12/01/2011 03:32 pm ET Updated Jan 31, 2012

Supporting Troops, Not Nukes

During last week's GOP foreign policy primary debate, American Values Network teamed up with American Security Project to run a TV ad that has been generating a lot of buzz. The ad points out that the $700 billion we are spending on a bloated nuclear arsenal designed for outdated Cold War threats is forcing cuts to equipment and training our troops need to face 21st Century threats.

Our own military leaders are saying we don't need many of these nuclear weapons programs and that we need to reassess our nuclear strategy. We can maintain a dominant nuclear deterrent with much less.

But Rep. Turner is leading a small group in Congress arguing that we should move forward with these outdated programs. Turner's plan would require the U.S. to borrow all 700 billion of those dollars from China to pay for nuclear programs that represent some of the worst pork-barrel projects in the budget. If it was just about pork or Congress forcing through horrible policy for ideological/partisan reasons, that would be one thing. But the deficit is forcing cuts to defense spending. As a result, every dollar we spend on our outdated nuclear weapons is a dollar we have to cut from modern programs our troops need.

Turner and his allies are choosing nukes over our troops. Budgets are zero sum, and this one is being cut. That means if we don't cut nukes, we have to cut modern defense programs and other programs that support our troops.

The Washington Post just ran a piece that opens with our TV ad and then raises some questions about whether the $700 billion number everyone has been using might be on the high side. Ploughshares -- the group that identified the costs that get us to $700 billion -- is a respected and thoughtful organization, and they provided a detailed explanation for how they reached their $700 billion number. Several other think tanks have also chimed in supporting the Ploughshares number. Furthermore, policy guru Stephen Schwartz provided an update to the Post saying he stands by his numbers Ploughshares used. The policy experts stand by the $700 billion, and so do we.

But regardless of whether we're spending $700,000,000,000, $525,000,000,000, or $600,000,000,000, all of those are massive numbers beyond comprehension. So let me give the big number a little context with a tangible example of the cost of just one part of one program in the bloated nuclear arsenal: the new ballistic nuclear subs.

First, keep in mind that the strategic reason we have these subs is so that if the Soviets launched a preemptive attack against the U.S. that somehow managed to knock out all our nuclear missiles and bombers, we'd still be able to wipe the Soviets off the map. Nuclear hawks are arguing we should build 12 brand new subs. Let's put a small fraction of those costs into perspective.

For the cost of just 1 new ballistic nuclear submarine we could:
  • provide body armor for all our troops overseas,
  • up-armor all their Humvees to protect against roadside bombs,
  • buy 200 new Predator drones, which the CIA says are our most effective weapon against al Qaeda,
  • house and treat every homeless U.S. veteran in the country,
  • increase the Wounded, Ill, and Injured veterans budget by a third for each of the next ten years,
  • and still have over 15 billion to pay down the debt.

And that is just for 1 of the 12 subs, which is just one program of many that make up our nuclear weapons program.

It's the 21st Century. The Soviet union crumbled 20 years ago. We didn't use a nuke to kill bin Laden. And it's time for Congress to face the fact that they can either support our troops, or support nukes. You can't do both.

This post has been updated from a previous version.