In a time of economic turmoil, new American leadership, threats to U.S. security, and debates about the future of U.S. nuclear weapons, it is vital to know how much the United States spends to achieve nuclear security. Using publicly available government documents and conducting extensive interviews with government officials and budget experts, Stephen I. Schwartz and Deepti Choubey assembled a reasonably accurate, although not comprehensive, "budget" of nuclear weapons and weapons-related spending: at least $52 billion dollars.
By creating a new analytic framework that updates Cold War terminology, Schwartz and Choubey were able to allocate nuclear security spending to one of five categories: nuclear forces and operational support; deferred environmental and health costs; missile defense; nuclear threat reduction; and nuclear incident management.
Schwartz and Choubey emphasized that implementing the following recommendations will increase understanding and accountability, which in turn will lead to greater public support for critical nuclear security programs and a more effective allocation of public resources. Only a government-directed annual accounting of all nuclear weapons-related spending will ensure that political and financial priorities are properly aligned.
Question and Answer
Participants asked whether the authors could estimate the cost of nuclear-weapons spending in the three categories (intelligence, air defense, anti-submarine warfare) that were not included in the report. Given the classified and dual-use nature of many of the programs involved, it is impossible to reasonably estimate costs. Schwartz and Choubey emphasized that this situation underscores the necessity of a government-mandated accounting of nuclear spending. Similarly, the authors were asked how 2008 spending compared to past trends. Without an annual budgetary review it is impossible to track trends or establish the metrics needed to chart achievements and assess goals.
Participants also questioned whether the analysis gave the authors the ability to evaluate certain programs, specifically missile defense, complex transformation, and the Reliable Replacement Warhead program. The authors stressed that this report does not attempt to answer such questions, but, instead, seeks to lay the appropriate groundwork for further evaluation by policymakers.
In light of the pressing priorities facing the incoming administration, an audience member asked how momentum and resources could be cultivated to achieve an annual government-mandated nuclear security budget. Although the Obama administration will be faced with critical challenges, Schwartz and Choubey maintained that Secretary-designate Clinton has explicitly stated her goal of expanding the budget and role of the State Department. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has also supported providing the State Department with greater resources. These converging viewpoints, combined with recent financial uncertainty has created pressure for increased budget scrutiny, indicate a growing consensus among policymakers that oversight must be reorganized, reassessed, and reasserted.
About the Authors
Stephen I. Schwartz is the editor of The Nonproliferation Review, published by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Monterey Institute of International Studies, the largest nongovernmental organization in the United States devoted exclusively to research and training on nonproliferation issues. He is also the editor and coauthor of Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons since 1940 (Brookings Institution Press, 1998), the authoritative chronicle of historical expenditures associated with the U.S. nuclear weapons program. Schwartz has previously served as publisher and executive director of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and as a guest scholar with the Foreign Policy Studies Program at the Brookings Institution.
Deepti Choubey is deputy director of the Nonproliferation Program at the Carnegie Endowment. Her research interests include the calculations of non–nuclear-weapon states, how much the U.S. spends on nuclear security, and the role of nonproliferation for long-term U.S. foreign policy. Prior to joining the Carnegie Endowment in 2006, Choubey was director of the Peace and Security Initiative (PSI) for the Ploughshares Fund.
The Carnegie Nuclear Policy Program is an internationally acclaimed source of expertise and policy thinking on nuclear industry, nonproliferation, security, and disarmament. Its multinational staff stays at the forefront of nuclear policy issues in the United States, Russia, China, Northeast Asia, South Asia, and the Middle East.
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