Monday, March 31, 2008

National Security Legislative Wrap-up

Congress returns this week from recess. A House-Senate conference to resolve differences between the two versions of the Fiscal Year 2009 Budget Resolution may begin this week.

The President will attend a NATO summit this week in Bucharest, Romania, and then hold a quickly scheduled summit meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. A major topic of conversation is the proposed missile defense site in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Gen. David Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker are slated to testify before Congress next week, tentatively April 8 and 9. The first mark-up or writing of the second portion of the Fiscal Year 2008 Supplemental Appropriations bill is likely to begin later this month in the House Appropriations Committee. That bill is expected to be the vehicle for many legislative fights on ending the Iraq war, including a deadline for troop withdrawal, mandates for training and equipping troops, longer rest time between deployments, blocking long-term commitments to the Iraqi government and increasing education benefits for veterans.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

New Yorkers Touring North Korea

During my normal searching around of material concerning North Korea, I came across a video series put out by the online production group Vice Broadcasting System (VBS). This seems to be the visual arm of the guys who produce the Vice Magazine, a counter-culture type publication that loves to poke fun at conventional wisdom and society. One of their most popular items are their Vice Travel Guides that take people into controversial locals like Baghdad or Sudan from a perspective normally not covered. For example, during their trip to Iraq, they followed around the only Iraqi heavy metal band in the country. Using the creative talents of Spike Jones, they have put together a website of some pretty humorous stuff, although a lot of it isn't for the feint of heart.

The guys and gals over at VBS managed to negotiate a trip inside the heart of North Korea. Now, from what others have told me, the tour they were given is the one typically given to tourists and its one that is meticulously scripted to give the best impression to visitors. However, the commentary of VBS co-founder Shane maintains a bit of perspective about what is really going on all around him. Pretty interesting stuff. I've posted part 1 of the 14 part series (each about 4-5 minutes) below. Make sure to not miss part 14 where Shane sings "Anarchy in the UK" karaoke style before his North Korean handlers. The entire series can be found here.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Star Wars Turns 25 Years Old, but Effective and Capable Missile Defense Still Elusive

The Center's senior military fellow Gen. Robert Gard and director John Isaacs released today a phenomenal report on America's missile defense program.

The analysis covers Congressional, scientific, governmental, and military support for and opposition to a national missile defense program from Reagan's push in 1983 to the present administration.

The authors conclude that no elements of the ground-based system should be deployed until they are proven effective at accomplishing their mission, and capable of protecting the United States.

Highlights included here, and links found below:

[The National Missile Defense Act of 1999] endorsed missile defense deployment but with important qualifiers. It directs the Department of Defense "to deploy as soon as is technically possible an effective national missile defense system that is capable of defending the territory of the United States against a limited ballistic missile defense attack" [emphasis added].


The 1995 National Intelligence Estimate pointed out that any country that can successfully flight test an ICBM, a complex undertaking, will be able to develop numerous countermeasures to penetrate a missile defense system.


Yet procurement and deployment of ground-based mid-course interceptors continues. In 2007, 10 interceptors were deployed, bringing the total to 21 at Fort Greely, Alaska, and three at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The intent is to reach 54 interceptors – 44 in the United States and 10 in Poland – by 2013.


System intercept tests have not employed realistic decoys, or any decoys at all, in the two most recent tests. Discrimination remains the Achilles' heel of the ground-based mid-course system.


It is evident that the ground-based mid-course system does not meet the conditions for deployment specified in the National Missile Defense Act of 1999. It has not demonstrated that it is effective in accomplishing its mission or that it is capable of defending the territory of the United States. Phillip Coyle, Director of Operational Test and Evaluation during the Clinton administration, has called ground-based mid-course "a scarecrow, not a defense," and Richard Garwin has said the system is "totally useless."

According to the Congressional Research Service, more than $120 billion has been invested in missile defense since President Reagan's speech 25 years ago, much of it on the system to protect the United States. Given the fact that delivery of a nuclear weapon against the United States is far more likely by means other than an ICBM, which leaves a return address, the opportunity costs are very high in military terms alone, not to mention other higher priority national security and domestic programs. The further deployment of elements of the ground-based mid-course system should be suspended until research and development can demonstrate that the problem of discrimination can be solved successfully.

Click on each of the following for the full text, PDF, and press release.

Visits to India Keep Nuclear Deal Alive

* Guest post from star Center intern, Colleen Garcia

Despite seemingly widespread Congressional belief that the U.S.-India nuclear deal is either dead or dormant, continuing visits to India by international leaders and authoritative U.S. policymakers prove that it is, in fact, very much alive.

