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.
The F-22 Raptor Suffers Friendly Fire July 21, 2009Posted by Sean Varner in China, Iran, Politics, Russia, U.S. Budget, U.S. Government.
Tags: Defense Budget, deterrence, F-22
Perhaps you were not aware of it, but today was a great day for Russia and China. The party elites and defense establishments in Moscow and Beijing surely looked on with glee as the Senate voted 58-40 in favor of the McCain-Levin amendment to halt production of the F-22 Raptor at 187 planes. This contrasted with the House defense authorization bill which allotted funding for an additional 7 of the $150 million planes. The bill will now have to go to conference committee for the House and Senate to work out their differences between the bills.
The opponents of the F-22 make three main charges – that the jet costs too much, is not being used in Iraq or Afghanistan, and that the money could be better spent on the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.
Though the pricetag of the jet is significant (around $150 million), it is a lot of bang for the buck. It is literally the only fifth-generation fighter that is operational and ready-for-use today. Its capabilities are through the roof – stealth that reduces its radar signature substantially, the ability to cruise at high speeds and high altitudes, and a maneuverability and advanced avionics that allow it to outfight any jet in the world. Though the $1.5 billion for the additional jets may seem like a lot in a time of deficit spending (but compare it to the stimulus or auto bailout for some perspective), it is necessary to keep the expertise and suppliers available for future fighter production. If the F-22 assembly line is shut down, valuable engineering skills and unique material suppliers will scatter to different employers or go out of business, making a reversal of this decision very difficult. Given the long amount of lead time in government defense contracts (the F-22 was 20 years in the works), shutting down production would spell the end of the quick replacement ability necessary for unforeseen contingencies.
The charge that the Raptor is not being used in Iraq or Afghanistan, made especially by Senator McCain, is true but misleading. McCain is suffering from this-war-itis as he charges defense contractors with “next-war-itis.” The F-22 is designed primarily for air superiority missions. Obviously insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan have no air force or contested airspace. But Iran, thanks to Russian suppliers, is equipped both with Russian-modified jets and surface-to-air missiles. If a strike was deemed necessary to eliminate Iran’s nuclear program, a jet like the F-22 would be necessary to supress enemy air forces and destroy anti-aircraft installations before the strike fighters would fly in. Beyond that, the F-22 chiefly serves to deter conventional aggression by China and Russia. Since those nations may be at least a decade away from fielding their own fifth-generation fighters, the American Raptor force serves as a reminder that they would be denied air superiority in any future conflicts over Eastern Europe or Taiwan.
Many F-22 detractors also claim that the money for additional planes would be better spent on funding the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which every branch of the military will field, as well as many U.S. allies. The F-35, though also a fifth generation stealth jet, is not designed for air superiority missions and is not as maneuverable or able to travel at the same speeds or altitudes as the F-22. Moreover, the F-35 will not be operational on a significant scale for at least a couple of years (once the assembly lines reach full capacity, they will be able to produce approximately 350 planes a year). The F-22 and F-35 are a great “team” due to synergy – by having a mix of both planes, they are more effective and less are needed overall. Emphasizing the F-35 too much while the F-22 is kept at a small force (less than half what the Air Force deems necessary) will reduce the overall potential effectiveness of the U.S. Air Force. For further analysis on the distinction between the F-22 and F-35, see David Centofante’s column here.
The F-22, a perennial punching bag, was beaten today, not by enemy air forces, but by a misguided United States Senate. Part of it may be a lack of public understanding about the Raptor’s importance, as a highlighted in this earlier post. Part of it is surely a knee-jerk distrust of big government contracts and expensive defense systems (witness the recent fate of missile defense). But most of it is a lack of leadership on the part of U.S. politicians. Too concerned with spending money that will benefit them (or their districts) immediately, they are neglecting the long-term health and vitality of the country. Also, they are far too negligent about the capabilities and intentions of our adversaries in Moscow and Beijing. After all, if a defense amendment is going to benefit Russians and Chinese, shouldn’t a good leader question its prudence?
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.
