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:
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.
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 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.
Obama’s Moscow Summit – Which Way to START? July 5, 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
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President Barack Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev are meeting in Moscow to discuss a successor to the soon-to-expire Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START). On the table for consideration (according to U.S. and/or Russian officials) are levels of deployed and stockpiled strategic nuclear warheads, strategic delivery systems (intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs, and bombers), and missile defense. Off the table are nonstrategic (short-range) nuclear weapons, which the Russians hold in abundance.
Truly understanding the situation between Washington and Moscow requires a brief look at the numbers. The United States deploys around 2,200 strategic nuclear warheads (and ~ 2,500 reserves) on less than 1,000 missiles and bombers. Russia deploys about 2,700 strategic nuclear warheads (and thousands in reserve) on roughly 650 missiles and bombers. In nonstrategic nukes, Russia holds a massive advantage (3,000-5,000) over the United States (400-500). In terms of strategic delivery systems, the U.S. still has decades before most of its systems will need replaced, while many Russian systems will reach the end of their service lives within the next decade, reducing their numbers to around 330.
The Obama Administration, in its rush to conclude the START follow-on by the current treaty’s expiration date on December 5th, is therefore playing into the Russians’ hands. By pushing for deep warhead cuts (the Russians will not go below 1,500 deployed) and considering a further reduction in the permitted number of strategic delivery vehicles, U.S. negotiators are essentially getting nothing for something. Since the Russians will have to eliminate many of their aging warheads, missiles, and bombers with or without an arms control treaty, they are trying to maintain parity with the United States through a new START accord. In return, the U.S. is getting something it would have gotten without having to reduce the survivability and flexibility of its nuclear arsenal.
Until recently, the Obama Administration was seemingly giving credence to Russian objections to a third missile defense site in Central Europe. Even former Secretary of Defense (and nuclear abolitionist) William Perry (D) stated in House testimony that trading missile defense for Russian promises was absolutely unreasonable. The president’s special assistant, Michael McFaul, stated last week the U.S. was “not going to reassure or give or trade anything with the Russians regarding NATO expansion or missile defense.” This is a step in the right direction. Tying defensive conventional systems to offensive nuclear systems, which President Medvedev is still insisting on, is a relic of the Cold War “mutually assured destruction” thinking.
Therefore, the U.S. approach to the START follow-on has been fundamentally flawed. By agreeing not to include nonstrategic nuclear weapons in the limits, the U.S. allowed Russia to maintain its biggest geopolitical advantage. Many experts believe it is these “battlefield” nuke stockpiles that will be the likely source of any future nuclear terrorism or nuclear use by a state (Russia explicitly states they would be used to “de-escalate” an invasion of their homeland). Furthermore, once U.S. warhead and delivery system levels have been drastically reduced, Washington will little leverage to urge Moscow to reduce its tactical nukes.
The arms control process is also misguided in the link some are attempting to make between a new START and “global zero,” the nuclear abolitionist movement. The bipartisan Strategic Posture Commission determined that complete nuclear disarmament required a “fundamental transformation of the world political order.” Guiding a new treaty along what optimists consider a decades-long goal is a recipe for miscalculation and bad decisions. The Obama Administration needs to take a step back, assess U.S. interests over the long term, and proceed with a modest START follow-on from there. Idealism is one thing. Dealing with the Russians about nuclear weapons is entirely different.
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.