5 Not-So-Fun Facts About Nuclear Weapons


In a piece titled Nuclear Weapons Modernization: A Threat to the NPT? in the May issue of Arms Control Today, Hans Kristensen reports that “all of the world’s nuclear-weapon states are busy modernizing their arsenals and continue to reaffirm the importance of such weapons.” Bear in mind that it’s been 46 years since the five nuclear-weapons states that signed the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT), along with states without nuclear weapons, agreed (albeit in vague language) to work toward nuclear disarmament. Writes Kristensen:

None of them appears willing to eliminate its nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future.

In the course of his piece, he reports on a number of characteristics of nuclear weapons of which most are not aware, but if they were, would alarm them in ways other than the humanitarian consequences of their use. To wit:

1. “…although the numerical nuclear arms race between East and West is over, a dynamic technological nuclear arms race is in full swing and may increase over the next decade.”

What Kristensen means is that, due to treaties such as the most recent, New START, the number of nuclear weapons deployed by the two major nuclear powers, the United States and Russia, are declining. However … those still in existence are being reconfigured for use in perpetuity.

2. “All told, over the next decade, according to the U.S. Congressional Budget Office, the United States plans to spend $355 billion on the maintenance and modernization of its nuclear enterprise, an increase of $142 billion from the $213 billion the Obama administration projected in 2011.”

Too many, money is no object for a deterrent that ostensibly guarantees that another world war will never start. But is there no limit to the cost we’ll bear? One of Kristensen’s least fun facts:

3. “According to available information, it appears that the nuclear enterprise will cost at least $1 trillion over the next 30 years.”

Wait, that is a lot of money for sophisticated technology that basically just sits on a shelf. But what if push comes to shove and it’s actually used? In that case, it becomes even more pricey for a weapons system that, when actually used by a state, pretty much guarantees the destruction of that state as well as the state it’s attacking. Or, best case scenario, the state that initiates the first strike survives, but is stuck with the bill for trying to rebuild itself and provide aid to those few citizens left alive in the state it attacked.

4. While these “sums are enormous by any standard, and some programs may be curtailed by fiscal realities. … [n]evertheless, they indicate a commitment to a scale of nuclear modernization that appears to be at odds with … [an] administration [that] entered office with a strong arms control and disarmament agenda [and which] may ironically end up being remembered more for its commitment to prolonging and modernizing the traditional nuclear arsenal.”       

We’ve saved the unkindest cut for last (emphasis added).

5. “This modernization plan is broader and more expensive than the Bush administration’s plan and appears to prioritize nuclear capabilities over conventional ones.”