by Peter Huessy • Family Security Matters
It has become a common assertion that future planned strategic modernization of the United States is unaffordable. The latest such claim was made by National Public Radio in a July story asserting that over the next three decades the United States is planning to spend $1 trillion in upgrading our entire nuclear deterrent.
Unfortunately, NPR’s assertion relies largely upon a mistakenly done Congressional Budget Office report earlier this year and some subsequent statistical gymnastics by a number of anti-nuclear organizations.
A central theme of the NPR report was how easy it would be for America to jettison the cheapest part of its nuclear Triad of forces–the ICBM leg–in order to save money, enhance stability and better manage our national security affairs. NPR got it wrong in every respect.
Most importantly, NPR relied in large part on its favorable view of getting rid of our ICBM Minuteman missile fleet on a view of US nuclear policy that has not been part of our security strategy for at least a third of a century.
Some facts are important to explain this. Here are a Baker’s dozen to keep in mind
(1) All ICBM’S do not have to overfly Russia to reach other than Russian targets. So there is no danger of accidentally provoking a Russian attack.
(2) Similarly US policy is not to launch on warning or under attack. That is why we rely upon a secure retaliatory capability. It has been US policy for decades to have such a secure retaliatory second strike capability. Therefore there is no need or requirement to launch our ICBMs early in a crisis.
(3) Getting rid of our ICBMs would be a disaster for strategic stability. If for example there were an ASW or anti-submarine warfare breakthrough, Russia could come get our nuclear forces. Not only would we be reducing the US nuclear targets the Russians have to worry about from over 500 to 10 or less, we would be giving our adversaries all incentive to find and destroy our at sea based deterrent over time and do so surreptitiously. We would only have 6-8 submarines at sea with the remaining 4 submarines exposed to attack at their two bases in Bangor, Washington and Kings Bay, Georgia.
(4) The cost of Minuteman modernization would be between $1.5-$2.1 billion a year compared to current costs of $1.5 billion a year for all Minuteman programs including personnel; that is nowhere near the total program cost of $100 billion which NPR cites.
(5) With all due respect, the $100 billion number for Minuteman modernization is simply wrong; the more reasonable estimate is around $8-11 billion for needed modernization in additional spending on top of the current baseline between now and 2032.
(6) A USAF Analysis of Alternatives or AOA has been completed for the Minuteman modernization program and will, I believe when formally announced, be within the cost range I cite here.
(7) The $1 trillion figure used by NPR is based on a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study that estimated we need an average expenditure of $35 billion a year (which would require a peak spending of $45 billion a year) for nuclear modernization. Unfortunately, CBO double counted some of our sustainment and modernization work for each of the three elements of the Triad (they assumed the efforts are cumulative when in fact modernization work would replace much of the projected sustainment work.) CBO also used erroneous and inflated costs for Minuteman while also adding in arbitrary tens of billions in anticipated inflation.
(8) A more accurate number would be a peak of between $26-29 billion a year (compared to $23 billion today) or 5% of the current defense budget and 7/100ths of 1% of the entire CURRENT Federal budget.
(9) NPR was a fan of the then fashionable nuclear freeze in 1980’s. The current “nuclear zero” which NPR finds so appealing is just a old nuclear freeze proposal dragged out of the former Soviet Union’s bag of “arms control” tricks but this time by the American anti-nuclear crowd. Global zero still means the US stops modernizing while we hope the bad guys might follow suit! In 1986 former Secretary of Defense Harold Brown concluded succinctly: “We build, they build. We stop, they build”.
By comparison at current levels the US Government will spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $2.4 trillion on food stamp programs over the next three decades if current expenditures are not increased one dime. The GAO, for example, has identified two tax programs where fraud is at least $19.5 billion a year (with tax credits paid largely to illegal aliens!). Add to that wasteful job training programs also identified by GAO of nearly $20 billion a year and more than enough is annually available from waste and fraud to pay for the entire planned US nuclear modernization effort and still return $300 billion to the US Treasury over the next three decade. (13) Finally, NPR concludes with a quote from a top advocate of “global zero” that the US should convince the Russians to get rid of their land based missiles so we can get rid of ours–in this case our 450 Minuteman missiles housed in silos spread out over 5 states where they are safe from effective attack.
Moscow and the US arms control community tried to sell that pig of a proposal to the American and European publics back in 1980. The color of the lipstick apparently has changed but not the pig itself.
(10) Fortunately there is a firm but even growing consensus now within Congress to go forward with all elements of the Triad and with strategic modernization, the framework for which was laid out by this administration as part of the New Start treaty agreement and submitted to Congress in November 2010.
Global zero ideas that NPR finds so attractive are way outside that current bipartisan consensus in Congress and the country on nuclear deterrent issues.
(11) It indeed is true that as NPR notes there has been a deterioration of the state of our nuclear deterrent. One of the reasons has been an almost universal lack of positive comment from the US media about the need for a strong and sound nuclear deterrent since the end of the Cold War nearly a quarter century ago. This has been compounded by a lack of serious attention by public officials as well. Too many since the end of the Cold War have been chasing down the yellow brick road of nuclear abolition.
(12) One noted exception to this trend was a report by 60 Minutes on its website following the broadcast of a story about the Minuteman missile fleet earlier this year. The second CBS report concluded the Minuteman force and its people were top professionals and were needed to defend America.
After all Minuteman modernization would constitute roughly 7% of all planned nuclear spending and about 1/3rd of 1% of all DOD spending. Or a whopping 5/1000ths of 1% of all current Federal spending.
If eliminating Minuteman will depend upon a deal with Russia then we have nothing to worry about. It will never happen, The Russians have never indicated any interest in such an agreement especially in that their land based missiles make up the vast majority of their nuclear forces while making up roughly a third of our deployed nuclear deterrent.
In summary, NPR embraces something that makes no sense, has no logic, and simply continues a long effort by the radical left to undermine America’s security and that of our allies by diminishing our nuclear deterrent. (This originally was posted by Frontiers of Freedom).
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Peter Huessy is President of GeoStrategic Analysis of Potomac, Maryland, a defense and national security consulting firm.