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A Nuclear Waste of Money

May 8th, 2010 1 comment
Nikita Krushchev

Nikita Krushchev: Scary, back in the day.

Let me tell you a story. Once upon a time, there was a nation called the Soviet Union. They wanted to bury us, which was scary. As a result, we built enough nuclear deterrents to blow them to smithereens many times over. At first we could only drop the nukes from planes. However, slow-moving bombers proved potentially easy to defend against, so we equipped missiles on Trident submarines, too. Just to be safe, we also developed land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that could reach Moscow from Arkansas. This air-land-sea trifecta became known as the nuclear triad. Keeping each leg up to snuff became the cornerstone of U.S. nuclear deterrence strategy.

Then in 1991, the USSR officially ceased to be. A debt-ridden and war-weary United States triumphantly declared itself the victor, and with a sigh of relief began scaling back the outdated nuclear triad in favor of a more efficient and modernized military… right?

B-52 Bomber in Flight

Slow-moving bombers are no longer the best way to deliver nukes.

No. We are still paying for three different ways to obliterate a nation that no longer exists.

Each leg of the triad costs tens of billions of dollars. One of them (the planes) isn’t even practical anymore. What about Iran and North Korea, you might ask, don’t we need deterrents against them? Sure, but a handful of nukes would more than do the trick, nonetheless a tsunami of them. How about Russia? Well for starters, Russia is a heck of a lot weaker and smaller than the USSR was in its heyday. Add to that Russia’s lack of funds for military upkeep and their eagerness to scale back their own nuclear arsenal, and you have something less than a major threat.

Minuteman Missile Launch

Minuteman III missile fired in test launch

I’m not proposing gutting the military. I’m not even proposing gutting the nuclear triad. Let’s just turn it into a dyad. The Pentagon can even decide which two legs to keep (although I hope one isn’t the planes). Obviously there will be a huge pushback from whoever has to make the cut and from the contract companies involved. But it’s stupid. I know the Pentagon likes its shiny toys, but that’s money that could reduce the deficit, pay for health care, or maybe even provide proper armor for our men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. The point is, during a recession with a looming deficit crisis, waste does not get to be overlooked. I don’t care if it’s health care or defense spending. Waste is waste.