Friday, October 31, 2008

SecDef Gates on Nuclear Weapons

H/T to our great research assistant for writing and to Nick Roth for great notes

On October 28, Secretary Robert Gates began his speech on nuclear weapons at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace citing Andrew Carnegie’s dedication to achieving peace in the world. He then said:

I mention all of this because one of the hard lessons of history is that it has a way of defying even the best of intentions - especially on matters of war and peace... And so even as we strive to live up to our noblest goals, as Carnegie did, we must deal with the messy realities of the world in which we live. One of those realities is the existence of nuclear weapons.

Perhaps a good additional quote arguing the need for peace in a time of conflict would have been from someone who grew up knowing the devastating power of nuclear weapons. A quote from Ronald Reagan is one example:

I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us nuclear weapons, to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete.

Gates Speech

Overall, Gates's speech made a direct case for the development of the so-called Reliable Replacement Warhead. Some highlights:

  • Gates said today’s US nuclear weapons are currently, “safe, reliable, and secure,” but warns that the shelf life on these weapons is soon approaching. “The program we propose is not about new capabilities…It is about the future credibility of our strategic deterrent.” (The 2006 study JASONS report, of course, concluded that the plutonium cores, which are the most sensitive component of the nuclear stockpile, have lifetimes of at least 85 years. The average age of nuclear weapons in our stockpile is 21 years old. The oldest warheads are 28.)
  • He argued that the stockpile is increasingly outdated, and moves further away from test design with every adjustment.
  • The United States is the only nuclear power that is not modernizing or cannot build new nuclear weapons.
  • "To be blunt," he argued, "there is absolutely no way we can maintain a credible deterrent and reduce the number of weapons in our stockpile without resorting to testing or pursuing a modernization program," (h/t to William Hartung's commentary on this false choice on TPM Café)

Based on Q&A

  • The US could "probably should" ratify the CTBT if there were adequate verification measures.
  • The Pentagon could accept RRW without nuclear explosive testing. (Does it seem slightly hard to believe that the US would accept a new nuclear weapon without testing if we also argue that we can't accept our current, scientifically-verified stockpile?)
  • On START, Gates said there is a willingness and ability to make deeper reductions in the US and Russian nuclear stockpiles, and there will be another agreement. But, it took years to negotiate START and SALT, and he is not sure that such long and comprehensive agreements are in either country’s best interest.

Looking Ahead

With a few positive notes intertwined, Gates' speech gave cause for concern to those of us working to achieve a world free of nuclear weapons. But the good news is that the increasingly-likely-to-be-elected presidential candidate, Barack Obama, has endorsed this vision:

I believe the United States should lead the international effort to deemphasize the role of nuclear weapons around the world. I also believe that our policy towards the Reliable Replacement Warhead (RRW) affects this leadership position. We can maintain a strong nuclear deterrent to protect our security without rushing to produce a new generation of warheads. I do not support a premature decision to produce the RRW.

Now that would be a tribute to a legacy of peace.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Sinking AIG Lobbied for U.S-India Nuclear Deal

From the “You Can’t Make This Stuff Up” file, comes this story from ProPublica:

As AIG was on the brink of bankruptcy and facing a government takeover, the insurance giant made sure Congress knew where it stood—on U.S.-India nuclear relations, that is.

AIG deployed its lobbyists to Washington last month to influence a bill that allows U.S. companies to sell nuclear technology to India. Signed by President Bush earlier this month, the bill overturns a 30-year-old ban on such sales imposed after India first developed a nuclear bomb. (Critics complain that the U.S.-India deal undermines non-proliferation efforts.)

Why would AIG care about a U.S.-India nuclear pact at a time when its own existence was uncertain?

“We were looking at this to see if there’s a potential business aspect” for AIG, company spokesman Nick Ashooh said. “We do a lot of business in India.” Ashooh said he was “not sure” if that business included insuring contracts between U.S. military technology companies and their Indian counterparts.

Click here for the full story.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Lt. Gen. Robert Gard and Kingston Reif: Time to Rethink Missile Defense

The Center’s chairman, Lt. Gen. Robert Gard, and Kingston Reif wrote a terrific piece on what should be done about missile defense that appears in today’s Defense News.

