After the Iowa and New Hampshire primaries, we are reminded that President Obama's time in office is coming to a close. But it's not too late to take care of unfinished business.
Nearly seven years ago, President Obama gave hope to tens of thousands gathered in central Prague, and to billions around the world. In no uncertain terms, he declared "America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons."
It was a declaration the world was hungry to hear. Nuclear weapons have not been used since 1945 and have no role against the major threats we face today, such as terrorism, global warming or cyber attacks. And yet the Obama administration has launched a 30-year, $1 trillion effort to rebuild the U.S. nuclear arsenal from the ground up.
The hope felt in Prague back in 2009 was once again dashed with the release of the administration's $583 billion defense budget -- including a major down-payment on the whopping $1 trillion nuclear upgrade.
The president's budget request for fiscal year 2017 includes large increases for new nuclear weapons, including new nuclear cruise missiles, new land-based ballistic missiles, and new nuclear-armed bombers and submarines. At the same time, the budget reduces funding for critical programs to prevent nuclear terrorism.
The enormous cost of these nuclear weapons programs will force tough budget tradeoffs with conventional weapons, Pentagon officials admit. "Starting in 2021, between 2021 and 2035, it's about $18 billion a year to reconstitute and recapitalize our strategic nuclear deterrent," Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work recently told Defense News. "If that comes out of our conventional forces that will be very, very, very problematic for us."
But the process of trading nuclear weapons for conventional ones has already begun. While increasing funding for nuclear weapons we don't need, the budget cuts funds for conventional helicopters, fighter planes, and ships -- the weapons we actually use.
In the final stretch of his presidency, Obama is on course to leave a legacy that boosts, not busts, America's nuclear arsenal. As former Defense Secretary William J. Perry recently wrote, "Far from continuing the nuclear disarmament that has been underway for the last two decades, we are starting a new nuclear arms race."
This is a profound disappointment, particularly given Obama's historic achievements - the Iran nuclear accord, the New START Treaty, and the Nuclear Security Summits.
But there is still time for Obama to live up to his words and set a new course. Two new reports from the Center for American Progress (CAP) and the centrist Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) provide critical new data that can help inform strategies for cutting back our bloated - and dangerous - plans for new nuclear weapons. Ploughshares Fund was pleased to provide funding for these studies.
CAP and CSIS are not alone. Other groups with smart strategies for ending the nuclear spending spree include Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Project on Government Oversight, the Cato Institute, the Arms Control Association and Women's Action for New Directions. These groups span the political spectrum. They have different missions and goals. But they all agree on one thing: the nuclear weapons budget is out of control.
A new president will take office next January. These next 12 months are critical if we are to re-set U.S. policy on a path toward the vision Obama laid out in Prague. We must act now to make sure our country stops throwing money at the weapons of the past, and starts investing in protecting our futures.