A New START – Obama Abandons Hope for Realism? July 6, 2009Posted by Sean Varner in Nuclear Proliferation, President Obama, Russia, U.S. Foreign Relations.
Tags: global zero, Medvedev, Missile Defense, nuclear reductions, Nuclear Weapons, President Obama, Russia, START Treaty
President Obama and Russian President Medvedev have reached a preliminary agreement on the reduction of nuclear weapons. It is far from a land-breaking accord. A close look at the numbers reveals that, at the end of the day, either Obama became a realist or Medvedev made the more persuasive case. My hope is the former.
The two leaders reached an agreement on limiting the number of deployed strategic nuclear warheads to 1,500 – 1,675. The previous limit, under the Moscow Treaty of 2002, was within the range of 1,700 – 2,200 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. Therefore, President Obama, the nuclear abolitionist who advocates a world free of nuclear weapons, has brought the limit down by 25 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. Perhaps that is too cynical – after all, the lower limits are for all intents and purproses meaningless – so perhaps he can be credited with reducing the number by 525. Though it seems like a radical reduction, it is still within 25 warheads of the range the Bush Administration determined was adequate for U.S. national security.
The Russians had previously stated they would be unwilling to go below 1,500 deployed strategic nuclear warheads. It is therefore likely that Obama pushed for the lower limit (1,500) while Medvedev pushed for as high of a limit as he could achieve (1,675) that was still below the Moscow Treaty lower limit of 1,700. In this aspect of the accord, it is likely that Medvedev’s tenacity is mostly responsible for the warhead levels.
The range that Obama and Medvedev reached on strategic nuclear delivery vehicles (SNDVs) is a much wider gap of 500-1,100. The Russians, whose SNDV levels will decline from roughly 680 to less than 400 within ten years due to systems reaching the end of their service lives, pushed for the lower limit for two main reasons. They wish to maintain parity with the U.S. and, if they could not push the U.S. to reach that lower limit, could at least save face by insisting on a low SNDV limit to make it look like they were disarming more willingly. The U.S., which deploys less than 1,100 SNDVs (see here), will have to do little in terms of staying within this limit.
Prior to the summit, the Russians had been insisting that the SNDV limit of START (1,600) be drastically reduced, some calling for it to be lowered to 600, others to as low as 300-400. The only conceivable reason the upper limit would be set at 1,100 is that President Obama listened to his military advisors and became a realist – that is, he recognized that it is completely unnecessary to cut our SNDVs to 50% of their current levels, especially since the Russians will have to make their cuts regardless. It makes no diplomatic sense to get nothing for something. Furthermore, U.S. SNDV levels may provide valuable leverage in dealing with Russian tactical nuclear weapons in any future treaty. Therefore, in this part of the agreement, it is likely that Obama’s realism and the strength of the U.S. position is responsible for maintaining an upper limit of 1,100 SNDVs.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of this agreement is the timeline. Obama and Medvedev have agreed to achieve these reductions within 7 years, almost 4 years after Obama’s first term will have expired. It seems to suggest that President Obama is not at all confident that he will get another strategic arms reduction treaty within this term or any future ones. His rhetoric notwithstanding, perhaps he has accepted that the Russians will simply not work towards “global nuclear zero” and will hold out next for reducing their tactical nuclear weapons. In any event, with the decommissioning of aging warheads, de-MIRVing of ICBMs (replacing multiple warheads with one per missile), and de-tubing of SSBNs (reducing the number of missiles on each submarine), the U.S. should easily reach the new limits within seven years.
Assuming there are no egregious caveats that emerge in this preliminary accord, such as linking missile defense to offensive systems or limiting U.S. conventional strategic capabilities (prompt global strike), this is a good agreement for the United States. It appears that President Obama took the advice of former Secretary of Defense (and nuclear abolitionist) William Perry (D) to keep it “simple and modest.” This agreement, again assuming no drastic compromises on missile defense or conventional capabilities, should be ratified by the Senate (after sufficient debate) before START I expires on 5 December 2009. If this is not a clear case study of realism dashing idealism, then nothing is.