Hillary Clinton signaled the potential for a major national security policy reversal this week after she told an activist in Iowa that the planned $1 trillion nuclear weapons modernization program “doesn’t make sense.”
Despite a momentous speech embracing nuclear disarmament in Prague in April 2009, President Barack Obama has stunned critics by embarking on an aggressive effort to upgrade the military’s nuclear weapons program, including requests to buy 12 new missile submarines, up to 100 new bombers, and 400 land-based missiles, along with upgraded storage and development sites.
The decision has been called the greatest expansion of nuclear weapons since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Clinton’s comments came in response to a question after a Des Moines campaign event from Kevin Rutledge, a coordinator with the American Friends Service Committee’s “Governing Under the Influence” project. Staff and volunteers with the project in Iowa and New Hampshire have been peppering presidential candidates with questions about corporate influence over military policy, immigrant detention, and other issues.
Rutledge asked the former secretary of state as she left the event on Monday: “Would you oppose plans to spend a trillion dollars on an entire new generation of nuclear weapons systems that will enrich military contractors and set off a new global arms race?”
“Yeah, I’ve heard about that,” she responded. “I’m going to look into that. It doesn’t make sense to me.”
Watch the exchange below:
If Clinton indeed adopts a position rejecting the new nuclear weapons program, it would be a dramatic break from the hawks and the interests of the defense contracting industry — much more so than any other national security policy she has described so far.
During the first Democratic presidential debate in October, Clinton called the “spread of nuclear weapons” the greatest threat to national security. Obama has similarly identified nuclear proliferation as a greater threat than an apocalyptic battle between superpowers — even while supporting the massive nuclear arms stockpile upgrade and refusing to change the hugely risky hair-trigger alert status of our nuclear arsenal.
The American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization that works to promote social justice, has asked other presidential candidates about the nuclear weapons build-up.
Republican candidate Marco Rubio dismissed concerns, telling activist Kathleen McQuillen that “no country in the world faces the threats America faces.” He added, “The bottom line is that deterrence is a friend of peace.”
Democratic contender Martin O’Malley replied that he favors a shift from nuclear weapons into cybersecurity.
The Obama decision to ramp up a new generation of nuclear weapons has surprised and angered those who have worked for nuclear arms reduction.
“President Obama’s administration must stop this ill-advised and dangerous escalation of spending on nuclear weapons,” said the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability in a statement.
Joseph Cirincione, a nonproliferation expert and president of Ploughshares Fund, pleaded with Obama to suspend his plans to develop a new arsenal of nuclear weapons in a 2014 opinion column. He wrote that Obama should confront those in Congress and the Pentagon who have demanded more nuclear spending.
Instead, the Obama administration sent a budget request last year that calls for a spending spree: $348 billion over the next 10 years, $1 trillion over 30.
“The plan to spend a trillion dollars over the next three decades on a new generation of nuclear warheads, bombers, submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles — all for a weapon that can never be used — is reckless, wasteful, and downright dangerous,” the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Elliott Negin told The Intercept. “Nuclear weapons are useless against the military challenges we face today, and the world would be safer if the United States reduced its spending on nuclear weapons systems, not throw more money at them.”
The gears, however, are already in motion.
In October, the administration awarded Northrop Grumman a contract to develop next-generation long-range bombers capable of firing nuclear weapons, a project that analysts expect will swell to $80 billion.