As a global pandemic wreaks havoc on human health and the economy, it would seem to be a good time to take stock of our country’s priorities, yes?
Not, evidently, for the war machine. The US is poised to spend at least a trillion, and probably a few trillions, of our tax dollars to completely overhaul and upgrade our entire nuclear weapons arsenal over the next three decades. Predictably, the other eight nuclear weapons states—Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, India, Israel and North Korea—have followed suit, so like it or not, we are in a new arms race. It’s hard to imagine a more colossal waste of money, energy and human ingenuity, especially with the pandemic and climate chaos bearing down on us, hard.
A particularly egregious part of this mad scheme is a new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) to replace the Minuteman III missiles housed in Montana, North Dakota, Wyoming, Nebraska and Colorado. Bureaucratically dubbed the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD), the Pentagon or lead contractor Northrop Grumman will probably soon give it a ridiculous name meant to convey its destructive power (previous missile monikers included Atlas, Titan, and ludicrously, Peacekeeper).
Let’s instead beat them to the punch and call it what it is, the Omnicider, as a nuclear war involving such missiles, which would carry warheads tens or hundreds of times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb which killed over 140,000 people, could end all life on Earth. And even more importantly, let’s ditch it, scrap the entire ICBM leg of the nuclear weapons triad (the most insecure and destabilizing leg, nuclear submarines and long-range bombers being the other two legs), and proceed to rid the planet of these accursed weapons, including signing the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
There are myriad reasons why the Omnicider is a bad idea—the exorbitant price tag, opportunity cost of investing our tax dollars in missiles and warheads instead of human and environmental well-being, and its contribution to a new arms race that threatens global peace and security.The GBSD has an initial price tag of $100 billion, with an entire life cycle cost of $264 billion, and that is likely too low. When was the last time a large weapons system came in under budget? Chirp, chirp, chirp go the crickets.
A terrific article by Elisabeth Eaves in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists delves deeply into various aspects of this folly. As she notes, canceling the program will not be easy, with entrenched economic and political support behind the ICBM leg of the triad. In addition to the states noted above, where the missile silos are located, Utah is the site of Northrop Grumman’s new headquarters building for the program, and it plans testing of the missile’s solid fuel system nearby. Also add California to the list, as missile flight tests are launched from Vandenburg Air Force Base, targeted to land on Kwajelein Island in the Marshall Islands (or in the Pacific Ocean).
People in those states are targets for nuclear attack only because these facilities are located in there, so local opposition is to be expected. Of course, we are all downwinders, as even a limited nuclear war could cause nuclear winter, wiping out nearly all life on Earth.
There are myriad reasons why the Omnicider is a bad idea—the exorbitant price tag, opportunity cost of investing our tax dollars in missiles and warheads instead of human and environmental well-being, and its contribution to a new arms race that threatens global peace and security are but a few. It would seem difficult to make an affirmative case for the program.
How did we get here? As Eaves’ article chronicles, President Barack Obama, in a dubious bargain, agreed to conservative senators’ demands to spend a large fortune on “modernizing” (aka overhauling and upgrading) the entire US nuclear weapons complex in exchange for ratifying the modest New START treaty with Russia. Recently extended for five years by Russia and the Biden administration, New START allows each country to deploy 1,550 nuclear weapons; the US and Russian arsenals account for over 90% of global nuclear armaments.
While Biden was Vice President at the time, he is by no means bound by this earlier decision. He and Congress can and should decide to scrap the Omnicider and other nuclear weapons programs in favor of better, more life-affirming priorities—dealing with the pandemic, reviving the economy, building affordable housing, providing universal health care, canceling student debt, arresting climate chaos—whatever we as a polity decide. Even some conservatives argue there are more pressing priorities in the Pentagon budget—upgrading conventional forces and addressing cyber threats, for example—that need money more than new nukes.
As a bureaucratic check box for the program, the Army has issued a Finding of No Significant Impact, or FONSI (Heyyyy!!! Did Henry Winkler agree to that acronym?), stating the testing of various aspects of GBSD would not harm the environment. Since the US military is among the biggest polluters on the planet, I’m skeptical of this “finding.”
While it may seem a small step, anyone can email the government with your concerns about the GBSD to email@example.com.
Hopefully this will help spark a national and regional movement to stop this ill-advised program, like the campaign to stop the MX missile a few decades ago. Let’s choose humanity, other species who have no say over nuclear policy, and the Earth, over omnicide.