Many members of Congress - notably excluding those directly involved in relations with India - believe that the U.S.-India deal is a non-issue due to either domestic opposition from the Communist Party in India, or to the belief that Congress already played its part by drawing up and passing the Hyde Act in 2006. Many in Congress believe, then, that whether or not the U.S.-India nuclear deal moves forward is now entirely up to India, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to India last week is only the latest in what has been an inexhaustible parade of visits from well-respected domestic and world leaders that reads like the "Who's Who" of nuclear energy advocates. Along with these visits has come enough acute pressure on opponents of the deal to tempt even the most stalwart critics to buckle.

In the past few months, India has been courted by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, former Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, U.S. Ambassador David Mulford, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Sen. Joseph Biden, Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE), Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher, and Canada's High Commissioner to India, David M. Malone. As only one example of the pressure language used during these visits, upon leaving India Sen. Biden announced, "it was critical if India wanted that deal, that they move on it relatively soon, within a matter of weeks."

For its part, the Indian government has been doing its best to heighten interest in civilian nuclear cooperation with India. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whose UPA party is strongly in favor of the U.S.-India nuclear deal, has made official visits to both
Russia and China, with nuclear energy always a topic of discussion. These moves have only reinforced and encouraged further efforts to seal the nuclear deal.

Instead of a wait and see situation, which Congress expects to see while India, the IAEA, and the NSG make their decisions on the deal, what we are actually seeing is escalating pressure from the U.S., the Indian government, and outside nations to complete negotiations. Pressure to complete the U.S.-India nuclear deal will subside once congressional and presidential elections take over the legislative calendar, but the growing frequency of official visits suggests an intensification of outside pressure to get the deal done before then. Thus, Congress's immediate involvement is more necessary than ever.

Whether members know it or not, Congress still has an enormous role to play in finalizing the U.S.-India nuclear deal. Congress must ultimately approve the final draft of the nuclear deal, and if there is any hope of a rejection, U.S. Congressional opposition will have to start flexing its political muscle.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Now Where Did I Put Those ICBM Parts? (Updated)

Apparently, the Department of Defense is about as careful with its classified nuclear/missile technology as it is with a pair of house keys. From the LA Times:

U.S. officials said today that non-nuclear parts for an intercontinental ballistic missile were mistakenly shipped to Taiwan in 2006 and that an investigation had been started.

Air Force Secretary Michael Wynne said at a Pentagon news conference that the items sent to Taiwan were four electrical fuses for nose cone assemblies for ICBMs. Wynne said the fuses have been returned and are at a U.S. base.

"It could not be construed as being nuclear material," Wynne said. "It is a component for the fuse in the nose cone for a nuclear system. We are all taking this very seriously."

The government of China views Taiwan as a part of China and strongly opposes U.S. arms sales to Taiwan, making the matter particularly sensitive.

According to Wynne, the fuses were shipped between Air Force bases in 2005 before they were mistakenly sent to Taiwan the following year.
Back in August of 2007, another nuclear mix-up resulted in 6 nuclear-tipped cruise missiles being reported missing. They were later found to have been mistakenly transfered across the United States from North Dakota to Louisiana. At the time, the Air Force blamed the foul-up on a minor lapse in procedure and a total lack of focus on nuclear weapons.

Taken together, these two failures point to the fact that even the United States cannot ensure the safety of such a large stockpile of nuclear weapons. No matter how careful our procedures or how many people are fired after these screwups, the small scale reviews of policy and procedure that the DoD undertakes will never prevent this type of lax behavior from repeating itself once the fervor from this latest event dies down. How bad are these events going to have to get before the government realizes that it isn't just the procedures or the personnel that are at issue here?

Oh, and one last thing. Is it strange to anyone else that it took the Taiwanese military a year and a half to let our people know about the error? I don't know about you, but the picture above doesn't quite look like a helicopter battery. But then again, given the large amount of arms sales to Taiwan each year, perhaps they don't open every crate right away. It is vital for the investigation into this incident to clearly state why it took so long for Taiwan to notify the U.S. of this error. The level of transparency of this investigation will do much to determine exactly how China reacts to this situation.

