Both the United States and Russia have upgraded their arsenals in ways that make the use of nuclear weapons likelier, without any basic public discussion, and almost exclusively behind closed doors but one congressman is challenging he n arms race.

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA) said the Congressional Budget Office’s latest report indicating a $94 billion increase in the estimated cost means taxpayers cannot afford nuclear weapons complex upgrades.

“The current U.S. plans to replace and upgrade the nuclear weapons enterprise are unaffordable,” said Smith. “The latest independent cost estimate for these upgrades is $94 billion higher than just two years ago, and we know the costs will continue to increase.”

House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA)

Smith wants to curtail the $1.2 trillion modernization of the nation’s sea-, air- and ground-based nuclear forces due to the growing $23 trillion national debt and a need to modernize conventional military forces.

“The Congressional Budget Office estimated the nuclear weapons upgrade will cost at least $1.25 trillion over 30 years, but the Pentagon has a history of huge cost overruns on large projects,” said Lisa McCormick, a Democrat who says military spending and violence have not been well considered. “America should be a force for peace in the world, but Martin Luther King called our government ‘the greatest purveyor of violence in the world’ and nothing has really changed in my lifetime.”

“Now, as then, ending US militarism and imperialism is a moral imperative in its own right, but it is also a indispensable to achieving meaningful reforms in American domestic life,” said McCormick. “While the US remains ‘a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift,’ our society will not resolve social problems such as wealth inequality, gun violence, racial strife.”

In November, Smith told the anti-nuke Ploughshares Fund that the country cannot afford nuclear modernization. Instead, he would prefer a reduction in the nuclear arsenal—and a possible departure from nuclear triad—in exchange for more conventional weapons systems.

“In recent times, U.S. national defense policy planning has largely refused to grapple with the size and scope of the budgetary burden that these nuclear modernization plans will impose,” said Smith. “We cannot continue to blindly follow that path without a strategic discussion that asks the big questions about the best way to deter nuclear war, reassure our allies, maintain a credible and reliable deterrent, and accomplish our national objectives while taking into account budgetary reality.”

“We must make smart choices in order to put our deterrent on an affordable and sustainable path in the decades to come and to reduce the risk of nuclear war,” said Smith.

The U.S. has not produced a new nuclear warhead since 1988. The oldest warhead in the arsenal, the B61 gravity bomb, was first deployed in 1963, designed for a 10-year operational life.  

Life-extension programs have kept many nuclear warheads operational for over 40 years. 

President Barack Obama campaigned on the idea of a “nuclear-free world,” but he eventually initiated a modernization program that is making nearly all of America’s nuclear weapons more accurate and deadly, after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made a policy of unilateral disarmament untenable .

Obama transformed America’s main hydrogen bomb into a guided smart weapon, made submarine-launched nuclear missiles five times more accurate, and gave the United States’ land-based long-range missiles so many added features that the Air Force in 2012 described them as “basically new.” 

President Donald Trump seems eager to undo much of Obama’s legacy, but the Republican has enthusiastically embraced the Democrat’s nuclear modernization program. 

At the start of 2017 nine states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea—possessed approximately 4,150 operationally deployed nuclear weapons. If all nuclear warheads are counted, these states together possessed a total of approximately 14 ,935 nuclear weapons, compared with 15,395 in early 2016.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) recently reported that all nuclear weapon-possessing states are developing new systems and modernizing their existing arsenals; while the number of personnel deployed with peace operations worldwide continues to fall despite an increasing demand.

There are 400 Minuteman III Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles at 11 different launch silos scattered across the US that could target virtually any country on the globe, but they are not America’s only option for a nuclear strike.

The United States also maintains a fleet of nearly 100 nuclear-capable bombers, many of the stealth variety and all capable of delivering devastating payloads, and 14 Ohio-class nuclear-powered submarines designed for long deployments deep underwater, each containing 24 missile chutes that can launch Trident missiles with multiple independently targeted warheads possessing enough firepower to kill millions.

US-owned nukes are also stored in Turkey, Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, and Belgium.

There are no rules or laws in place to prevent a US president from unilaterally ordering a nuclear strike, but McCormick and others have advocated legislation to put common sense restraints in place.

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