While the U.S. burned through at least $52 billion on nuclear weapons in fiscal 2008, only 10 percent of that was spent on controlling the proliferation of nuclear weapons and technology.
“Nuclear Security Spending: Assessing Costs, Examining Priorities,” a new study sponsored by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, concludes that “these misplaced budget priorities signal to the world that the United States is more interested in preserving and upgrading its nuclear arsenal than in reducing and eliminating the growing threats of nuclear proliferation and limited nuclear or radiological attack.”
The study’s authors note that because classified expenditures and some other relevant costs are omitted from the analysis, total actual spending on the comprehensive U.S. nuclear security budget is significantly higher.
How these latest figures and priorities will resonate with President-elect Barack Obama remains to be seen.
Obama pledged during his campaign to work towards eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide, reducing the United States’ nuclear arsenal, and retaining only a reasonable nuclear deterrent -- while still fulfilling the nation’s commitment under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Defending Against Nuclear Attack
One key conclusions of the new study involved yet another curious budget priority. Only 1.3 percent ($700 million) of the nuclear security budget was devoted to preparing for the consequences of a nuclear or radiological attack.
Other study findings: Fifty-six percent of the total budget went toward operating, sustaining, and upgrading the U.S. nuclear arsenal. Nuclear security consumes $13 billion more than international diplomacy and foreign assistance; nearly double what the United States allots for general science, space, and technology; and 14 times what the Department of Energy (DOE) budgets for all energy-related research and development. Nuclear weapons and weapons-related programs account for at least 67 percent of the Department of Energy’s budget, 8.5 percent of the FBI’s budget, 7.1 percent of the Department of Defense budget, and 1.7 percent of the Department of Homeland Security’s budget.
By way of a policy recommendation to the new administration, the authors of the study want the U.S. to place greater emphasis on programs that secure and prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, weapons material, technology, and expertise.
Another recommendation to the Chief Executive is to submit both an unclassified and a classified annual accounting of all nuclear weapons-related spending. “Without an accurate understanding of the costs of nuclear spending, Congress and the executive branch cannot conduct essential oversight or devise the most effective policy,” advise the authors.
Other recommendations: Develop better measures to explain and quantify nuclear weapons-related intelligence expenditures. Greater transparency and insight could lead to a more effective allocation of intelligence assets. Release an accurate accounting of the number of veterans who have received or been denied compensation and care for radiation exposure during atmospheric nuclear tests between 1946 and 1962, along with the total cost of such compensation and care.
The study’s authors -- Stephen I. Schwartz, editor of The Nonproliferation Review and Deepti Choubey, deputy director of the Nonproliferation Program at the Carnegie Endowment -- used publicly available documents and extensive interviews with government officials and experts to calculate the comprehensive U.S. nuclear security budget.
“The United States has never tracked nuclear weapon-related spending comprehensively, hindering effective oversight and public understanding of the government’s nuclear priorities,” the authors conclude.
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