How we Invest to Keep our Future Safe and Secure

On this Thanksgiving, I am giving thanks for the safety of my relatives who have returned home healthy from military service overseas. Unfortunately, many Ohioans cannot say the same for their family members and loved ones -- returning men and women who are in dire need of treatment and care for combat-related mental health injuries, like brain disorders and substance abuse problems. Today, there are over 20,000 Ohio veterans diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And yet, while this current and urgent need goes unmet, U.S. policymakers are continuing to invest in outdated weapons that do not keep us safer.

The nuclear bombs deployed in Europe -- the B61gravity bomb -- are a perfect example. Currently, the U.S. is undertaking an upgrade to this Cold War-era nuclear warhead at a total cost of $11.6 billion. This is over $25 million per weapon or more than twice their weight in solid gold. The B61 was originally deployed at various bases across Europe to prevent a Soviet invasion. That the Soviet Union no longer exists should make us think twice about how we are choosing to spend precious taxpayer dollars.

Twenty years after the end of the Cold War, nuclear weapons are increasingly irrelevant to a 21st century security strategy. And yet, the United States is planning to upgrade the nuclear weapons complex at a significant and growing cost. As the Ploughshares Fund estimates, the United States will spend $640 billion over the next decade on these weapons and related costs.

Moreover, in a time of shrinking budgets, planned upgrades to nuclear weapons will require tradeoffs with other national security priorities, such as ensuring nuclear materials are kept out of the hands of terrorists. As our own Congresswoman from Ohio, Marcy Kaptur (D-Toledo), has argued, increasing the nuclear weapons budget while shrinking funding for nonproliferation efforts aimed at preventing nuclear terrorism makes little sense. Rep. Kaptur is in an important leadership role as the ranking member on the appropriations subcommittee that approves funding for both nuclear weapons and nuclear nonproliferation programs.

Every dollar we spend on outdated, unnecessary nuclear weapons like the B61 is a dollar not spent on investments to move our country forward and keep our citizens safer. Ohio's 900,000 veterans deserve better. Instead of spending billions on nuclear bombs in Europe, we should be expanding programs for the troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Instead of upgrading nuclear missiles, we should be investing in the capabilities our troops actually need to protect America and ready to meet 21st century challenges. That would be something we can all be thankful for.

Charleta Tavares is a State Senator in Ohio. She sits on the Senate Public Safety, Local Government and Veterans Affairs Committee and is a member of the Women Legislators' Lobby, a program of Women's Action for New Directions (WAND).