Atomic Audit: Foreword

The U.S. Nuclear Weapons Cost Study Project was completed in August 1998 and resulted in the book Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940 edited by Stephen I. Schwartz. These project pages should be considered historical.

This book assembles for the first time anywhere the actual and estimated costs of the U.S. nuclear weapons program since its inception in 1940. Countless books and articles have examined the role of nuclear weapons as implements of deterrence, instruments of coercion, and, not least, weapons of war, but the details concerning the numbers of weapons, their characteristics, and their deployment remained largely classified information during the Cold War and were seldom assessed. Moreover, all the books, articles and congressional debates concerning what was arguably the principal focus of U.S. national security for the latter half of the twentieth century said little about the not inconsequential costs of basing national security on the deployment of large numbers of nuclear weapons, of embracing the notion that such weapons provided a "bigger bang for a buck."

This book rectifies that omission. The authors, led by Stephen I. Schwartz, provide a unique perspective on nuclear policy and nuclear weapons, tracing their development from the Manhattan Project of World War II to the present day and focusing on each aspect of the program including research, development, and testing; deployment; command and control; and defenses. They also look at the costs of dismantling nuclear weapons, problems of managing large quantities of radioactive and toxic wastes from their production, compensation for persons harmed by their production and testing, nuclear secrecy, and the economic implications of nuclear deterrence.

A central finding of the book is that government officials made little effort to ensure that limited economic resources were used as efficiently as possible so that nuclear deterrence could be achieved at the least cost to taxpayers. While the costs of individual programs were debated from time to time, the near total absence of data documenting either annual or cumulative costs of the overall effort made effective democratic debate and oversight all but impossible, contributing to the justification of many nuclear weapons programs on grounds that often had little to do with clearly defined military requirements or objectives. The authors carefully examine this lack of accountability and its implications for historical and present-day programs and policies. The recommend further areas of study and ways of strengthening fiscal accountability in the government's management of nuclear weapons programs. One essential step in this direction, they argue, would be for the government to compile an annual report documenting all current and projected costs of all nuclear weapons and weapons-related programs.

Earlier drafts of this book were reviewed in whole or in part by Steven Aftergood, Lynn Eden, Richard L. Garwin, Emilia Govan, Peter Gray, Richard N. Haass, Daniel Hirsch, Peter A. Johnson, Seymour Melman, Janne E. Nolan, Henry S. Rowen, Roger A. Schwartz, Herbert F. York, and James D. Werner. The authors thank these reviewers for their thoughtful criticism and suggestions, all of which improved the final product. Any errors or omissions are, of course, the sole responsibility of the authors.

The success of any endeavor as lengthy and complex as the one that resulted in this book is necessarily due to the contributions of many people. The authors wish to thank the following persons for providing critical documents and data and for invaluable advice and assistance: Cheri E. Abdelnour, Ricardo Aguilera, Robert Alvarez, Barbara Arnold, Lori Azim, Tom Bell, Magaly Carter Bernazsky, Chuck Broscious, Lois Chalmers, William E. Davis, Terry Freese, Michelle S. Gerber, Skip Gosling, Chuck Hansen, Roger Heusser, Ronald L. Kathren, Peter Kuran, John C. Lonnquest, Jeffrey Mason, Joseph McDermott, Melba Meador, Jonathan Medalia, Daniel Reicher, Karen Rosenthal, Ted Saunders, Kenneth Schafer, Kathryn Schultz, A. Bryan Siebert, Jim Thomas, Lisa K. Wagner, Jonathan Weisgall, Andrew Weston-Dawkes, and Thomas Wheeler.

The authors are especially grateful to officials at the Department of Defense who agreed to review and declassify substantial portions of the hitherto classified Future Years Defense Program historical database, greatly facilitating the in-depth budgetary analysis found in chapters 2 through 4.

They are indebted to a number of people at Brookings Institution: John Steinbruner and Richard Haass, for agreeing to host the project and for their guidance and advice through the various stages of its development; Melanie Allen, Bridget Butkevich, Maya Dragicevic, Julien Hartley, Christina Larson, and Andrew Solomon for verifying the manuscript; Megan deLong, for helping to edit early drafts of chapters 3, 4 and 8; Sarah Chilton, Mary Fry and the rest of the library staff, for their help in locating critical research materials; and Winnie Alvarado, Dave Barnette, John Grimes, Carol McHale, Anhtuan Phan, and Tibor Purger for essential computer support. Vicky Macintyre edited the manuscript, Larry Converse and Susan Woollen prepared it for publication, Linda Humphrey designed the book, Sally Martin proofread it, and Julia Petrakis provided the index.

Funding for this project was provided by the

W. Alton Jones Foundation

, whose generous support is gratefully acknowledged. Special thanks are owed to George Perkovich, director of the foundation's Secure World Program, whose interest in this project was instrumental in its success.

The views expressed here are those of the authors alone and should not be ascribed to any of the aforementioned individuals or institutions or to the trustees, officers, or other staff members of the Brookings Institution.

Michael Armacost


May, 1998
Washington, D.C.

Copyright © 1998 The Brookings Institution