Although the US government has been signaling since 2010 that it intends to invest in modernizing its nuclear capabilities (beginning with the April 2010 Nuclear Posture Review Report) and modernization in Russia is well underway, the issue of nuclear modernization has recently captured the attention of major news outlets, with both The Economist and Foreign Policy devoting magazine covers to the topic this month.


The latest US plan is a decade-long transformation with a $355 billion price tag that could in reality run to a trillion dollars. However, the US is not alone in its nuclear modernization endeavors. As the Economist article notes, “Every nuclear power is spending lavishly to upgrade its atomic arsenal,” and uncertainty pervades the nuclear landscape with the threat of nuclear power spreading to new countries and less known about the capabilities and stockpiles of many countries than during Cold War times. The Economist author calls for a revitalization of nuclear diplomacy and engagement in healthy dialogues and bilateral relationships by nuclear powers on the basis of nuclear arms control.

The Foreign Policy article corresponding to the magazine cover is a comprehensive look at the developing nuclear modernization race. The article warns that, “Today, weapons innovation threatens to become the new mode for arms competition” and that nuclear modernization plans eschew commitments made under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPL) for nuclear powers to work towards eventual disarmament. The modernization race further threatens the current moratorium on testing of new weapons and opens avenues for non-nuclear state signatories to the NPL to renege on their commitments to refrain from developing nuclear capabilities, as current nuclear powers move further from their own commitments to nuclear disarmament.

An article by Tom Z. Collina in Defense One, a subsidiary of Atlantic Media devoted to news and analysis of US defense and national security issues, refers to the proposed US nuclear budget as an “out-of-control nuclear shopping list” that is excessive, unaffordable, and dangerous. Collina makes recommendations that would reduce the budget by $75 billion over ten years, including eliminating plans to build a new generation of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) that an air force sponsored RAND study declared unnecessary. While Collina suggests that the $75 billion freed up through his down-sized and more realistic nuclear budget should be shifted to conventional military forces and weaponry, I would suggest instead that they be shifted to diplomacy and peace-building efforts or social spending on health and education.

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