Thursday, May 31, 2007

Better Late Than Never

Thirteen years ago today, the United States and Russia completed the de-targeting of their strategic nuclear missiles, two and a half years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The de-targeting followed an agreement accompanying the January 14, 1994 Tripartite Declaration signed by Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin that no later than May 30, 1994 neither country would target its strategic nuclear missiles on the other. Britain also de-targeted its missiles under a separate agreement with Russia. Slowly.... slowly...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Bush to let START I expire in 2009

In a not so surprising but nevertheless disappointing move, a senior Bush administration official announced last week that the United States will let the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) expire when it runs out at the end of 2009. Apparently, the administration instead plans on replacing it with a less formal agreement that doesn’t have the strict verification requirements and weapons limits that START I does.

The move is just the latest example of President Bush’s nose-thumbing towards arms control as a method of limiting the potential development and proliferation of nuclear weapons. Congress has notably shown little interest in the treaty and has instead opted to defer to the next president, with the hope that that person will act upon arriving in the White House in January 2009.

Signed in July 1991 by the United States and the USSR (subsequently including Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan upon the collapse of the Soviet Union five months later), START I is the most ambitious arms control treaty in history.

The treaty barred its signatories from deploying more than 6,000 “countable” nuclear warheads atop a total of 1,600 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers.

By the end of its implementation deadline in late 2001, the treaty had resulted in the elimination of approximately 80% of all strategic nuclear weapons then in existence.

While both the United States and Russia are still well-below the limitations agreed upon in START I, repudiating the treaty sends mixed signals to both Russia and the world that while the U.S. is seeking to halt the development and spread of nuclear weapons by other countries, it is not willing to continue with a treaty that limits its own arsenal, or make further reductions in its stockpile.

At a time when the United States is seeing a resurgent Russia increasingly comfortable flexing its muscle on the international scene, now is not the time to pour more gas on the fire and revert to our old Cold War ways. This is especially true given that Russia is already alarmed over the expansion of NATO to its boundaries and the deployment of a missile defense system at its doorstep, over which it has been increasingly vocal in its criticism. And matching their rhetoric with action, the country recently issued a moratorium on the application of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty and also only yesterday tested a new inter-continental ballistic missile that Russian officials claim can defeat current or future missile defense systems.

President Bush needs to get serious about arms control and either extend START I or begin new negotiations towards another legally binding treaty that makes further cuts in strategic forces. If not, extension of the treaty should be an early priority of the successor Administration. Likewise, the Senate should hold Foreign Relations hearings on the treaty with the goal of not only pressuring Bush, but also to raise awareness of the issue to the presidential candidates, whom he might be passing the START baton to in less than two years time. The clock is ticking.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

National Security Legislative Wrap-up, May 21-25 2007

This past week Congress brought some big wins for the nonproliferation agenda, though they have been largely overshadowed by Congress' decision to fund the 2007 Supplemental Appropriations bill, a measure that funds the Iraq war through September 30 but has no timetable for exiting the war.

Congress is in recess this week for the Memorial Day holiday.


- Iraq Supplemental Appropriations Bill:

The Pentagon requested $93.4 billion in supplemental funding for combat operations for Fiscal Year 2007, which is in addition to $70 billion in Fiscal Year 2007 supplemental funding approved by Congress as part of its regular 2007 budget work.

On May 24, the House approved the latest version of the Supplemental bill without any deadlines for troop withdrawal by a vote of 280 - 142. Democrats split 86 for and 140 against. On the same day, the Senate approved the bill by a vote of 80 - 14.

- Defense Authorization Bill:

On May 24, the Senate Armed Services Committee completed its mark-up of the bill. In some highlights, the Committee:
* added $100 million for the Cooperative Threat Reduction Program
* added $87 million for the Department of Energy non-proliferation programs
* cut $43 million from the Administration's request for $238 million for the Reliable Replacement Warhead, (note: the Senate is using a different number for this program than the House).
* while approving $10.1 billion for missile defense, the committee cut $85 million from the request of $310.4 million for the third missile defense site in Europe and cut $200 million from the airborne laser program.

The full Senate is scheduled to consider the bill in late June.

