February 2, 2018
I was born nearly five years after the Cold War ended. Until Donald Trump broke onto the political scene, the American population’s concern about nuclear war seemed to have died with it. We laughed in our high school history classes at the old tapes of instructional videos on “duck and cover,” at the absurdity of hiding under a desk to survive a nuclear blast. It certainly wasn’t an issue that my high school or college peers cared about. Why should we concern ourselves with relics older than us that we were told would never be used?
Over the course of the past year and half, our commander in chief’s loose talk about nuclear weapons and taunts toward another unstable leader with nuclear weapons in North Korea answered that question for many young Americans. To make matters worse, President Trump is proposing to push full steam ahead with a reckless nuclear spending spree that will burden the millennial generation with more than a $1.2 trillion bill for an unnecessary Cold War-style arsenal and more usable nuclear weapons.
The plan, called the Nuclear Posture Review and leaked in early January, dictates the size and role of U.S. nuclear forces under the Trump administration. Like much of his policy agenda, Trump’s nuclear strategy is marked most by its absence of one.
In the plan, Trump orders the continuation of the Obama-era program to rebuild practically the entire U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. No one in the government can tell you how we will foot the $1.2 trillion bill for the 30-year project, short of finding a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The nuclear upgrade will be at its most expensive in the late 2020s and early 2030s, just as other planned weapons programs’ costs peak, and as payouts from Social Security increase due to the baby boomer population retiring. Trump’s $1.5 trillion tax cut will only add to the budget pressure.
Let there be no mistake—this is our generation’s problem. The architects of this nuclear recapitalization will retire before it concludes. We will be the ones left to deal with the havoc it wreaks. We will be the ones forced to find a way to pay for our own priorities with billions of dollars already earmarked each year for weapons we didn’t approve. Over the next 30 years, it will be money from our paychecks that will build these weapons.
Think about it: Those of us in our twenties and thirties, still paying our college loans, or contemplating how to finance our young children’s education will instead be paying for a project that will conclude when we are almost at retirement age.
But that’s not all the plan calls for. Trump also wants brand-new, “more-useable” nuclear weapons and lowers the bar for using them. Trump not only doesn’t explain how he plans to pay for them, or even how much they will cost, but he also uses twisted logic to justify their development. The strategy argues that our adversaries believe that our current nuclear warheads are so immensely destructive that we would not actually use them in response to a strike, and so they would not prevent an enemy attack. It contends that possessing slightly smaller nuclear warheads would reduce the risk of nuclear war because we are more likely to detonate them.
So, the logic goes, in order to maintain international peace and stability, we need more nuclear weapons that we could more readily use to indiscriminately slaughter hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians. Doesn’t make much sense to you? You’re not alone.
We have accepted for too long that older men in suits know better than we do. They told us that in the unlikely event the use of nuclear weapons was considered deliberative consultations would precede any use decision. Now, a president who repeatedly boasts about the size of his nuclear button on Twitter can use it at any time.
There’s a reason Trump’s nuclear strategy doesn’t size up for many millennials, and it’s not because we’re just too young to understand it. Our logic is not distorted by outdated Cold War thinking. We can advocate for a smart strategy that addresses real 21st century needs and concerns of the American people. We are the best authorities for our own future.
Do we want Congress to be ratcheting up spending on more outdated nuclear weapons just as we may entering graduate school, or begin saving for the future? Can we stomach being responsible for subjecting our children to the same fear of nuclear war that our parents faced as they “ducked and covered” as schoolchildren? Do we want to be the generation to blame for standing idly by as Donald Trump squandered our tax dollars on new and more usable nuclear weapons for himself?
My answer is a resounding no. We need to stand up and speak out in one voice against rebuilding archaic and unnecessary nuclear weapons and increasing the risk of nuclear war by developing new ones.
Arms Control Association