Posts Tagged ‘Nukes’

Nuclear Weapons in the Twenty-First Century

Matt Eckel. Foreign Policy Watch, 01 March 2010.


Though American leaders try not to say it out loud too often, one of the reasons Iran’s nuclear program is unsettling to Washington is that it constrains the ability of the United States to topple the Iranian regime by force, should push come to shove. As a global hegemon, having the ability to wave our conventional military around and implicitly threaten recalcitrant middle powers with conquest is something America likes to be able to do. It’s much harder if the recalcitrant middle power in question can credibly threaten to take out a couple of allied capital cities. Israel’s nuclear program was originally founded on this logic, as was that of France.

Why The Nuclear Review Is Delayed

Marc Ambinder. The Atlantic Online, 26 February 2010.


… the release of the long-awaited Nuclear Posture Review will be delayed well into March because the basic issue — when, and why, the U.S. would use nuclear weapons, remains a contentious subject of debate.

The Obama disarmament paradox: A rebuttal

John Isaacs and Robert G. Gard, Jr. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 24 February 2010.

John Isaacs: The executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, Isaacs represents the center’s sister organization, Council for a Livable World, on Capitol Hill. His expertise is in how Congress works, especially when it pertains to national security issues such as nuclear weapons and missile defense. Previously, he served as a legislative assistant on foreign affairs to former New York Democratic Rep. Stephen Solarz.

Robert G. Gard Jr.: A consultant on international security and education, Gard is the chair of the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation’s Board of Directors. He also is a member of the Bulletin’s Science and Security Board. Previously, he served as president of the Monterey Institute of International Studies and as director of the Johns Hopkins University Bologna Center. During a military career that spanned three decades, he was an assistant to the secretary of defense and president of the National Defense University.


Greg Mello’s recent Bulletin article “The Obama Disarmament Paradox” distorts the Obama administration’s nuclear agenda by making unjustified assumptions that discredit President Barack Obama’s historic commitment to seek a nuclear-weapon-free world. Obama has committed to such a goal several times–both before and after his election in November 2008. But Mello calls that a “vague aspiration” rather than a commitment. Yet the evidence he provides to support his assertion isn’t persuasive.

In fact, the president has advocated for numerous initiatives in a comprehensive nonproliferation program. These include winning U.N. Security Council endorsement for a nuclear-weapon-free world; negotiating a new arms reduction treaty with Russia, which Obama considers an interim agreement toward further reductions; preparing a Nuclear Posture Review consistent with reducing the role of nuclear weapons in national security strategy; pledging to secure all loose nuclear materials over a four-year period; and taking an active role at the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference.

As President Obama stated during his seminal Prague speech on nuclear disarmament, achieving a nuclear-weapon-free world is a long-term goal that might not be achievable in his lifetime, but that doesn’t minimize the necessity of taking interim steps to reduce the likelihood of nuclear proliferation.

Mello sees Obama’s requested increase in the fiscal year 2011 budget for stockpile stewardship and the construction of new facilities at the nuclear laboratories as a commitment to the production of new nuclear weapons. Yet the administration has made clear that there are no such plans underfoot; the 2011 budget request states unequivocally that “new weapons systems will not be built.” As such, the president’s requested increase in nuclear expenditures should be viewed in the context of seeking ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and further nuclear weapon reductions.

More largely, there is nothing inconsistent between a vision of a nuclear-weapon-free world and ensuring a safe, secure, and reliable nuclear deterrent in the interim, including refurbishment of aging systems, providing the labs with facilities to replace their deteriorating physical plants, and maintaining the essential expertise that the scientists at the labs provide. Nor does such a deterrent require “unending innovation,” as Mello claims. Our current nuclear weapons inventory, validated by extensive testing, is more than adequate to deter the use of nuclear weapons against the United States, our troops abroad, and our allies, provided sufficient resources are dedicated to the Stockpile Stewardship Program.

Mello also seems to forget that the pursuit of a nuclear-weapon-free world is both national and international law; the NPT, which the United States has ratified, includes a commitment to seek nuclear disarmament. Not to mention that the treaty has an important practical component: Its non-nuclear weapon states have conditioned treaty cooperation on the NPT’s nuclear weapon states fulfilling their obligations under Article VI to move toward full nuclear disarmament.

Thus, the “vision” of a nuclear-weapon-free world is essential as context for “the various nonproliferation initiatives” in Obama’s plan to reduce dangerous threats to our national security–e.g., nuclear proliferation and terrorism.

