By MIA STEINLE
We've said it before: over 20 years after the fall of the Soviet Union, U.S. nuclear defense still smacks of Cold War-era thinking. We've seen promises to get rid of outdated defense systems, and Members of Congress are echoing this call. The latest is Representative Ed Markey (D-MA), who just introduced the Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures Act (which goes by the apt acronym of SANE) to the House.
Markey’s bill calls for cancelling, freezing, or reducing over a dozen costly nuclear programs, totaling about $100 billion in savings over 10 years. As the bill notes, the current, oversized U.S. arsenal was “devised with the Cold War in mind,” and cutting it is commonsense for both national security and the U.S. budget. Markey is joined by 34 original cosponsors of the bill in the House.
POGO supports the bill, as we have long championed many of these cuts through our “Spending Less, Spending Smarter” recommendations, published last summer with Taxpayers for Common Sense. Among the proposed cuts we’re excited to see are the cancellation of expensive and unnecessary projects, such as the Life Extension Program for the B61 gravity bomb and the proposed Chemistry and Metallurgy Research Replacement-Nuclear Facility. Combined, the cancellation of these two projects could save taxpayers at least $9 billion without sacrificing national security.
The bill also calls for a reduction of ballistic missile submarines, land-based missiles, and aircraft bombers—the three components of the nuclear triad. While the recently released Department of Defense FY 2012 budget revealed that the U.S. plans to maintain all three categories of the triad, Markey’s bill shows that maintaining the full triad doesn’t have to mean maintaining the full cost. Certain reductions within the triad could save taxpayers almost $72 billion. Delaying the purchase of a new submarine and a new bomber alone could save $17 billion and $18 billion, respectively.
Among the long list of proposed cuts are a few that POGO hasn’t tackled yet. And there are programs we’ve tackled differently. For instance, while we haven’t evaluated cancelling the nuclear mission of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, as the bill proposes, we’ve called for saving $44 billion by replacing two of the three F-35 variants with the less expensive FA-18 E/Fs. As we noted in our report, wasteful Cold War-era spending goes beyond just nuclear programs.
Markey’s bill is a smart move, and we hope to see support from across the political spectrum for these proposed cuts. We’ve already seen recent bipartisan support (such as a group of Democrats and Republicans who, last fall, urged the Supercommittee to make nuclear cuts) for similarly aggressive—but ultimately sensible—nuclear savings plans that reflect current defense needs. These plans are sending a strong message that Congress is finally getting serious about bringing U.S. nuclear strategy and spending into the 21st century.
Mia Steinle is a POGO Investigator.
Photo via Martha Coakley.