As the United States struggles to deal with budget problems, as the U.S. Air Force deals with boredom, poor morale, drug use, and cheating on certification exams by their personnel entrusted with control of nuclear missiles, we have a solution that will save money as well as make the world a much safer place – get rid of most of our nuclear weapons immediately. A recent New York Times editorial pointed out that it would cost $10,000,000,000 just to update one small portion of the U.S. arsenal, gravity bombs. The U.S. government has no data on the overall cost of maintaining its nuclear arsenal, but various sources estimate the cost over the next decade between $150 billion and $640 billion, depending largely on which nuclear related tasks are included in the budget.
While the theft of a truck carrying radioactive cobalt made international headlines, this was unfortunately not the first time thieves or scavengers have exposed themselves or others to lethal radiation. Probably the most infamous case was on September 13, 1987 in Goiania, Brazil. Scavengers broke into an abandoned medical clinic and stole a disused teletherapy machine. These machines are used to treat cancer by irradiating tumors with gamma radiation typically emitted by either cobalt-60 or cesium-137. In the Goiania case, the gamma-emitting radioisotope was cesium-137 in the chemical form of cesium chloride, which is a salt-like substance. When the scavengers broke open the protective seal of the radioactive source, they saw a blue glowing powder: cesium chloride. This material did not require a “dirty bomb” to disperse it. Because of the easily dispersible salt-like nature of the substance, it spread throughout blocks of the city and contaminated about 250 people. Four people died form radiation sickness by ingesting just milligrams of the substance.
The Senate passage of Resolution 65 on May 22, 2013, some argue, draws the United States closer to military action against Iran. In October 2012, amid concerns that surprisingly little research addressed the potential broad outcomes of possible U.S.-led actions against Iran, researchers at the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) assembled nine renowned subject matter experts (SMEs) to investigate one underexplored question that now, eight months later, looms larger than ever: What are the potential effects on the global economy of U.S. actions against Iran? Collectively representing expertise in national security, economics, energy markets, and finance, the SMEs gathered for a one-day elicitation workshop to consider the global economic impacts of six hypothetical scenarios involving U.S.-led actions.
The elicitation revealed the rough effects of U.S. action against Iran on the global economy – measured only in the first three months of actualization – to range from total losses of approximately $60 billion on one end of the scale to more than $2 trillion to the world economy on the other end.
The results of the elicitation were compiled into the FAS report written by Charles P. Blair and Mark Jansson, “Sanctions, Military Strikes, and Other Potential Actions Against Iran.”
Summarized below are three of the six scenarios along with the associated estimated range of costs to the world economy in the first three months of U.S. action alone.
Scenario: Comprehensive Bombing Campaign (upper bounds of estimated costs to global economy: $1.7 trillion)
The president, not wanting to leave the job half-done and fearing that a more limited strike may not achieve all of its objectives or at too high a price should Iran retaliate, opts for a more thorough mission. The United States leads an ambitious air campaign that targets not only the nuclear facilities of concern but also seeks to limit Iran’s ability to retaliate by targeting its other military assets, including its air defenses, radar and aerial command and control facilities, and much of Iran’s direct retaliatory capabilities. These would include its main military bases, the main facilities of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), and the Iranian Navy, Army, and Air Force. The United States seeks to ensure that the Strait of Hormuz remains open by targeting Iranian capabilities that may threaten it.
Scenario: Isolation and Persian Gulf Blockade – no military action (upper bounds of estimated costs to global economy: $550 billion)
Iran’s economy is reeling yet diplomatic agreement remains elusive. The United States, concerned that the Iranian regime has gone into survival mode, enacts what can be referred to as a “total cutoff” policy. The United States moves to curtail any exports of refined oil products, natural gas, energy equipment, and services. Investments in Iran’s energy sector are banned worldwide. Official trade credit guarantees are banned, as is international lending to Iran and investment in Iranian bonds. Insurance and reinsurance for all shipping going to and from Iran is prohibited. Substantial U.S. military assets are deployed to the Persian Gulf to block unauthorized shipments to and from Iran as well as to protect shipments of oil and other products through the Strait of Hormuz.
