This story first appeared in Common Dreams on Oct. 12, 2021. It is shared here with permission under a Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0) license.

A short list of contractors that pour large sums of money into campaign contributions, lobbying, and industry-friendly think tanks benefits from the US government’s ongoing, decades-long “nuclear modernization” plan worth up to $2 trillion, according to a report out Tuesday.

The issue brief—entitled Profiteers of Armageddon: Producers of the next generation of nuclear weapons—was authored by William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy, who also outlined his report in Inkstick.

Hartung details how the US departments of Defense (DOD) and Energy (DOE) are ramping up a plan to build the next generation of nuclear-armed bombers, missiles, and submarines as well as warheads, and the beneficiaries are major contractors along with operators of the National Nuclear Security Administration’s (NNSA) nuclear weapons complex.

The brief notes the US nuclear weapons budget has climbed in recent years to over $43 billion in the Biden administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2022, and warns that “this figure will grow dramatically,” pointing to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimate that parts of the Pentagon’s plan “will cost tens of billions each over the next decade, including $145 billion for ballistic missile submarines, $82 billion for the new Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM), and $53 billion for the new nuclear-armed bomber.”

“And the costs will not end there,” the report continues, noting that “the estimated lifetime cost of building and operating the new ICBM is $264 billion.”

While “a handful of prime contractors” are the initial recipients and main beneficiaries of public money spent on bombers, missiles, and submarines, “the funds trickle down to subcontractors” that often include other prominent companies. The report names firms such as Bechtel, General Dynamics, Honeywell, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Raytheon.

Hartung directs attention to the millions of dollars in political activities by key contractors, writing that “while not all of this spending is devoted to lobbying on nuclear weapons programs, these expenditures are indicative of the political clout they can bring to bear on Congress as needed to sustain and expand the budgets for their nuclear weapons-related programs.”

From 2012 to 2020, campaign contributions from contractors mentioned in the brief topped $119 million, more than a quarter of which was in the 2020 cycle alone. They also spent $57.9 million on lobbying last year, employing 380 lobbyists, over two-thirds of whom “passed through the ‘revolving door’ from top positions in Congress, the Pentagon, and the Department of Energy to work for nuclear weapons contractors as executives or board members.”

“And it should be noted that the revolving door swings both ways,” the report adds, noting that “three of the past five secretaries of defense worked as lobbyists or board members of major nuclear weapons contractors before taking up their positions in the Pentagon: James Mattis (General Dynamics); Mark Esper (Raytheon); and Lloyd Austin (Raytheon).”

The brief also pushes back against “routinely exaggerated” claims about job creation that both companies and lawmakers use to promote nuclear weapons programs, and points out that contractors pump millions into supporting think tanks that opine on relevant policy.

Continued lobbying for the modernization plan “ignores the fact that building a new generation of nuclear weapons at this time will make the world a more dangerous place and increase the risk of nuclear war while fueling the new arms race,” Hartung argues. “It’s long past time that we stopped allowing special interest lobbying and corporate profits stand in the way of a more sensible nuclear policy.”

While asserting that “the only way to be truly safe from nuclear weapons is to eliminate them altogether,” in line with a global treaty that states with such weapons continue to oppose, Hartung also highlights that “the organization Global Zero has outlined an alternative nuclear posture that would eliminate ICBMs, reduce the numbers of bombers and ballistic missile submarines, and implement a policy of no first use of nuclear weapons as part of a ‘deterrence-only’ strategy that would reduce the danger of a nuclear conflict.”

Global Zero CEO Derek Johnson welcomed Hartung’s brief in a tweet Tuesday.

Earlier this year, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Rep. Adam Smith (D-Calif.) led the reintroduction of legislation (S.1219/H.R. 2603) to establish that “it is the policy of the United States to not use nuclear weapons first,” but the bill has not advanced in Congress, despite pressure from progressive lawmakers and campaigners.

Peace Action of Wisconsin’s Pamela Richard said in August that while activists encourage the passage of Warren and Smith’s bill as well as a related one (S. 1148/H.R. 669) from Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), “our long-term goal is total nuclear disarmament.”

Jessica Corbett

Jessica Corbett is a staff writer for Common Dreams. Follow her on Twitter: @corbett_jessica.