It’s Good to be the Speaker November 3, 2010Posted by Sean Varner in Democracy, Politics, President Obama.
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John Boehner may not be directing a human chessboard in the Rotunda against the minority leader anytime soon, but he is about to find some substantial influence as the Speaker of the House. He will lead a caucas far more united than the Democratic ones that Speaker Pelosi had to manage for her 4 years with her raucous Blue Dogs on her right flank. He has a historic opportunity to serve as both the chief critic of the Administration as well as an architect in steering through bills that will highlight Republican solutions to the nation’s problems. Now that the dust has settled (mostly), here is my underqualified analysis of yesterday’s election:
It’s good to be John Boehner today. The Republican Party is on track to have its biggest majority since 1947. In virtually every competitive race, GOP candidates pulled off upsets, some expected, some surprising. Three key races indicate the depth of the wave that swept the country last night. In New Hampshire, both House races went to Republicans, providing a respectable toehold in New England, which has been devoid of Republican representatives since 2006. As a sidenote, GOP candidates also did well in the Middle Atlantic states of New York and Pennsylvania.
A second important race saw Rep. John Spratt (D-SC) swept from office after 28 years representing the district. He received a lot of flak for his chairmanship of the Budget Committee, which failed to pass a budget this year. His demise, along with Gene Taylor’s in Mississippi, indicates that long-term incumbency is no longer enough to save these moderate Democrats in heavily Republican districts. The final race, which came as somewhat of a surprise, was Rep. Ike Skelton’s (D-MO) loss to Republican Vicky Hartzler. Skelton has served for 17 terms, was the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and was basically a moderate. However, Hartzler proved an energetic campaigner, while Skelton (aged 77) did not run much of a campaign, relying on his incumbency and name recognition. These races suggest that not only are moderate Blue Dogs and senior leaders not safe, but even liberals who overread their 2006/2008 mandates are vulnerable to challenges.
Now after the hyperanxiety of the campaign, the hard part begins. Winning will prove easier than governing from the majority in the House. To fulfill campaign promises, Republicans will (and should) pass various bills targeting Obamacare, financial regulation, stimulus programs, and other acts of the past two years. Many of these will fall victim to Senate filibusters. Nonetheless, they will be important symbolic statements to show the GOP is serious about its principles. Once that statement is made clear, Republicans will have to contribute positive ideas to promote job growth and economic stabilization. They can and should offer sound conservative bills. But they should also offer some that have a decent shot of Senate passage. Willing to compromise on a couple issues here and there will show the GOP is responsible and capable of not just shooting down Democratic proposals.
So John Boehner has his work cut out for him (sorry for the cliche). The speaker’s platform and House majority will be a useful platform against the Obama Administration’s excesses and policies. Some of the most egregious programs of the past two years will be flooded with amendments, hearings and investigations. But Republicans will also have a great opportunity to demonstrate their ability to lead, to hold true to their principles and rein in government, and to not screw it up like last time.
The Senate will clearly earn its moniker as the “saucer that cools the tea” over the next two years. A lot of bills coming from the House will be slowed down in the Senate, where the narrow Democratic majority will put a brake on bills originating from the House, especially if they were sponsored by Tea Party-backed members. However, bills that are not wildly controversial (like repealing Obamacare or razing the Department of Education) could pass with the support of a couple moderate Democrats like Joe Manchin or Ben Nelson (both up for reelection in 2012). Nonetheless, look for a record low number of bills to emerge from the Senate for the President’s signature.
As a sidenote, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Mark Kirk (R-IL) will be seated very soon since they are replacing appointed senators. This will complicate any Democratic plans to take advantage of a lame duck session of Congress to pass unpopular bills before they lose their House majority and substantial Senate majority. Senator Harry Reid, against all odds, managed to pull off his reelection by a comfortable margin. Now that he has to deal with a Republican House, look for lots of publicity duels between him and Boehner.
The most overlooked story of the election. In addition to selecting new members of Congress, state legislators, and governors, citizens in many states voted on a number of key issues in ballot initiatives. Here are some of the most important:
Health Care - Every state that had a ballot measure on striking down or targeting the individual health care mandate saw it pass by significant margins – Arizona (55-45), Colorado (53-47), and Oklahoma (65-35). These clearly challenge federal law and will end up before the Supreme Court. They demonstrate the continuing resilience of the Obamacare law since its passage in March.
Going to Pot… Not - Marijuana was a big issue in Arizona and California. Despite the liberal/libertarian bent of the region, the cause for expanded marijuana legalization suffered across the board losses. Arizona’s attempt to legalize medical marijuana came the closest, with about 7,000 more “No” votes, although it has not officially been called yet. South Dakota decisively voted down medical marijuana by a 63-37 margin. Over the much more contentious issue of legalizing the drug for general consumption, California voters rejected that idea by a comparatively wide margin of 54-46. The analysis? Traditional voters and those uncomfortable with encouraging the acceptability of marijuana, are not just limited to whites and Republicans. Solid majorities of African-, Latino-, and Asian Americans voted the measure down too.
Redistricting – California, as in many other areas, once again pioneered new ideas. With 61% of the vote, Californians voted to take the power of redistricting away from the state legislature and hand it to a 14-person citizens commission. This commission is to consist of an equal number of Republicans and Democrats, as well as some non-affiliated California voters. The goal is to end gerrymandering that carves so much of California into safe Democratic and Republican seats. The impact (and success of this idea) will not be fully known until the new district lines are drawn. At the very least, Republicans don’t have to feel so bad about losing the governorship to Jerry Brown, since his hand in redistricting has been nullified.
