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RELEASE: Markey, Khanna Introduce the “Investing in Cures Before Missiles (ICBM) Act”

March 26, 2021
Press Release
Legislation stops development of the Pentagon’s new $93-96 billion intercontinental ballistic missile and redirects savings this fiscal year towards development of a universal coronavirus vaccine

Washington, DC – Today, Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on East Asia, and Representative Ro Khanna (CA-17), Member of the House Armed Services Committee, introduced the Investing in Cures Before Missiles (ICBM) Act. The ICBM Act would stop the further development of the Pentagon’s new $93-96 billion ground-based strategic deterrent (GBSD) intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and direct those savings towards development of a universal coronavirus vaccine, as Senator Markey called for in February, and towards the battle against other types of biothreats. 

“The United States should invest in a vaccine of mass prevention before another new land-based weapon of mass destruction,” said Chairman Markey. “The ICBM Act makes clear that we can begin to phase out the Cold War nuclear posture that risks accidental nuclear war while still deterring adversaries and assuring allies, and redirect those savings to the clear and present dangers presented by coronaviruses and other emerging and infectious diseases. The devastation sown by COVID-19 would pale in comparison to that of even a limited nuclear war. The ICBM Act signals that we intend to make the world safe from nuclear weapons and prioritize spending priorities that save lives, rather than end them.”  

“With all of the global challenges we face, the last thing we should be doing is giving billions to defense contractors to build missiles we don’t need to keep as a strong nuclear deterrence,” said Representative Khanna. “Proud to introduce this important legislation with Senator Markey in a bicameral effort to bring back some semblance of rationality into our defense spending and common sense in our nuclear modernization policy. The GBSD program is unneeded and projected to cost $100 billion, there is simply no logical reason to allow the program to move forward. For much cheaper, we can extend the lifespan of the Minuteman III missiles we already have and instead focus on investing in the urgent national security threat in front of us: the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Specifically, the ICBM Act would:

  • Life-extend the current Minuteman III ICBM and redirect $1 billion of the unobligated balances to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to conduct or support research for the development of a universal coronavirus vaccine;
  • Transfer unobligated funds for the National Nuclear Security Administration’s W87-1 warhead modification program to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to research and combat emerging and zoonotic infectious diseases;
  • Prohibit funds authorized for fiscal year 2022 from being obligated or expended for the GBSD program or the W87-1 warhead modification program; and
  • Commission an independent study by the National Academy of Sciences to explore viable technical solutions to extend the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile to 2050, to include force structure changes and the non-destructive testing of missiles.

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) has continually cited affordability concerns related to the estimated $1.7 trillion dollars – which includes the GBSD, associated warhead, and plutonium pit production requirements – that is planned through fiscal year 2046 to upgrade the U.S. nuclear weapons enterprise. The ICBM Act demonstrates that the United States can maintain a safe, secure, effective and affordable nuclear arsenal that deters adversaries and reassures allies without making a multi-generational estimated $260 billion life-cycle investment in the GBSD. An October 2020 public opinion poll showed that only 26 percent of registered voters preferred replacing the Minuteman III intercontinental ballistic missile with GBSD, as compared to 60 percent of registered voters who opposed replacing the Minuteman III missile.

A copy of the legislation can be found here and a one-pager can be found here .

Co-sponsoring the ICBM Act in the Senate are Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). 

Co-Sponsoring the ICBM Act in the House are Representatives Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Steve Cohen (TN-09), Jesus García (IL-04), Raúl M. Grijalva (AZ-03), Jared Huffman (CA-02), Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Barbara Lee (CA-13), James McGovern (MA-02), Eleanor Holmes Norton (DC), Ilhan Omar (MN-05), Mark Pocan (WI-02), and Ayanna Pressley (MA-07).

The legislation is also supported by several peace and security organizations: 

“Whatever you think ails this nation, a new generation of nuclear missiles is not the answer,” said Bill Perry, former Secretary of Defense. “The good news is that the country can save money and become more secure at the same time. Congress can and should redirect this nuclear funding to address more pressing needs like the pandemic. Thank you Sen. Markey and Rep. Khanna for your leadership on this issue.” 

