Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has called for a sweeping review of the U.S. nuclear forces after 34 officers of the Air Force were suspended for cheating on job proficiency tests. A committee will be given 60 days to form a plan that will identify and fix the problems within the nuclear sector.
Unfortunately, this cheating scandal is only the latest in a long line of embarrassing revelations about the nuclear program within the past year. With everything from the failure of basic competency tests to senior members being demoted for gambling problems and alcoholism, it is safe to say this has not been the best year for our nuclear forces.
Much speculation about the causes of the disciplinary issues for the force has pointed to the morale problems that come with these types of posts. Given the unlikeliness of a nuclear missile launch, many officers are stuck with jobs that require high amounts of readiness and alertness despite having almost no meaningful daily work. Even still, the U.S. has just begun its decades long effort to update our nuclear weapons with new technology.
Thankfully, this review does offer a real chance to improve the nuclear sector before all the weapons systems are reworked. It is important to remember that while nuclear weapons spending is not a huge part of the war or Homeland Security budget, the maintenance, management and upgrades for the weaponry (as well environmental and health costs that stem from the weapons) are set to cost the U.S. well over $600 billion in the next decade. While many might point to the necessity of the weapons given the global climate of nuclear weaponry, it is safe to say that nearly everyone is hoping that our stockpile stays dormant for the foreseeable future.
There are certainly other areas of the military budget that could stand to be cut, yet the funds diverted to this nuclear system management clearly represent an uncomfortable amount of waste. Despite the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and a renewed commitment to nuclear disarmament in 2000, the U.S. has kept up with the other big, nuclear nations in retaining most of its nuclear stockpile.
It is my hope that one of the solutions offered by Hagel’s review will be to honor the commitments made decades ago by destroying the majority (if not all) of our nuclear arsenal.
The costs for disarming our nuclear stockpile are certainly real, but even more pervasive are the continual costs of maintenance for weaponry that would only be used during the end of the world. Saving money in the long run and adding some peace of mind to the world seem like a no-brainer, but given our nation’s military paranoia it is hard to picture such a simple solution playing out. If nothing else, I would hope that the upcoming review of nuclear forces acknowledges the need to downsize the system and get our officers working on more meaningful tasks.
Currently, our nuclear weapon network embodies the Cold War mindset that we have held for far too long in this country. While it certainly could be helpful to have some fresh faces in charge of this tired and broken network, I deeply believe that progress will only be made if the review suggests serious downsizing. Billions of dollars are being spent on buttons that will never be pushed, all while NASA and other scientific entities are receiving smaller and smaller budgets each year.
It is unlikely that Hagel had any intention of shutting down the majority of the nuclear program when he called for this review, but if the committee looks at the situation honestly they will see that things would be much better with a few less nukes around.