Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Budget Cuts Have Costs

Since President Trump’s inauguration in January, the public has been waiting anxiously to see what the President will do with this or that. We have speculated, and we have waited for action, or inaction. Well, the chips are starting to fall, and it doesn’t look all that great. In this course we have looked at nuclear weapons and defense policy. Certainly, there are a litany of challenges to nuclear policy in 2017. The public’s increased understanding of nuclear weapons and the continued disdain at the prospect of wiping out entire countries begs the question - why do we have them? Well, the deterrence argument championed during the Cold War still carries a great deal of weight, and until we can come up with a better one, it continues to hold. Other things we have to keep in mind include the fact that weapons technology is so sophisticated now that we can in theory limit the damage to civilian populations in the event that a nuclear weapon is fired. A bigger concern, however, is how do we keep the bad guys from getting weapons technology? Or, in the event that a potential enemy might be developing that technology, how do we monitor that?

The answer is that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), a UN affiliated agency, monitors nuclear materials and facilities all over the world. It currently has staff on the ground in Tehran making sure that Iran complies with its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. The Trump administration’s proposed budget entails enormous cuts to the State Department, which funds US obligations to the IAEA. For a modest $200m per year, the IAEA is vigorously inspecting Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, far beyond anything a US agency could achieve. It monitors hundreds of nuclear facilities all around the world, making sure that nuclear technology is being developed safely and peacefully. Oh, and it also prevents nukes from going to into the wrong hands. On top of that, it develops safety standards that reduce the potential for accidents, protecting American workers and families. On the side, the IAEA develops nuclear technology to improve crops, purify water, and treat illnesses, all of which have a positive effect on poverty reduction in volatile regions around the globe, which in turn helps prevent conflict. Support for such organizations is critical for US defense and prevents nuclear weapons from being used when they shouldn’t. Not showing support for such an organization is also symbolically important, as it suggests a move away from organizations that promote global security. Shying away from leadership in these institutions is a slippery slope. Perhaps the President didn't understand that cutting the State Department's budget would have such unintended consequences. But then again, he is the leader of the free world, so shouldn't he know these things?

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