The report is pretty straightforward — the authors use MFP-1 as the base estimate of DOD nuclear forces spending and then add the things left out. As I noted the last time we had this discussion, MFP-1 has some issues. (One of the recommendations of the Secretary of Defense Task Force on Nuclear Weapons recommended replacing MFP 1 with “a new capability portfolio composed of all program elements (whether currently categorized in MFP-1 or elsewhere in the defense program and budget structure) directly related to nuclear deterrence.”
The authors do not fully do that here — rather they use MFP-1 and attempt to add the omitted expenses for command-and-control ($5.3 billion/year), RDT&E activities ($1.5 billion/year), and overhead and support costs ($3.92 billion). I feel like adding: “Losing six nuclear weapons for 12 hours? Priceless.”
In particular, Rumbaugh and Cohn provide a very useful accounting of command-and-control expenditures, which are (as best I can tell) arbitrarily excluded from the 1251 report. Now, I happen to think command and control is one of the areas we should not cut, but we can’t pretend that the nuclear weapons launch themselves.
Despite the title, I don’t think the report “resolves” any ambiguities — I doubt DOD will ever be able to determine what nuclear weapons “cost” — but Rumbaugh and Cohn provide a nice survey of the ambiguities in different estimates, including MFP-1 and the 1251 report, as amended.
The extra $11 billion a year doubles the Administration’s estimate in the 1251 report, as amended ($125 billion over ten years), resulting in total spending on delivery vehicles of over $30 billion a year. Which is close to what I guessed, just by inflation-adjusting CBO’s estimates from 1998 (inclusive of DOE spending). Even the command-and-control number is exactly right at $6 billion. Sometimes the easy way is best, huh?
Although I have some questions about the methodology, all the different back-of-the-envelope calculations are pointing toward a $30 billion/year number. That’s $300 billion over ten years. If you add in all the other things that Ploughshares thinks should be counted (nonproliferation, environmental cleanup, missile defense), the result is comfortably north of the Ploughshares “low” estimate of $600 billion and closing in on $700 billion. (I happen to think some of those things, like environmental cleanup, should count, while others, like missile defense, should not. But reasonable people can disagree.)
Finally, a observation about the “pushback” against the report. I find it interesting that Representative Michael Turner’s office chooses to emphasize the fact that Ploughshares provided funds for the study. (Here is where I note that, although I was not a Ploughshares grantee when I wrote a previous post, I am now. In other news: I am no longer Joe’s gym buddy because I moved to Monterey. I am still married to the same woman Joe introduced me to. Biases all clear? Anybody need to go try something anatomically challenging?)
Ploughshares’ funding of the study is a reasonable thing to point out. But I find it interesting that it is the only thing opponents are pointing out. There is no specific objection to the methodology or the estimate itself. More importantly, there is still no positive argument for spending $10, $20 or $30 billion on delivery systems modernization. Just a kind of defensive crouch that the number is less than you think. Such a bargain! I find the inability to articulate a rationale for significant spending on nuclear modernization in a time of austerity very telling. I also find it a little worrisome.
Rather than articulating a positive case for modernizing the deterrent, House Republicans are just screaming that they had a deal on the New START treaty. The “they” here is a partisan identification, since the House didn’t have a role in ratification. (Now, I would hasten to add that this was a deal the House GOP blew up, along with pretty much every other deal, by refusing to raise the debt ceiling to pay for expenditures they authorized and appropriated.)
The reason House Republicans are just screaming about perfidy is that they don’t want the Administration to spend the money. My judgment is that House Republicans intend to move to suspend implementation of the New START Treaty next year. This is just their effort at laying the groundwork.
Early on, during the opening phase of the ratification process, I defended the Administration’s decision to massively over-fund the nuclear weapons complex preemptively. “If you give Republicans a choice between a well-funded nuclear weapons complex and a talking point to conflate the Prague agenda with unilateral disarmament,” I argued, “most will understandably choose the latter.”
I believe that was the correct assessment at the time. The Administration knew it couldn’t horse-trade with people who didn’t want a deal, so it negotiated long and hard largely to demonstrate that Senator Kyl was not negotiating in good faith.
Moreover, I believe that remains an accurate assessment of most Congressional Republicans, particularly those in the House where opponents of the Obama Administration are only too happy to use any spending cuts to the nuclear weapons budget as an excuse to defund implementation of the New START treaty. A House-led effort to suspend implementation of the New START treaty is now a foregone conclusion, no matter what Barack Obama does or does not do. Whether such an effort succeeds will probably depend largely on the partisan composition of the Senate, as a GOP majority in that chamber after 2012 would be without at least four of the 13 Republicans — Lugar, Voinovich, Snow and Bennett — who voted for the treaty. Fully funding CMRR isn’t going to change this.
The result will probably be a full-scale showdown over the Constitution and the treaty power, with the President’s acting like a law professor instead of a politician. I haven’t really thought through how this is going to play out, but, if the debt-ceiling debacle is any precedent, the New START treaty is in a lot of trouble.