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U.S. Led 2020 Nuclear Weapons Spending; Now Biden Going “Full Steam Ahead” on Trump’s Nuclear Plans

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As President Biden prepares for the G7 and NATO summits and a meeting with Vladimir Putin, we look at how the United States, Russia and other nuclear-armed nations continue to spend billions on nuclear weapons during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite President Biden’s criticisms of the Trump administration’s nuclear policies during his candidacy, his administration is continuing initiatives to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal and is seeking $43 billion for nuclear weapons in his new budget. This comes as a new report from the Nobel Prize-winning International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons reveals global spending on nuclear weapons increased during the pandemic, and found the world’s nine nuclear-armed countries spent $72.6 billion on nuclear weapons in 2020, with the United States alone spending $37 billion. “We’ve been seeing, from year to year, the spending on nuclear weapons has been increasing,” says Alicia Sanders-Zakre, ICAN’s policy and research coordinator. “Despite Biden’s campaign promises of wanting to work for arms control, wanting to work for disarmament, we’re seeing that in reality he’s going full steam ahead with Trump’s legacy nuclear weapons programs and continuing to spend more money on these weapons of mass destruction.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden has begun his first European trip as president. After meeting British Prime Minister Boris Johnson today, Biden will take part in the G7 leaders’ meeting in Cornwall, then head to the NATO summit in Brussels. He’ll end his trip in Geneva, where he’ll meet Russian President Vladimir Putin June 16th. On Wednesday, President Biden addressed U.S. Air Force personnel stationed in Britain.

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: We’re not seeking conflict with Russia. We want a stable, predictable relationship. Our two nations share incredible responsibilities, and among them ensuring strategic stability and upholding arms control agreements. I take that responsibility seriously. But I’ve been clear: The United States will respond in a robust and meaningful way when the Russian government engages in harmful activities.

AMY GOODMAN: The Biden-Putin summit comes just weeks after the Biden administration announced it would not rejoin the Open Skies Treaty, a major international arms control deal signed by the George H.W. Bush administration in 1992. Vladimir Putin then announced Russia would withdraw, as well. As a presidential candidate, Joe Biden criticized Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the treaty. In May 2020, Biden said, “Trump has doubled down on his short-sighted policy of going it alone and abandoning American leadership.”

Biden is also continuing a number of Trump’s initiatives to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal. In his new budget, President Biden is seeking $43 billion for nuclear weapons, including money to develop a new submarine-launched nuclear cruise missile, which, as a candidate, he described as a “bad idea.”

Meanwhile, the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, or ICAN, has just published a report revealing global spending on nuclear weapons increased by $1.4 billion last year despite the pandemic. The report found the world’s nine nuclear-armed countries spent $72.6 billion on nuclear weapons in 2020 — that amounts to nearly $138,000 every minute. The United States spent by far the most — $37 billion — three times more than the next country, China, which spent $10 billion. Russia was next at $8 billion, followed by the United Kingdom, France, India, Israel, Pakistan and North Korea. ICAN released this short video to accompany its new report.

ICAN VIDEO: $72.6 billion. That’s how much the nine nuclear-armed states spent on nuclear weapons in 2020, taxpayer money during the worst global pandemic in a century financing weapons of mass destruction. Although most countries support a global ban on nuclear weapons, these countries and companies spend billions to keep nuclear weapons in business — $72.6 billion for government agencies and private companies that build nuclear weapons. These companies fund major think tanks that write about nuclear weapons and hire lobbyists to make sure policymakers approve enormous nuclear weapon budgets the next year. This is the nuclear weapon funding cycle, a shadowy interplay between governments, private companies, think tanks and lobbyists, all complicit in today’s massive stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. It’s time to stop the cycle. It’s time for the ban.

AMY GOODMAN: That little report produced by ICAN.

We’re joined now by Alicia Sanders-Zakre, policy and research coordinator for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. The organization won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2017 for its work on the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. Alicia is the co-author of the new report, “Complicit: 2020 Global Nuclear Weapons Spending.”