Further reports state that the Taiwanese let the Department of Defense know more than a year ago that what they had received was not helicopter batteries. It seems that folks at the DoD dragged their feet on figuring out exactly what is was and didn't confirm the equipment ID number until last week. These facts seem to even further implicate the very poor organizational structure at DoD made evident by the first nuclear mistake at Minot last year. Jeffrey Lewis over at had a very good write-up on this problem during that previous crisis. It seems a proper time to resurrect that discussion and possibly actually do something about it this time.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Appointees Announced for Strategic Posture Commission

The House Armed Services Committee just announced the appointees to the bipartisan U.S. Strategic Posture Commission established in the FY 2008 Defense Authorization bill. Assigned to "look at the strategic posture of the United States in the broadest sense," the commission should submit a report by December 1, 2008 that includes a detailed review of nuclear weapons policy and strategy and an examination of non-nuclear alternatives to nuclear weapons.

Appointees nominated by the House Armed Services Committee are:

  • William Perry, Chairman, former Secretary of Defense
  • John Foster, Director Emeritus of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
  • Lee Hamilton, former Congressman and Vice Chair of the 9/11 Commission
  • Keith Payne, CEO and President, National Institute for Public Policy
  • Ellen Williams, University of Maryland Distinguished Professor
  • Harry Cartland, former physicist, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
And nominees from the Senate Armed Services Committee:
  • James Schlesinger, Commission Vice Chairman, former Secretary of Energy and Secretary of Defense
  • John Glenn, former Senator and NASA astronaut
  • Fred Ikle, former Director, Arms Control and Disarmament Agency
  • Morton Halperin, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs
  • James Woolsey, former Director, Central Intelligence Agency
  • Bruce Tarter, former Director, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory
Though some are skeptical, the panel overall offers some reasons for cautious optimism. Former Secretary of Defense William Perry as chairman is one good indication. His joint op-ed calling for a "world free of nuclear weapons" with Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, and Sam Nunn has revitalized the conversation to abolish nuclear weapons, and is part of the very motivation to establish this commission.

Glenn has been active on nuclear non-proliferation issues throughout his political career, favoring multilateral arms control agreements and helping to push through an amendment that restricts foreign aid to states that test nuclear weapons. Two other great signs are Halperin, now at the Center for American Progress, and Hamilton, chair of the Iraq Study Group and strong supporter of the CTBT.

Slightly left of center, we have Ikle, former Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, who has been a longtime advocate for the arms control agenda. His most recent work has focused on the danger of nuclear terrorism and the danger of lax security within our nuclear infrastructure. Halperin, a leading scholar on nuclear deterrence theory, opposes the need for nuclear weapons and has written several articles on the subject of conducting a more comprehensive nuclear posture review.

A few notable progressives certainly don't go unbalanced. The nomination of Cold Warriors Payne and Woolsey will make arms control advocates cringe. Payne was the study director of a 2001 report that strongly promoted the development of theatre based tactical nuclear weapons that failed to find support in Congress and was cut from the budget in 2004. Subsequently he has been in and out of government promoting the necessity and importance of the U.S. nuclear deterrent and the need to refurbish what he considers to be an aging nuclear stockpile. Woolsey has been quite hawkish in his approach to dealing with Iran, a continuation of his previous nuclear weapon fear-mongering used to support the U.S. invasion of Iraq.

Notably, Payne, Woolsey, and Schlesinger are all members of the State Department's increasingly conservative International Security Advisory Board, headed by Wolfowitz.

Also bringing in the right, we have Foster who previously led a congressionally appointed panel that pushed for new nuclear weapons production. He was part of a later study from AAAS that critiqued the administration's RRW program, which he then distanced himself from, stating, "The report fails to recognize the urgency of initiating the RRW program to reduce risks in the stockpile."

One surprising note on the list is a shortage of former military personnel. The commission disappointingly also lacks representation from the non-profit community - one such choice could have been former Senator Gary Hart, now at the University of Colorado and Chair of Council for a Livable World, who has led a distinguished career in national security in government, the private sector, and the non-profit community. Hart co-chaired the U.S. Commission on National Security for the 21st Century, which performed the most comprehensive review of national security since 1947.

On the whole, a pretty solid panel of scientists and experts - not a lot of political bomb-throwers in the crowd. On one side of the debate, we could say it was predictable--a few token liberals, a few token conservatives, and a group on the whole that may just say what their appointers wanted them to and preserve the status quo.

But others are optimistic enough to hope for something a bit bolder - for a non-politicized debate that can redirect the focus of our nuclear policy away from the nuclear advocates who have directed it for far too long. With the right vision, the commission can steer nuclear policy to help to reduce current stockpiles, pay renewed attention to arms control treaties - particularly the soon-to-expire START I, and continue to cut funding for the Reliable Replacement Warhead and new nuclear programs.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

STRATCOM and the Future of Nuclear Weapons

When Congress finally passed the FY 2008 Omnibus funding in December, they made their intentions towards the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) program clear by completely cutting funding and mandating that the Administration conduct a Nuclear Posture Review before requesting any further developments for the project. Unfortunately, neither the National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) nor General Chilton of Strategic Command got the message.

