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.
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:
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 Illogic of “Going to Zero” in Nuclear Weapons February 4, 2009Posted by Sean Varner in China, Japan, Middle East, Nuclear Proliferation, President Obama, Russia, Saudi Arabia, U.S. Foreign Relations.
Tags: arms control, CTBT, Logic of Zero, nuclear reductions, Nuclear Weapons, Obama, proliferation, START Treaty
President Obama has announced his intentions to cut the number of nuclear warheads by around 80%, bringing the total down from the approximately 5,000 in the inventory to about 1,000. This intention flows from his hope in achieving a nuclear weapons-free world, a philosophy that is very attractive and has gained a lot of support, especially with the influential article “The Logic of Zero” by Ivo Daalder and Jan Lodal. There were indications that Sen. John McCain even supported this idea. The reason for its broad support is clear. Who wants to have nuclear weapons around anyway? They are massively destructive, they are indiscriminate, they damage the environment, they haven’t been used in war in 64 years anyway, and the only reason states still have them is because of the massive US and Russian stockpiles. It is an attractive argument, but in the next five points I’ll attempt to point out its inherent flaws and lack of foresight in this argument and in President Obama’s plans for deep reductions.
First, the American nuclear arsenal is growing more obsolete and unreliable by the day. Since it has been several decades since the last US nuclear test (due in part to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty), there is growing uncertainty over the reliability of the US nuclear arsenal. The failure of the Congress to approve the Reliable Replacement Warhead program, which would have updated US warheads to make them safer (for storage, maintenance) and more, well, reliable, has brought into question the credibility of Washington’s nuclear deterrent. If a problem were discovered in one of our warhead designs, the US could lose up to one-third of its operational capability while the problem was being fixed. The US is currently the only nuclear weapons state that is neither producing new weapons nor actively upgrading its existing ones.
Second, the arms race action-reaction cycle in which the US is the cause of other states building nukes has been disproved. This was the logic behind much of the Cold War-era arms control negotiations, and the Logic of Zero debate, that holds that the rest of the world continues to pursue and build nuclear capabilities because the US, the most powerful state in the system, has them. The fallacy of this should be evident immediately. As President Carter’s Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown, stated (here) when talking about the US and Soviet Union arms races: “when we build, they build, and when we stop building, they continue building.” Currently, notes Adam Hebert of Air Force Magazine, “despite 16 years of American cuts and testing moratoriums, rogue states such as Iran and North Korea have not slowed their own [nuclear] programs.”
Third, such a move will greatly disadvantage the US in terms of the balance of nuclear forces. By going to 1,000 warheads, and assuming the Russians comply with their obligations to do likewise, the US will be in a vastly weaker situation in East Asia. China currently has approximately 200 warheads, and is building more, so it is imaginable that by the time the US has reduced to 1,000 warheads, China will possess close to 250. That would give the US a scant 4-1 advantage over Beijing (and some US nuclear forces will not even be in the Asian theater), compared to its more than 25-1 current advantage. Such a drastic change will likely give the regime in Beijing the ability to exercise a freer hand in East Asia, particularly with regards to US allies like Japan and Taiwan. North Korea, which currently faces over a 300-1 disadvantage, would find itself in about a 60-1 disadvantage, which could only help but make Pyongyang feel more secure.
Fourth, such deep cuts to the American inventory will actually cause nuclear proliferation to speed up. Already, US allies such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Egypt, doubtful of the strength of the diminished US nuclear umbrella in the face of a nuclear Iran, are making decisions to pursue the foundations of their own nuclear programs. If the US brings its numbers so low that China will be close to achieving parity, allies such as Japan, South Korea, or even Taiwan may decide to go nuclear (For those who think a China with a 4-1 disadvantage would not be a threat, keep in mind the USSR had a 6 or 7-1 disadvantage with the US at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis). Therefore the goal of reaching a nuclear weapons-free world will be self-defeated as more countries decide to pursue a nuclear capability. The world is simply too dangerous a place for states to give up their nuclear weapons.
Fifth, and finally, eliminating (or drastically cutting) nuclear weapons will only make the world safe for conventional warfare. For decades during the Cold War, America’s nuclear forces deterred aggression, reduced the risk of conventional attack in Europe and elsewhere, and held invulnerable enemy targets at risk. The death toll of the 20th century before 1945 was tragic, with war deaths in the tens to a hundred million range. After 1945, the death toll due to war was kept around 1 million a year, most of that due to low-intensity proxy wars or ethnic conflict. The truth is, nuclear weapons have kept great powers from going to war, and this promise should be enough to continue to maintain them for an effective deterrent posture. Conventional war is ugly, nuclear war may be uglier, but the existence of nuclear weapons produces a higher probability of preventing either from breaking out on a massive scale.
The Cold War may in fact be over, but the world is still a dangerous and far-from-perfect place. As US Strategic Command commander Gen. Kevin Chilton has noted, the security environment today is different “purely [in] intent – not capability… intent can change overnight.” As long as intent can change overnight, because nations cannot trust each other completely, then the US needs to maintain an effective, robust, and significant nuclear deterrent. Nonsolutions to securing the strategic environment, like reducing nukes to zero, only will hurt the national security of the US, and lead to nuclear proliferation and the increased risk of war.