- Energy and Water Appropriations Bill:

On May 23, the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee voted to:
* eliminate all $88.8 million of funding for a new generation of nuclear weapons (the Reliable Replacement Warhead program)
* cut out all $24.9 million for a new plant to build plutonium pits (consolidated plutonium program)
* added $878 million for nuclear non-proliferation programs to bring the total to $1.7 billion
* cut funds for the plutonium reprocessing program (the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership) to extract nuclear weapons-usable material from nuclear waste from $405 million to $120 million.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Happy Birthday SALT I!

Thirty-five years ago yesterday, the first round of Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT I) was brought to a close after two and a half years of negotiations when U.S. President Nixon and Soviet General Secretary Brezhnev signed the ABM Treaty and the Interim Agreement on the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms.

The Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, which entered into force on October 3, 1972, barred the U.S. and the USSR from deploying nationwide defenses against strategic ballistic missiles. President Bush withdrew the U.S. from the treaty on June 13, 2002 in order to pursue a comprehensive national missile defense system to ostensibly protect the U.S. against an attack by terrorists and “rogue states.” So far the system hasn’t panned out very well, to say the least.

The ABM Treaty originally allowed both countries to deploy two fixed, ground-based defenses of 100 missile interceptors each, but a June 1974 accord later cut that number in half. The Soviet Union decided to keep its existing missile defense system around Moscow, while the U.S. opted to field missile interceptors in North Dakota to protect an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) base there. The permitted ABM system was scuttled only months after it was activated in October 1975, however, due to concerns that it was too expensive for the limited protection it offered. Sound familiar?

The other outcome of SALT I was the Interim Agreement, which froze the number of strategic ballistic missile launchers at 1972 levels, prohibited the construction of new land-based ICBM silos, and allowed for increases in submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) launcher levels only if a corresponding number of older ICBM or SLBM launchers were dismantled.

Happy 35th birthday SALT I!

Friday, May 25, 2007

Kyle Atwell interviews Leonor Tomero on Nuclear Reprocessing

Check out my interview on plutonium reprocessing with Leonor Tomero, a nonproliferation analyst with the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation:

Reprocessing is the process in which weapons-usable materials are extracted from spent nuclear waste produced by nuclear reactors.

Leonor provides a great summary of the administration's push for the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP), which would reintroduce reprocessing into US nuclear waste management.

The United States halted reprocessing 30 years ago due to:

* high costs: Reprocessing and recycling the recovered plutonium would add about $2 billion per year to the cost of US nuclear-generated electricity

* environmental and safety risks: In 2005 Britain's only reprocessing plant in Sellafield had a major leak accident, spilling 83,000 liters of hazardous materials. The plant remains shutdown today

* the serious threat reprocessing poses for nonproliferation efforts: Both India and North Korea have used materials from plutonium reprocessing to build nuclear weapons

The problems are as real today as they were thirty years ago when the US initially stopped reprocessing. Fortunately Congress is wary of reprocessing as well, at least for now--as Jeff discusses here, the House Energy and Appropriations Subcommittee opted to trim funds for GNEP from $405 million to $120 million on Wednesday. While this funding allocation is not final, it is a good start to the legislative process.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Victory in House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee

The arms control community scored a major victory when the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee eliminated yesterday all $88.8 million of proposed funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) and all $24.9 million for a new plant to build plutonium pits.

The funding is a part of a $31.6 billion Energy and Water Spending Bill for fiscal year 2008, and is $1.13 more than the Bush administration’s budget request and $1.3 billion more than fiscal year 2007 spending levels.

Although its advocates claim that the Reliable Replacement Warhead program would help create a smaller, cheaper and more modern nuclear arsenal, in reality the program is entirely unnecessary and would significantly undermine U.S. and international nuclear nonproliferation efforts.

Better yet, the subcommittee likewise trimmed funds for the administration’s Global Nuclear Energy Partnership (GNEP) plutonium reprocessing program that extracts nuclear weapons-usable material from nuclear waste from $405 million to $120 million.

Reprocessing increases the risk that dangerous material will fall into the hands of terrorists by removing many of the necessary barriers that prevent terrorist from acquiring bomb-grade material.

To top it off, the subcommittee also added $878 million for nuclear nonproliferation programs, a 74 percent increase to the administration's original request.

There will most likely be efforts in the full committee and on the House floor to at least partially restore funding for the RRW. Stay tuned.