Budget Vote Requirement - California’s budget and fiscal health has been notoriously dysfunctional. With the approval of Proposition 25, the state legislature will require just a simple majority (as opposed to the current 2/3 supermajority) to pass a budget. The one exception is if new tax rises are included. This proposition has the potential to loosen up some of California’s paralysis, but that remains to be seen.
Secret Union Ballot - In Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah, voters approved by wide margins initiatives to preserve the secret ballot for unions. Clearly a preemptive strike should Democrats try to resurrect card check.
Rhode Island is Named What? - Perhaps the strangest yet important ballot initiative of the election was the question of renaming the state of Rhode Island, or rather the ”State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.” Seems some people are offended by the very term “plantation,” for its past association with slavery. Nonetheless, common sense prevailed and political correctness failed with a vote of 78-22 to keep the historic official name of the state.
Tags: Democratic Party, Midterm Elections 2010, Republican Party
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Tuesday’s primaries were surely a preview of things to come in November – unpredictability, anti-incumbency, and polarization. The hammer of populist rancor and antiestablishmentarianism fell equally on Republicans and Democrats, and Republicans-turned-Democrats. Both as a result of the primaries and the special election that took place in Pennsylvania, it appears that the tsunami of 2010 may be a more modest tidal wave than was previously anticipated.
First, a brief look at the races starting with the Keystone state. In the Pennsylvania Democratic primary, Joe Sestak, a relatively unknown 2-term U.S. congressman, unseated incumbent Republican-turned-Democrat Arlen Specter. Specter was known for his moderate views and independence from party over his 30-year career, which often mirrored the positions of PA voters. According to CQ, Specter and Sestak both voted with President Obama and the Democratic leadership over 95% of the time in 2009. So what accounts for the primary voters’ abandonment of Specter, who was endorsed by the governor and the President? Part of it was this anti-incumbent phenomenon, but part of it must also be attributed to the fact that there wasn’t much difference between the two candidates, and the energetic and younger Sestak tirelessly pointed back to Specter’s three decades as a Republican. It will be interesting to see whether Sestak can continue his anti-establishment campaign while he holds a congressional seat in the face of Pat Toomey’s challenge.
The special election in PA’s 12th congressional district, to replace the late John Murtha, was equally significant. In a district where largely conservative voters hold a Democratic registration advantage of 2 to 1 over Republicans, Democrat Mark Critz won by a small margin. He did this by running to the right, saying he would have voted against the health care bill, cap and trade, and other unpopular bills. It did, however, provide a blueprint for those Blue Dog Democrats fighting to hold onto their seats – come out strongly against the administration’s agenda and focus on local issues so as not to nationalize the race. Whether this will be successful remains to be seen, but it may thwart Republican prospects of capturing the 40 seats needed to retake control of the House of Representatives.
The Kentucky race was probably the most fascinating of the evening. Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, backed by moderate Republicans and the GOP establishment, was crushed by over twenty points by his Tea Party rival, Rand Paul (son of long-shot presidential contender Ron Paul). A self-described libertarian, Paul ran a relentless anti-establishment campaign (he has never held public office) against the pragmatic conservative Grayson. In this action Kentucky primary voters effectively devoured one of their own to nominate someone with pure ideological credentials – someone who probably belongs in the Libertarian Party more than the Republican Party. The fact that Paul had to spend the first day of the general election campaign defending his position on the Civil Rights Act with theoretical arguments spells trouble for his prospects in November, as Michael Gerson of the Washington Post makes clear here. I will go out on a limb and opine that the KY primary has effectively killed the GOP’s slim chances of winning 10 seats and retaking the Senate in November.
In Arkansas, the primary was much less conclusive. Three-term incumbent Senator Blanche Lincoln narrowly edged her liberal opponent, but she was still below 50%, which forces the contest into a runoff in early June. Her opponent, Lt. Gov. Bill Halter, criticized her not only for her moderate views but also on an anti-establishment, anti-incumbent platform. Lincoln, who was already considered one of the Senate’s most vulnerable Democrats in November, may pull it out in June but is unlikely to repeat the miracle in November.
So what is the lesson from the elections on Tuesday (and the Utah GOP convention last month)? It seems to be that moderates and incumbents, regardless of party, will be persecuted in November. If a candidate did not always support or always oppose the President, voters will be more inclined to send them packing, branding them as too establishment to represent their constituents. This spells trouble not so much for the parties as for the nation as a whole.
Pure ideologues have their role to play in our political system, but it has never been the dominant role. Partisan voting has its advantages on certain issues, but not the critically important ones such as national security (conflicts, treaties) or domestic policy (health care, energy policy). While some of this is the fault of liberal over-reach in Congress and the White House, the remedy is not to elect hyper-partisan (or libertarian) politicians. If the Democrats wish to lend permanency to their legislative accomplishments, they will have to retain the moderate forces within their party to hold valuable seats in the South and West. If the Republicans wish to roll-back some of the more egregious excesses of the Obama Administration, they will have to retain their own moderates to hold or win valuable seats in the Northeast, Southwest, and Midwest. Antiestablishmentarianism is attractive when voters are seeking to “throw the bums out,” but the parties and candidates are playing with fire – to be effective, they not only have to be capable of running against Washington but also of mastering it in order to govern. Otherwise they will quickly become the “bums” they so recently evicted.
One-Sided Arms Control April 26, 2010Posted by Sean Varner in Nuclear Proliferation, President Obama, Russia, U.S. Foreign Relations, Uncategorized.
