Two reports were released in late January that put the reality of the nuclear threat in sharp focus—and neither one provides reassurance to those who are aware of the existential threat of thermonuclear weapons.
While most of the media in the United States was distracted by the government shutdown games being played on Pennsylvania Avenue, life in the military and nuclear weapons worlds goes on undisturbed. If President Trump truly wanted his border wall, he would have refused to sign any funding bills, but the Departments of Defense and Energy/Nuclear Weapons were taken care of before the standoff was launched.
Meanwhile, the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists unveiled the 2019 update to the Doomsday Clock. Declaring a “new abnormal,” the hands of the clock remain at 2 minutes to midnight, the closest they have ever been. Rachel Bronson, Bulletin President, told reporters the time “should not be taken as a sign of stability, but as a stark warning.”
The Washington Post’s article on the clock update appeared on the front page of its web site for about 12 hours before they hit the snooze button, consigning the article to the archives.
The Bulletin cited several factors for its assessment, including the “deteriorating arms-control architecture” and programs of “nuclear modernization” that reflect a worldwide nuclear arms race. (Starting with major construction projects in the US to expand our capacity to produce new nuclear weapons—the Uranium Processing Facility bomb plant in Oak Ridge, and plans for a Plutonium Pit bomb plant in Los Alamos/Savannah River.)
At almost the same time, the Congressional Budget Office released an estimate of the cost of nuclear forces over the next ten years. The estimate, prepared every two years, says nuclear weapons will cost taxpayers $494 billion over the next ten years—an increase of $94 billion (23%) over the 2017 estimate. This is the first CBO estimate to take into account the Trump Administration’s Nuclear Posture Review that proposed new weapons systems and increased production capacity.
A search of the Washington Post web site turns up no article on the CBO nuclear weapons cost estimate.
The bottom line is an affirmation, sadly, of the Bulletin’s invocation of a “new abnormal.” Half a trillion dollars for nuclear weapons, including a massive cost increase, is business as usual.
It is little wonder people are sleepwalking toward the unthinkable. The two reports this week, and the national media silence, underscore the importance of grassroots education and resistance. We have to teach each other, and we have to take action.
One ray of hope—Adam Smith, new chair of the House Armed Services Committee, a key cog in the funding machine, released a statement on the CBO report. “The current US plans to replace and upgrade the nuclear weapons enterprise are unaffordable.” For at least the next two years, the HASC is likely to be the place where lines are drawn—or not.