Time to Rethink Missile Defense

By Lt. Gen. Robert Gard and Kingston Reif
Published in Defense News on October 20, 2008

Despite the Bush administration's investment of an estimated $60 billion since 2001, U.S. national missile defense continues to be an unnecessary and counterproductive enterprise. Testing objectives consistently are not met, cost overruns and scheduling delays are rampant, and relations between the United States and Russia are worse than at any time since the end of the Cold War, thanks in no small part to squabbling over the proposed third missile defense site in Europe.

With the U.S. government on autopilot until January 2009, it falls to the next president and Congress to set realistic expectations about what national missile defense can and cannot do. Three essential changes should be made immediately to shake off the misguided policy-making of the Bush years and set U.S. missile defense back on a productive course.

1. Shift resources away from expensive, unproven and unnecessary systems aimed at countering future long-range threats, and reallocate funding to higher priority systems aimed at existing short- and medium-range missiles.

According to the U.S. intelligence community, a state seeking to strike the U.S. homeland with a nuclear weapon would find it far simpler and less expensive to employ either ship-launched, short-range missiles or some form of non-missile means, such as a container entering a U.S. port.

American troops deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan or in bases across the world are not threatened by intercontinental missiles, but by short- and medium-range missiles, of which Iran and North Korea possess plenty.

Iran and North Korea, the raison d'être of America's intercontinental missile defense programs, are likely a decade away, at the earliest, from developing nuclear-armed intercontinental missiles. Thus, short- and medium-range missiles constitute the clear and present danger to the United States, not intercontinental missiles.

2. Restructure the extensive resources of the U.S. government to effectively combat the ballistic missile threat.

In exempting it from normal acquisition, testing and reporting requirements, the Bush administration gave the organization responsible for developing missile defenses, the Missile Defense Agency, unprecedented decision-making flexibility. This allowed the agency to avoid providing full cost estimates of its systems while deploying interceptor missiles not rigorously tested under realistic battlefield conditions.

The next administration should dissolve the Missile Defense Agency and transfer the various systems back to the military services that originally oversaw them before the agency was created.

3. Spend greater political capital pursuing diplomatic engagement to reduce the missile threat.

Deterrence, containment and diplomacy have been and will continue to be far more effective weapons against ballistic missiles than interceptors.

During the Cold War, the United States successfully negotiated reductions in the number of U.S. and Soviet missiles and bombers, as well as the elimination of intermediate-range missiles from each country's respective arsenals. There is no reason this approach cannot be repeated successfully today.

While the Bush administration should be commended for negotiating an end to Libya's nuclear program and making progress on denuclearization talks with North Korea, it remains adamantly opposed to direct diplomatic engagement with Iran and has shunned efforts to negotiate deeper, binding and verifiable nuclear weapon reductions with Russia. Such an a la carte attitude to diplomacy has not made America safer.

Executing these three changes will not be easy, as the status quo has the support of key constituencies inside and outside of government. However, with strong presidential and congressional backing, they could go a long way toward ensuring America's missile defense programs are focused on real threats, remain cost-effective, and are deployed as a complement - not an alternative - to deterrence, containment and diplomacy.

Retired Lt. Gen. Robert Gard is chairman of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, where Kingston Reif served as the Herbert Scoville Jr. Peace Fellow.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Will Ill Kim Jong-Il Derail Disarmament?

What has North Korea suspended its de-nuclearization activities since it agreed to dismantle its nuclear program in February of 2007? Why was the nation not removed from the U.S. state sponsors of terror list, a key condition to the agreement? How will Kim Jong-Il's recently reported illness factor into continued negotiations?

The Center's Leonor Tomero and Adam Ptacin just released an excellent update and analysis on the questions above.

Key excerpts included below, or find the full report available on the Center's website.

According to Tomero and Ptacin, following early (credible) optimism, including demolition of the Yongbyon reactor cooling tower,
Congressional concerns about verification mechanisms delayed action…and the deadline for taking North Korea off the terrorism list passed on August 11, 2008. Soon after, North Korea halted its reactor disablement program in protest. In September, Pyongyang asked the IAEA to remove the seals from its Yongbyon plant that are part of the verification effort to ensure that nuclear work does not resume.

Washington maintains that North Korea has not been removed from the list of state-sponsors of terrorism because verification mechanisms which meet “international standards” have not yet been put in place. The United States is seeking unlimited inspections of North Korean nuclear facilities, soil sampling tests, and interviews with key scientists involved in the nuclear program.