Tags: Europe, global zero, nuclear reductions, Nuclear Weapons, START Treaty, Trident
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[This article was first published by the Center for Vision and Values here: http://www.visandvals.org/One_Sided_Arms_Control.php]
President Obama signed the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in Prague on April 8—and did so to global accolades. It was the culmination of years of negotiations and a major triumph to finally achieve agreement with Moscow. Unfortunately, President Obama’s signature was attached to a naïve arms control treaty that threatens the strength of the U.S. nuclear umbrella that defends over 30 friends and allies. It compromises American interests while benefiting the Russians and weakening international security and stability.
On the surface, START looks like a reasonable albeit constrictive treaty. The 800 delivery-vehicle limit on bombers and missiles is about 100 below what is currently deployed. The 1,550 nuclear-warhead limit can easily be achieved by retiring some aging B-52s and changing the way they are counted. The treaty provides for telemetry exchanges (information from missile test launches), which promotes mutual trust. It also contains no overt constraints on missile defense or the ability to deploy non-nuclear systems with global reach.
A quick glance at the treaty’s effects is more troubling. The 800 delivery-vehicle limit will cut valuable systems used to defend the United States and reassure its allies. Conversely, Russia only has to continue already planned decommissioning of obsolete missiles and submarines. The U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) force will probably have to be reduced from 450 to 400 deployed missiles. The most survivable nuclear platforms, stealthy ballistic-missile submarines, will shrink by two submarines to remove four dozen missiles from accountability.
The bomber fleet will be limited to 18 stealth B-2s and dozens of 50-year-old B-52s. The remainder will be converted to conventional-only capabilities or simply eliminated. The future triad of missiles, submarines, and bombers will therefore be smaller, less flexible, and less capable of reassuring America’s friends and allies in threatening environments.
These cuts may seem minimal, but when the missile reductions are combined with the cancellation of NASA’s Constellation program, they could severely weaken the already decimated industrial base. The solid-rocket-motor industry is particularly vulnerable to collapse. An inability to sustain and replace valuable systems like ballistic missiles will have long-term negative consequences for our scientific and deterrent capability.
While the new warhead limit is 30 percent below the Moscow Treaty of 2002 limit, complicated counting rules give the Russians a whopping advantage. Each Russian bomber can carry eight warheads on cruise missiles, with the potential for more in the bomb bay. Under the New START, those 76 bombers count as only 76 warheads. Therefore, Moscow could deploy 500 or more warheads above the 1,550 limit, which would put it equal or above the Moscow Treaty limits. The United States, with its strict adherence to treaty law, will not imitate such devious accounting to ignore the 1,550 limit. Can we say the same for the Russian Federation?
The Bush administration began talks on a successor to START in its final years. The Obama administration publicly designated negotiations as the centerpiece of its “reset” with Russia and rushed negotiations in such a manner that the Russians knew exactly who wanted the treaty more. As former Bush administration official Stephen Rademaker has argued, you do not go to a car dealer and say “I absolutely positively have to have that car and I need it today, how much is it?” However, that is exactly what the president has done. In an effort to meet arbitrary deadlines, the American negotiators made multiple unnecessary concessions, most notably abandoning the missile-defense sites in Poland and the Czech Republic. Now Russia is objecting to any future missile-defense deployments, saying they would be cause to withdraw from the New START.
This treaty is different from past nuclear reductions in one important aspect: It is meant as a “down-payment” on President Obama’s pledge for moving toward a “world without nuclear weapons,” rather than to primarily improve U.S. national security. President Obama needs START to (among other things) justify his Nobel Peace Prize. He will push senators to provide their advice and consent for ratification of a bad treaty. Although many senators will want to avoid the pro-nuclear weapon label, the existence of these weapons has guaranteed American security for over 60 years.
The New START has turned out to be a golden missed opportunity. Instead of negotiating a treaty with modest reductions and extensive verification provisions, the administration opted for a bold approach. Proponents argue that the United States no longer needs the nuclear force structure it has from the Cold War. They assert that America’s conventional superiority can increasingly fulfill the mission of nuclear weapons. Conventional weapons, however, do not have the same deterrent effect provided by nuclear forces. As Margaret Thatcher observed, “There are monuments to the futility of conventional deterrence in every village in Europe.” Until the international security environment is severely improved, drastic reductions in U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons will not make the world more secure. Address the root causes of conflict between states, and wider nuclear reductions will be more successful and constructive.
Did Someone Say Tactical Nukes? March 2, 2010Posted by Sean Varner in Asia, China, Japan, Nuclear Proliferation, President Obama, Russia, U.S. Foreign Relations.
Tags: deterrence, Europe, Nuclear Posture Review, Nuclear Weapons, START Treaty
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The confluence of the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) negotiations has brought U.S. tactical nuclear weapons to the fore again. Two recent stories drew my attention: this one from the New York Times describing the White House influence on the NPR, which includes unnamed officials revealing back-channel negotiations with European allies debating whether or not to withdraw the approximately 200 B-61 air-deliverable “gravity bombs” stored in six countries; and this story which indicates that the U.S. may decide to retire the Nuclear Tomahawk Land-Attack Cruise Missile (TLAM-N), which the Japanese have considered a vital U.S. weapon for ensuring their security against both China and North Korea.
