The Enormous Cost of More Nuclear Weapons: What Is the Gain?

Is funding the expansion of our nuclear arsenal in the country’s best interest or is it just Trump’s latest boastful display of American power?

An analysis by the Arms Control Association of U.S. government budget data projects the total cost over the next 30 years of the proposed nuclear modernization and maintenance at between $1.25 trillion and $1.46 trillion. This expenditure is not included in our defense budget of $700 billionwhich leads the world in military spending and represents more than the spending of the next seven countries combined –three times what China spends and seven times what Russia spends on defense.

To put this into perspective, this number exceeds the combined total federal spending for education; training, employment, and social services; agriculture; natural resources and the environment; general science, space, and technology; community and regional development (including disaster relief); law enforcement; and energy production and regulation.

With climate change deemed by the Pentagon as an immediate national security threathealthcare costs rising, and an increasing number of natural disasters, one might think nuclear weapons would lose their place as the top recipient of federal spending. But this is far from the case and there is a reason why.

As long as other countries continue to harbor nuclear weapons, we will do the same. And vise versa. As Donald Trump said at the start of his campaign, “If countries are going to have nukes, we’re going to be at the top of the pack.”

This sentiment followed him into his presidency. The Trump administration just last week considered proposing additional, smaller, more tactical nuclear weapons that would cause less damage than traditional thermonuclear bombs.However, these mini-nukes are not some new, profound proposal. We have had nuclear weapons capable of being dialed down to the power of  “mini nukes” since the 80’s. The 15-kiloton bomb dropped on Hiroshima would now be classified as a “mini-nuke” yet its destruction was monumental. Adding more, smaller nukes is an unnecessary, potentially dangerous addition. Proponents of the proposal claim these “mini-nukes” would give military commanders more options; critics, however, contend that it will also make the use of atomic arms more likely. Christine Parthemore, International Affairs Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, says, “Our investments should be careful lowering our threshold of use.” Further, the proposed addition will only add trouble to the already fraught international conversation opposing nuclear weapons.

As former Secretary of State George Shultz so eloquently put it, “proliferation begets proliferation.” One state’s nuclear acquisitions only drive its adversaries to follow suit. The reality is adding to our nuclear arsenal will only force our international opponents to defensively order a mad dash for the bomb.

In today’s political arena, as Russia remains volatile and North Korea’s threat grows, is funding the expansion of our nuclear arsenal in the country’s best interest or just Trump’s latest boastful display of American power?

Having a nuclear arsenal is supposed to ensure the raw principle behind nuclear deterrence: You won’t destroy us because we can destroy you. As Andrew Weber, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense & former Director of the Nuclear Weapons Council, says, “The sole purpose of having a nuclear arsenal is to deter an attack on the United States of America.”

This cold war era mindset relies on the relationship between acting and reacting. With the recognition that retaliation is likely, if not guaranteed, nuclear weapons are supposed to restrain the possibility of action on behalf of nuclear leaders. They are supposed to make them cautious, regardless of which states we are talking about or how many weapons they might possess.

According to a 2017 report by the Arms Control Association, The United States currently maintains an arsenal of about 1,650 strategic nuclear warheads deployed on Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs), and Strategic Bombers and some 180 tactical nuclear weapons at bomber bases in five European countries.

The ICBM is arguably the most controversial piece of America’s nuclear triad, yet in August, the Air Force announced major new contracts for a revamp of the American nuclear force: $1.8 billion for initial development of a highly stealthy nuclear cruise missile, and nearly $700 million to begin replacing the 40-year-old Minuteman missiles in silos across the United States.

This plan was born from the Obama administration but enthusiastically hightailed by Trump. Obama’s reasoning was that as our weapons became increasingly safe, their numbers could be reduced.

However, Trump’s reasoning has proven to be different. His threat that North Korea will be met with “fury and fire” combined with his proposals of mini-nukes only propel the notion that he is not following past leaders in enforcing a no first strike policy.

