November 1, 2019 11:29AM

New Bill Renews Debate on Nuclear Modernization

On Tuesday, Senator Ed Markey (D-MA) and Representative Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) reintroduced bicameral legislation that would save U.S. taxpayers $75 billion on nuclear modernization costs over the next decade. The “Smarter Approach to Nuclear Expenditures Act,” or SANE Act, proposes sensible but significant cuts to “nuclear weapons and delivery systems.”

According to a press release from Sen. Markey’s office, the SANE Act will include the following:

  • Reduce the purchase of Columbia-class submarines from 12 to 8, cut the existing ICBM fleet from over 400 to 150, and reduce deployed strategic warheads from approximately 1,500 to 1,000 – saving $13.1 billion
  • Cancel the development of a new air-launched cruise missile and an associated warhead life extension program – saving $13.3 billion
  • Reduce to 80 the purchase of new B-21 long-range bombers – saving $11.6 billion
  • Cancel the development of new ICBMs and a new nuclear warhead – saving $13.6 billion
  • Cancel the development of a new submarine-launched cruise missile – saving $9 billion
  • Limit the plutonium pit production target to 30 per year – saving $9 billion

Sen. Markey stated that “The United States should fund education, not annihilation; that is our future…We need sanity when crafting America’s budget priorities, and more and improved nuclear weapons defies common sense.”

Rep. Blumenauer added that “these disastrous weapons will never be the answer to solving our complex and ever-changing national security threats…We should not be investing trillions of dollars of our budget on an outdated and irresponsible nuclear arsenal.”

At the time of the press release, the SANE Act was co-sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and by eight members in the House. It has also been endorsed by several prominent organizations, including the Ploughshares Fund, Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND), Peace Action, Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL), Global Security Institute, and World Future Council.

Caroline Dorminey, policy director of WAND and my former colleague here at Cato, stated, “With defense budgets skyrocketing and a bow wave of costs bearing down on the Pentagon in upcoming years, now is the time for hard choices. Senator Markey, Representative Blumenauer, and cosponsors offer a clear alternative that will keep Americans safe without wasting their tax dollars on weapon systems that serve our past, not our future.”

Dorminey, who also co-edited Cato’s recently released America’s Nuclear Crossroads: A Forward-Looking Anthology with me and whose recommendations from her chapter on how best to manage nuclear modernization echo many of the proposals within the bill, also noted that “the SANE Act demonstrates [that] there are ample opportunities to craft a revised nuclear modernization plan that better reflects the shifting strategic priorities and evolution of threats facing the United States.”

Sen. Markey and Rep. Blumenauer have introduced various versions of the SANE Act in past years without success. Given current fiscal and political realities, perhaps this time will be different. Yet, whether the SANE Act passes or not, the legislation highlights the need for policymakers to have a robust debate on the merits of the modernization plan, if not America’s nuclear posture more broadly.

You can read the full bill here. To learn more about this and other pressing issues in nuclear deterrence and arms control, download a copy of America’s Nuclear Crossroads.