ANGLES: Increased defense budget: a matter of safety or waste of resources?

Update outdated nuclear weapons


In his proposed defense budget for 2019, President Trump requested $686 billion—a sum larger than most countries’ GDP. But do not let numbers or the President’s words fool you.

Though $686 billion is a herculean sum of money, it is not as historic as the President or the media make it seem. In reality, it is only a roughly four percent increase from President Obama’s final budget request. 

Also, do not be fooled by those who claim all defense spending is wasteful. Yes, of course, you need not look far to find dollars wasted on failed programs or plain incompetency, but you can find this budgetary fat in many departments. Just like the Defense Department, NASA bears numerous failed programs. Waste is present in all governments, and is especially prevalent in large governments.

The government should always trim runaway federal spending in all budgets—especially the defense budget—while at the same time apportioning that money to just causes that require more spending.

One such cause is maintaining our nuclear weapons. When Trump said in his State of the Union address that the U.S. should invest in its nuclear weapons, he had a point. We should invest in our nuclear weapons, but  we should not amass an arsenal “so strong and powerful that it will deter any acts of aggression,” as he said. Instead, we maintain the weapons we already have.

The U.S. does not take care of its 4,800 warheads. Most nuclear systems use archaic 1970s-era computing systems that require 8-inch floppy disks. If a system shuts down or malfunctions and we lack the knowledge or ability to fix it, we risk not only obliterating U.S. military installations and nearby cities, but also starting a nuclear war if a rival country interprets the mistake as an attack. And this scenario is not far-fetched.

In Oct. 2010, the Air Force lost partial communications with 50 nuclear missiles for almost an hour after crucial hardware failed. 

As the weapon systems age, they also become vulnerable to launch attempts by hackers or compromised missile crews. 

If we wish to avoid accidental detonations and security breaches, we must invest in nuclear weapons. 

The danger of updating such weapons is that one may itch to use them, but if we do nothing and let the systems degrade, we risk losing control over them. Obama realized this when he promised to add $14 billion for atomic renovations.

Nuclear weapons are really just civilization-ending machines, and if unattended or unmaintained, they will break down like all other machines.

At the same time, we must recognize how dangerous and expensive it is to store nuclear weapons and plan for denuclearization. This too would require us investing in scientists, engineers and facilities to dismantle weapons. But disassembling nuclear weaponry is not cheap business.

In 2002, the Energy Department created a program to dispose of 34 metric tons of weapons-grade plutonium. Then, the department estimated it needed only $3.8 billion over 20 years to disarm the plutonium. In 2014, the program had eaten through $31 billion, according to the Washington Post.

It seems we have found ourselves in a cataclysmic and pricey game of hot potato.

Jacob Knutson is a junior journalism, English and political science major from Rapid City, S.D.

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