When the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 it not only brought to an end World War II, it began the nuclear arms race that continues to this day.
While no other atomic weapons have been used in war, untold numbers of people around the world have died from the effects of nuclear testing.
As a deterrence to nuclear arms proliferation – one early excuse for U.S. nuclear arms expansion -it has been a complete failure as more nations join the nuclear club, breaking the U.S. and Russian monopoly on nuclear weapons.
During the Cold War with the Soviet Union both countries functioned on the basis of a peace through mutually assured destruction, appropriately labeled MAD. The theory was that neither side would start a war knowing that it would lead to global destruction.
Winston Churchill described it this way: ‘Safety will be the sturdy child of terror, and survival the twin brother of annihilation.’
The madness (pun intended) has gone on so long that the intercontinental ballistic missiles that form the basis of our nuclear arsenal have become obsolete, at least according to the U.S. military.
The aging Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missiles that have formed the land-based leg of the nation’s nuclear deterrent triad for half a century can no longer be upgraded and require costly replacements, Adm. Charles Richard, head of U.S. Strategic Command said.
“Let me be very clear: You cannot life-extend the Minuteman III [any longer],” he said of the 400 ICBMs that sit in underground silos across five states in the upper Midwest.
“We can’t do it at all. … That thing is so old that, in some cases, the drawings don’t exist anymore [to guide upgrades],” Richard said in a Zoom conference sponsored by the Defense Writers Group.
Where the drawings do exist, “they’re like six generations behind the industry standard,” he said, adding that there are also no technicians who fully understand them. “They’re not alive anymore.”
The Biden administration is considering modernizing the nuclear arsenal. Adm. Charles Richard, head of U.S. Strategic Command, said he has made his concerns known in several meetings with President Joe Biden. Without giving specifics, he said the meetings had “gone very well” and added that Biden is open to a review of the nation’s current nuclear strategy.
The 2018 Nuclear Posture Review, conducted by then-Defense Secretary Jim Mattis on the order of President Donald Trump, called for a $1.2 trillion modernization of the nations nuclear arsenal including replacing the aging Minuteman.
Will Biden approve such an expenditure?
The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, which has its famous Doomsday Clock presently at 100 seconds (corrected: not minutes) to midnight, says replacement of the Minuteman and continuing the nuclear arms race is irrational.
America is building a new weapon of mass destruction, a nuclear missile the length of a bowling lane. It will be able to travel some 6,000 miles, carrying a warhead more than 20 times more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It will be able to kill hundreds of thousands of people in a single shot.
The US Air Force plans to order more than 600 of them.
On September 8, the Air Force gave the defense company Northrop Grumman an initial contract of $13.3 billion to begin engineering and manufacturing the missile, but that will be just a fraction of the total bill.
Based on a Pentagon report cited by the Arms Control Association Association and Bloomberg News, the government will spend roughly $100 billion to build the weapon, which will be ready to use around 2029.
To put that price tag in perspective, $100 billion could pay 1.24 million elementary school teacher salaries for a year, provide 2.84 million four-year university scholarships, or cover 3.3 million hospital stays for covid-19 patients. It’s enough to build a massive mechanical wall to protect New York City from sea level rise. It’s enough to get to Mars.
For over 70 years the nuclear arms race has been a bi-partisan affair.
Joe Biden and the current Democrats in control of Congress could start to end the madness if they wanted to.