This past year has taught us a lot. We’ve learned, for instance, that masks should cover your mouth and your nose. We’ve discovered that toilet paper is the first to go in times of crisis. And we’ve almost mastered the mute button on Zoom.
The pandemic has made it obvious that we need to realign our priorities to protect the American people.
One other truth has emerged as well: Spending obscene amounts of money on our military does not make us safer. The pandemic has made it obvious that we need to realign our priorities to protect the American people.
Yet, in President Biden’s May budget proposal to Congress, he requested more than $750 billion for the Pentagon and nuclear weapons development. Of particular concern is the intention to fund a replacement for the nation’s intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) fleet.
The new system is known as the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). It is part of a broader $1.5 trillion nuclear weapons modernization project. In total, the GBSD could cost up to $264 billion over its lifecycle.
These missiles aren’t just expensive. They are an immoral use of taxpayer dollars, especially when an escalating climate disaster and a devastating pandemic have made it abundantly clear that this funding could be better used elsewhere.
ICBMs increase the chances of a catastrophic accident or miscalculation.
Here’s the most obvious argument against the GBSD: Nuclear war would absolutely devastate human civilization, and ICBMs increase the chances of a catastrophic accident or miscalculation. That’s because ICBMs are kept on high alert at all times, and hundreds of them would be launched with a single order. Once launched, they cannot be recalled. There is no room for error.
We’ve teetered close to disaster before. In 1983, a lone Soviet Air Defense officer, Stanislav Petrov, was at his command site when a computer showed that missiles had been launched from the United States. Fortunately, Petrov decided that this was a malfunction, and he is now credited with having saved the world from nuclear war.
In 2018, a miscommunication during a drill at the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency led to an emergency warning being sent to phones across the state. This was, of course, a false alarm, but it took 38 minutes to correct – much more time than the president would have to make a decision in a real emergency. The lesson is clear: Even a slight misstep with ICBMs could spell global catastrophe.
The GBSD would also be an exceedingly wasteful use of taxpayer dollars. Not only was the first $13 billion contract awarded to a single bidder, without competition, but even that initial sum is more than the entire amount we spent on Operation Warp Speed to produce the COVID-19 vaccine.
If the goal is to avoid nuclear war, then the United States should be pursuing verified agreed limits on nuclear weapons.
Already, costs have risen more than $10 billion above earlier estimates. And taxpayers have much higher priorities: In a national poll commissioned by the Federation of American Scientists, respondents favored fully funding Social Security, lowering health costs, and investing in clean energy over investing in ICBMs.
There are also viable alternatives to the GBSD that must be explored. If the goal is to avoid nuclear war, then the United States should be pursuing verified agreed limits on nuclear weapons, instead of building more.
If the goal is to complicate Russian planning, then instead of building 400 or more expensive new missiles, the United States could fill many of the silos with dummy weapons. Congress should resist a one-for-one replacement without first investigating whether ICBMs truly fit our current defense needs and pain points.
In short: Proceeding with the GBSD would be reckless, ineffective, and wasteful. Rep. Ro Khanna (CA) and Sen. Ed Markey (MA) have introduced legislation (H.R. 2227/S. 982) to extend the life of old ICBMs rather than buying new ones, and use the savings for the development of a universal coronavirus vaccine. Other members of Congress should follow suit and support the cancellation of this unwise and dangerous program before it’s too late.