Blog Post - Nuclear Security Matters

Cutting Too Deep: Nuclear Security Budget Cuts

Aug. 14, 2014

By Nickolas Roth

Matthew Bunn, William Tobey, and I recently published a report titled Cutting Too Deep: The Obama Administration’s Proposals for Nuclear Security Spending Reductions. The report provides a detailed description of the Obama administration’s funding for nuclear security programs during the four year effort to secure vulnerable nuclear material.

It identifies that, for the past four years, the Obama administration has cut funding for programs that prevent terrorists from acquiring nuclear material by increasing security at facilities that store it. This year the Obama administration budget proposes further cuts to nuclear security that would delay important work increasing security at nuclear sites and improving security culture around the world. If the administration’s proposal is approved, the nuclear security budget would be cut by a fifth in fiscal year 2015, nearly a $150 million reduction.

The report argues “nuclear security is both affordable and a smart investment, even in a time of stringent budgets. Throughout the four-year effort, the budgets for nuclear security averaged less than two parts in a thousand of U.S. defense spending, for an effort to address what President Obama and President Bush before him identified as the single greatest threat to U.S. national security. This is an enormous return on a low-cost investment.” Therefore, it makes the following recommendations:

  1. The U.S. government should not allow nuclear security progress to be slowed by lack of funds. Given the immense consequences of a nuclear terrorist attack and the modest costs of nuclear security, the basic U.S. policy should be that no effort that shows promise of being able to make a significant and lasting reduction in the risk of nuclear terrorism should be delayed for lack of money.
  2. As a first step, Congress should restore at least $100 million of the cuts to nuclear security programs proposed in the FY 2015 budget request. Avoiding deferrals and delays in nuclear security programs would require reducing the scope of the proposed cut by at least $100 million, roughly evenly distributed between International Material Protection and Cooperation and the Global Threat Reduction Initiative.
  3. Congress should also approve targeted increases in other nonproliferation programs. Even a cursory examination of the Department of Energy’s (DOE) nonproliferation budget suggests that larger budgets would offer opportunities for faster progress toward key objectives, such as strengthening efforts to control dangerous technology exports and interdict illicit technology transfers around the world or developing enhanced technologies for nuclear verification.
  4. Nuclear security cooperation with Russia should be sustained. This cooperation remains an important investment in U.S. security, despite Russia’s unacceptable actions in Ukraine; it is not a favor to Russia or to the other countries where nuclear security cooperation is underway. Continued cooperation advances U.S. national security by protecting the substantial investment the United States has already made in Russian nuclear security.
  5. Congress should require the President to submit a strategic, prioritized plan for achieving effective and sustainable security for all nuclear weapons and weapons-usable material worldwide as rapidly as practicable–and to submit budget requests sufficient to implement the plan. A strategic plan, prioritized on the basis of the risks to U.S. security and the opportunities for reducing them, is needed to provide a structure, metrics, and organizing deadlines for this new phase of the nuclear security effort. Providing the full funding needed to implement the plan will help fulfill the first recommendation– that nuclear security efforts not be slowed by lack of funds. The administration and Congress should also work together to create a small nuclear security contingency fund at DOE to respond quickly when opportunities present themselves.
  6. The Obama administration should increase funding for nuclear security programs in its FY 2016 budget request. As it prepares its FY 2016 budget request, the Obama administration should provide sufficient funding to ensure that no important nuclear security efforts will be slowed by lack of funds, consistent with our first recommendation. That would require a substantially larger request than the one the Obama administration made for FY 2015. The Obama administration should move with all deliberate speed to put together the prioritized strategic plan for nuclear security as described above, and should request sufficient funding to implement it as rapidly as practicable.

Media Coverage

Several newspapers covered different aspects of our report. An article by the Center for Public Integrity described how the Obama administration made the decision to prioritize nuclear weapons programs over nuclear security programs. In particular, it identified that “the administration in its proposed 2015 budget chose to cut nuclear nonproliferation programs in the Energy Department by $399 million while increasing spending on nuclear weapons by $534 million.”

A recent Boston Globe article described how nuclear security cooperation between the United States and Russia was in jeopardy. There are efforts in both houses of Congress to freeze cooperation and Russia is reevaluating whether it wants to continue to engage in nuclear security cooperation with the United States, which has “long been unpopular among more hard-line military and political figures in Moscow.” In the piece, Matthew Bunn argues “Despite the situation in Ukraine, despite the political winds in both Moscow and Washington, we need to work to sustain nuclear security cooperation with Russia.”

Finally, Matthew Bunn and Will Tobey participated in a Huffington Posts roundtable discussion with former Senator Richard Lugar and the Ploughshares Fund’s Joe Cirincione. The discussion covered a wide range of topics, but included the panel’s thoughts on the Obama administration’s nuclear security budget and nuclear security cooperation between the United States and Russia. 

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Cutting Too Deep: Nuclear Security Budget Cuts.” Nuclear Security Matters, August 14, 2014,