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The budget as a moral document
NewsNotes, March-April 2010
Vol. 35 No. 2

The U.S. national budget is heavily skewed in favor of the Pentagon, leaving our foreign policy toolkit bristling with weapons rather than more peaceful means of negotiation, reconciliation – even relief and development. The U.S. response to the horrific disaster in Haiti reflects this reality: Thanks to years of military dominance of federal budget priorities, the most readily – or perhaps only – available U.S. government “tools” for Haiti relief work were military tools, so the prompt U.S. mobilization following the earthquake on January 12 looked more like an invasion and occupation than the generous expression of global solidarity intended.

For FY2011, the Obama administration has requested a total of $733 billion in defense spending, including $159 billion for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and $11.2 billion for the National Nuclear Security Administration, including $2 billion for the safety of the nuclear weapons stockpile. This funding would enable the agency to reach full production of the refurbished Navy W-76 Trident submarine warhead, to refurbish the B-61 bomb, and to study options for maintaining the W-78 warhead in the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile. The FY2011 budget request also provides for a new plutonium facility for the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico and a uranium manufacturing plant at Oak Ridge, TN.

President Obama’s April 2009 speech in Prague raised hopes worldwide that the new administration would play a leadership role in nuclear disarmament. But the administration’s recent FY2011 federal budget request raises crucial questions about U.S. priorities and the depth of U.S. commitment to nuclear disarmament.

In Prague, President Obama said, “Just as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st century. And … as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act…. So today, I state clearly and with conviction America’s commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.”

The U.S., he said, would reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy (while maintaining a “safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary”); negotiate a new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with the Russians; reduce our warheads and stockpiles; immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty; seek a new treaty that verifiably ends the production of fissile materials; strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty; and promote a new framework for civil nuclear cooperation, including an international fuel bank, so that countries can access peaceful power without increasing the risks of proliferation.

The 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) will meet in May in New York. The NPT contains the only binding commitment to nuclear disarmament in a multilateral treaty. By it, countries with nuclear weapons will move towards disarmament; countries without nuclear weapons will not acquire them; and all countries can access peaceful nuclear energy. This critical conference meets against a backdrop of an evolving U.S. nuclear policy. (See related story here.)

President Obama was clear: “I’m not naive,” he said. The goal of nuclear disarmament “will not be reached quickly ... But now we, too, must ignore the voices who tell us that the world cannot change. We have to insist, ‘Yes, we can.’” While the FY2011 funds requested would not be used to build new nuclear weapons, the money would expand the U.S. capacity to build new nuclear weapons in the future. “Yes, we can?”

The Obama administration has publicly committed to a multilateral and cooperative approach to international engagement, but U.S. national security, rather than real and inclusive global security, still dominates foreign policy considerations. And many of us are beginning to wonder if the “change” we seek, beginning with definitive nuclear disarmament, will ever come.

Enormous annual expenditures on war and preparations for war rob people locally and globally of genuine security and a dignified life. It is ironic that heated, artificial, often intentionally obfuscated debates about the cost of climate change legislation or health care reform or financial regulation or immigration reform prevent serious movement forward in response to these critical concerns, while massive amounts of money flow into a vast array of U.S. military programs without question.

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