“When more Americans have died from the coronavirus than in combat in World War II, it is time for the United States to rethink its national security priorities,” said Former Congressman John Tierney, Executive Director, Council for a Livable World. “No American will be safer from the real threats they face today by rushing another costly and unnecessary nuclear weapons system into production, when those same tax dollars might save lives if put toward more pressing issues of national health, infrastructure and economic relief. Instead of building more weapons to fight a Cold War strategy, let’s invest in meeting the challenges of today and tomorrow. We thank Senator Markey and Representative Khanna for their consistent leadership on this issue.”

“It is time to put masks and vaccines before new nuclear missiles,” said Tom Collina, Policy Director, Ploughshares Fund. “We shouldn’t spend our limited resources on nuclear weapons that we don’t need and that make us less safe. Instead we must redirect tax dollars to helping families and fighting the pandemic. I congratulate Sen. Markey and Rep. Khanna for their crucial work.”

“Not only does the United States not need ICBMs to keep us protected, their current ‘prompt launch’ posture makes nuclear war more likely due to the risk of mistaken or accidental launch,” said Stephen Young, Acting Co-Director, Global Security Program, Union of Concerned Scientists. “In that light, the United States should not spend $264 billion to build and deploy hundreds of land-based missiles, but devote those resources to higher priorities like ending the pandemic, addressing the climate crisis, and building racial equity. This bill begins that vital process.”

"ICBMs are the least valuable and least stabilizing leg of the U.S. nuclear triad,” said Kingston Reif, Director of Disarmament and Threat Reduction, Arms Control Association. “Spending approximately $100 billion to buy a new ICBM system and billions more on an upgraded ICBM warhead is unnecessary and would divert funds from higher priority national security needs, including pandemic defense and response. There are cheaper options to maintain a credible ICBM force than moving full steam ahead with the GBSD and W87-1 programs and pursuing them would be inconsistent with the Biden administration's desire to seek further negotiated arms control arrangements with Russia. We applaud Senator Markey and Rep. Khanna for their vital leadership on this issue.”

"Physicians for Social Responsibility welcomes this sensible legislation from Senator Markey and Representative Khanna,” said Jeff Carter, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility. “It is clear that pandemic preparedness and public health infrastructure are much better investments than new nuclear weapons we don't need and that don't make us safe.”

“American voters want vaccines instead of unneeded nuclear missiles that can end humanity,” said Paul Kawika Martin, the Senior Director for Policy and Political Affairs with Peace Action. “Once again, Sen. Ed Markey and Rep. Ro Khanna lead the way with pragmatic legislation that will fund pandemic solutions over nuclear silos that cost as much as two Departments of State. With the Treaty to Ban Nuclear Weapons now in force, the U.S. should move towards eliminating these horrific weapons.”

“The United States is at a crossroads with a new president and a new congress,” said Erica Fein, Advocacy Director, Win Without War. “We must ask ourselves if we want to keep investing in the failed status quo violence-first mentality or in things that actually keep people safe. A new land-based nuclear weapon to the tune of $264 billion is everything that is wrong with the status quo. I applaud Sen. Markey and Rep. Khanna for sponsoring the ICBM Act, a bill that will help the U.S. respond to the true drivers of insecurity and reimagine federal budget priorities.”

“The United States nuclear arsenal far exceeds any plausible mission requirements put forth by the Pentagon,” Jessica Sleight, Program Director, Global Zero. “Even in the best of times, $264 billion for new nuclear missiles is money we can’t spare for weapons we don’t need. In the middle of a devastating pandemic, it’s irresponsible. Senator Markey and Representative Khanna understand taxpayer dollars should fund programs that address real threats to Americans, like the pandemic, instead of wasteful nuclear missile programs.”

“ICBMs are dangerous, unnecessary, and enormously expensive,” said William D. Hartung Director, Arms and Security Program Center for International Policy. “There is no strategic need to build a new one – and certainly not at a staggering lifetime cost of $264 billion. At a time when hundreds of thousands of Americans have died from a pandemic whose effects could have been dramatically reduced by adequate investments in public health and medical research, this bill sets the right priorities by shifting funds towards addressing the most urgent threats we face, rather than squandering them on a system that puts us all at risk by making an accidental nuclear war more likely. Sen. Markey and Rep. Khanna are to be commended for introducing this timely and urgently needed legislation.”

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About the Office

Congressman Khanna represents the 17th District of California, which covers communities in Silicon Valley. Visit his website at khanna.house.gov. Follow him on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter @RepRoKhanna.