These developments are troubling to say the least, and strategically foolish to take at this time (even if one believes they need to be taken eventually). First, the proposal to withdraw our tactical nuclear weapons from our NATO allies is not a wise move because the U.S. would essentially get nothing for it. According to this Guardian story, officials in “Benelux,” Norway, and Germany are planning to call for the removal of U.S. tactical nukes from Europe (no advocacy for withdrawing them from the Italians or Turks…yet). Though most recognize that these nukes, only deliverable via fighter-bombers (think F-16s, the new F-35, etc.), are of limited military utility, their political importance has been their status as a cornerstone of the Trans-Atlantic Alliance for over fifty years. To remove them would mean that the U.S. would be perceived as having even less reason to retaliate against an ally struck by a biological attack or ballistic missiles. The diminished footprint in Western Europe is sure to reflect the lessened importance the Obama administration attaches to such important allies as the UK (see here).
That being said, if the Europeans don’t want them (and more importantly, their political and military officials), the U.S. cannot force them down their throat. A more comprehensive strategy to “de-nuclearize” Europe would be more effective in satisfying Europeans while upholding the Trans-Atlantic alliance. Separate from the START accord, the U.S. could propose to Russia a treaty to reduce, limit, or open for inspection arsenals of tactical nuclear weapons, in exchange for the U.S. withdrawing some or all of its nukes from Europe. This has long been a Russian talking point, and the fig leaf it has hid behind for its maintenance of 3-4,000 tac-nukes. If the U.S. (in consultation with European allies) offers to return these to domestic bases, the onus for weapons reductions and increased transparency will be on Moscow. However, it is doubtful whether the Turks would agree to evicting U.S. nukes or if the other Central and Eastern European allies in NATO would consent to removing most or all U.S. tactical nukes from the continent.
Therefore current proposals to unilaterally withdraw all U.S. tactical nuclear weapons from Europe are naive. The U.S. would get nothing for a significant concession. Better to maintain them as additional leverage when the time comes to try to negotiate a reduction in Moscow’s 10-1 advantage in these weapons.
Turning to the Pacific theater, the issue of TLAM-N retirement is more subtle and bilateral. These nuclear cruise missiles, designed for deployment on attack submarines, have been mostly kept in storage since the end of the Cold War (although secret deployments are highly likely). Nonetheless, their mere presence and the latent capability the U.S. possesses with them have reassured Japan as it faces mounting threats to its security from Beijing and Pyongyang. In fact, Tokyo communicated to the Strategic Posture (Perry-Schlesinger) Commission that the “credibility of the U.S. extended deterrent depends on its specific capabilities to hold a wide variety of targets at risk, and to deploy forces in a way that is either visible or stealthy, as circumstances may demand.”
The Commission went on to find that “In Asia, extended deterrence relies heavily on the deployment of nuclear cruise missiles on some Los Angeles class attack submarines. This [TLAM-N] capability will be retired in 2013 unless steps are taken to maintain it. U.S. allies in Asia are not integrated in the same way into nuclear planning and have not been asked to make commitments to delivery systems. In our work as a Commission it has become clear that some U.S. allies in Asia would be very concerned by TLAM-N retirement.” Therefore any decisions to retire this unique capability should not be made absent consultation with Japan and an assessment of alternative ways to reassure Japan that the U.S. extended deterrent will guarantee its security. It is unlikely that the NPR will do this. If the U.S. does not want to raise Tokyo’s insecurity to the point it develops its own deterrent (see an earlier post), it must take its commitments to extended deterrence seriously.
Tactical nuclear weapons have returned to the forefront of the nuclear posture debate. This time it concerns their very existence in U.S. arsenals – the TLAM-Ns will be retired and the B-61s will lose their purpose (not much reason to maintain tactical gravity bombs for fighter aircraft in the continental U.S.). Nuclear disarmament and Global Zero advocates have loudly claimed that they are not in favor of the U.S. unilaterally disarming. If they want that claim to be believable, they should communicate to President Obama that unilateral reductions in tactical nuclear weapons is unwise, if for no other reason than to maintain levers for future disarmament. Others, including defense hawks, can just oppose such policies on the demerits of their naivete.
December, 2009 (Oh START to Die?!) December 4, 2009Posted by Sean Varner in President Obama, Russia, U.S. Foreign Relations.
Tags: nuclear reductions, Nuclear Weapons, START Treaty
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The Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) is set to expire this Saturday, December 5th (technically the 4th at 7pm EST). It was signed in 1991 shortly before the dissolution of the Soviet Union, ratified a year later, and entered into force on December 5, 1994. Over the past 15 years it has brought the size of the U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals to less than 6,000 strategic nuclear warheads on 1,600 strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (missiles and bombers). It also provided complex and intrusive verification procedures that allowed both sides to monitor the deployments and reductions of the other.
The Obama administration, however, has been unable to conclude a follow-on treaty to replace START (see this article). This may actually be good for U.S. national security. There has been rampant speculation over the past several months, especially after the Nobel award, that the U.S. would agree to essentially all Russian terms (low strategic delivery vehicle numbers, lax verification, and restrictive counting rules) in order to conclude an agreement by the 5th. With the expiration of START (and the possibility that the verification provisions will be observed until a new treaty is concluded), that deadline is removed (and despite the worries of the arms control community, life as we know it will continue to exist). The U.S. negotiating team can now operate from a stronger position and, if necessary, walk away if the Russians do not agree to their positions. Because the truth of the matter is that the Russians need this agreement more than the U.S. does. Their strategic forces are shrinking, and without a new arms control treaty they risk falling behind the U.S.