President John F. Kennedy’s June 1963 nuclear test ban speech at American University is famous not only for its rhetoric but also for its follow-through: Kennedy’s words led to the end of aboveground nuclear testing. While it is legitimate to be skeptical about how successful Obama will be in implementing his disarmament agenda, let’s hope Mello and others will wait to see how the follow-through progresses before they judge him too harshly. Anything else would be unfair.

Greg Mello responds to John Isaacs and Robert Gard:

A “commitment” to a goal that a speaker says he may not achieve in his lifetime (let alone in his administration, the only germane period) is by definition an aspiration at best. If that “commitment” isn’t concrete and specific it is vague. Such were Obama’s very few words in Prague (and since) pertaining to disarmament. There have been no significant actions.
I am interested in action — ours and the government’s — not “hope.”

In your reply, you simply reiterate the Administration’s themes on these points.

If you look over what you wrote, you will see that you freely conflate disarmament with nonproliferation issues and initiatives. You’re not alone; many people do. I suppose that’s the idea. These are quite different things, obviously. Preventing others from acquiring a nuclear deterrent has precious little to do with getting rid of my own. I nowhere argue against sound, just, and legal measures to prevent nuclear proliferation.

I think you err significantly when you say “the pursuit of a nuclear-weapons-free world is both national and international law.” It is the achievement, not the pursuit, of this goal that is a binding legal requirement, unanimously confirmed by the International Court of Justice. Attempting to substitute an alleged aspiration (and that ominously vague), for achievement is a big step down from logic and law, a grave political disservice. This is all the more true when this alleged aspiration comes from the very temporary leader of the world’s largest and most aggressive military power, and is then followed by a very large increase in nuclear weapons spending.

I never said that a nuclear deterrent required “unending innovation.” I suspect we agree that the reverse is true. What I said was quite different: that the “deterrence of any adversary” to which Obama referred was unachievable, and therefore its pursuit implied unending innovation. I think investment itself, together with an ideology of technical “progress” – often expressed through fads like the quest for greater device “surety” – creates the hope that a “credible” nuclear deterrent, a deterrent that is relevant to “any” adversary as well as one that is “safe” and “secure,” can someday finally be achieved. Nuclear weapons will never be safe, secure, and they will never deter “any” adversary.

There’s many reasons why our leaders engage in this kind of crazy talk, and none of them are pretty.

Disarmament aside, the warhead complex, especially at the physics labs, is riddled with waste and unnecessary programs and missions, which help drive down morale and scientific quality. I and many others believe the complex is grossly over-funded (by at least 40%) for the mission of maintaining the present arsenal indefinitely. Much smaller arsenals, right on down to zero, would be quite desirable from every perspective, and cheaper. The U.S. arsenal can be unilaterally reduced to much lower levels without any loss of U.S. “security.”

If Obama wants to decrease the role of nuclear weapons in national security, and expects anybody to believe him, he must actually do so. Instead, building thousands of significantly upgraded bombs (a process already underway) with new requests to develop and produce more kinds of upgraded bombs, and the factories to make them, isn’t disarmament at all. It’s the modernization of everything for the long run – warheads, delivery systems, factories, everything.


Robert Gard and John Isaacs continue the exchange:

It’s gratifying to learn that Greg Mello agrees with us on the desirability of both sound measures to prevent nuclear proliferation and a “much smaller” U.S. nuclear arsenal. For our part, we agree with him that the increase in funds programmed for the nuclear laboratories is excessive, although we don’t see any inconsistency between ensuring a safe, secure, reliable, and effective nuclear stockpile and reducing its size.

We may have a basic disagreement regarding deterrence. It’s not clear whether Mello’s quote of deterring “any adversary” includes non-state actors or only nation states. If he is referring to nation states only, we believe even extended deterrence can be accomplished without “unending innovation” and with a smaller stockpile. If his definition includes non-state actors bent on terrorism, no amount of innovation or real investment can deter them from using a nuclear weapon should they acquire one.

We certainly concede the point that most measures designed to reduce the likelihood of nuclear proliferation wouldn’t qualify as disarmament, but they may facilitate reductions in nuclear stockpiles, which would qualify as disarmament.

Finally, let’s return to the basic issue of President Obama’s commitment to seeking, as a goal, a nuclear-weapon-free world. Even if it is an “aspiration,” that doesn’t reduce its importance. Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty obligates the nuclear weapons states, including the United States, “to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear disarmament.” And although Mello might not consider the action “significant,” Obama did chair a U.N. Security Council meeting with other heads of state that resulted in a resolution affirming the goal of a nuclear-weapon-free world. Additionally, to meet our obligation under Article VI, Obama has stated his intent to follow up the new START treaty with negotiations involving all of the nuclear powers to reduce stockpiles of weapons.