The North Koreans regard these measures as an encroachment on their national sovereignty, a view supported by independent nongovernmental experts. As David Albright, a former UN weapons inspector who heads the Institute for Science and International Security, said recently, “The United States was demanding verification measures of North Korea no state would accept unless it was defeated in war.
The two analysts suggest,
One possible explanation is that the North’s suspension of its de-nuclearization activities may be nothing more than mere brinksmanship – a final push for concessions before the Bush administration leaves office. If this is indeed the case, this recent derailment may be viewed as nothing more than another hiccup in what has been a challenging Six Party process over the last several years.
What does this mean for U.S. policy?
Despite much frustration, now is not the time to abandon continued engagement with North Korea, especially given its danger of reopening its reprocessing facility and producing additional nuclear weapons material. The alternative to engagement is the potential resumption of nuclear weapons production by North Korea, an outcome that poses a grave threat to international security.
Read the full text of the article here.

Monday, October 6, 2008

National Security Legislative Wrap-Up

Congress is now in recess for the election. In its final item of national security business last week, Congress approved the U.S.-India nuclear cooperation agreement. An attempt to win approval of new sanctions on Iran failed in the Senate. The Senate is expected to return for a lameduck session in mid-November; the House schedule is not clear.



On October 1, in the waning days of the session, the Senate approved the agreement by a vote of 86 – 13. A Dorgan (D-ND) - Bingaman (D-NM) amendment to prohibit nuclear trade with India in the event that India detonates a nuclear weapon and to impose certain reporting requirements was defeated by voice vote.


Just before the beginning of the election recess, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid tried to gain unanimous consent to bring up and pass new sanctions on Iran, but Republicans objected.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Nukes in the VP debate

Props to Moderator Gwen Ifill for raising the issue of nuclear weapons in last night's debate... for better or for worse.

Gwen Ifill:

Governor, on another issue, interventionism, nuclear weapons. What should be the trigger, or should there be a trigger, when nuclear weapons use is ever put into play?
Gov. Palin:
Nuclear weaponry, of course, would be the be all, end all of just too many people in too many parts of our planet, so those dangerous regimes, again, cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons, period.
Come again?
Our nuclear weaponry here in the U.S. is used as a deterrent. And that's a safe, stable way to use nuclear weaponry.
But for those countries -- North Korea, also, under Kim Jong Il -- we have got to make sure that we're putting the economic sanctions on these countries and that we have friends and allies supporting us in this to make sure that leaders like Kim Jong Il and Ahmadinejad are not allowed to acquire, to proliferate, or to use those nuclear weapons. It is that important.
Sen. Biden:
Nuclear weapons require a nuclear arms control regime. John McCain voted against a Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty that every Republican has supported.
Or not?
John McCain has opposed amending the Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty with an amendment to allow for inspections. John McCain has not been -- has not been the kind of supporter for dealing with -- and let me put it another way. My time is almost up.

Barack Obama, first thing he did when he came to the United States Senate, new senator, reached across the aisle to my colleague, Dick Lugar, a Republican, and said, "We've got to do something about keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of terrorists." They put together a piece of legislation that, in fact, was serious and real. Every major -- I shouldn't say every -- on the two at least that I named, I know that John McCain has been opposed to extending the arms control regime in the world.
Ifill again raised the issue in a question about Iran:
Let's move to Iran and Pakistan. I'm curious about what you think starting with you Sen. Biden. What's the greater threat, a nuclear Iran or an unstable [Pakistan]? Explain why.
Well, they're both extremely dangerous. I always am focused, as you know Gwen, I have been focusing on for a long time, along with Barack on Pakistan. Pakistan already has nuclear weapons. Pakistan already has deployed nuclear weapons. Pakistan's weapons can already hit Israel and the Mediterranean. Iran getting a nuclear weapon would be very, very destabilizing. They are more than - they are not close to getting a nuclear weapon that's able to be deployed. So they're both very dangerous. They both would be game changers.

But look, here's what the fundamental problem I have with John's policy about terror instability. John continues to tell us that the central war in the front on terror is in Iraq. I promise you, if an attack comes in the homeland, it's going to come as our security services have said, it is going to come from al Qaeda planning in the hills of Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's where they live. That's where they are. That's where it will come from. And right now that resides in Pakistan, a stable government needs to be established. We need to support that democracy by helping them not only with their military but with their governance and their economic well-being.

