Will Republicans, during these debt-ceiling negotiations, do the unthinkable and support cutting defense spending to avoid raising taxes on the uber-wealthy? The answer is yes, as it should be, and there is an answer to their angst.
The answer is that we should dramatically reduce the nuclear weapons budget. Doing so will do no harm to our national defense.
But don't take my word for it. Take Senator Tom Coburn's (R-Okla.). His proposal this week to lop off $9 trillion from the national debt over the next decade would halve the total number of nuclear warheads in our combined active and reserve stockpiles from about 5,000 to nearly 2,500.
This would save nearly $80 billion over the next decade. Compare that to our biggest potential threat, China, who has 175 warheads, and the Coburn vision still leaves us with 14 times more warheads.
No one can reasonably argue that such an overwhelming ratio weakens our national defense.
And Coburn is not alone. House Republican appropriators also voted in June to cut the nuclear weapons complex budget, citing budget restrictions and management problems.
National security experts agree with these approaches. According to former OMB defense chief Gordon Adams, in testimony to the House Budget Committee on July 7, defense reductions between $500 billion and a trillion dollars over the next ten years can be made "... while ensuring that the U.S. continues to play a leading role on the world stage."
Political space therefore exists to make these cuts, and the nuclear weapons budget, which is expected to cost nearly $700 billion over the next decade, is ripe for the slashing. We just can't afford to waste this kind of money on Cold War weapons that serve minimal strategic purpose in the 21st century.
With defense spending at its highest level since World War II, yet about to be cut, hard choices have to be made. And because we stand on the cusp of real fiscal change while the threats to our nation are changing, our military's future roles and missions must be redefined and defense expenditures updated. This means that the Pentagon will no longer have anything it wants and will have to instead clearly define what it needs to keep our country safe.
So what will Republicans do? Will they support strategically sound, fiscally prudent choices?
For instance, Norman Polmar, one of the country's leading experts on naval and aviation matters, is calling for a smaller nuclear submarine. He argues that the Pentagon-proposed replacement program, which he believes could add up to $100 billion with research, development and construction costs, is simply unaffordable. Will Republicans support this cut?
This type of debate is healthy for the Pentagon, for our country's national security, and for our national budget. And if these proposed cuts to the nuclear weapons budget are enacted, it will be good for our economy as well.
It's time to cut the nuclear weapons budget. Will the Republicans play along?
This post was originally published on Politico's The Arena page.
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