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WAND Ready to Scrutinize FY 2017 Budget

[Image Credit: White House, in the public domain.]

[Image Credit: White House, in the public domain.]

by Erica Fein, WAND Nuclear Weapons Policy Director and Mikaela Romero, WAND Intern, Washington, DC

Each year, WAND gears up for the President’s budget request with an eye toward the tough decisions that must be made in order to move our country in a better direction. We especially look for signs that the budget aligns with our mission of redirecting excessive spending on weapons and wars to unmet human and environmental needs.

WAND will be rolling out our take on the Fiscal Year (FY) 2017 budget request and Congressional responses over the coming days and weeks. We hope you’ll tune in to the debate, share your thoughts, and be ready to weigh in with Congress when we need you. We plan to pay special attention to investments that perpetuate outdated thinking on nuclear weapons, to slush funds that pad the Pentagon’s already robust budget, and to out-of-control spending on weapons systems that have failed to perform to-date.

Here’s an overview of our take on the current budget context and a nuclear weapons program that deserves special scrutiny in the coming year.

This year, we had some idea what to expect after the Congress enacted a two-year budget deal, setting overall spending levels for FY 2016 and FY 2017. While we were pleased to see some relief from the draconian cuts to human needs programs, we believe that the Pentagon’s budget still disproportionately eats up the overall discretionary budget (the portion of the budget that Congress controls through the appropriations process on an annual basis).  For FY 2016, the national defense budget received a total of $607 billion while all other non-defense spending, such as spending on education, veterans, diplomacy, transportation, and infrastructure, received a total of $533 billion.

These numbers can be challenging to put into context, but suffice it to say that current spending on the Pentagon provides that agency with the ability to pay for current operations and plan for an all-of-the-above approach to future contingencies. Meanwhile, needed domestic investments remain squeezed and are constantly under threat, making it difficult to plan for the future or meet the needs of everyday Americans.

Trillion dollar triad graphic

[Image Credit: The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.]

Unfortunately, the Obama Administration has been especially lackluster in providing any spending discipline for nuclear weapons programs. Current plans call for an unbridled re-build of the nuclear arsenal – composed of air-, land-, and sea-based delivery systems – to the tune of $1 trillion over 30 years. The nuclear build-up looks to some like a Cold War-style arms race as Russia and China seek to modernize and add new capabilities to their nuclear forces – partly in response to planned U.S. spending.

As part of the nuclear weapons re-build, the United States will develop a nuclear-capable air-launched cruise missile, a weapon that performs a redundant mission and may decrease stability. Indeed, as former Defense Secretary Bill Perry and Assistant Secretary of Defense for Nuclear, Chemical, and Biological Weapons, Andy Weber argue in an op-ed, “Because they can be launched without warning and come in both nuclear and conventional variants, cruise missiles are a uniquely destabilizing type of weapon.” The authors urge the President to cancel the new nuclear cruise missile and set the stage for a global ban on this class of weapons.

Moreover, funding requirements for multiple weapons programs — including the planned nuclear modernizations — will peak at roughly the same time in the 2020s. This is likely to have defense officials and their supporters in Congress competing for increasingly scarce federal dollars. In this way it should be that much easier to cut programs that have highly questionable national security value. Yet, because the Pentagon has not been forced to make tough choices, the new nuclear cruise missile remains in the mix.

Federal budgeting needs to prevent tendencies toward “nuclear autopilot” and reflect a critical evaluation of national priorities. Unfortunately, current plans for nuclear weapons in U.S. national security strategy do not guarantee safety at home, but rather divert resources from other needs, such as education, workforce development, health, and infrastructure.


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