World Nuke Spending to Top $1 Trillion Per Decade

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Nuke spending on in 9 nuclear-armed states

Note: figures in billions of US dollars. Core costs refer to operating, maintaining, and upgrading the nuclear arsenal and its key nuclear command-control-communications and early warning infrastructure; full costs add unpaid/deferred environmental and health costs, and missile defenses assigned to defend against nuclear weapons.

Having contributed to the two definitive studies of U.S. nuclear weapons spending (Brooking’s Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 and Carnegie Endowment’s Nuclear Security Spending: Assessing Costs, Examining Priorities) which found that the United States incurred a cost of nearly $6 trillion on its nuclear weapons program from 1940-1996, I cast my net wider to capture the entire world’s spending on nukes. The result: a massive amount of money will go down the drain over the next decade.

The 8.5 nuclear weapons countries (North Korea is half-way there) are passing a new milestone this year by collectively spending approximately one hundred billion dollars on their nuclear programs. That tidy sum represents about 9 percent of their total annual military spending.

At this rate the nuclear-armed states will spend at least one trillion dollars on nukes over the next decade. It will likely go much higher as modernization programs across the board kick into high gear. With the bulk of the Russian nuclear arsenal reaching the end of its lifespan, Russia is churning out a new generation of rockets and submarines to replace them. (Russia has been retiring so many missile launchers that despite building new ones its total arsenal size has already fallen below the New Start treaty limits required to be met by 2018.) The United States plans to build a new complex for nuclear weapons production and maintenance, and continue upgrading its long-range land rockets while spending nearly $1 billion this year in long lead investment for a new strategic submarine fleet costing over $100 billion to build and untold billions to operate during its 50-year planned lifespan (2030 until 2080!). The United Kingdom in 2015 must decide whether to buy a new set of four submarines to replace its aging Trident fleet, at an estimated cost of $35 billion. France is idling along for now with modest modernization underway. Israel is diversifying its undeclared, opaque nuclear force by deploying nuclear-armed submarines to patrol the sea.

In South Asia, an unprecedented nuclear build-up is underway and gaining momentum spurred by Pakistan’s break-neck effort to double its already sizable arsenal over the next decade (going from 125 weapons today to 250-350 over the next 5-10 years). India is playing serious catch-up with new land-based rockets and a new strategic submarine in its mix of delivery systems after a decade of sluggish growth (its current small arsenal of 25 weapons will increase to 100 over the next 5-10 years). China is also well into a program of nuclear modernization that will produce 5 new strategic submarines and an armada of long-range mobile rockets on land (growing its arsenal from 190 weapons today to upwards of 250-300 over the decade ahead).

Who knows what secret spending I have missed? How much is being spent by Iran, Syria, or other nations in the nuclear closet? Vast sums are invested in ostensible civilian nuclear facilities – reactors, plutonium re-processing and uranium enrichment facilities – whose owners may secretly harbor plans to switch their use to nuclear weapons production. What missiles, planes, and submarines are being procured with a secret dual-use purpose to someday accommodate a nuclear payload?

While spending generously on nuclear weapons which serve no good purpose and only pose a mortal threat to the world – a single nuclear explosion in a major city would cause trillions of dollars of direct economic damage — governments are cutting programs serving the health and welfare of their citizens in response to the global financial crisis. One trillion dollars per decade is not peanuts – it would provide badly needed support for health care, job creation, education, and clean air and water. For the cost of just one nuclear weapon, we could, for example, provide health care to 36,000 people, textbooks for 43,000 students, or convert 64,285 households to renewable energy – and there are more than 20,000 nuclear weapons in the world.

Spending so much on useless and perilous weapons at a time of severe cost-cutting of essential human services offends our values and priorities – and flies in the face of common sense. Nukes, not people, should be on the chopping block.

Leaders and citizens around the world are petitioning governments to cut nuclear weapons and the $1 trillion per decade we spend on them, instead of cutting the things we really need. I couldn’t agree more. Citizens need to bring this to the attention of their governments urgently. You can sign the petition here: