear arms race”. And that is the truth.

Reposts are welcomed with the reference to ORIENTAL REVIEW.
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