Coming full circle, these actions taken are essential to obtain the cooperation of the non-nuclear weapons states in measures to reduce the likelihood of nuclear weapons proliferation, which both we and Mello favor.

Nuclear Posture Review to Reduce Regional Role of Nuclear Weapons

Hans Kristensen. Federation of American Scientists blog, 22 February 2010.

Nuclear Weapons in Europe 2010

Todd Fine responds to the Mello-Knight exchange

Todd Fine organized and developed the Global Zero campaign for the elimination of nuclear weapons as a program officer at the World Security Institute. He is currently working to establish the Iran Data Portal at Princeton University. He responded on 18 February 2010 to the Knight-Mello exchange of views on nuclear disarmament and the Obama administration.



President Obama’s exceedingly generous budget request for the nuclear weapons labs has boiled long-simmering anxieties about the concrete policy impact of his frequently expressed “vision” for “a world without nuclear weapons.” Aligning with the prominent series of op-eds in The Wall Street Journal, Obama repeated this earnest aspiration consistently throughout the campaign for the presidency, and in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech and April 2009 policy speech in Prague.

Given the ambition of this vision in practical terms, and, of course, the now apparent serious interest in its achievement by predecessor Ronald Reagan, it is not surprising that long-time advocates have expected policy proposals that would explicitly move in this direction. Yet, these budgeting numbers signal an overall regression. They will further institutionalize the development of new weapons and will make restructuring the labs toward other functions more difficult.

The failure to assure advocates began at the rhetoric’s root. Despite the welcome credibility they have given the anti-nuclear cause, the op-ed authors – George Shultz, Henry Kissinger, Sam Nunn, and William Perry – had a burden to consider how other countries perceive the size and activities of our weapons laboratories. At the same time in 2007 that American anti-nuclear lobbyists and activists were feverishly working to block funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) in Congress, Kissinger forwarded an analysis by Shultz and Hoover fellow Sidney Drell to Sen. Pete Domenici supporting investments in the program. And although Nunn declared that he was opposed to the RRW, he signaled his acceptance for large-scale increases in lab funding in the foursome’s third op-ed in The Wall Street Journal on January 19, 2010. Unlike the previous op-eds, which were enthusiastically endorsed by others and received with much fanfare by the press, this one seemed clinically designed to give their reputational blessing to the upcoming budget numbers.

Chief nuclear negotiator under President Reagan, Max Kampelman, who has claimed that he originally prompted George Shultz to return to the question of elimination, has advocated a bold path to zero using multilateral processes in the United Nations. Indeed, outlining the divisions among the foreign policy elite, the Global Zero campaign was initiated by a number of attendees of the Shultz-led Hoover Institution meetings who were dissatisfied with the extreme focus on short-term “steps” instead of the explicit practicalities of achieving the ultimate goal. And following that, the policy program of Global Zero itself has revealed a split between the advocates of immediate multilateralization of the strategic arms control process and others who propose that a decades-long series of U.S.-Russia agreements expand into a multilateral process.

These assorted divisions among the elite may come to the fore at the May NPT Review Conference as other nations test the United States’ new-found commitment to the treaty’s stated objective of disarmament. Given the current crises involving Iran and North Korea and the shortening window of Obama’s dynamism on the world stage, if the President fails to inspire others to adopt his “vision” and work toward elimination concretely, he may miss a singular opportunity. If CTBT, which is symbolic despite its limitations, is not ratified by the conference date, these budget requests alone may devastate U.S. credibility. And as Greg Mello’s logic indicates, other nations are unlikely to be impressed with the scale of the START follow-on treaty, and there are not yet any indications that the posture review language on “the role” of nuclear weapons will be that momentous in terms of practical implications.

In order to blunt these concerns and sincerely recommit to the vision, there are a number of policy proposals the Obama administration could potentially advocate going into the review conference:

    1. A funded international program that would initiate cooperative research into verification technologies and enforcement strategies that would be required in a world of “global zero.”

    2. The initiation of an international audit of all existing nuclear weapons and material.

    3. Sponsorship of initial discussions on a timeline for negotiations and targets involved in the eventual elimination of nuclear weapons.