So what will the world look like in a few hours when START no longer limits U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals? Probably not a whole lot different than today. Neither country wants to (or can) spend the resources to build up their forces once the treaty-limits are gone. Also, the Moscow Treaty of 2002 remains in effect, which limits the number of operationally-deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 2,200. Though verification provisions will lapse (because they were provided by START), an executive agreement to maintain them until a new treaty is signed will be acceptable. In the end the quiet death of START should be an eye-opener for the administration. Without the need to work against a looming deadline, they should be able to focus on getting a START that enhances U.S. national security and doesn’t cede to Russia every major issue they have pushed for the last four decades.
Why START Stopped Sounding Sweet November 9, 2009Posted by Sean Varner in President Obama, Russia, U.S. Foreign Relations.
Tags: arms control, Missile Defense, nuclear reductions, Nuclear Weapons, START Treaty
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On July 6, I argued in this post that the Obama administration may have finally abandoned hope for realism in its preliminary agreement with Russia on the follow-on to the expiring Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). Over the past 4 months, however, the “Obama Realism” has faded into either hope or, more dangerously, realism conducted with the objective of constraining American power to cement good relations with Russia. In the process the next START is appearing to resemble the worst elements of the Kellog-Briand Pact (the idealistic hope to “outlaw” war as an instrument of national policy) and the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which constrained developments in an area where the U.S. could exploit a clear technological edge.
It is bad enough that the administration has sought to ameliorate Russia through numerous concessions and policy changes (from abandoning the missile defense site in Poland and the Czech Republic, to distancing itself from post-Russian invasion rump Georgia, to Obama not even appearing in Berlin to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall today) in the distant and ambiguous hope that Moscow will “get tough” with Iran. The administration is also constraining real American capabilities in exchange for nonexistent or declining Russian capabilities during the arms control negotiations. The most poignant examples of this include the overall limits on strategic delivery vehicles (ballistic missiles and strategic bombers) and limits on non-nuclear, conventional systems.
According to an article from the Global Security Newswire, National Security Advisor Jim Jones may have proposed a “compromise” limit on strategic delivery vehicles at 700 (the preliminary July agreement set the range at 500-1,100). It also reported that the Obama administration has likely conceded ANOTHER point to Russia – that conventional strategic systems will be counted in the overall limit. Since Russia is likely to have fewer than 350 nuclear strategic systems by 2020 (and likely no conventional ones), the proposal to set the limit at 700 is a huge concession to Moscow. The U.S. deploys somewhere around 815 strategic delivery vehicles, which doesn’t count the conventional B-1 bombers, empty missile silos, and submarines in port (all of which are counted under the expiring START). A limit of around 700 would require the U.S. to retire most of its B-52s and either 50-100 Minuteman-III ICBMs or 2-3 Trident II SSBNs (ballistic missile subs). And for what? So Russia will continue to retire its aging systems anyway? How does sacrificing real capabilities in exchange for nothing further the U.S. national interest?
The Obama administration had an excellent opportunity to craft a pragmatic and advantageous arms control pact with Russia. They held all the cards – missile defenses, large numbers of missiles and bombers, advanced conventional prompt global strike capabilities, etc. If they had used such leverage effectively, they could have convinced Russia to agree to a new START that would lower warheads moderately (1,600 ceiling) and strategic systems somewhat (900 limit), that would ease verification measures (to make them more cost-efficient and flexible), and that would have furthered U.S. national security. Instead they conceded one point after another. Russian tactical nuclear weapons were off the table before the negotiators arrived at it. Missile defense in Europe was “adjusted.” Conventional capabilities may be counted. The strategic delivery vehicle limit will be set very low. The next concession to watch for – the U.S. may withdraw the remainder of its ~200 tactical nuclear weapons from Europe.
This does not communicate American strength. As Stephen Rademaker has stated, you don’t go to a car dealer and say you’re really interested in the car and absolutely need it right away and by-the-way how much does it cost? You’re guaranteed to get burned. And Russia puts used-car dealers to shame. Russian negotiators have searched their arms control histories and have resurrected virtually every major concession they made during the Cold War. They understand that Obama wants this treaty a lot more than they do, and they’re prepared to sell the rust-proofing and limited warranties and anything else they can get the buyer to purchase. Only when this treaty is finished will we understand how badly we have been burned. At that point, START will be tasting awfully bitter.
The CTBT Revisited: Has Anything Really Changed? September 22, 2009Posted by Sean Varner in China, Iran, Israel, Nuclear Proliferation, President Obama, Russia, Science, U.S. Foreign Relations.
Tags: CTBT, NPT, Nuclear Deterrent, nuclear test, Nuclear Weapons
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[This article was picked up by the Center for Vision and Values and is available here: http://www.visandvals.org/New_Life_for_the_CTBT.php]
The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), an agreement which would ban all nuclear tests, may soon be revived from its purgatory in the Senate. It was signed by President Clinton in 1996 and rejected by the Senate in October 1999. The arguments that denied ratification by a 19 vote margin still ring true today. In his Prague speech, however, President Obama called for prompt U.S. ratification of the treaty. He is expected to do the same at the UN later this month.
In rejecting the CTBT, Senate opponents listed several concerns that motivated their decision. They believed the CTBT was unverifiable and that others nations could easily cheat; the ability to enforce the treaty was dubious; the U.S. nuclear stockpile would not be as safe or reliable in the absence of testing; and the benefit to nuclear nonproliferation was minimal.[i]
Ten years later, many of these concerns are still relevant. The issue of verification has been improved but not settled. The CTBT Organization has set up a network of 228 monitoring stations around the world, but significant gaps still exist.[ii] There are no stations in India or North Korea, and only one in Pakistan and Turkey. Sixty-one stations detected North Korea’s nuclear test in May 2009, but none detected radioactive gases to corroborate the seismic data.[iii] If North Korea was able to conceal such radiation, there is no reason to believe China or Russia could not as well.