The danger of revamping this shaky leg of the nuclear triad is in part due to Trump’s demonstrated impulsiveness. As Andrew Weber explains, “There is a 2-3 minute threat of the land-based missiles and it is impossible for the target to determine whether the weapon has a nuclear or conventional tip.” An impulsive president with nuclear codes capable of starting a nuclear war in 2-3 minutes using a weapon that must fly over Russia and has the possibility of mistaken identity, is essentially a recipe for disaster.

Christine Parthemore says the “ICBM is the weakest link” and we should begin reform by eliminating it. Yet, instead the current administration is both modernizing and adding to this arsenal, a move that will most likely draw other countries to do the same and commit the United States to keeping the most vulnerable branch of its “nuclear triad.”

The 2017 report by the Arm Control Association broke down the proposed spending for Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missiles (SLBMs) and found the total reached over $128 billion. The costly program, titled Colombia Class, includes 12 new boats for the Navy, and has a projected life-cycle cost of $282 billion. In comparison, free public education in America would cost a mere $62.6 billion dollars.

The third and final upgrade is a modernization of the current B-2 Bomber costing 9.5 billion. However, in accordance with Obama’s efforts to decrease the US’s quantity of weapons, known as START (Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty), the Pentagon announced it would retain 42 deployed and 4 non-deployed nuclear capable B-52 bombers. The remainder of the B-52 bombers would be converted to carry only conventional weapons.

In these last few weeks, as tensions rise to an unprecedented high with North Korea, it may seem like the wrong time to discuss the reduction and soon eradication of ICBM’s. However, Joseph Cirincione, President of the Ploughshares Fund, says that how America chooses to go forward at this moment in time will have utmost consequences to the entire international political arena and its potential for nuclear war.

In the past weeks North Korea launched 22 missiles in 15 tests and sought to assure its dominance and Trump, in his expected fashion, took to Twitter to boast American power, a move that North Korean leaders took to mean war. With the threat of a nuclear war with North Korea actualizing, America should be discussing the potential of reigning in North Korea by moving away from nuclear weapons. As it is, Trump’s egotistical rhetoric falls flat when up against Kim Jong-un, a ruthless tyrant willing to gamble with the lives of millions of his citizens. If the US were to strike first, there would no doubt be retaliation. Despite having spent hundreds of billions on strategic missile defenses, most analysts have little confidence that the US can destroy any intercontinental missiles launched against them once they get off the ground. After the most recent failed interceptor test Philip E. Coyle III, who previously ran the Pentagon’s weapons-testing program, stated that the system “is something the U.S. military, and the American people, cannot depend upon.” This is after spending $8 billion a year for the past forty years.

Ultimately, there is no military option that would not entail a mind-bogging gamble with the lives of millions of Americans, Japanese and especially South Koreans.

Our current policy of pugnacious rhetoric does little to affect Kim Jong-un. We have been tightening sanctions on North Korea for over a decade, and their nuclear program has only accelerated. A first-strike by America means the endangerment of millions. What this leaves is diplomacy. Negotiating with North Korea will not be easy but it is possible. The Clinton administration helped negotiate the important 1994 Agreed Framework, under which North Korea effectively froze its major nuclear programs.

Creating a deal with Iran through diplomatic relations appeared unreasonable until it happened.

Sanctions should remain in place but they must be paired with some diplomatic engagement. We must be open to offering North Korea things that they want: security guarantees, some form of international political recognition, and economic benefits in exchange for a freeze on their nuclear and missile programs. We must do all this while strengthening our relationship with South Korea and Japan and maintaining a strong foothold enclosing North Korea. None of this will be possible without the trust of the international community, a trust that is shaken with Trump’s threat of ripping up Obama’s 2015 Iran Deal.

