My Turn: What one year of nuclear weapons spending buys in COVID-19 supplies for New Hampshire

For the Monitor
Published: 4/3/2020 7:00:22 AM
Modified: 4/3/2020 7:00:10 AM

With coronavirus expected to peak in New Hampshire in late April or early May, the state is doing its best to ready itself for shortages in hospital space and ventilators. New Hampshire has a total of 1,000 ventilators and has ordered 45 more. Hotels and universities are offering to bridge the gap in needed hospital space.

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has requested $44.5 billion for nuclear weapons in 2021. That’s an increase of $7.3 billion from 2020 and $9.4 billion more than was spent in 2019.

Lawmakers have defended massive expenditure on nuclear weapons for decades, touting the safety and security they are supposed to bring to the American people. But in the midst of a global pandemic it becomes painfully clear how hollow are promises of security based on threats to use weapons of mass destruction. A virus doesn’t care how many nuclear weapons your country has. Every dime wasted on nuclear weapons could be better spent giving the American people a fighting chance against COVID-19.

This is not just a rhetorical argument. We did the math. Diverting U.S. spending on nuclear weapons for only one year would meet reported gaps in health care supplies and save lives.

Last year, the United States spent $35.1 billion in taxpayer dollars building and maintaining its nuclear warheads and missiles, planes and submarines. What could we have bought instead?

At an average cost of $37,500 a piece, the United States could get 35,000 more ventilators. At $25,000 per intensive care unit bed, the United States buys 300,000 more beds, meeting the reported nationwide gap. Doctors and nurses across the country are over-worked and exhausted. Instead of buying nuclear weapons, we could hire 150,000 nurses at an average salary of $75,000 and 75,000 doctors at an average salary of $200,000.

Thirty-five thousand ventilators plus 300,000 ICU beds plus 150,000 nurses plus 75,000 doctors is what we don’t get due to a single year of spending on the nuclear arsenal. If these new supplies were distributed evenly across states, that translates to 700 additional ventilators, 6,000 more ICU beds, 3,000 additional nurses and 1,500 additional doctors for the state of New Hampshire. Which way do you want your tax dollars spent?

It is always shortsighted to waste billions of dollars on weapons of mass destruction that more than two-thirds of the world’s countries see as a threat to global security. But it is undeniably foolish to throw away money for needed resources to save American lives. COVID-19 is not the first and will not be last pandemic we face. We can’t prevent all global diseases. But what we can do is spend our money wisely to prepare for them.

Doctors around the world see no place for nuclear weapons in this world – neither do most countries. In 2017, 122 countries adopted the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, which bans the use, production and possession of nuclear weapons. The treaty will officially take effect once an additional 14 countries ratify it. Already, nine New Hampshire towns and cities have called on the U.S. government to step back from the brink and work toward worldwide abolition of nuclear weapons, including by joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons – New London, Alstead, Dover, Durham, Lee, Peterborough, Portsmouth, Warner and most recently Barrington – in addition to cities around the country like Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Concord, as New Hampshire’s capital, must join them in calling for an end to nuclear weapons and investment in what really keeps the Granite State safe.

(Alicia Sanders-Zakre is a 2013 graduate of Concord High School and the policy and research coordinator of the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons, winner of the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize.)




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