As the continuing crises with North Korea and Iran illustrate, enforcing treaty obligations or punishing rule-breakers is not always effective. It is often, in fact, completely ineffective due to a lack of international cooperation. If a nuclear test were detected in Pakistan, India,[iv] or China, what would happen next? If the record with Pyongyang or Tehran is any indicator, the violating state would take some rhetorical heat and little more than a toothless UN Security Council resolution (if that). The CTBT will not immediately change other states’ policies.
The last decade has not been kind to the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal. Though the Stockpile Stewardship Program has successfully replaced older components, confidence in reliability has declined as the warheads age.[v] Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has stated that a credible U.S. deterrent cannot be maintained without testing or modernizing U.S. nuclear weapons.[vi] If modernization is not pursued, many experts believe testing will be needed to guarantee the weapons’ reliability.
Most significantly, the treaty’s perceived benefits toward enhancing nuclear nonproliferation are still debatable. Pro-CTBT voices have made several valid claims to consider.[vii] They argue that without the CTBT the nuclear arms race will continue, especially in Asia, with more states hedging their capabilities to be able to assemble a nuclear weapon quickly.[viii] Treaty advocates are quick to point out that the U.S. has already received a benefit for pursuing ratification – the indefinite extension of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1995. The NPT, which divides the world into five nuclear weapon states (NWS) and the rest as non-NWS, is up for review in May 2010. The non-NWS are likely going to insist on CTBT ratification in exchange for nonproliferation cooperation.[ix]
These arguments still do not explain how the CTBT will be good for nonproliferation. For one, the existence of a nuclear arms race (outside India and Pakistan) is suspect, given the fact that the U.S. and Russia are reducing their nuclear stockpiles. Nuclear hedging is a problem to be tackled by IAEA monitoring; not by attempting to ban nuclear tests (the NPT already does this for non-NWS). Though the non-nuclears may insist on entry into force of the CTBT, there is little reason to believe they will take tougher actions on Pyongyang and Tehran once the U.S. ratifies it. If unilaterally and bilaterally reducing nuclear arsenals and not testing for 17 years have done nothing to convince non-NWS of U.S. leadership, why will the CTBT?
The CTBT is simply not in the U.S. national interest. The U.S. would not be guaranteed a seat on the Executive Council, which geographically would be unfriendly to Washington.[x] Since it requires North Korean, Pakistani, and Egyptian ratification (to name a few), the U.S. would be binding itself to a treaty unlikely to ever enter into force. Though there would be a growing ability to detect nuclear tests, there would be no effective way to enforce the treaty. The U.S. stockpile would continue to atrophy as explosive testing for reliability would be prohibited, which could spur proliferation. The CTBT needs to be rewritten to mitigate these drawbacks, not “immediately and aggressively”[xi] brought before the U.S. Senate.
[i] Kathleen Bailey and Robert Barker, “Why the United States Should Unsign the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and Resume Nuclear Testing,” Comparative Strategy 22 (2003): 131.
[ii] Kathy Sawyer, “Experts say new sensing tools could help ease concerns on Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty,” AAAS News Release, 10 August 2009.
[iv] “No CTBT, India needs more nuclear tests; Pokhran II coordinator,” Hindustan Times, 27 August 2009.
[v] William Perry and Jim Schlesinger, America’s Strategic Posture, May 2009.
[vi] “Inside Obama Administration, a Tug of War over Nuclear Warheads,” Global Security Newswire, 18 August 2009.
[vii] Raymond Jeanloz, “Comprehensive Nuclear-Test Ban Treaty and U.S. Security,” in Reykjavik Revisited, 2008.
[viii] For a discussion on nuclear hedging, see Ariel Levite, “Never Say Never Again: Nuclear Reversal Revisited,” International Security 27, no. 3 (Winter 2002/03), 59-88.
[ix] William Perry and Brent Scowcroft, commissioners, “U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy,” Council on Foreign Relations, 55.
[x] “The Comprehensive Nuclear Test-Ban Treaty,” available at http://www.fas.org/nuke/control/ctbt/text/ctbt1.htm
[xi] See text of President Obama’s “Prague Speech.”
U.S. Walks Away from the Missile Defense Third Site (and European Allies) September 17, 2009Posted by Sean Varner in Iran, North Korea, Nuclear Proliferation, President Obama, Russia, U.S. Foreign Relations.
Tags: Europe, Iranian nuclear program, Missile Defense, proliferation, Russia, START Treaty
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In an excellent WSJ article, Peter Spiegel details the reasons behind the Obama administration’s shelving of the missile defense third site in Central Europe. Though they are claiming that it was based on a technical assessment and that Iran’s long-range ballistic missile program is proceeding slowly, it should be apparent to the casual observer that this has been Obama’s plan since January 20th. In a move to appease Russian objections to installing U.S. military assets in their “sphere of influence,” the U.S. has walked away from defense commitments made to Poland, the Czech Republic, and other nations within range of Iranian missiles. This decision is misguided and dangerous for several reasons.
First, the procurement issue. Even if you accept the delay in Iranian ICBM capabilities until mid-2010s, due to the slow acquisition process (and slower deployment timetable), that is about the time the Third Site would become operational. By shelving the plans, the U.S. will be putting itself in the position where it finds the Iranian missile program progressing faster than its missile defense deployment. In the time period between Iranian long-range missile capability and U.S. BMD deployment, Iran may be able to coerce the U.S. or Europe by threatening unprotected European cities. Their stopgap measure of rotating terminal-phase missile defenses (those that intercept the missile in its last minutes of descending flight) through Europe will leave plenty cities vulnerable and will take just as long to deploy (and probably cost more).