Scenario: Full-Scale Invasion (upper bounds of estimated costs to global economy: $2.8 trillion)
The United States resolves to invade, occupy, and disarm Iran. It carries out all of the above missions and goes “all in” to impose a more permanent solution by disarming the regime. Although the purpose of the mission is not explicitly regime change, the United States determines that the threat posed by Iran to Israel, neighboring states, and to freedom of shipping in the Strait of Hormuz cannot be tolerated any longer. It imposes a naval blockade and a no-fly zone as it systematically takes down Iran’s military bases and destroys its installations one by one. Large numbers of ground troops will be committed to the mission to get the job done.
Note: All opinions expressed here and in the report, as well as its findings, are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Federation of American Scientists or any of the participants in the elicitation that served as the centerpiece of this study.
Editor’s Note: This is the second of two postings of a Q&A conducted primarily by the Federation of American Scientists regarding the current situation on the Korean Peninsula. Developed and edited by Charles P. Blair, Mark Jansson, and Devin H. Ellis, the authors’ responses have not been edited; all views expressed by these subject-matter experts are their own. Please note that additional terms are used to refer to North Korea and South Korea, i.e., the DPRK and ROK respectively.
Researchers from the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) asked seven individuals who are experts in East Asia about the the recent escalation in tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Is North Korea’s recent success with its nuclear test and satellite launch evidence that it is maturing? Is there trepidation in Japan over the perceived threat of North Korea attacking Japan with a nuclear weapon? Has North Korea mastered re-entry vehicle (RV) technology? Is there any plausible way to de-nuclearize North Korea?
By Katie Colten and Hans Kristensen
[Modifed] Today, one of the largest weapons in the United States nuclear weapons arsenal, the B53, will be dismantled at the Pantex Plant in Amarillo, Texas. Developed during the Cold War and deployed in 1962, this bomb weighs as much as a minivan and has an explosive yield of nine megatons, equivalent to 750 Hiroshima bombs.
Retired from the arsenal in 1997, the dismantlement of the B53 marks the end of the era of large, multi-megaton bombs, a hallmark of the Cold War. The largest-yield warhead in the U.S. stockpile today is the B83 bomb, which has a maximum yield of 1.2 Megatons.
Administration officials have been busy spinning the dismantlement as proof of the administration’s commitment to nuclear disarmament and as vindication of its plan to spend billions of extra dollars to modernize the nuclear weapons production complex. Continue Reading →
FAS joined 48 organizations in signing a letter to United States Representatives asking them to cosign Representative Markey’s letter to members of the Super Committee. Markey’s letter urges Super Committee members to increase U.S. security by reducing spending on outdated and unaffordable nuclear weapons programs.
Additionally, this support letter offers specific suggestions to Congress on how to scale back new nuclear weapons programs and help close the budget deficit. Continue Reading →
by Alicia Godsberg
The NPT Review Conference ended last Friday with the adoption by consensus of a Final Document that includes both a review of commitments and a forward looking action plan for nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation and the promotion of the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. In the early part of last week it was unclear if consensus would be reached, as states entered last-minute negotiations over contentious issues. While the consensus document represents a real achievement and is a relief after the failure of the last Review Conference in 2005 to produce a similar document, much of the language in the action plan has been watered down from previous versions and documents, leaving the world to wait until the next review in 2015 to see how far these initial steps will take the global community toward fulfilling the Treaty’s goals. Continue Reading →
by Alicia Godsberg
There is cause for cautious optimism after Presidents Obama and Medvedev signed their START follow-on Joint Understanding in Moscow last Monday – the goal of completing a legally binding bilateral nuclear disarmament agreement with verification measures is preferable to letting START expire without an agreement or without one that keeps some sort of verification protocol. The Joint Understanding leaves some familiar questions open, such as the lack of definition of a “strategic offensive weapon” and what to do about the thousands of nuclear warheads in reserve or awaiting dismantlement. But so far few analysts on either side of the nuclear debate have been talking about the big picture, what for the vast majority of the world (and therefore our own national security) is really at stake here – the viability of the nonproliferation regime itself. Continue Reading →