Fri Feb 14, 2020, 08:07 PM

Trump Stumbles Into The Nuclear Missile Gap

On Monday, President Trump delivered his $740.5 billion defense budget to Congress. A first pass on the pork reveals the usual suspects: $69 billion to fund ongoing wars, a few more KC-46 refueling tankers on order, the Navy gets a little less money, the Air Force a little more. What should catch the casual observer’s eye, however, is the increase in funding for nuclear weapons and research.

As reported by Reuters, “nuclear weapons modernization rose 18% compared to last year to $29 billion dollars.” These funds will upgrade current command-and-control and delivery systems, such as the Columbia class nuclear submarine, which will be replacing the Ohio class of boomer (read: nuclear launch-capable) subs. There is also a $19.8 billion increase for the semi-autonomous National Nuclear Security Administration which runs the country’s nuclear laboratories, like Los Alamos.


Is preparing for a possible 21st-century nuclear shootout a prudent use of taxpayer funds? Hardly. History has shown that after the destruction of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945, there has been very little, if any, value in developing and deploying large numbers of nuclear weapons (or “Star Wars”-type defensive technology).

The Manhattan Project culminated in a weapon capable of such incredible destructive force that it defied imagination. So awesome was its power that the director of the Los Alamos Laboratory, Richard Oppenheimer, upon witnessing the first detonation of a nuclear weapon on July 16, 1945, quoted the Bhagavad Gita, “Now I become Death, the destroyer of worlds.” The atomic age had arrived, and there was no going back.

Following the successful detonation of a Soviet weapon in September 1949, the race was on. Fear is the most powerful form of persuasion: it tends to untether the reason of not only individuals but entire nations. In hindsight, the fear wasn’t totally unjustified. It was a dangerous, uncharted, unfamiliar, and patriotic time, and the goals of the USSR were indeed a clear and present danger to Western democracy and world peace.

In his excellent work House of War, James Carroll documents the complete and total detachment from reality this hysteria caused. In 1950, the United States possessed 300 nuclear weapons; by 1960, we had 18,000. Air Force General Curtis Lemay, the architect of the Tokyo B-29 firebombing campaign of March 1945, whipped Strategic Air Command into top shape, keeping one third of nuclear-capable bombers on 15-minute strip alert for missions to the Soviet Union. The infighting for resources at the DoD was so intense that in 1955, the Army chief of staff resigned in protest, claiming, not inaccurately, that all defense dollars were going to bombers.



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