Nuclear 2009 in Words

Dec 23, 2009

Hopping on the list-mania as the year (and decade) quickly come to an end, PONI has put together the nuclear year in words.  The list represents a collaboration of quotes that represent some of the major issues and discussions on things nuclear in 2009.   Without further ado:

10. “Let’s sanction Iran, marry Pakistan, and bomb North Korea”- Joe Cirincione, November 30

Talking on the Colbert Report’s “Better Know a Lobby” feature, Colbert made Ploughshares President Cirincione play sanction, bomb, or marry at the end of the interview despite his protest that he does not want to bomb anyone. The game begins at the 4:50 clip below although the entire interview is a great watch. Not to mention covering 3 of the major nuclear hotspots, the clip speaks to the fact nuclear issues are starting to creep back into the mainstream media and will likely continue to do so over the next year.

9. Hair-trigger “conjures a drawn weapon in the hands of somebody” but the "reality of our alert posture today" is that "the weapon is in the holster" and “has two combination locks on it” - General Kevin Chilton, February 27

As reported by the ever reliable Global Security Newswire, STRATCOM Commander Kevin Chilton has worked hard this year to dispel the notion that our nuclear weapons are on "hair-trigger alert." At the same time, working “with Russia to move nuclear weapons off hair-trigger alert” was a campaign promise of the Obama administration and increasing decision times was mentioned in the “Gang of 4” follow-on 2008 op-ed. The East West Institute also did a great deal of work on the issue in 2009. This may be one of many issues stuck between the rock and hard place of the NPR and Review Conference heading into 2010.

8. “Locking in specific reductions for U.S. forces prior to the conclusion of the ongoing Nuclear Posture Review is putting the cart before the horse.” - Keith Payne, July 8

Writing in the WSJ, Keith Payne’s “Arms Control Amnesia” op-ed played a key role in the year long battle about the administration’s sequencing of the START follow-on treaty and the NPR. Payne argues that agree to force reductions before our strategy has been released makes no sense because one cannot undertake the former without having the latter. To help combat the perception of this argument, the DoD released a pair of “NPR Fact Sheets” in August detailing that NPR analytic work and START negotiations are occurring in parallel but it remains to be seen if this will be something that is raised by those opposed to Treaty ratification in hearings.

7. “There is also the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which President Obama reaffirms as a very important treaty . . .We have already seen this week, an adoption of the agenda in a vastly different atmosphere compared to the 2005 Review Conference.”- Jayantha Dhanapala, May 7

As Dhanapala notes at a “Voices of Experience” panel, the Obama administration has placed increased attention on the international non-proliferation regime. By PrepCom standards, 2009 was a big success. They drafted an agenda for the Review Conference which could help the 2010 event avoid a fate similar to 2005. Heading into 2010, at least two questions remain for the May 2010 Review Conference which serves as a major indicator of the non-proliferation regime. First, how far does Obama’s work in the last year carry him? He has certainly talked the talk but walking the walk is extremely tough to do on a short timeline. The administration might have a ratified START agreement and not much else heading to New York next year. Not to mention the possibility of a NPR wildcard. Or the "m word" plans that may be  attached to said START agreement. Second, what is the best case scenario at the Review Conference? Linton Brooks and others have said gauging success by a final document is not a good metric becuase it places the bar too high. It would certainly be nice to make headway on issues like Iran, safeguards, penalties for withdrawal, etc. but at the end of the day making progress at a Review Conference is going to be tough, even in a positive atmosphere. 

6. “I'm tired of buying the same horse twice”- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, June 1

Talking at the Asian Security Summit meeting in the summer, Gates succinctly summed up the administration’s approach to North Korea. Despite a second nuclear test and a number of missile launches throughout 2009, the administration tried played it cool throughout parts of 2009. They didn't bother to deploy the expensive X Band Radar, didn't offer incentives, and generally were willing to ignore the racket created by North Korea to the greatest degree possible.   The abduction of journalists Laura Ling and Euna Lee changes that a bit and prompted a visit from former president Clinton to gain their freedom.   As the year winds down, Ambassador Bosworth is now in the process of trying to cajole the North Koreans back to the Six Party talks. How the administration tries to conduct negotiations without buying the same horse twice will yet again be a key question on North Korea heading into 2010.

