Former Secretary of Defense William Perry contends in his new book My Journey at the Nuclear Brink that we are closer to nuclear war today than we were during the Cold War. North Korea’s nuclear tests, an unstable political situation in Pakistan, and the United Sates’ implementation of Missile Defense Systems in Eastern Europe have all increased global tension and the potential for nuclear war.
National defense appropriations for the coming year ought to be thrusting the issue of nuclear weapons back into the spotlight. Still, a lack of coverage of nuclear proliferation in the Presidential campaign has left the issue largely ignored. The U.S. has over 7,000 nuclear weapons and yet continues to develop new ones each year. Over the next thirty years, our government will spend over one trillion dollars to modernize our nuclear arsenal.
Spending on this level bloats the Pentagon budget and enriches private contractors, but does little to address pressing issues such as the climate, healthcare, and education. In fact, nuclear escalation puts all other aspects of our lives at risk. Despite President Obama’s verbal commitment to a nuclear weapons free world, nuclear disarmament has run into significant hurdles during his administration.
Even minor efforts towards arms control are met with stiff opposition. Senator Diane Feinstein of California’s sensible proposal to stop development of the Long Range Standoff Weapon (LRSO) is not likely to make headway in the Republican controlled Congress. The Federation of American Scientists has estimated that it could cost up to $30 billion. Many in Congress still argue we should spare no expense on nuclear weapons and national defense.
Perry has joined Feinstein in calling for the President to scrap the LRSO. If the Democrats retake the Senate in November, they will be well positioned to cut funding for it. That will require courage on the part of individual members of Congress as the Pentagon and defense contractors will oppose any cuts every step of the way.
The LRSO is unnecessary in a military capacity and unethical in a human capacity. It’s a microcosm of a larger contradiction in nuclear weapons development. Those who support the development of nuclear weapons technology argue that it is essential for future security. Those supporters’ central misconception is that we must build increasingly lethal and expensive weapons of mass destruction in order to keep ourselves safe.
To be sure, proponents of nuclear weapons argue that they act as a deterrent. Still, wars rage on across the world and significant nuclear powers such as the United States and Russia remain entrenched in many of these conflicts. When proponents of nuclear weapons such as Senator John McCain remain closed off to even the smallest reviews of nuclear weapons modernization, our priorities are clearly out of whack.
Instead of spending billions on new weapons like the LRSO, the U.S. should recommit to reducing its nuclear stockpile. Trying to achieve parity with Russia is neither an important nor a sustainable goal. Nuclear modernization diverts resources from health, energy, and economic programs that could make far better use of increased government funding.
Daniel Perea-Kane is a senior at Boston College and an intern at Massachusetts Peace Action.