So you have a world where the wealthiest countries cannot find the means to inoculate the world, to get the vaccines necessary for the world to be protected from COVID-19, but are spending billions on nuclear weapons. Talk about how the whole system works. Talk about your report, Alicia.

ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE: Yes. Well, thank you so much for having me on and for sharing the report.

You know, last year we did a report just on how much countries spent on nuclear weapons. We did the methodology to provide that estimate, which hasn’t been done very much in the past. And this year we wanted to show more of the big picture. Why is it that nine countries are spending more than $70 billion on their nuclear weapons in the middle of a global pandemic?

And so we looked at all of the pieces of the puzzle and the flow of money, the cycle of spending on weapons of mass destruction in just one year. And it’s pretty shocking. We saw, after those countries decided to spend $72.6 billion on their nuclear weapons, they gave out billions of dollars, over $27 billion in contracts, to the defense companies that build and maintain these weapons. And then those companies kept spending money to make sure that they kept getting money in years to come. So they spend over $117 million lobbying policymakers to increase spending on defense, and they also spent up to $10 million funding almost all of the major think tanks that research and write about nuclear weapons. So these are all of the actors, all of the players, in this dirty nuclear weapons business that we wanted to highlight and start to hold accountable.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Alicia, you mentioned the companies. Could you name them and tell us how much money they made off these contracts?

ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE: Absolutely. So, in the report, we feature all of the more than 20 companies that are currently involved in producing nuclear weapons. So, a lot of these companies have existing contract that they’re still fulfilling on nuclear weapons. But in 2020, 11 of those companies received new or modified contracts to work on existing or new nuclear weapon systems, amounting to a total of more than $27 billion. And there are a number of companies involved — just to name a few, of course, Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Boeing. Honeywell International is one not a lot of people might know about. The full list of all those companies and the amounts are in the report, so if you want more details, I’d recommend checking that out.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Alicia, despite the fact that, as you document, the U.S. spent over $37 billion on nuclear arms in the last year, that figure is expected to exponentially increase, according to the Congressional Budget Office, in the coming year because of technological upgrades to the nuclear arsenal in the U.S. Could you talk about what we know about forthcoming increases in nuclear spending here?

ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE: Absolutely. So, we’ve been seeing, I mean, from year to year, the spending on nuclear weapons has been increasing. As was mentioned, there was an increase in $1.4 billion on these weapons even in the middle of a global pandemic. And we know that that number is just going to continue to increase because of a recent report by the Congressional Budget Office looking at 10-year nuclear weapons costs, which found that there would be an increase of $140 billion over those 10 years compared to a previous 2019 report. So, you know, despite Biden’s campaign promises of wanting to work for arms control, wanting to work for disarmament, we’re seeing that in reality he’s going full steam ahead with Trump’s legacy nuclear weapons programs and continuing to spend more money on these weapons of mass destruction.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk, Alicia Sanders-Zakre, about the significance — I mean, he’s going to meet with the G7 countries — and what do nuclear weapons have to do with those countries? — and then the NATO summit. And the report you put out ahead of this summit, ICAN is arguing that members of the transatlantic alliance should embrace the U.N. Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which entered into force in January. So, talk about how these two summits are critical to nuclear weapons and somehow turning the escalation of them around.

ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, speaking of the NATO summit, in particular, we saw President Biden wrote, in an opinion piece to The Washington Post recently, that a real focus of this trip was to promote democratic values and to bring the power of democracy to these meetings. And I think that’s very relevant when it comes to nuclear weapons issues in NATO countries and in Europe, because, as this other report shows, that we just released today, in most countries across the NATO there is overwhelming support for the country to join the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, when you ask the people what they think. But despite popular opinion, democratic support for this treaty, for banning nuclear weapons, these governments continue to say that they don’t support the treaty, to refuse to join it. And this is a NATO position that’s really not in line with the democratic — their democratic values and democratic ideals. So, I think this is an opportunity for NATO to really reevaluate their stance as a democracy that listens to what the people want on key issues like nuclear weapons.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: Alicia, could you talk about the extent to which, if at all, the Biden administration has departed from the Trump administration on nuclear weapons policy?

ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE: I think, so far, we really haven’t seen a departure. And this is clear in the recent 2022 budget request, which, as you mentioned in the introduction, keeps and continues to fund Trump’s additional nuclear weapons programs, as well as kind of the programs of record. So we really need to see more action from President Biden.

I think this upcoming meeting with President Putin is an opportunity for both countries to recognize the increasing risk of nuclear weapons, the devastating humanitarian consequences of these weapons, and take real steps and tangible progress towards nuclear disarmament and towards joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.

AMY GOODMAN: Not only the issue of what would happen if a nuclear weapon was used — and, of course, that would be just devastating — but the fact that the money does not go, for example, to dealing with this global pandemic. I wanted to ask you about the report also naming think tanks which receive funding from nuclear weapons manufacturers. The list includes the Atlantic Council, Brookings Institution, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Center for New American Security, Center for Strategic and International Studies, Hudson Institute and the International Institute of Strategic Studies. Can you talk more about the role of think tanks and these nuclear corporations?

ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE: Absolutely. I mean, this is really new, I think shocking, research in that it shows that upwards of 10 — in just one year, the companies that produce and work on nuclear weapons spent upwards of $10 million funding really almost all major think tanks that are writing and researching about nuclear weapons. And, you know, it’s not always possible to know exactly the extent of the influence of this funding, but what’s really concerning is, I think, the depth and how widespread this funding is. It’s not just one think tank; as I said, it’s really most of the think tanks that are doing substantial work on nuclear weapons. And I think it’s a systemic problem in the field that, you know, think tanks should be asking themselves, “How can we actually come together and address the perhaps undue influence of nuclear weapon-producing companies in this field, in this sector?”

AMY GOODMAN: As the Biden administration pours billions into developing new nuclear weapons, nuclear resisters are still going to prison for opposing U.S. nuclear policy. On Wednesday, Mark Colville, a member of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, reported to prison. He was sentenced in April to 21 months in prison, breaking into the Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base April 4th, 2018, on the anniversary of the assassination of Dr. King. Colville and six other activists entered the base armed with hammers, crime scene tape, baby bottles containing their own blood, and an indictment charging the U.S. government with crimes against peace. Two other members of the Kings Bay Plowshares 7, Martha Hennessy and Carmen Trotta, were recently released from prison. Martha Hennessy is the granddaughter of Dorothy Day, one of the founders of the Catholic Worker Movement. Your final comments on the role of activism when it comes to nuclear weapons?

ALICIA SANDERS-ZAKRE: I think it’s absolutely essential. You know, at the end of the day, these are weapons of mass destruction, and they have now been made illegal under the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons due to the collaborative work of activists and diplomats and scientists and researchers and people all around the world. And so, it’s really — we really need activism to change the status quo and to finally get rid of these weapons of mass destruction.

AMY GOODMAN: Alicia Sanders-Zakre, we want to thank you so much for being with us, policy and research coordinator for the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons. And we’ll link to the report, “Complicit: 2020 Global Nuclear Weapons Spending,” as we continue to cover in the coming days the G7, the NATO summit, the summit with President Biden and President Putin.

Next up, as President Biden pledges to buy half a billion vaccine doses to give to almost 100 countries in the world, we’ll look at why many Americans are refusing to get vaccinated. We’ll speak with Dr. Syra Madad of NYC Health and Hospitals, the nation’s largest public healthcare system, and why healthcare workers, a number of them, are saying no. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash. People in parts of the Northern Hemisphere, and particularly in the northeast United States, were able to see a ring of fire in the sky this morning as an annular solar eclipse moved across part of the planet.

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