This article was first published in the Concord Monitor on November 27, 2016.
$1 trillion for nuclear weapons
The 2016 National Defense Authorization Act, passed by Congress and recently signed by President Obama, includes in its 1,320 pages plans for an entire new generation of U.S. nuclear weapons. It’s a big – and expensive – step in the wrong direction.
The NDAA establishes policy and spending guidelines for actual appropriations. It calls explicitly for the United States to redesign our nuclear weapons and “modernize or replace” the submarines, missiles, and bombers designed to deliver them to targets all over the world. The price tag for the whole package is estimated to be in the vicinity of $1 trillion dollars over 3 decades.
How such commitments get made, at a time when our president received the Nobel Peace Prize because he pledged to work for a world free of nuclear weapons, shows that what a previous President, Dwight Eisenhower, called the “military industrial complex” is as powerful as ever.
Take the Long Range Strike Bomber as an example. The Air Force has just awarded a $21 billion contract to Northrop Grumman to build 21 of nuclear-capable plane. According to the Center for Public Integrity, “Lobbyists and officials at Northrop Grumman have spent years greasing the wheels on Capitol Hill to ensure congressional support for the program and for the firm’s central role in it.”
Since 2010, individuals associated with the Virginia-based corporation have contributed $4.6 million to 224 members of Congress who sit on key committees, such as Armed Services and Appropriations. The company has laid out another $85 million for a troop of 100 lobbyists, among them five former members of Congress.
Another program would design and build a new submarine, generally known as the “Ohio-class replacement,” or SSBN(x). The Navy wants 12 of them, at a cost estimated at $100 billion. 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.
Unsure where they would get the money for this nuclear overkill capacity, Navy officials hatched an idea called the “National Sea-Based Deterrence Fund,” a budget gimmick which enables the Defense Department to shift money from other accounts into the submarine construction budget. The plan had an ally in a key position to help.
“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, Breaking Defense reported. “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.” Breaking Defense called the funding mechanism “a naked budget grab at the expense of sister services.”
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.
In addition to the new bomber and new submarines, the NDAA also includes funds for new missiles and “modernized” nuclear warheads to be built by companies including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and others, all with PACs and teams of lobbyists working hard to win access to the taxpayers’ money.
Eisenhower Warned Us
“In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex,” President Eisenhower warned in his farewell speech in 1961. He could not have been more prophetic when he added, “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist.”
There is no presidential power more awesome than authority over the nation’s arsenal of nuclear weapons. For the chief executive, there is no responsibility greater than the need to prevent global nuclear holocaust. Yet the topic rarely comes up on the presidential campaign trail.
That can change if voters and reporters pay heed. Candidates for president should be asked how they will make sure the military industrial complex does not have unwarranted influence over our foreign and military policy. As Eisenhower said, “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.”