Nukes: How Obama Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb
“Obama Boosts Nukes”
In the thrilling months surrounding US President Obama’s ascent to office, many saw him as the world’s great hope for ending an era of virtually unrestrained American wars and global military preponderance. Unfortunately, when answering populist-idiot Sarah Palin’s recently sneered question, “How’s that hopey-changey stuff working out for ya?”, the answer must now be: not so well. Regarding a central element of American military power – nuclear weapons – Los Alamos Study Group Executive Director Greg Mello this week writes at ‘Foreign Policy In Focus’ that “the Obama administration delivered a budget request calling for a full 10 percent increase in nuclear weapons spending next year, to be followed by further increases in subsequent years”. How does this gel with his vision for nuclear disarmament? “The answer is simple: There is no evidence that Obama has, or ever had, any such vision”.
The decision will make this the first US budget in 6 years to increase nuclear arms spending, prompting Linton Brooks, who coordinated nuclear security for President G.W. Bush, to remark that, “I would’ve killed for this kind of budget”. Under the request, production facilities at Los Alamos would have their largest annual budget percentage increase since the Manhattan Project, certain bombs will be upgraded, and a new type of ballistic missile warhead will be designed. Dismantlement of warheads will decline dramatically.
While it is certainly possible that this new build-up is a recognition that the United States’ hegemonic ‘unipolar moment’ will be brief, and that within a few years there will be significant military competition from China, Russia and others – it is also important to note that key politicians of both major US political parties are able to create jobs in their electorates, and gain corporate political donations, by feeding the nuclear weapons complex. Generally though, Mello argues that in the Obama administration on nuclear issues, “There are no doves”.
While White House spokespersons have emphasised that there are no ‘new’ warheads under consideration, Mello explains that this is really just a semantic trick – “because the word ‘new’ can simply never be used in connection with warheads, no matter how many changes are involved” – a tactic Mello creatively describes as ‘linguistic cleansing’. These spending increases must still be approved by Congress, and the urgency of the current economic crisis and its ensuing popular discontent might restrain elected representatives – but experience has shown that usually in US political culture branding anything as ‘necessary military spending’ not only quells dissent, but earns public approval.
As the US defence budget expands, it really is in direct competition with funds for tasks like job creation, expanding health care and researching renewable energy. As well as directly taking away from projects that will raise people’s quality of life, and help avoid global catastrophes, it will also increase the arsenal of devastating weapons that once gripped the world with existential fear. Those of my generation and younger are not old enough to remember the ever-present Cold War threat of nuclear confrontation – but perhaps we too will one-day know its company.