The Global Costs of Nuclear Weapons

In the United States, heated debates about the deficit and the debt ceiling are forcing policymakers to take a hard look at reductions across the board, including cuts to defense spending. A new report from Ploughshares Fund grantee Global Zero reminds us that it’s not just the U.S. struggling with the fiscal burden of maintaining – and modernizing – an arsenal of nuclear weapons.

Global Zero co-founders Bruce Blair and Matt Brown project that the nuclear weapons states (U.S., Russia, China, France, United Kingdom, India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea) will spend at least $1 trillion on nuclear weapons and their direct support systems over the next decade.

Blair and Brown point out that current U.S. nuclear modernization plans put the nation on a path to spending more on nuclear weapons than at any point since the Cold War. Simultaneously, the study finds that “much of the rest of the nuclear-armed world is undergoing similar upgrading of their arsenals at increasing cost.”

In the United States, Global Zero estimates that for the cost of a single nuclear weapon, the U.S. could provide health care coverage to 36,000 low-income Americans. For the cost of another nuclear weapon: 400 college scholarships.

During a time of global economic fiscal crisis, maintaining bloated nuclear arsenals is not only economically unsustainable, but also strategically unnecessary. The consensus among military officers and security experts from both sides of the aisle is that nuclear reductions increase American national security. In a Foreign Affairs article, Blair and a quartet of U.S. and Russian security experts argue that “Washington and Moscow could easily reduce their nuclear forces to just 1,000 warheads apiece without any adverse consequences.”

In Washington, policymakers are taking notice that nuclear weapons cuts make fiscal and strategic sense. Earlier this week, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) released “Back in Black,” a plan to reduce the national debt $9 trillion over the next 10 years. Coburn’s plan finds $79 billion in savings through proposed cuts to the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Sen. Coburn’s plan is a good starting point for a conversation about how to get the greatest savings and largest boost to national security from cuts to nuclear weapons budgets.

This conversation needs to gain traction in capitols worldwide. One trillion dollars is far too much to spend on weapons that fail to make the world safer or more secure.


Photo by zzzack on Flickr