People must come first,

not high-tech weapons

In what world would a superpower that can’t afford to maintain its interstate highways and feed all its people embark upon a multidecade $1 trillion upgrade of weapons systems it hasn’t used in nearly three-quarters of a century?

The obvious answer, of course, is this world and this nation, in which the top priority for many politicians is to keep federal tax dollars freely flowing to a select few defense contractors and congressional districts, at backbreaking expense to everyone else.

The nation’s inventory of nuclear weapons is in understandable need of modernization. There have been remarkable technological advances in the decades since many of our bombs and missiles were built. If we are going to have such horrible weapons at all, it behooves us to make certain they are as precise and dependable as possible.

Inevitably, this comparatively modest and rational goal has mushroomed into a gargantuan exercise in constructing vast new weapons factories and an expensive new generation of weapons-delivery systems. President Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize in large part due to his desire to curtail this lemming-like march by the military-industrial complex. Former U.S. Sen. Sam Nunn, a respected authority on these matters, told the New York Times, “The president’s vision was a significant change in direction. But the process has preserved the status quo.”

Military hawks approve of how federal spending on a kind of autopilot is ratcheting up a new arms race in which no one else is really competing. Putin’s low-tech invasion of the Ukraine contributes to a sense of unease among U.S. citizens and policymakers.

However, the lesson we should recall from the U.S.-Soviet Cold War isn’t that Russians have a contemptuous attitude toward other countries’ borders — though that certainly is the case and warrants a strong counterdefense. The more salient lesson is that the Soviet Union ran itself into the ground trying to keep up with U.S. military appropriations. Any nation that too-long neglects domestic priorities in favor of arms manufacturing will eventually fail.

A U.S. expert on our nuclear modernization efforts provides this reality check: “There isn’t enough money. You’re going to get a train wreck.”

Especially considering the nature of the real threats the U.S. faces and a need to quickly respond to smaller outbreaks of violence in strategically important locations, our limited funds would be far better spent bolstering conventional armed forces. Our nation’s service personnel need our wholehearted support, something that will be impossible if we bleed ever more money into nukes.

In addition, our obligations to veterans demand sharper focus by elected leaders. More than a decade of wars leave us with a generation of soldiers and marines who, in some cases, will need expensive help for the rest of their lives. We must be certain we can afford this obligation. People must come first.

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