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A Nuclear Budget to Kill For?

11:45 AM, Dec 3, 2010 • By JOHN NOONAN
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In the discussion of the relationship between ratification of the new START treaty and the National Nuclear Security Administration’s budget for maintaining our nuclear weapons stockpile, an oft heard war cry in favor of ratification is that the Obama administration’s budget is one that former National Nuclear Security Agency administrator, Ambassador Linton Brooks, has said he “would have killed for.” But how does the budget really stack up against those of years past?

A Nuclear Budget to Kill For?

Ambassador Brooks became the Administrator of NNSA on May 16, 2003 and left that position on January 4, 2007. The NNSA Weapons Activities budgets as appropriated for those years were: $5.95 billion in 2003, $6.27 billion in 2004, $6.23 billion in 2005, $6.43 billion in 2006, and $6.28 billion in 2007. Compared directly to the 2011 budget request, which started at $7 billion for 2011 and grows to $7.6 billion in 2015, the modern budget request does appear generous.  To stop here, however, would of course be an inaccurate and misleading comparison.  Obviously, the value of money, due to inflation and other factors, is not a constant over time.

In 2010 dollars, the “Linton Brooks” budgets were: $7.06 billion, $7.2 billion, $7.29 billion, $7.9 billion and $6.6 billion for 2003 through 2007.  Assuming an extremely low future rate of inflation of 1.5% per year, the 2015 budget has a value of only $7.1 billion in 2010 dollars. Clearly Ambassador Brooks had more to work with than he remembers.

The administration has even conceded this point: “From FY 2005 to FY 2010, a downward trend in the budget for Weapons Activities at the National Nuclear Security Administration resulted in a loss of purchasing power of approximately 20 percent,” making their bold claims about cushy nuclear modernization packages highly dubious. 

This is wholly consistent with the Obama administration’s larger take on the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. Bad data is driving even worse talking points. Senator Kyl’s office has made it clear that the Senate GOP will not ratify an arms control treaty without adequate funding for the sustainment and modernization of America’s nuclear deterrent. The Obama administration claims that they have bent over backwards to acquiesce to Kyl’s request. But the numbers simply do not add up. That would certainly explain the administration’s fevered public relations campaign to rush the treaty through during the lame duck session, instead of working to meet the basic conditions that the GOP has laid down for ratification.

If President Obama is really serious about ratifying START, he’ll quit trotting out his generals and former secretaries of state to advocate the brilliance of his foreign policy, and get serious about long overdue nuclear modernization needs.

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