Montana, including Great Falls’ Malmstrom Air Force Base, for better or worse, currently houses 40 percent of the nation’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles—that’s 200 of the nation’s 500-strong Minuteman III nuclear missile force. And Montana’s congressional delegation aims to keep it that way.

As the Pentagon works through its Quadrennial Defense Review, a thorough assessment of the nation’s war-fighting abilities that plans for the next two decades, the possibility of reducing the current arsenal of 500 nuclear missiles has been broached. And representatives of the ICBM-housing states have been falling all over themselves to block the prospect. In late September, Sens. Max Baucus and Conrad Burns, along with others in the ICBM Coalition of states that harbor missiles, signed on to a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld urging him to maintain current levels. On Oct. 7, Rep. Denny Rehberg introduced a bill into the House of Representatives that would establish as U.S. policy the keeping of 500 Minuteman III missiles. And on Oct. 10, Baucus toured a missile facility near Great Falls to reiterate his commitment to the goal.

The politicians’ arguments appear to be twofold: First, they contend that our bevy of bombs saw us through the Cold War and they’ll protect us from new challengers. We don’t really have the space to get into the debate about nuclear deterrents and proliferation here, but we’re more interested in the main reason that’s being trotted out to the public for keeping our missile stockpiles ready and steady: jobs.

“The ICBMs should stay at Malmstrom—it’s that simple,” Baucus said in a press release. “Keeping the ICBMs at Malmstrom is about keeping good-paying jobs in our state. It’s also about ensuring Montana plays a strong role in our nation’s defense and military future.”

We’re all about good-paying jobs, but it seems there’s a bigger picture here: World security is more important than job security, and if small steps toward nuclear deproliferation are being considered by people like Rumsfeld, that’s probably a good thing.

As Daryl Kimball, executive director of the national Arms Control Association, says: “I find those arguments to be very self-serving and not necessarily good for long-term U.S. security. Should we be keeping nuclear-armed missiles in certain states only to keep bases open? That’s ridiculous. That’s pork of the worst kind.”

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