However, as Charles Knight mentioned with respect to international concerns about the United States’ superiority in conventional weapons, these actions would only be a start. Given the terrifying overall budget projections and the abject failure of our military contracting and procurement processes, the United States needs to reformulate its entire defense posture and budget. In order to convince states like Russia and China to approach low numbers of nuclear weapons, it might even be necessary to consider multilateral treaty restrictions on general conventional forces and on specific advanced weapons systems like Prompt Global Strike. If the elimination aspiration is sincere, then these concerns are unavoidable and should be seriously studied and contemplated.

Max Kampelman, the symbolic initiator of the present return to abolitionism, has spoken powerfully of what real leadership by an American president, especially when morally confident and unabashed, can accomplish. President Obama’s rhetoric on the elimination of nuclear weapons apparently inspired some enough to award him the Nobel Peace Prize; if he is sincere, he owes it to the younger generation to present a clear path to elimination, if not in his lifetime, then in ours.

The Path to Nuclear Security: Implementing the President’s Prague Agenda

Remarks of Vice President Biden at National Defense University – As Prepared for Delivery, 18 February 2010.


Now, as our technology improves, we are developing non-nuclear ways to accomplish that same objective. The Quadrennial Defense Review and Ballistic Missile Defense Review, which Secretary Gates released two weeks ago, present a plan to further strengthen our preeminent conventional forces to defend our nation and our allies.

Capabilities like an adaptive missile defense shield, conventional warheads with worldwide reach, and others that we are developing enable us to reduce the role of nuclear weapons, as other nuclear powers join us in drawing down. With these modern capabilities, even with deep nuclear reductions, we will remain undeniably strong.

Editor’s Comment:

When Vice President Biden speaks of plans to “further strengthen … preeminent conventional forces” with “capabilities like an adaptive missile defense shield” and “conventional warheads with worldwide reach” he seeks to reassure his domestic audience that nuclear disarmament will not make America less secure. His words, however, do not reassure other nuclear powers or potential future nuclear powers such as Iran who will perceive these enhanced American conventional capabilities as strategic threats to their national security.

Biden surely understands that he is not really offering us a pathway to nuclear abolition. We will not get there if other nations are expected to relinquish their nuclear arsenals to face “undeniable” conventional power from the U.S.

If Biden’s speech truly represents the elaboration of the “President’s Prague Agenda” it leaves us with a very big gap (conceptually and practically) between the near term goal Biden articulates (“We will work to strengthen the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.”) and the longer term goal (“We are working both to stop [nuclear weapons] proliferation and eventually to eliminate them.”) which President Obama confirmed in Prague.

Stop at Start

Barry Blechman. New York Times, 18 February 2010.


Here’s how a global nuclear disarmament treaty could work. First, it would spell out a decades-long schedule for the verified destruction of all weapons, materials and facilities. Those possessing the largest arsenals — the United States and Russia — would make deep cuts first. Those with smaller arsenals would join at specified dates and levels. To ensure that no state gained an advantage, the treaty would incorporate “rest stops”: if a state refused to comply with a scheduled measure, other nations’ reductions would be suspended until the violation was corrected. This dynamic would generate momentum, but also ensure that if the effort collapsed, the signatories would be no less secure than before.

Editor’s Comment:
There is something missing in this measured disarmament scheme which invalidates it as a path to full nuclear disarmament. Blechman makes an erroneous assumption shared by too many nuclear disarmament advocates. He assumes that nuclear weapons are a class of weapons that can be dealt with in isolation from the problems of international security and insecurity. Nuclear weapons cannot be separated strategically from the context of the conventional military power they supplement.

Note the following phrase in the above excerpt from Blechman: “To ensure that no state gained an advantage…” His prescription applies only to nuclear weapons and presumes no adjustments to conventional military power. In those conditions some states stand to gain considerable advantage from nuclear disarmament.

Imagine the case of Russia in Blechman’s staged draw down of nuclear forces with the U.S. As Russia approaches zero nuclear weapons they become more and more vulnerable to superior U.S. conventional military power.

Without parallel and compensatory reductions and adjustments in conventional forces and strong political assurances weaker nations such as Russia will never agree to give up all their nuclear weapons.

Careful schemes of balanced nuclear weapons disarmament of the type that Blechman argues for cannot by themselves get us to zero nuclear weapons. Compensating for the national insecurities arising from imbalances in conventional military power must be part of any formula for full nuclear disarmament. We need to work toward an international security regime that delivers the reassurance of fifty years without international aggression and military intervention. After that period of peace nuclear nations might be ready to go to zero.

Obama’s Nuclear Decision Day

Joe Cirincione. Huffington Post, 17 February 2010.


… democracy does not apply to nuclear weapons policy. It never has. No nation has ever had a vote on whether to go nuclear. These decisions are made in secret. They don’t have to be.