There have been 7,000 madrassas built along that border. We should be helping them build schools to compete for those hearts and minds of the people in the region so that we're actually able to take on terrorism and by the way, that's where bin Laden lives and we will go at him if we have actually intelligence.
Governor, nuclear Pakistan, unstable Pakistan, nuclear Iran? Which is the greater threat?
Both are extremely dangerous, of course. And as for who coined that central war on terror being in Iraq, it was the Gen. Petraeus and al Qaeda, both leaders there and it's probably the only thing that they're ever going to agree on, but that it was a central war on terror is in Iraq. You don't have to believe me or John McCain on that. I would believe Petraeus and the leader of al Qaeda.

An armed, nuclear armed especially Iran is so extremely dangerous to consider. They cannot be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons period. Israel is in jeopardy of course when we're dealing with Ahmadinejad as a leader of Iran. Iran claiming that Israel as he termed it, a stinking corpse, a country that should be wiped off the face of the earth. Now a leader like Ahmadinejad who is not sane or stable when he says things like that is not one whom we can allow to acquire nuclear energy, nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad, Kim Jong Il, the Castro brothers, others who are dangerous dictators are one that Barack Obama has said he would be willing to meet with without preconditions being met first.

And an issue like that taken up by a presidential candidate goes beyond naivete and goes beyond poor judgment. A statement that he made like that is downright dangerous because leaders like Ahmadinejad who would seek to acquire nuclear weapons and wipe off the face of the earth an ally like we have in Israel should not be met with without preconditions and diplomatic efforts being undertaken first.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

U.S.-India Nuclear Deal Passes

With 26 more votes than necessary for passage – 86 yeas to 13 nays – the Senate passed the U.S.-India Nuclear Deal yesterday, overcoming the deal's only legislative obstacle left after the House passed the deal on September 27.

To see how your representatives voted, enter your zip in the box below, and hit "enter".

Now, after a more than 30 year ban on nuclear trade imposed on India for conducting illicit nuclear tests, the deal heads to the President's desk for signature, an event that seemed highly unlikely just months ago.

As a result of the deal, civilian nuclear trade between India and the United States will open. India will receive U.S. technology and nuclear energy, and will allow IAEA inspectors to inspect those civilian nuclear facilities. Nuclear weapons facilities will not be opened for inspection, one of the many remaining serious concerns.

In order to pass the agreement before adjournment, Congress was pressured into foregoing the required 30-day review period. In a matter of days, the United States approved a deal that undercuts decades of work by the global non-proliferation community, and even by Congress itself.

The passage is being widely touted as a much-needed foreign policy victory for the Bush administration before it leaves office in January.


Thirteen Senators voted against the deal, including Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA), who highlighted the work of the Center's Leonor Tomero and Lt. Gen. Robert Gard.

According to Harkin,
"Leading arms control experts have condemned this agreement. Leonor Tomero, director of nuclear nonproliferation at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, rendered this verdict:

'The Bush administration ignored congressional conditions and gave away the store in its negotiations with India, with nothing to show for the deal now except having helped foreign companies, enabled the increase of nuclear weapons and nuclear-weapons materials in India, and seriously eroded a thirty-year norm of preventing nuclear proliferation."
He also quoted Gard:
'The greatest threat to the security of the United States is the proliferation of nuclear weapons. This deal [with India] significantly weakens U.S. and international security by granting an exception to the rules of the Nuclear Suppliers Group and American laws, thereby undermining the entire non-proliferation regime and inviting violations by other nations."
Several other Senators spoke out against the deal, and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) introduced an amendment to explicitly place conditions - to scrap the deal if India detonates a weapon and impose several reporting requirements - on India. Sen. Rich Lugar (R-IN) and others rejected these qualifications, arguing that, "if India resumes testing, the 123 agreement is over," and U.S. laws would already require termination of the agreement.


Yesterday, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani told reporters, "You don't have to be worried about [the deal]. Pakistan will now be justified to also make a demand for a similar deal as we don't want discrimination."

Now, about those opponents who argued that an exemption for India would undermine nuclear non-proliferation efforts and encourage an arms race in the region…