In the State of the Union address, President Obama once again failed to rekindle his vision of a world free of nuclear weapons. This is inexcusable. The Cold War ended nearly 25 years ago, but the threat of nuclear annihilation remains. Preventing nuclear disaster is possible, but it requires a serious commitment from all of us – the government, private sector, and regular citizens.
Reigniting the national conversation about nuclear security is no easy task. Once an issue at the forefront of public debate, the topic has all but vanished.
When the Soviet Union disintegrated, so did the public’s sense of impending nuclear doom. A false belief that nuclear weapons no longer pose an existential threat to the human race has settled in. In a way it’s almost understandable. It has been decades since “duck and cover” drills were practiced in schools, and the anti-nuclear movement which saw massive protests across the globe seems to have come crashing down along with the Berlin Wall in 1989.
Although the Cold War came to an end, an unacceptably high number of nuclear weapons remain, ready to launch at a moments notice. Currently the U.S. and Russia retain approximately 4,800 nuclear weapons each. This arsenal has the power to destroy the world several times over.
The nukes themselves aren’t the only danger.
According to a report published by the Arms Control Association (ACA), the U.S. is going to spend $355 billion over the next decade on modernizing and upgrading the nuclear arsenal. Over the next 30 years, the bill could add up to $1 trillion. Instead of spending less on nukes, we’re spending more – and a new nuclear arsenal comes at the expense of more important national security programs.
Obama is backsliding on his nuclear promise. Fortunately there are concrete steps Congress can take to roll back the bloated nuclear weapons budget.
That same ACA report details how the Pentagon stands to save roughly $70 billion over the next decade by cutting strategically outdated nuclear weapons systems, expanding the lifetime of existing programs and reducing the amount of nuclear submarines in our fleet from twelve to eight.
“Spending on nuclear weapons squanders the wealth of nations,” Pope Francis told delegates at the 2014 Conference on the Humanitarian Impact on Nuclear Weapons. He added that “the survival of the human family hinges” on securing a world free of nuclear weapons.