Nuclear Piffle

Progressive anti-nuclear group behind new critical study of U.S. nuclear weapons spending

• June 5, 2012 5:00 am


A study funded by the anti-nuclear activist group Ploughshares Fund says the U.S. government is spending too much on nuclear weapons.

The report by the Henry L. Stimson Center, a think tank, states: "As the defense budget comes under increasing pressure, many have suggested nuclear weapons as an area for savings. But estimates of what the United States spends on nuclear weapons widely vary."

The report, set for release Tuesday, states that the Pentagon is spending about $31 billion annually for strategic nuclear forces, including $22.7 billion for the Pentagon’s delivery systems and command and control systems, and $8.2 billion for Energy Department warheads and reactors.

Over the next 10 years—the timeframe the Obama administration agreed to for a major program of modernization for the aging strategic nuclear arsenal and delivery systems—the Pentagon and Energy Department will spend between $352 and $392 billion on strategic nuclear forces, according to the new report.

The study’s figures contrast with the Obama administration estimate for modernizing U.S. nuclear forces. The administration has said it will spend around $214 billion over 10 years. Ploughshares stated earlier this year that it believes nuclear arms spending will be around $700 billion during the same period, an estimate the Pentagon has dismissed as wrong.

"Ploughshares is at it again," said a U.S. official critical of the Stimson study. "This isn’t about how much to spend on nuclear deterrence. This is about saving money by disarming us."

The Stimson report appears to be the latest line of argument by anti-nuclear activists that modernizing strategic nuclear weapons is too expensive, the official said.

The Free Beacon reported earlier this year that the Ploughshares Fund spent over $5.6 million in 2010 toward what the group says is a "world without nuclear weapons."

In addition to funding anti-nuclear weapons studies and groups, Ploughshares also funded an effort to shift public debate away from military action to stop Iran’s covert nuclear program and toward international acceptance of Tehran as a future nuclear power.

The Stimson report focuses solely on what it calls "offensive strategic nuclear forces" in an apparent effort to lend support to President Obama’s policy to ultimately eliminate all U.S. nuclear weapons.

The think tank study comes as the Pentagon is finishing a Nuclear Posture Review implementation study that, according to U.S. officials, directed the Pentagon to consider cutting deployed strategic warheads to as few as 300, fewer than the number of warheads estimated to be in China’s nuclear arsenal.

It also comes as the Pentagon is grappling with $487 billion in cuts and an impending additional cut of $600 billion mandated by Congress that could hit later this year.

The Obama administration agreed to spend $8 billion in new funds over 10 years to modernize aging U.S. nuclear forces. In exchange for the funds, Senate Republicans agreed to ratification of the 2010 New START arms treaty with Russia.

The report, "Resolving Ambiguity," concludes that the study "should clarify that official estimates relying on a narrow definition of the nuclear enterprise, or even of strategic nuclear offensive forces, understate the actual costs the United States spends on nuclear weapons without settling once and for all what is the single right cost of the nuclear enterprise."

"Underlying debates about nuclear weapons spending is the policy debate about nuclear weapons themselves," the report said. "Too often this more important debate is confused by the debate about costs."

The report was written by Russell Rumbaugh, Stimson’s director of the budgeting for foreign affairs and defense program, and Nathan Cohn, a Stimson researcher.

Rumbaugh is a former Democratic staffer for the Senate Budget Committee involved in defense analysis.

Rumbaugh said he did not believe Ploughshares’ funding of the study impugned its integrity.

"We understand the responsibility to demonstrate our points analytically, and thus the stress on transparency in all of the research and presentation," he told the Free Beacon.

Rumbaugh said he and Cohn had "free rein to conduct the study as we wanted, and looked to base every conclusion on publicly available data calculated in a repeatable fashion."

"There are judgment calls, but we highlighted those and provide enough information if somebody disagrees with the judgment they could figure the change themselves to get an alternative figure," he said.

The report’s analysis will be useful for both sides of the policy debate on nuclear weapons funding and will help to clarify the issues at hand, Rumbaugh said.

A senior House Republican, Rep. Michael R. Turner, introduced legislation in March that would limit U.S. warhead cuts under the New START treaty and block the administration from any further deep warhead cuts, such as those proposed in the lower levels of the forthcoming Nuclear Posture Review implementation study.

It could not be learned how much money was given to Stimson by Ploughshares for the study.

The Daily Beast reported in December that Ploughshares is taking the lead among liberal philanthropic groups in seeking to influence U.S. nuclear weapons policy.

The report quoted Ploughshares president Joseph Cirincione as calling the effort "impact philanthropy."

"We look at the problem to try to correct that problem, identify the gaps that exist and make targeted grants," he told The Daily Beast.