Second, the timeline issue. The 2007 national intelligence estimate, which had a lot of political influences, delayed the timeline of Iran’s nuclear program. However, it failed to account for technical surprise, and it is likely the missile estimate failed to do so as well. In 1998 virtually every intelligence agency in the world was surprised when North Korea launched a three-stage ICBM. In 2003 the unraveling of (some of) the A.Q. Khan network revealed how private individuals could essentially proliferate nuclear weapon technology to any country with cash. The point is that a significant surprise – such as North Korean or private-network assistance, could propel Iran to an ICBM capability far sooner than the intelligence currently suggests. The third site would have provided valuable insurance against this possible eventuality.
Third, the allies’ defense. True, the administration is pledging to deploy some missile defenses, like terminal-intercepts, but this is a far cry from the planned midcourse-intercept system that could have provided coverage of virtually all of Europe. Terminal systems have a small “footprint” that can only cover smaller areas, like a city. In a must read letter to the Obama administration, current and former leaders of Central and Eastern Europe basically ask not to be forgotten or sacrificed. They state “all is not well in our region or in the transatlantic relationship…storm clouds are starting to gather on the foreign policy horizon… [Russia] at a regional level and vis-a-vis our nations, increasingly acts as a revisionist [power].” They worry that Russia’s intimidation and influence-peddling will lead to a neutralization of their region.
Regarding the missile defense site, they pointedly write that “regardless of teh military merits of this scheme and what Washington eventually decides to do, the issue has become a symbol of America’s credibility and commitment to the region… The small number of missiles involved cannot be a threat to Russia’s strategic capabilities, and the Kremlin knows this. We should decide the future of the program as allies and based on the strategic pluses and minuses of the different technical and political configurations.” They conclude on this subject that “abandoning the program entirely or involving Russia too deeply in it without consulting Poland or the Czech Republic can undermine the credibility of the U.S. across the whole region.” Central and Eastern Europe would know about Russia’s operations. They lived under their iron boot for generations.
Finally, the Russian problem. The Russians have protested loudly to the planned third site since it was first announced, despite the fact it is only 10 defensive interceptors that would be incapable of countering one SS-18 or even catching up with its missiles if they headed out over the polar routes. Once again, our allies understand the situation: “When it comes to Russia, our experience has been that a more determined and principled policy toward Moscow will not only strengthen the West’s security but will ultimately lead Moscow to follow a more cooperative policy as well.” This would require firmness in negotiations with Putin and Medvedev.
The third site was likely the price the Obama administration figured it could pay to get Russian assistance on sanctions against Iran and in order to conclude the START follow-on. If anyone is convinced the Russians can exert the leverage to make the Iranians comply with their obligations (forget the UN Security Council, China will still block that), they have not been paying attention. Short of a crippling cut-off of all gasoline imports or nuclear reactor fuel from Russia, Iran is unlikely to even consider talks about its nuclear program. As I stated in a previous post, linking the new START to removal of the missile defense site from Europe would be unacceptable. Linking offensive and defensive weapons is walking right back into the Cold War paradigm the Clinton and Bush administrations did so much to end.
This is perhaps the administration’s worst foreign policy action to date. It delays deployment of a real capability that could not only defend European allies but also the eastern United States from Iranian missiles. It cannot be viewed as anything other than backing away from commitments made to Central and Eastern European allies and ignoring their legitimate concerns. The Senate should reject ratification of the START follow-on treaty and mandate the deployment of the planned missile defenses as the price for their support. Given this decision and the administration’s likely objection to warhead modernization, it will be hard to get 67 votes to ratify START.
A Nuclear Japan: When the Impossible becomes Plausible August 6, 2009Posted by Sean Varner in Asia, China, History, Japan, North Korea, Nuclear Proliferation, President Obama, Russia, U.S. Foreign Relations.
Tags: arms control, Hiroshima, Nagasaki, NPT, Nuclear Deterrent, Nuclear Weapons
[This article was picked up by the Center for Vision and Values and is available here: http://www.visandvals.org/A_Nuclear_Japan.php]
Sixty-four years ago this week, on August 6th and 9th, the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were devastated by the first and only use of nuclear weapons in war. The death toll totaled approximately 200,000 or more. The shock of the unprecedented destructiveness of the weapon, combined with the Soviet declaration of war, compelled Tokyo to announce its surrender several days later. Emperor Hirohito, in his radio address to the nation, stated “the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb.”
The turbulent and traumatizing experience of that week has led analysts to conclude for over six decades that Japan would never “go nuclear” and develop its own bomb. Indeed, this has been reinforced by Japanese actions. Japan is a leading advocate of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that allows only five nations (U.S., U.K., Russia, France, and China) to possess nuclear weapons and every year introduces a resolution in the United Nations calling for global nuclear disarmament.
There is, however, another side to Japan’s position. As North Korea grows increasingly provocative and China continues to build up its nuclear forces, Japan has found itself confronted with a more threatening security environment. Moreover, drastic reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, brought about by arms control treaties with Russia, have heightened Tokyo’s concern about the reliability of the U.S. nuclear umbrella. As one Japanese official has commented, “we could afford to sleep during the Cold War; we cannot afford to sleep now.” The previous taboo on even discussing a Japanese nuclear deterrent has already been broken with prominent Japanese lawmakers and politicians debating it in response to North Korean and Chinese actions.
