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The merchants of nuclear war are striving and thriving through the pandemic

While the administration withdraws from key treaties, the Pentagon is expediting new missile contracts for their friends Raytheon and Northrop Grumman.

Analysis | Global Crises

More Americans than ever today have begun to question the efficacy of the systems that govern it, specifically the policing and justice systems. Add to the mix the current and ongoing threats from climate change and global pandemic, and it becomes clearer that this movement of change must make its way to the nuclear defense system before it is too late.

For example: the Air Force awarded a contract for the Ground Based Strategic Deterrent to Northrop Grumman on September 8, expediting the production of more nuclear missiles in a time when arms control and cooperation is deteriorating, and the reimagining of a Nuclear Arms Race 2.0 is on the horizon.

There is no doubt that the Trump administration, with help from the military-industrial complex, is dismantling the U.S. arms control regime, and more recently, seemingly using the pandemic as a distraction.

President Trump has so far withdrawn the United States from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Open Skies Treaty, while destroying any trust countries may have had in the United States for future cooperation.

As the expiration of New START looms on the horizon, the U.S. Presidential Envoy for Arms Control, Marshall Billingslea, has stated that the United States is unlikely to extend the treaty despite the fact that New START is currently the only treaty preventing an all-out nuclear arms race between the United States and Russia (and potentially other nuclear weapon states as well).

Now, the Trump administration is causing more lasting damage as it seeks to expedite the contracts of the Long-Range Standoff weapon, which will bolster U.S. air nuclear forces, and the GBSD, the new missile that will be replacing the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile leg of the U.S. nuclear-triad.

In April, the Air Force awarded the LRSO contract to Raytheon, two years ahead of schedule, with no real explanation as to why. It’s no coincidence that Secretary of Defense, Mark Esper, was the top lobbyist and vice president of governmental relations at Raytheon before joining the Trump administration.  

The Air Force awarded the GBSD contract to Northrop Grumman, which became the sole bidder in 2019 after Boeing dropped out. This sparked controversy and even a federal investigation after Boeing’s complaints of unfair competition. The lack of competition on the contract has caused the price tag to surge to $85 billion and counting. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that not only did Northrop Grumman spend $5.6 million in 2018 campaign contributions, but that it has also given more than $4 million to important members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees.

Some experts posit that the LRSO and GBSD contracts have been expedited to finalize the contracts so that if there will be a change in administration come November, a new administration will have less power to stop them, particularly if the weapons are already being manufactured.

The expedition of these contracts and production of these weapons is worrisome. Experts say the it’s dangerous to add a cruise missile to the U.S. arsenal — the LRSO — that can carry both a conventional and nuclear payload because it would seriously raise the risk of miscalculation and the potential for nuclear war. Critics of the GBSD contract assert that these types of land-based weapons aren’t even necessary. Indeed, in addition to being an obscenely expensive contract, ICBMs are the most vulnerable leg of the nuclear triad and could be phased out without weakening the US’ nuclear deterrent.

The claws of the military-industrial complex reach further than just the Trump administration. Not only do members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees receive sizable campaign contributions from defense contractors, there is also an entire Senate Intercontinental Ballistic Missile Coalition that works to ensure contracts like these succeed. Northrop Grumman has provided $1.6 million to the coalition since 2012 to protect the ICBM program and prevent the implementation of any alternatives. 

Why is this happening? The simple answer is that arms races are effective business strategies. Dismantling the U.S. arms control regime is the first step to removing impediments to building more weapons. With virtually no arms control treaties or agreements to adhere to, the United States can do what it wants. 

Expediting weapons contracts and paying off members of Congress ensures that these defense contractors like Raytheon and Northrop Grumman get their business, no matter who is in office. Further, the number of nuclear weapons and their related technologies necessary to “win” an arms race can be limitless. This means that as long as there is the appearance of an imminent threat from an adversary like Russia or China, these companies will continue to build more weapons and make more money.

Billingslea actually made note of this, saying that the United States knows “how to win these races and [knows] how to spend the adversary into oblivion.” The fact that his main argument revolves around spending as a means of winning and not encouraging rigorous diplomacy, illustrates where his and the administration’s priorities lie. 

But just because arms races are a good business strategy, does not mean they are a good defense strategy. Building new and increasingly complex nuclear weapons will only sow distrust amongst states like Russia and China and increase the risk of both accidental and intentional nuclear war. 

Now more than ever, it is crucial that we look beyond the surface of the systems in place designed to protect us and evaluate if they are truly working for the public, or if they are solely benefiting key stakeholders. Since President Trump entered into office, he has chipped away at the global arms control. The surface level explanations for this have pointed back to claims of nefarious action by other actors. But looking deeper, it’s clear that the military-industrial complex is having free reign over the U.S. government at the expense of security systems that will actually keep us safe. 

By gerasimov_foto_174/Shutterstock
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