When running for president, Joe Biden said that he would reduce the role that nuclear weapons play in our security.
And the president hasn't made good on his promise! In his first budget proposal, Biden funded every element of the Department of Defense and Department of Energy's nuclear weapons-modernization plan, which could cost up to $2 trillion over the next two decades. The funding included not only items in the Pentagon's existing plans but new systems like a sea-launched cruise missile and a low-yield nuclear warhead that had been introduced during the Trump administration.
In terms of security, we really need to think about the nuclear triad, with an emphasis on ICBM's (intercontinental ballistic missiles). Former Secretary of Defense William Perry has called these weapons "some of the most dangerous weapons in the world" because the president would have only minutes to decide whether to launch them in a crisis, greatly increasing the chances of an accidental nuclear war based on a false alarm. As a first step, the Biden administration should cancel the new ICBM, known formally as the Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD). Building a new ICBM would extend the period during which the United States could deploy these unnecessary missiles through 2075, an absurd length of time given the need to move towards phasing them out in the name of security.
The only way to be truly safe from the threat of nuclear weapons is to eliminate them altogether, as suggested by William Hartung in his story "Roll Back Nuclear Modernization Programs Mr. President." This simple idea was endorsed by presidents from John F. Kennedy to Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama. Achieving these goals will require negotiations and creative diplomacy with other nuclear powers. For the time being, maintaining a robust deterrent might be the only realistic option. In the long term, we must begin the urgently needed process of reducing the role of nuclear weapons in our country and the world.
It will take courage to do this, and politicians often have little in the way of courage. Perhaps it will take a movement for arms control on the ground to push them in the other direction - let's talk about people power. However, those who favor arms control have a formable opponent, the military-industrial complex. This opponent represents an economic power that creates jobs in congressional districts around the country and profits for defense contractors. Its impact is rarely discussed when it comes election day. Therefore, discussions on security boil down to how much we spend on our military with the "pro-military" side arguing for more spending and others arguing for less or about the same. Beginning a new discussion will be tough when the discussion is dominated by an entity with so much power and influence. Despite the obstacles, real security depends on a new discussion.
Jason Sibert is Lead Writer for the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.