By Robert Gard
Despite political wrangling and election-year pressures to please their respective constituencies, Democrats and Republicans do agree on at least two fundamental issues.
There is a consensus that America needs to get its economic house in order. The federal debt and deficit must be brought under control, and we need to fix the economy and get Americans back to work. At the same time, there is agreement that cuts in federal spending shouldn't jeopardize our national security interests or our ability to face future security threats.
These two areas of agreement are joined at the hip. Our economic strength is the foundation of our security.
With the supercommittee charged with crafting a set of recommendations to reduce spending by at least $1.2 trillion over the next 10 years, these areas of agreement need to be a starting point for tougher decisions ahead. The reality is that wasteful military spending weakens our national security as much as other ill-considered federal spending.
As Air Force Secretary Michael Donley said, "Defense cannot be exempted from efforts to get our financial house in order." Cutting funding for strategically outdated defense programs has to be a part of the path forward.
With that in mind, the supercommittee would be hard-pressed to find a better example of wasteful spending divorced from any coherent national security rationale than the proposed budget for nuclear weapons and related programs. With an estimated $700 billion in spending proposed over the next decade for everything from new nuclear submarines and bombers to a new complex of bomb plants, one might think it was still 1980.
The struggle we face today involves challenges such as terrorism and cyber warfare that cannot be confronted with nuclear weapons. We should be concerned with maintaining troop readiness more than redundant nuclear capability.
The United States can spend less on excessive nuclear weapons programs without compromising its security. Its nuclear arsenal is far more than adequate for its principal mission of deterrence. Even after major reductions, it would dwarf the programs of China and any other potential adversary.
Fortunately, this prospect holds some sway at the Pentagon, which should facilitate bipartisan action. Driven as much by inertia as by Capitol Hill's earmark-oriented spending habits, such misguided spending is being questioned by senior military leaders who recognize that our economic circumstances have changed. Gen. James Cartwright, a former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently noted that no cohesive military strategy underlies our proposed nuclear expenditures. The head of the U.S. Strategic Command, Gen. Robert Kehler, has also noted that pouring money into these nuclear weapons programs is unsustainable.
A contingent of "deficit hawks" has begun to make the same argument. Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) has proposed a deficit reduction plan that would cut $79 billion in spending on nuclear weapon systems over the next decade by reducing the U.S. nuclear arsenal to below the New START limit of 1,550 deployed warheads.
The Cold War ended two decades ago, and we must adapt to modern threats to ensure our continued strength in the 21st century. Cutting funding for nuclear weapons programs that are no longer needed must be part of resolving our economic woes. An economically strong America is a secure America.