At a recent House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing, General Chilton and his colleagues at NNSA ignored Congress's mandate and advocated for funding to research the RRW program. To make his case, Chilton reiterated NNSA's previous argument—that a new nuclear weapon design is needed to ensure a reliable nuclear deterrent. This argument ignores the findings by the scientific oversight group, the JASONS, which found that the current stockpile could reliably last far into the future. Their findings stated that the weapons in our stockpile had a shelf life of as much as 100 years or more.

General Chilton, however, went even further by stating that he would not be comfortable with the United States reducing its nuclear warhead stockpile below the Moscow Treaty stated levels (1700-2200 operationally deployed warheads). It is certainly within the scope of the commander of Strategic Command to suggest the best way to utilize the nuclear stockpile to complete his given mission. However, decisions that have such a global impact as the future of nuclear weapons transcend strategic thinking into the realm of international politics. This linking of RRW and stockpile reductions represents a desperate move on the part of nuclear weapons advocates to provide Congress with some rationale for backing at least initial research into the concept. They are attempting to create an artificial sense of urgency in order to twist the arms of conscientious appropriators.

Part of the problem with Chilton's argument is that he equates reductions in the U.S. nuclear stockpile with unilateral disarmament. While the U.S. has the responsibility to be a global leader in disarmament efforts, multilateral disarmament provides the key to worldwide disarmament efforts. Proposed reductions in the U.S. nuclear warhead stockpile serve as leverage for negotiating reductions in the stockpiles of other nuclear powers.

Chilton's comment during the hearing that, “We are going to need a nuclear deterrent for this country for the remainder of this century, the 21st century,” exposes the fundamental difference between arms control advocates and members of the administration who cling to nuclear weapons for a false sense of security. Arms control advocates see nuclear weapons as a common danger to mankind that must be dealt with broadly in order to secure a safer future for all nations. This can be done through carefully calibrated multilateral measures that gradually reduce the danger of nuclear weapons until they can safely and verifiably be disarmed. Unfortunately, many administration members seem ready and willing to put all of us at risk of global catastrophe in the name of "safety".

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nonproliferation Essay Contest

For those of you with a strong interest in non-proliferation issues - a likely scenario if you're reading Nukes of Hazard - The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and The Nonproliferation Review have announced the Doreen and Jim McElvany 2008 Nonproliferation Challenge Essay Contest. The contest is designed to "find and publish the most outstanding new papers in the non-proliferation field."

Critical details include:

Grand Prize: $10,000
Student Essay Prize: $1,000
Submission Deadline: March 31, 2008
Length limit: 10,000 words

For complete details, click here.

Why Missile Defense Upsets Russia

Center Scoville Fellow and Nukes of Hazard contributer Kingston Reif published an excellent letter to the editor today in the Washington Post in response to comments about Russian perceptions of the American planned third site in Europe.

Full text provided here:

In the March 13 op-ed "Moscow's Missile Gambit," Robert Joseph and J.D. Crouch II said the United States should proceed with plans to place missile interceptors and their supporting radar systems in Europe regardless of Russian opposition. A fundamental assumption underlying their argument is that Russia's strategic objections to the U.S. proposal have little objective merit.

But Russia's perception that a U.S. missile defense system might compromise its credible minimum deterrent can't be attributed to paranoia or political posturing alone. U.S. interceptors in Poland could be effective in intercepting Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles. Moreover, Russian defense analysts are undoubtedly questioning the purpose of a system that would be in a position to target Russian ICBMs but would not be able to protect a large swath of Europe from an Iranian missile attack.

Russia may see U.S. missile defense efforts in Europe as the threatening tip of the iceberg. The initiative may be directed at Iran, but that is not the only country it could affect in the long run.
Fore more information on missile defense analysis from the Center, click here.

Monday, March 17, 2008

National Security Legislative Wrap-up

Both the Senate and the House are in recess for the next two weeks. Before they adjourned, both chambers approved the Fiscal Year 2009 Budget Resolution. There were no challenges in the Senate to the military budget requested by the Bush Administration: $542 billion for defense budget authority (function 050 in the budget) plus $70 billion as a down payment for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In the House, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA) offered a Progressive Caucus alternative budget that would have cut the defense budget authority to $468 billion, $69 billion less than requested. The amendment failed 98 - 322.