Tokyo justifiably feels threatened by Pyongyang and Beijing yet is almost completely dependent on Washington for deterrence. Japanese officials stated to the Strategic Posture Commission that the credibility of the U.S. nuclear umbrella was dependent on its “specific capabilities to hold a wide variety of targets at risk.” It was greatly concerned when President Bush cut nuclear warheads to 2,200. If President Obama cuts warheads without consulting Tokyo to below 1,700, as the preliminary START agreement outlines, Japanese officials may perceive the U.S. extended deterrent to be insincere and unreliable.
If Japan were to make the decision to go nuclear, the consequences would be far-reaching. First, the NPT would collapse. Japan has served as the epitome of nonproliferation and, as the only victim of nuclear attack, carried a moral authority in its calls for nuclear disarmament. Without that voice, the NPT becomes a meritless system of haves and have-nots. Second, a nuclear arms race would seem almost inevitable. Not only would China and North Korea respond by ramping up their capabilities, but this would likely cause South Korea and Taiwan to go nuclear as well. The spillover effects would likely ratchet up the nuclear arms race between India and Pakistan too.
Of course, despite these potential causes of proliferation, Japan seems to have every reason to remain non-nuclear. As Takashi Yokota of Newsweek has argued, less than a fifth of Japanese support building the bomb, the island nation lacks the physical space to test a nuclear weapon, and it is dependent on nuclear fuel (supplied by the U.S., Australia, and Canada) for about a third of its electricity supply. Not only is it therefore impractical, but the resulting arms race and cutoff of its fuel sources would likely leave Japan much less secure than it is now.
Could Japan really go nuclear? An affirmative answer seems possible in only one situation: the U.S. neglects its responsibilities. By not addressing Tokyo’s security concerns and consulting it prior to the START arms reductions, the U.S. may be forcing Japan to make the least miserable choice out of a list of bad options. Japan has enough stored plutonium for at least a thousand nuclear warheads. It has remained non-nuclear under a firm U.S. commitment to its defense. If it goes nuclear, the United States will have no one to blame but itself.
America’s Nuclear Deterrent 64 Years After Trinity July 16, 2009Posted by Sean Varner in China, History, Iran, North Korea, Nuclear Proliferation, President Obama, Russia, Science, U.S. Government.
Tags: Cold War, CTBT, nuclear test, Nuclear Weapons, RRW
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Today, July 16th 2009, marked the 64th anniversary of the Trinity nuclear test in Alamagordo, New Mexico. That test brought the world unambiguously into the Atomic Age. Since that day nuclear weapons have played a critical role in U.S. defense policy, first as the ultimate tool with which to win the Second World War and almost immediately thereafter as a critical tool to deter aggression against the United States and its allies. This mission became of even greater importance with the Soviet testing of an atomic bomb in August of 1949.
Despite serving as the most powerful deterrent against threats to the U.S. homeland and its allies, and by preventing a massively destructive conventional (or nuclear) war between the major powers, the nuclear deterrent of 2009 is atrophying and declining in reliability and safety. As the Congressionally-mandated Strategic Posture Commission pointed out in its final report, the current nuclear weapons complex suffers from a lack of funding, a lack of emphasis on maintaining the intellectual base, and an almost hostile attitude by policymakers. Writing in the Wall Street Journal, Senator Jon Kyl and former Reagan Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle charged the president with neglecting to support a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear deterrent as well as endorsing the unverifiable Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT), which the Senate rejected in 1999.
As the U.S. nuclear inventory continues to age, life-extension or stockpile stewardship programs continue in their attempt to increase the weapons’ service lives. However, with each further modification, the weapon design is taken farther from the actual model that was proven successful through testing. Also, each passing year sees more scientists who had experience with nuclear testing retiring. Therefore the hands on expertise that was produced through a rigorous and scientific development and testing process is declining precipitously. Crucial skills and knowledge, some of which may only be understood through testing, are being lost.
Though the proponents of a CTBT argue that it will strengthen Washington’s hand in promoting nonproliferation and tougher sanctions toward Iran and North Korea, there is little evidence to support this. No matter if every other third-party nation suddenly endorsed U.S. nonproliferation efforts, as long as Russia and China continue to block effective measures, which have been within their interests, no amount of political good-will generated by CTBT ratification will stop proliferation. Therefore, the CTBT could only bring into question more the reliability of America’s nuclear deterrent. If the U.S. is to deter aggression and assure its allies (so that they do not develop their own weapons), it will eventually have to test a new, modern, safe nuclear warhead design to replace the Cold War-era stockpile.
If one wants to reach a compromise position, I would suggest following the French example. France conducted its last nuclear test in 1995, providing it with a modern, reliable, and proven warhead design that would serve French purposes for decades to come. Within the next year it signed and ratified the CTBT. The U.S. could develop a Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) that would have a service life of decades, test it to verify its reliability and effectiveness, and then ratify the CTBT. Though a skeptic or pessimist may still argue that the U.S. may need to test a new or different design in the future, there is a “supreme national interest” clause in the CTBT that would allow the U.S. to withdraw if it served to further U.S. national security. International agreements, after all, should only be abided to in order to further the national interest.
Alamagordo brought the world, willing or not, into the Atomic Age, which we remain in. The Trinity test was the epitome of the scientific process. Theorize, hypothesize, predict, and finally test. Testing, as with any military weapon system, is a crucial option to have available. Theory with testing is science. Theory without testing is theology.