We must also remember that China would rather see a nuclear North Korea than a larger United States presence in Asia. As of now, China facilitates about 90 percent of North Korea’s trade and provides its oil. And it is China that has opposed a stricter U.N. embargo for fear of a collapsed regime and a potential unified Korea allied with the United States. It is important now more than ever to isolate North Korea with the help of our allies.

Now is not the time to build up our nuclear arsenal and respond to threats with military action, especially as we face an already threatened North Korea. It is crucial now more than ever not to proliferate the use of nuclear weapons. The goal is to deter and when it comes to deterrence, more is not better, especially when it is so incredibly expensive.

If GOPers Were Thinking in Their Own Interests, They Would Embrace the ACA… But They Don’t

Republican voters’ primary goal is to make a point against Obama, not get more affordable care.

Photo Credit: Fibonacci Blue / Flickr

Why Republican voters seem to vote against their own best interest has long been a liberal’s conundrum. When Trump won the 2016 Presidential election, many liberals outspokenly wondered, “Why would Republicans elect a President whose policies challenge their best interests?” But perhaps they should instead be asking why so many of these Americans were drawn to a man like Donald Trump, despite the fact that his policies challenge their best interest.

No clearer can this question be surveyed than in the case of the Affordable Care Act.

Throughout his campaign, Donald Trump vowed to get rid of “ObamaCare” and replace it with “something terrific, something great.” This campaign promise was critical to the success of his Republican presidential candidacy, and subsequently he repeated it on his first day in office. With his victory, it seemed clear that dismantling Obama’s greatest domestic policy achievement was of utmost priority in the minds of America’s Republicans.

However, the call for repeal proved stronger in theory than in actuality. On July 28th, after repetitious failures to repeal ObamaCare, Republicans staged their final hurrah–a “skinny repeal” that lacked nearly all the political toxin of their previous attempts. However, Republicans John McCain, Lisa Murkowski and Susan Collins joined the Democrats in voting down the proposed law. When the law died in the Senate, it seemed to die to the public as well. The very people who had chanted alongside Trump became hesitant of his promise to repeal their health care system. A video of a man changing his mind and calling for the continuation of ACA circled the internet; The New York Times interviewed a man, Mr. Brahin, who said “As much as I was against it, at this point I’m against the repeal. Now that you’ve insured an additional 20 million people, you can’t just take the insurance away from these people,” he added. In fact, according to a poll tracked by PollingReportwhich The Washington Post compiled starting in March, on average, only 22 percent of Americans supported GOP proposals to replace the ACA.

What became clear in the weeks during the Republican’s attempt to repeal the ACA is that the majority of Republicans did not originally vote against the law itself; they voted against President Obama and a government they felt no longer represented them.

According to a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation, focusing specifically on Republicans, when asked the main reason why they have an unfavorable view of the health care law, about three in ten said it is because they believe the law gives government too big a role in the health care system (31 percent) or say it is just one of many indications that President Obama took the country in the wrong direction (27 percent). This reaction to the ACA is a mirror into the way politics is organized today. Policies do not drive opinions, culture does. The majority of Republicans had an unfavorable view of Obama’s ACA, precisely because it was Obama’s ACA; it was the Democrat’s ACA; it was not their ACA.

Yet, logistically it was. In 1993, the Clintons sought to reform health care. In response, Republicans scrambled to introduce their own health care bill. The Heritage Foundation, forefather of right wing think tanks, with Republican Sen. John Chafee of Rhode Island leading, proposed the Health Equity and Access Reform Today, which is argued to be nearly identical to the ACA. Both bills proposed an individual mandate, the creation of purchasing pools, standardized benefits, vouchers for the poor to buy insurance and a ban on denying coverage based on a pre-existing condition. While the bill never came into being, it represented a similarity between the logistics of Republican and Democratic health care ideals. Further, Obama himself has credited Romneycare as a foundation for ObamaCare. And Romney was quoted saying, “without Romneycare, I don’t think we would have Obamacare.” Substantively, the ACA could very well be the GOP’s bill, if it was not tainted with “Obama.”

