Why is America spending $1.7 trillion on nukes?
What's bad for the world is good for the nuclear war business
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At any given moment, the United States has 1,750 nuclear weapons ready to launch. That is more than enough to seriously threaten human civilization’s continued survival, but just in case we make it through, the United States has another 5,800 warheads stockpiled in reserve.
Now the military-industrial complex has embarked upon a bipartisan, 30-year, $1.7 trillion campaign to spruce up and replace these weapons. This democidal boondoggle is a massive windfall for U.S. industrial production, because unlike any other type of weapon nobody will ever know whether they work or not. Either way, when they are used it will be too late to care.
The surge has grown to encompass all three legs of the military's nuclear "triad" -- air-launched, land-based and shipborne nukes. The Pentagon strategists claim this is all necessary to maintain a nuclear deterrence vis-a-vis Russia and China.
These new weapons include:
A $265 billion project to build 650 nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for Air Force developed by aerospace giant Northrop Grumman.
A $128 billion fleet of nuclear-armed missile submarines for the Navy developed by General Dynamics and built by Newport News Shipbuilding.
$20 billion for hundreds of nuclear-armed cruise missiles developed by Raytheon.
A $10+ billion program to manufacture nuclear weapon plutonium cores in a facility originally built to convert weapon plutonium into commercial fuel.
That is just the beginning. The Air Force needs planes to carry the missiles, so it is spending an additional $55 billion on stealth bombers. Then there's the array of bases to warehouse nuclear weapons, the production complexes to develop them, the command-and-control systems to launch them, and their maintenance requirements amounting to hundreds of billions of dollars in additional costs.
"(Nuclear weapons) aren't weapons so much as they are organizations that maintain weapons," atomic weapons historian Alex Wellerstein wrote at Nuclear Secrecy. "Which is probably why you have to defend them: they are expensive."
These sprawling expenses are the point: preparing for nuclear war is great for business. Even better, there is little to no scrutiny for how this money is spent. No one really knows how much this all costs. The Pentagon’s own watchdogs have no idea what the military spends on its nukes. The National Nuclear Security Administration asks Congress for billions of dollars for nuclear programs before they even know what they are going to spend it on.
This replacement is entirely unnecessary. The oldest existing plutonium cores will survive for the next 50 years or longer. Raytheon's nuclear-tipped cruise missiles -- “Long Range Stand Off Weapons” (LRSOs) -- will replace another missile that didn’t work, built to fly under Soviet radars that did not exist. The rationale during the Cold War was much the same as it is now, create a solution in search of a problem.
Former Defense Secretary Mark Esper, then Pentagon chief at the time of the LRSO contract award in April, knows a whole lot about Raytheon too, as he was its senior lobbyist from 2010 to 2017. The Biden administration has so far continued the LRSO program.
“The nuclear strategic triad is the most important part of our military,” Esper said while touring a B-52 bomber last year. “It's key to our nation's defense. It provides that strategic nuclear deterrent that we depend on day after day.”
There’s one problem with this logic of deterrence. The Pentagon doesn’t just want hundreds of nuclear-tipped LRSOs, it also wants hundreds of non-nuclear or “conventional” LRSOs. The military likes non-nuclear LRSOs because of their stealthy design and navigation systems that can zip around an adversary’s defenses.
But if deterrence depends on threatening nuclear war to keep the enemy from escalating, then using missiles in a non-nuclear war that look like nuclear warheads undermines the whole thing. If Russia or China does not know whether a U.S.-launched missile contains a nuclear payload or not, then they must assume that it does. Even a “limited” nuclear exchange would likely mean tens of millions of deaths in an hour or two -- these profit-seeking platforms are exceptionally dangerous.
As for Northrop Grumman’s $265 billion ICBMs, the truth is the Air Force doesn’t really want them, “but the Air Force really didn’t have any choice,” Ret. Maj. Gen. Robert Latiff told the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
The reason why is the aerospace firm’s lobbying power, as described by the Bulletin. Northrop Grumman spent a record $46.9 million on lobbying in 2019, more than any other military-industrial firm, given to both Democrats and Republicans. A year before, the company acquired spaceflight firm Orbital ATK for $9.2 billion, one of the two American manufacturers of solid-fuel rocket engines, and broke ground on a new headquarters outside Hill Air Force Base in Utah.
Now, thousands of employees are moving in, and if the Air Force doesn’t buy their bombs, they’ll all be out of a job.
This, then, is how a self-justifying series of rationales and strategies, each connected to the other, preserves an industrial system producing the means of its own destruction -- and everyone else along with it. At that point whether all the profits made it worthwhile will be a moot question.
Our only investment advice: Remember the game was rigged from the start.
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