Money for Food or for Nuclear Weapons in the U.S.?
By Madelyn Hoffman
We live in strange times, indeed. In the past few months, the U.S. Congress has failed to extend unemployment benefits for 1.3 million people, has refused to raise the federal minimum wage, and has passed legislation that will cut $8.6 billion in food stamps over the next ten years, affecting 850,000 households in one third of the states.
At the same time, the proposed 2015 budget shows a 7 percent increase in spending on nuclear weapons, from $18.6 billion to $19.4 billion. While the overall amount allocated for nuclear weapons is greater than last year, however, the funds dedicated to nuclear non-proliferation programs, which are meant to reduce the numbers of available warheads or securing so-called “loose nukes,” were cut, making more dollars available to either build new nuclear weapons hardware or spend billions to modernize old ones.
If this budget is passed, it will show once again that our nation’s priorities favor increased spending on weapons of mass destruction at the expense of programs that help people survive tough times and keep food on their tables. At a time when our economy continues to struggle and the gap between rich and poor widens, how is it that our elected officials opt to spend more money on nuclear weapons? How, especially, when diplomacy is easing tensions between the international community and Iran, while Syria is being compelled to destroy its chemical weapons?
After spending $4 to 6 trillion on war since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan since October 7, 2001, the American public is war-weary and war-wise. This has been shown in the tremendous outpouring of opposition to a proposed military strike against Syria, and widespread opposition to U.S. involvement in a military campaign against Iran.
Winslow Wheeler’s March 13th article in Counterpunch, “America’s $1 Trillion National Security Budget,” explains how misleading is the Pentagon’s criticism of a proposed $495.6 billion military budget for 2015 as “austere and dangerously inadequate.” According to Wheeler, who directs the Project on Government Oversight’s Straus Military Reform Project, “Scarcity of money is not their problem. Pentagon costs, taken together with other known national security expenses for 2015, will exceed $1 Trillion.” Included in Wheeler’s analysis are these costs:
▪ a maximum of $79.4 billion to continue the war in Afghanistan,
▪ $6.2 billion in “mandatory” spending for military retirement and other DOD-only programs;
▪ the Pentagon’s $26 billion dollar portion of the “Opportunity, Growth and Security Initiative,” characterized by some as a slush fund,
▪ $37.8 billion in additional money paid by the Treasury for military retirement and DOD healthcare,
▪ $19.4 billion in nuclear weapons’ costs borne by the Department of Energy,
▪ $52.1 billion in non-DOD spending in the Department of Homeland Security,
▪ $161.2 billion for the human consequences of past and ongoing wars in the Department of Veterans Affairs,
▪ $39 billion for the activities of the Department of State and related agencies-for international security and the exercise of US power abroad; and
▪ an equitable share of the interest on the national debt that is related to this spending.
These costs added together total $1.0095 trillion for 2015.
Here are two nearly identical bills in the U.S. Congress today that target nuclear weapons spending to reduce this figure. Senator Markey (D-MA) introduced the “Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures (SANE) Act,” and Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced the “Reduce Expenditures in Nuclear Infrastructure Now (REIN-IN) Act.” According to Eric Tamerlani’s article, “Reining in Nuke Spending the Smart Way,” in the March 12th Roll Call, these bills would save taxpayers $100 billion on nuclear weapons over ten years. The bills would reduce the number of new nuclear submarines, cap tactical nuke modernization, and scrap the F-35’s nuclear mission.
In late April, meanwhile, pro-disarmament activists from around the world gathered at the United Nations to prepare nuclear disarmament proposals to present at the 2015 Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference. An important participant, Sharon Dolev, founder and director of the Israeli Disarmament Movement (IDM), also spoke on April 27th at the annual dinner of the organization that I direct, New Jersey Peace Action. Dolev’s organization advocates the establishment of a Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East and supports the Arab Peace Initiative. Dolev, who has been the director of Greenpeace in Israel, is also a past coordinator of the Meretz Party’s Civil and Human Rights group, and published Watch Dogs, a pro-peace Hebrew-Arabic magazine.
New Jersey Peace Action was founded as New Jersey SANE in 1957, in response to a full-page ad taken out in the New York Times and signed by such notables as Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr. Benjamin Spock and Norman Cousins. The ad described the nuclear arms race between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union as “a danger unlike any that had ever before existed.”
Sharon Dolev described one of her organization’s creative campaigns, “Don’t Bomb, Talk!” which took to the streets with signs each time Prime Minister Netanyahu made public pronouncements about Israel taking preemptive military action against Iran. She noted that IDM’s call for a weapons of mass destruction-free Middle East extends to all Middle Eastern countries, including Turkey, which currently stores some U.S. nuclear weapons. “People are talking about sanctions against Iran,” she noted. “The sanctions should be against the U.S., Russia, England, France, India, Pakistan, and Israel — and North Korea . . .
“Our campaign is to let people know exactly what it means to have nuclear weapons,” she continued, “to show them the way out — like a weapons of mass destruction freeze in the Middle East — and to show that it’s possible. . . . I know it won’t be easy, but if we can show people what a weapons of mass destruction-free Middle East would look like — visualize it — then we can work for it.”
After her appearance at the Annual Dinner, Dolev was headed to the United Nations’ PrepCom series of strategy sessions attended by world-wide disarmament activists. These sessions are used to plan for the 2015 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference at the U.N. Five days before the PrepCom began, the Republic of the Marshall Islands, a small island nation once used as a testing ground for nuclear weapons, filed an unprecedented lawsuit, suing all nine of the world’s nuclear powers for “flagrant violations” and for failure to do enough to rid themselves and the world of nuclear weapons as required by the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The nuclear powers named are U.S., Russia, United Kingdom, France, China, Israel, India, Pakistan, and North Korea.
Madelyn Hoffman is executive director of New Jersey Peace Action.