Nukewatch Quarterly Fall 2020
On Aug. 7, the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland published a report of its survey of 86,000 people in the US.
The report, “Common Ground of the American People,” finds broad support for eliminating the remaining land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) instead of replacing them. Majority approval of phasing out the ICBMs was 69% among Democrats; 53% among Republicans; and 61% overall.
The elimination of the remaining 400 ICBMs, also known as Minuteman III missiles, and the cancellation of their planned replacement, would have a major impact on US nuclear weapons production.
The entire basis for the plans to restart the production of plutonium warhead cores, or “pits,” for new nuclear weapons, is to provide warheads (the W87-1) for the planned replacement missile known as the “Ground-Based Strategic Deterrent.”
The House of Representatives is now requesting a review of the W87-1 warhead program, including an independent assessment of options that don’t require new pits.
Altogether, the land-based missile program will cost over $100 billion.
A number of military experts—including Gen. James Cartwright (Ret.), former STRATCOM commander under GW Bush and later Vice Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and former Secretary of Defense William Perry—have argued that national security would be improved by phasing out the ICBMs.
Public attitudes, polled nationwide, present no barrier to phasing out ICBMs. “This finding is highly noteworthy, as it runs in direct contrast to the Pentagon’s current plan of spending approximately $100 billion to buy a brand-new generation of ICBMs by 2030,” reported Matt Korda in Forbes online, Aug. 12. “In reality, these costs are expected to rise, given that the contract will be sole-sourced to Northrop Grumman.
“Why is this $100 billion project still moving forward?” Korda asked, then suggested an answer. “Northrop Grumman—the only bidder for the ICBM replacement contract—spent more than $162 million on lobbying between 2008 and 2018, with the bulk of the contributions going to members of the “ICBM Caucus” [or “Doomsday Lobby”]—a coalition of Senators from states where ICBMs are deployed. In 2018, this lobbying effort helped kill an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act which called for a feasibility study on extending the life of the current ICBM force, rather than rebuilding it from scratch.”
The costly corporate arm-twisting has paid off. On Sept. 8, the Air Force awarded Northrup Grumman the first $13.3 billion contract for the new missile system which, the Washington Post said, is in the long-run expected to be worth $85 billion for the weapons giant.
—Greg Mello, director of the Los Alamos Study Group in Albuquerque, New Mexico contributed reporting for this story.