However, when considering the "soft power" portion of the federal budget (including the State Department budget, peacekeeping, international organizations and foreign assistance), the Senate voted 73 - 23 for a Biden (D-DE) - Lugar (R-IN) amendment to restore $4.1 billion to the international affairs budget that the Senate Budget Committee had cut. As the Senate has now approved the Administration request of $39.8 billion and the House approved $1.5 billion less, the final number will have to be worked out in a House-Senate conference.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Another Step Closer to Third Missile Defense Site

After Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk's visit to Washington this week, the Bush administration, though still far from a final deal, is one step closer to having its third missile defense site in Europe.

The FY 2008 Defense Authorization bill
required before any funding was provided for the site that t
he Polish and Czech governments approve the deal, that the US Congress have 45 days to object to its components, and that the Secretary of Defense submit a report to Congress certifying that the interceptors work.

Last week, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek and President Bush made significant strides in reaching their agreement.  This week, President Bush made strides with Poland when he agreed to help modernize their military, a key demand made by the Polish government for allowing 10 interceptors to be placed on their soil.

Poland's Tusk, facing significant opposition for the deal from both domestic and foreign sources, has proven to be a tougher negotiator than his predecessor, Jaroslaw Kaczynski.  A majority of Polish citizens still disagree with the plan, and Russia strongly objects, going so far as to issue threats to point nuclear missiles at Poland if the deal goes through. Tusk has
asked for Patriot 3 or THAAD missiles, additional costly military assistance in the range of s
everal billion dollars, and closer bilateral ties with the U.S.  The U.S. administration had previously refused to consider this all as one package, and Dana Perino still claims that, "It is certainly not a quid pro quo." Hardly convincing in light of these recent talks.

After Monday's meeting, Tusk and Bush made the announcement that the placement of the interceptors and the upgrades to the Polish military would be considered as one deal and that a "concrete plan" for the modernization would be formed "before [Bush's] watch is over." Rice - aware of limited time left to pursue the deal in this administration - said that U.S. consideration of the planned upgrades may only take three months, a reduction from previous statements that it would take six.

One more step forward. Now let's take two back.

Congressional Schedule for DoD and DoE Bills

Provided below is an updated schedule of Congressional action on key Department of Defense (DoD) and Department of Energy (DoE) bills, as prepared by David Culp of FCNL.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

North Korea Nutshell: Geneva or Bust

For months now, the U.S. has urged North Korea to submit a declaration that is both complete and clear. The North Koreans have responded by discounting U.S. claims and the frustration in Washington with the delay is becoming more evident as the weeks pass by. This has led U.S. Ambassador Chris Hill to consider some more creative approaches to break the impasse. Rumors have been circulating that Hill was considering trying to separate the controversial issues of the nuclear declaration out of the main issues involving the bomb-making program itself, thereby allowing progress on this latter issue to continue while discussions continue on the former.

The North Koreans have yet to really respond to this proposal until only recently. Several news organizations are now reporting that a special set of bilateral discussions have been arranged for the end of this week in Geneva. Followers of the 6-Party talks will remember that Amb. Hill and his North Korean counterpart have met before in Geneva to resolve the conflicts over the money frozen in the Banco Delta Asia scandal.

Sources that I have heard from on this subject have painted the following scenario for the resolution coming out of the meeting. The U.S. will issue a statement saying that North Korea will be required to provide all details concerning their plutonium production, bomb design and manufacture, work towards a uranium enrichment capability, and anything that may be related to proliferation of nuclear materials to sources outside of North Korea (ie. Syria). However, the issues of past proliferation activities, as well as possible attempts at acquiring a uranium enrichment capability, will be separated from the general declaration to the 6-Party Talks.

Instead, North Korea will issue a statement just to the United States concerning its work towards a uranium enrichment program and any direct connection they have with what went on in Syria, leaving the job of advising the other four countries about this development to the U.S. In this way, North Korea can avoid contradicting previous statements made at the larger 6-Party negotiations while still providing information that will be required for the U.S. to move forward with the process. North Korea has seemed to already indicate their acceptance of this method of progress by admitting to the U.S. that there were North Korean engineers at military facilities in Syria.

It should be noted that it is likely that North Korea will use the term uranium enrichment program in its admission instead of the common U.S. reference of highly enriched uranium. This is important as a highly enriched uranium program intrinsically implies that the North Koreans were looking to develop a second source of bomb-making material. By only referring to the acquisition of materials for low-enriched uranium, North Korea avoids much of the significant embarrassment that has likely prevented it from making this admission up until now.

