GOOD

What You Won't Hear in the Presidential Debates: The Bombs We Left Behind

One of the first things the United States did as the Soviet Union dissolved was remove thousands of its tactical nuclear weapons from Europe. But they left a small stash, just in case. Now, the U.S. could spend $10 billion to overhaul those nukes it left behind.


Meet the B-61 nuclear bomb: the country's last remaining, and staggeringly expensive, “tactical” nuclear weapon. Once a mainstay of the Cold War, it's now a model of budget waste.

Depending on the model and options selected, the B-61 has both the smallest amount of explosive energy in the U.S. nuclear arsenal (enough to destroy Chicago’s Soldier Field) and the second largest (enough to destroy Chicago's South Side). Since 1963, the U.S. produced approximately 3,000 B-61 bombs. During the Cold War, the idea was that if Soviet tank columns rolled into West Germany, NATO warplanes would use these B-61 bombs to turn back the land invasion before things got nastier.

Today, the U.S. has gotten rid of all but 500 of these bombs, including the 200 still in Europe. But the remaining bombs have outlived their purpose. Europe is whole, and the Soviet Union is no more. Perhaps recognizing this, one senior defense leader told a Pentagon Task Force (PDF), “We pay a king’s ransom for these things and ... they have no military value.” Several NATO allies hosting the bombs appear to agree. Host nations like Germany and perhaps Belgium and the Netherlands are unlikely to buy another generation of nuclear-capable planes—effectively setting their retirement date from the nuclear business.

Even nuclear warheads have finite lifespans. With the B-61 getting older, the U.S. faced a decision: retire its nukes in Europe or pay to overhaul them. It chose overhaul, putting taxpayers on the hook for a $10 billion Life Extension Program for the B-61 bomb, its $1.2 billion tail kit and the $340 million total it takes to attach the bomb on the new F-35 fighter (a $135 million plane). The bomb alone is so expensive that overhauling it could cost almost twice its weight in gold.

That’s a lot of scratch for something military officials say they don’t need.

Nuclear weapons are increasingly irrelevant for addressing today’s threats or the threats over the horizon. Security today is best upheld by a strong economy, smart conventional military, tight alliances, skilled diplomats, and robust trade relations—not token stashes of unusable nuclear bombs. Buying excessive nuclear weapons—let alone those with no military purpose—only robs funds from today’s security needs and adds to the national debt.

The B-61’s bureaucratic advocates, however, remain undeterred. In the last year, the cost of the B-61 program more than doubled from $4 billion to $10 billion. When the Pentagon learned of this cost hike, “They went, ‘Oh, that’s really expensive. Oh, that’s really expensive, damn,’” one senior official told Global Security Newswire. Still, the program continues.

There’s a solution to this problem that doesn’t involve dumping endless amounts of cash down a nuclear hole. The U.S. could simply retire the B-61s as their service life ends, bringing them back to U.S. territory to be securely stored and eventually dismantled.

Instead of spending $10 billion on NATO’s nuclear nostalgia, the nation could use its resources to orient the alliance toward the real security challenges of the 21st century.

This is the fourth in a series of essays provoking a conversation around the invisible issues of Election 2012—those crucial topics that hide in plain sight as the two candidates square off during the presidential debates this month.

One/Two/Three

Image (cc) flickr user James Nash

Articles
Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

Christopher Columbus, Alexander Hamilton, William Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Scott are getting company. Statues of the famous men are scattered across Central Park in New York City, along with 19 others. But they'll finally be joined by a few women.

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth are the subjects of a new statue that will be on display along The Mall, a walkway that runs through the park from 66th to 72nd street. It will be dedicated in August of next year, which is fittingly the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.

Currently, just 3% of statues in New York City are dedicated to women. Out of 150 statues of historical figures across the city, only five statues are of historical women, including Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman.

Keep Reading Show less
promo-homepage

It's easy to become calloused to everyday headlines with messages like, "the world is ending" and "everything is going extinct." They're so prevalent, in fact, that the severity of these statements has completely diminished to the point that no one pays them any attention. This environmental negativity (coined "eco-phobia") has led us to believe that all hope is lost for wildlife. But luckily, that isn't the case.

Historically, we have waited until something is near the complete point of collapse, then fought and clawed to bring the species numbers back up. But oftentimes we wait so long that it's too late. Creatures vanish from the Earth altogether. They go extinct. And even though I don't think for a single second that we should downplay the severity of extinction, if we can flip this on its head and show that every once in a while a species we have given up on is actually still out there, hanging on by a thread against all odds, that is a story that deserves to be told. A tragic story of loss becomes one about an animal that deserves a shot at preservation and a message of hope the world deserves to hear.

As a wildlife biologist and tracker who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of animals I believe have been wrongfully deemed extinct, I spend most of my time in super remote corners of the Earth, hoping to find some shred of evidence that these incredible creatures are still out there. And to be frank, I'm pretty damn good at it!

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Truthout.org / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics