US nuclear tab at $5.8 trillion
South News July 1

Washington: In an enormous drain on resources the United States has spent $5.8 trillion on nuclear weapons according to a new study

A four-year study of newly declassified Pentagon documents, released yesterday by the Brookings Institute, looked at the expenditures of producing and deploying nuclear explosives over the past 5 1/2 decades with current spending on the  arsenal at about $35 billion annually, or roughly 15 percent of the total defense budget.

Since the birth of the atomic weapons program in 1940, a total of $5.5 trillion was spent through 1996, the Washington think tank reports. That is 29 percent of all U.S. military spending and almost 11 percent of all government spending through the 52 years.

In the first comprehensive audit of the US nuclear arsenal,it calculated costs for research, development, deployment, command and control, defenses and dismantlement.   The U.S. government has never attempted to track these costs, and whether the weapons helped to bring down the Soviet Union, against whom most of the arms were aimed after World War II, remains an open question, Stephen I. Schwartz, chairman of the four-year study, said in the report.

"Given the significant sums expended on nuclear weapons and their central role in the cold war, it is striking that so few have expressed an interest in either the cumulative or the annual costs,'' Schwartz wrote.

The study suggests that the price tag of the nuclear program was allowed to escalate in part because the public and Congress were not aware of the overall costs. Schwartz wrote in the study that had the true costs been known, "there almost certainly would have been a debate about the wisdom" of the continued buildup.

The Brookings study indicates the degree to which the nuclear buildup outran public understanding. Starting with Defense Secretary Robert McNamara, Schwartz writes, " ... the United States came to associate deterrence with tens of thousands of nuclear weapons." Schwartz suggested that a

The audit shows that when McNamara declared in 1964 that a total nuclear force equivalent to 400 megatons (equal to 400 million tons of TNT) would have been enough to achieve "mutual assured destruction" with the Soviet Union, the U.S. stockpile already totaled 17,000 megatons.

Highlights of the report:

State Department spokesman James P. Rubin defended the nuclear program Wednesday, saying the weapons deterred the Soviet Union and the fact that the program was expensive "should not come as a surprise.''

Rubin said administration officials had not had a chance to assess the accuracy of the Brookings estimates. But he added, "It was worth the expense; communism was worth deterring through a combined policy of containment and modernization of nuclear forces.''