Up to this point, Amb. Hill has likely been reluctant to make any compromise on the Syria and HEU issues due to the negative reaction this would receive in Congress. Hill will need to maintain significant Congressional support for delisting North Korea from the lists of State Sponsor’s of Terror and the Trading with the Enemy Act. This compromise, modeled somewhat off of Richard Nixon’s famous “Shanghai Communiqué”, allows the North Koreans to finesse their concerns over having to admit that they have lied about their previous activities while still satisfying everyone else’s concern over what exactly North Korea has been up to. The success or failure of this effort in Geneva will, as usual, depend on the degree that North Korea is willing to offer transparency on its activities.

There are several factors that have all likely contributed to the recent decision by North Korea to accept this plan to go to Geneva and I will tick them off below in what I consider to be the order of importance:

  • The determination of the Chinese to not have this issue hanging over their heads as they head towards the summer Olympic Games
  • New South Korean President, Lee Myung-bak, significantly altering South Korean foreign policy, emphasizing aid to North Korea be linked to denuclearization
  • The improvement of ties between the U.S., South Korea and Japan after some serious strains in recent years
  • The U.S. finally making progress in providing promised oil shipments to North Korea
  • Persistence on the part of the U.S. negotiating team to demand a complete declaration and withhold delisting until this takes place
  • The New York Philharmonic (then again, maybe not)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Kingston Reif Interviews Dr. Leonard Weiss on U.S.-India Nuclear Deal

Kingston Reif, Scoville Fellow at the Center, recently interviewed Dr. Leonard Weiss on the U.S.-India nuclear deal. Weiss is an affiliate at Center for International Security and Cooperation at Stanford University, a consultant to the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and advisor to the Campaign for Responsibility in Nuclear Trade.

The interview can be seen below. Check it out.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Highlights of House Hearing on Missile Defense

On March 5, the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs held a hearing entitled, “Oversight of Ballistic Missile Defense (Part 1): Threats, Realities, and Tradeoffs.” In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman John Tierney (D-MA) described the hearing as the beginning of “a robust and concerted investigation into the rationale for missile defense; its costs, benefits and technical obstacles; and the accountability, transparency and testing regime of the Missile Defense Agency.” The specific purpose of this first oversight hearing was to examine “the potential threat our country faces from ballistic missiles and how that threat compares to other homeland security and weapons of mass destruction vulnerabilities.”

The witness list for the hearing included Joe Cirincione (President of the Ploughshares Fund), Stephen Hildreth (of the Congressional Research Service), Baker Spring (of the Heritage Foundation), and Stephen Flynn (of the Council on Foreign Relations). Their testimony’s can be found here, here, here, and here, respectively.

In keeping with the stated goals of the hearing, the majority of the Member’s questions focused on the relative severity of the ballistic missile threat. Here are some (paraphrased) highlights:

Tierney: Do you agree or disagree that it is more likely a nuclear weapon would enter the US by unconventional means?

Cirincione: Agree.
Spring: Disagree.
Hildreth: I don’t know.


Tierney: What is the likelihood that someone would attack the US knowing the result would be their ultimate destruction?

Cirincione: Deterrence is alive and well. There are military measures we can take to enhance deterrence on Iran.


Stephen Lynch (D-MA): Is the $120 billion funding proportional to the ICBM threat?

Cirincione: Absolutely not. It is the biggest scam in history. This program is out of whack, and this budget is unsustainable.


John Yarmuth (D-KY): What should we be spending our money on?

Cirincione: We need a more comprehensive threat assessment, and then we need to do our funding based on that. We need to cut back funding and let the joint chiefs decide how to distribute it.


Chris Van Hollen (D-MD): During the Bush administration, ground-based missile defense (GMD) has been deployed despite a test success rate of 50% on “dumbed-down” tests. Would this even succeed?

Cirincione: The history of this program is that the threats and capabilities have been inflated. So, funding is being inflated. You’ve got to restore some realism. We have never had a realistic test, not even under the most primitive conditions. Without these tests, how can Congress justify deploying? You have to fly before you buy. We need to cut back and give funding to our actual number one threat: preventing another 9/11 with the nuclear component.
Spring: I think you are describing a cycle of failure, where you’re going to cut funding for testing even while saying more testing is necessary.
Flynn: I wish I could take the money you cut and use it for my stuff. There is a disconnect between how much we spend on the threat of containers getting to the US, which is a miniscule amount of funding, as compared to what we have put into the missile defense system.