To boot, if Republicans were to vote according to their own best interest when it came to health care, the statistics say they would most likely support the ACA.

Roughly 20 million people have gained coverage through the Affordable Care Act, Democrats and Republicans alike. In fact, the parts of the country that lean the most heavily Republican showed significantly more insurance gains than places where voters lean strongly Democratic. Florida and Texas, two Republican leaning states, saw about 3.3 million people gain coverage as statewide uninsured rates fell 36 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

Yet, only 3% of Republicans said it benefited themselves or their families.

Of the 11.5 million Marketplace enrollees nationally, 6.3 million live in Republican districts and 5.2 million live in Democratic districts.

To understand the disparity between the law’s success and its approval rating among Republicans, take a closer look at Florida, a hot spot for curious political perplexities. Three congressional districts – all represented by Republicans – have among the highest number of Affordable Care Act enrollees in the country. Yet, irony prevailed when only nine House Republicans, none from Florida, dissented from the near party line 227-198 vote to repeal the ACA.

Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, who has outspokenly favored the ACA’s repeal and replacement, heads Florida’s District 27. In 2013, she called the law’s implementation “bungled” and “not the answer for America’s health care system.” Her district enrolls 96,300 people, the highest number in the country, according to estimates by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Florida’s 26th district, led by Rep. Carlos Curbelo follows close behind with 92,500.

If the Republican’s plan to repeal the ACA were to actualize, nearly 200,000 people in these Republican districts would lose health insurance.

The inconsistency continues as, according to The Census Bureau, people who live outside metropolitan statistical areas have the highest rates of government coverage, at 42.7%. Yet, in the 2016 election Donald Trump won the presidency with a vast majority of support from those outside of metropolitan statistical areas, areas incongruously occupied by both ACA enrollees and Trump supporters.

Further, the populations with no high school diploma are the most likely to have government coverage (35.2 percent) compared with high school graduates (24.8 percent) and people with a bachelor’s or graduate or professional degree (11.2 percent and 9.4 percent, respectively). Looking at the 2016 election, it appears that educational levels were crucial in predicting who would vote toward one candidate or the other. According to a statistical presentation by FiveThirtyEight, it was the least educated states that won Donald Trump the presidency, especially given that a fair number of them are in swing states such as Ohio and North Carolina.

More recently, Politico explored the repercussions of Trump’s decision to withdraw America from the Trans-Pacific Partnership on rural America.

What the statistics tell us is that less education and living in rural areas means both a higher percentage of ACA enrollees and a higher percentage of Trump supporters. Given these statistics, why did Republicans vote for a President who ran on the promise that he would essentially take away their health insurance?

Perhaps the same reason liberals do–a higher motivation than self-interest. Liberals tend to support higher taxes. And these foundational ideals usually do not sway whether or not the policy negatively affects them. According to a survey by CNBC, eighty-six percent of Democratic millionaires said inequality is a problem, compared with only 20 percent of Republicans. Democratic millionaires were far more supportive of taxing the rich and raising the minimum wage. Among those who say inequality is a problem, 78 percent of Democrats support higher taxes on the wealthy, and 77 percent back a higher minimum wage. The same goes for liberals’ support of affirmative action, when it does not directly further their best interest.

While it is possible that Republicans do not know the substance of the policies they reject, as we saw with Tomi Lahren admitting her use of the ACA despite her being its biggest adversary, it is also possible that when voting, Democrats and Republicans have different priorities. Republican’s do not prioritize health care the way Democrats do but instead put their energy into the military, taxes, and terrorism. While Republicans lose the most materially by supporting Trump and his repeal of the ACA, they gain a sort of cultural power or at the very least cultural recognition.

The fight for many Republicans, it seems, is not to pinpoint the best policies but to live in an America that they recognize and that recognizes them. While this mindset begs for sympathy, it also demands concern. Republicans should not use health care as an emblem of their partisan ambitions because the cost is too high.