THE BLOG

Five Points On Our Costly Nukes

1. Spend up large on nuclear weapons while saying you actually want to get rid of them.

The big nuclear news this week was the announcement by the Obama administration that the best way to achieve a world without nuclear weapons was to spend $7 billion ensuring the silly old weapons work properly. ("Work properly" here means simply that these weapons will unleash a destructive force that can kill hundreds of thousands of civilians, obliterate a large city and leave many thousands of others to suffer from the after-effects of radiation.) In the year starting Oct. 1, we will be spending an extra $624 million on these monster weapons of mass destruction. And the plan is to bump up spending on nuclear weapons by a total of $5 billion over the next five years.

Why?

2. Call our best and our brightest to work on our most lethal killing machines. Then praise the labs that develop and design these WMD as "national treasures."

This investment is long overdue. It will strengthen our ability to recruit, train and retain the skilled people we need to maintain our nuclear capabilities. It will support the work of our nuclear labs, a national treasure that we must and will sustain. -- Joe Biden

The Vice President of the United States wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal this week. He explained the rationale for the spending spree:

"For as long as nuclear weapons are required to defend our country and our allies, we will maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal."

Doesn't the sound of an "effective" nuclear arsenal make you feel content and protected? Wouldn't you like a nuclear weapon in your own neighborhood? Doesn't the fact that we have about 9,000 nuclear weapons in our arsenal and there are 23,000 total in the world just make you feel downright tranquil and nurtured?

We've spent at least $7 trillion since the 1940s keeping this "safe, secure" arsenal just as lethal as it can be. Do you feel safer? Or more secure? Do you think other countries believe us when we say we want to spend more on nuclear weapons so we can get rid of them?

Why, of course they do. And, just like us, they will want to get nuclear weapons, so, just like us, they can spend more on them so, again just like us, they can one day, eventually, but not in anyone's lifetime, get rid of them, too.

3. No treaty before its time. Negotiate a worthwhile treaty with Russia to reduce nuclear weapons, "secure" in the knowledge that it will take 67 votes to ratify in the "just say no" Senate.

Another big news item this week was the report, also in the Wall Street Journal, that the United States and Russia are about to sign the successor treaty to start. Jonathan Weisman reported: "U.S. and Russian arms-control negotiators have reached an "agreement in principle" on the first nuclear-arms-reduction treaty in nearly two decades, administration and arms-control officials said.

To my mind this is a great development. But ever since Obama and his Russian counterpart Dmitri Medvedev announced the broad outline of a deal last year, we have had a regular release of "almost done" stories. I feel like I'm waiting for dark in the land of the midnight sun. The season will probably change before we see any action.

And then, of course, the U.S. Senate would still have to ratify it.

4. The Missing Defense Agency.

Big news item number three this week: Our missile defense system proves to be about as effective as our attempts to defend the health of the nation. This is how the Vandenberg Air Force Base described the Jan. 31st attempt to hit a rocket fired from the Marshall Islands with another rocket fired from Vandenberg in California. And remember, to be fair, the target rocket was moving. That makes it harder.

MISSILE DEFENSE TEST CONDUCTED

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The Missile Defense Agency conducted a flight test today of the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense System.

A target missile was successfully launched at approximately 3:40 p.m.
PST from the U.S. Army's Reagan Test Site at Kwajalein Atoll in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Approximately six minutes later, a Ground-Based Interceptor was successfully launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. Both the target missile and Ground-Based Interceptor performed nominally after launch. However, the Sea-Based X-band radar did not perform as expected.

Program officials will conduct an extensive investigation to determine the cause of the failure to intercept.

Talk about a surprise ending. Two "successful" launches, a "nominally" performing missile and the interceptor "nominally" doing its thing as well, then that naughty old radar did not perform. Rats! Failure to intercept. Rats! Oh well, it only cost $150 million. Lucky, we aren't counting our pennies.

By the way, they started testing this technology in 1999 (that's 11 years ago, but why count years if you aren't counting pennies). In all that time, they've only had 8 out of 16 successful tests. That's a 50 percent failure rate. Flip a coin. Tails we stop the nuke. Heads we don't. Wilt Chamberlain shot free throws more accurately.

Here's how David Krieger, President of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation -- and my boss -- put it:

Even though they changed the date of the test to avoid cloud cover, they failed to intercept the incoming test missile. This was not even a complicated test, with multiple missiles and decoys, such as a real intercept scenario could involve. The lesson, which has been apparent for a long while, is that missile defenses don't work and are unlikely to ever work. Technology will not save the U.S. or any other country from a nuclear-armed missile attack. The only way we will be made secure in the Nuclear Age is by a serious commitment to nuclear disarmament, as required by international law.


5. When in doubt, always blame the contractor.

After the failure of the Vandenberg test, the executive director of the Missile Defense Agency, David Altwegg, told reporters: "I'm not going to name names today, but I'm going to tell you we continue to be disappointed in the quality that we are receiving from our prime contractors and their subs -- very, very disappointed.

By the way, the Pentagon wants $8.4 billion for the Missile Defense Agency next year, including $1.3 billion for the Ground-based Missile Defense System, which has cost us peace-loving citizens of the U.S.A $35.5 billion so far.

Unfortunately for the Missing Defense Agency, and especially us citizen-taxpayers, it's difficult to blame the contractors for the decision to spend so much money year after year on a system that doesn't really work.

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