Dan Burton (R-IN): We need a more complete threat assessment, and I still think we need ABM at all three levels (inter-continental, intermediate, and short-range).

Tierney: We have a tendency to overexaggerate the capacity of others, for example with Iran and North Korea. Neither country has come even remotely close to completing ICBMs, correct?

Hildreth: I would agree, yes. You can’t get around issues without testing, and we just don’t see these countries doing that.

In sum, the consensus opinion of the witnesses (Spring notwithstanding) was that:
  • The ballistic missile threat has been wildly inflated
  • The U.S. is far more likely to be attacked with WMD transferred via non-missile means such as a dirty bomb than by ICBMs
  • The opportunity costs of spending roughly $10 billion a year on missile defense are enormous. According to Flynn, the combined budgets for funding domestic and international maritime and port of entry interdiction efforts and nuclear detection activities is equal to roughly one-half of the annual budget for developing missile defense.
  • The Missile Defense Agency should not be exempted from normal acquisition, testing and reporting requirements
  • We need a comprehensive assessment of the threat posed by ballistic missiles in relation to other threats, such as threats to the homeland transferred via non-missile means

Monday, March 10, 2008

National Security Legislative Wrap-up

This week, both the Senate and the House are expected to take up the Fiscal Year 2009 Budget Resolution. Both Budget Committees approved the Bush Administration's request: $542 billion for defense budget authority (function 050 in the budget) plus $70 billion as a down payment for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While some Members of Congress may try to increase the Iraq and Afghanistan money to a more realistic total of about $170 billion for the next fiscal year, the President's overall defense total is likely to be endorsed. In contrast, the House Budget Resolution includes $37 billion for the international affairs budget.

Over the weekend, the President vetoed the bill barring waterboarding by the intelligence community, and there are not sufficient votes to overcome the veto.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Downing a Sick Satellite, or Upping the Arms Race?

The Center's Katie Mounts recently put together a terrific piece on the long-term ramifications of the decision by the United States to shoot down its failing spy satellite. The full text of the article is provided below.

Downing a Sick Satellite, or Upping the Arms Race?

When the White House announced in January that a failed U.S. intelligence satellite would soon fall out of orbit to the Earth, Bush administration officials claimed the potential for risk was “very small."

That story quickly changed, however, in order to launch an experiment with dangerous consequences. Claiming that the satellite’s toxic fuel tank could land and explode in a populated area – an extremely unlikely scenario – the Pentagon elected to attempt to destroy the satellite with an anti-ballistic missile. The goal was to rupture the gas tank, causing the fuel to disperse safely at a high altitude.

The administration’s explanation unravels, however, when one looks beyond the cover story. Was the United States using a failed satellite as cover for target practice to develop high-tech space weapons? Maybe Star Wars isn't just for the big screen after all.

The satellite’s toxic fuel might have been vaporized from the heat of re-entry or expelled through the tank's openings even without being hit. When the missile was launched and succeeded in striking its target, there was still a chance it would fail to burst the fuel tank. As for the risk to human life, it is worth pointing out that no falling satellite has ever caused a human casualty.

Some experts placed the chance of intercepting the satellite as low as 50 percent. Even Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff James Cartwright only gave it a "reasonably high opportunity for success" -- hardly enough to inspire confidence, especially when you consider a price tag of $40 million to $60 million to carry out the mission.

Beyond these immediate costs, the operation calls into question the logic of excessive spending on ballistic missile defense, the most expensive weapons system in the Pentagon budget. The United States has already spent over $200 billion on missile defense to date, and the Pentagon proposes to spend another $12 billion in 2009. This latest stunt may be a last-ditch effort for the Missile Defense Agency to demonstrate that its product works before facing possible budget cuts under the next administration.

The political costs of this stunt are also high. When it comes to targeting a satellite, missile defense clearly becomes an offensive weapon, not just defensive.

America has not conducted an anti-satellite test since the 1980s because of concerns over dangerous debris left in the Earth's orbit. The United States objected loudly when China destroyed one of its own failing satellites in January 2007 and created thousands of pieces of space debris. An American test now is not just perceived as hypocritical by the international community, but appears to the Chinese as a response to their test. Should the United States, more reliant on satellite technology than any other country, launch a space arms race with China, it undoubtedly has the most to lose.

