In the Bush administration's new budget, programs such as Medicaid, Medicare, and early childhood development will be cut to make room for more than half a trillion dollars for the Pentagon and war-fighting. Against the backdrop of such enormous spending and a war that is draining $2 billion a week, the Department of Energy's "weapons activities" budget seems almost small at $6.4 billion.
But that budget line points to a key White House policy objective that receives scant attention. Under President Bush, nuclear weapons—once viewed as an apocalyptic scourge in need of abolition, disarmament, or at the very least strict arms control—are baaaaack. In fact, they are surging forward.
During the Cold War, spending on nuclear weapons averaged $4.2 billion a year (in current dollars). Now, almost two decades after the nuclear animosity between the two great superpowers ended, the United States is spending one and a half times the Cold War annual average on nuclear weapons.
In 2001, the weapons-activities budget of the Department of Energy, which oversees the nuclear weapons complex through the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA), totaled $5.19 billion. Since Bush's January 2002 "Nuclear Posture Review" asserted the urgent need for a "revitalized nuclear weapons complex" able "to design, develop, manufacture, and certify new warheads in response to new national requirements; and maintain readiness to resume underground testing," there has been a jump in nuclear spending of more than $1 billion a year. But it is just the beginning: The NNSA's five-year "National Security Plan" calls for annual increases to reach $7.76 billion a year by 2009.