The Bush administration's announcement came in the wake of the U.S. rejection of a draft Russian and Chinese treaty banning weapons in space. At a time when the United States needs these countries’ cooperation, especially in regards to Iran and North Korea, this missile strike jeopardizes larger U.S. foreign policy goals.

In light of this larger context, the Bush administration should not be surprised that experts and the American public do not take their humanitarian justification for this operation at face value. After all, this wouldn’t be the first time the Bush White House has provided false justification for a controversial – and later regrettable – foreign policy decision.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Ballistic Missile Defense: An Update

The last few weeks have witnessed some important developments in the arena of ballistic missile defense.

Significantly, during his recent visit to the United States, Czech Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek announced that U.S. and Czech negotiators are nearing an agreement on placing an early warning radar base in the Czech Republic.

Recall that in January 2007, the Bush administration asked that formal negotiations begin on the proposed deployment of a ground-based mid-course defense (GMD) element of the larger Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS) in Europe to defend against an Iranian missile threat. In addition to the radar base in the Czech Republic, the system would include 10 interceptors in Poland, all of which would be completed by 2013 at a cost of $4.04 billion. The FY2008 Defense Appropriations Bill (H.R. 3222; P.L. 110-114) eliminated the Bush administration’s request for $85 million for the European site construction, but permits $225 million for further study of the proposed European GMD element.

While negotiations between Washington and Prague appear to be coming to a successful conclusion, Poland continues to tie acceptance of the U.S. plan to support from Washington for modernizing the Polish armed forces and providing Poland with U.S. air defense systems. Missile defense promises to figure prominently in talks between Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and President Bush scheduled for later this week. No final deal can be reached until both the Czech Republic and Poland agree to the U.S. proposal.

In related news, on February 26, the GAO released a study entitled “Assessment of DOD Efforts to Enhance Missile Defense Capabilities and Oversight” (GAO’s annual report on missile defense is in draft and is slated to be issued in final by March 15). The study took a broad look at BMDS over the course of the past year, and made the following conclusions:

  • MDA has fielded additional new assets, enhanced capability of some existing assets, and achieved most test objectives
  • However, the goals originally set by MDA for Block 2006 were not met, as it ultimately fielded fewer assets, increased costs by about $1 billion, and conducted fewer tests
  • GAO was unable to assess whether MDA met its overall performance goal because (1) there have not been enough flight tests to validate the models and simulations that are used to predict system-level performance, (2) some interceptors may not be reliable, and (3) tests done to date have been developmental in nature
What do these new developments tell us about the recent and future trajectory of an integrated BMDS? First, on the issue of U.S.-Poland negotiations, it seems clear that the new government of Prime Minister Tusk has been a tougher negotiator (in demanding more for Poland) than the coalition of his predecessor, Jaroslaw Kaczynski. Given that any agreement to base interceptors in Poland is subject to the approval of the Polish parliament, Tusk’s harder line, coupled with the fact that the majority of Poles disagree with the U.S. proposal to place interceptors in their country, suggests that interceptors will not be put in Poland anytime soon.

A similar dynamic is at work in the Czech Republic, despite the fact that Washington and Prague are nearing an agreement on the radar base. Many Czechs are hostile to the U.S. proposal, and any agreement will have to be ratified by the Czech parliament (and perhaps even survive a public referendum). Consequently, as a recent CRS report puts it, “approval is not a foregone conclusion.”

Second, the GAO study does nothing to ally the doubts of critics (see here and here for examples) who question the technical feasibility and cost-effectives of GMD both in Europe and on the American west coast. Since the 1980s, DOD has spent more than $100 billion on missile defense, and it estimates that another $50 billion will need to be spent between FY2008 and FY2013. Were GMD likely to result in a net increase in U.S. security, perhaps such enormous costs could be justified. That most of the available evidence points in the opposite direction suggests that America should stop further deployment of GBD.

Monday, March 3, 2008

National Security Legislative Wrap-up

Last week, the Senate spent three days of debate on Iraq with no final vote on either of the measures introduced by Sen. Russell Feingold (D-WI). The first measure would have cut funding for U.S. troops 120 days after enactment of the measure except for specified purposes, including bringing troops home. The second measure would have required an Administration report to Congress on its strategy for combating al Qaeda.

On March 5, the Senate and House Budget Committees are slated to markup or write the Fiscal Year 2009 Budget Resolution, and both chambers are expected to take up the measure next week.

Work on the $100 billion-plus fiscal year 2008 Supplemental Appropriations bill to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has been put off, perhaps until April. The measure is expected to be the vehicle for new fights over withdrawing U.S. troops from Iraq and perhaps many other issues.