5. “I am probably unique in the room in I’m much less excited about the Russian large number of nonstrategic weapons cuz at the moment they can only blow up in Russia and I don’t much plan to go there.” -  Linton Brooks, November 30

Any list of quotable nuclear phrases from the year has to include Ambassador Brooks.  Speaking at a Hudson Institute event with Steve Pifer a few weeks ago, this gem popped up in response to a question about how the U.S. would tackle the TNW issue in future negotiations with the Russians. As with many nuclear issues, the discussion of non-strategic weapons in Europe is again back on the radar. With relevance to bilateral US/Russia arms control, extended deterrence, and verification, TNW’s in Europe are a crosscutting issue relevant to many aspects of nuclear policy  There have been some murmurings in Europe that it may be time for weapons to go but it will politically difficult for European governments to tackle the issue. Stay tuned for the NATO Strategic Concept in 2010.

4. “ . . [N]o new military capabilities and therefore distinctly different. Isn’t that the case, Joe?”—Clark Murdock, February 12

At the first ever PDI Live Debate, Joe Cirincione and Clark Murdock kicked off the series debating the ever divisive Reliable Replacement Warhead program. After a long statement, Dr. Murdock met the “question” requirement of that section of the debate by tacking on “isn’t that the case, Joe?” I couldn't get a second mark but it occurs about halfway through the debate.  Needless to say, this debate will continue to play a big role in nuclear issues heading into the new decade.  While Ellen Tauscher is happy to remind folks that RRW itself is dead, the discussion about what sort of efforts need to be undertaken with regards to the infrastructure (human and physical), delivery systems, and most controversially the warheads is far from over.  As evidenced by the letter sent from 41 Senators to Obama about the need for modernization to be attached to a START package, what "Stockpile Management Program" means will field a lot of different answers.  As noted by a senior defense expert recently at an off the record address, the Republicans won't get modernization without an arms control treaty and Democrats won't get arms control without a modernization program.  Currently, it is the worst of both words and everyone is watching a Hollywood slow motion car flying through the air to see what happens. This will be a particularly tough problem for the administration moving into 2010 as they try to gear up for ratification of START follow-on and CTBT ratification with modernization their main trump card to play on both.

3. “Putin . . . showed me a map that his intelligence guys had prepared, and I told him he needed a new intelligence service.”—Secretary of Robert Gates referring to Russia’s claim that Iran would not have a missile capable of reaching Western Europe by 2020, June 9

This quote was too good not to include but gets at one of the bigger developments in 2009: the September missile defense decision rolled out by the administration. Initially, there was a flurry of press about how poorly the plan was announced with midnight calls to our allies on the 70th anniversary of the Russian invasion of Poland. Once the dust settled, it appears inopportune leaks forced the administration’s hand early but they made a strong damage control effort to brief our allies on the new system and seek mutually beneficial avenues for cooperation to show our commitment to them. One of the the real interesting questions down the road will be the intelligence bet made by the administration. Looking beyond the Russia question which the administration emphasizes the decision was not about, the primary justification for the new system were changes in intelligence prediction and better than excpected advances in SM-3 technology.  As the former head of the CIA, Bob Gates knows his fair share about intelligence, including the fact that esimates can be wrong.  As explained here, the new plan by the administration does accept some additional risk of new having a redudancy layer of 10 ICBM capable GBI's in Eastern Europe between 2017 (earliest date they could be put there) and 2020 (when the ICBM capable SM-3 Block IIB is set to be ready) should an Iranian ICBM emerge but provides quicker protection against short and medium range threats that are judged to be greater than expected.  These predictions will continue to be watched, analyzed, changed, and criticized as missile defense contines to remain one of the most divise nuclear issues. 

2. "We do have a significant opportunity to reshape the very framework of United States nuclear weapons policy, posture and operations through the nuclear posture review in the coming year . . . [P]robably not since the beginning of the nuclear age has there been so much political space to really fundamentally rethink our nuclear policy and posture. With respect to the Nuclear Posture Review, what does it mean to get it right?" - Joan Rohlfing- May 20

Speaking at an ACA panel, soon to be NTI President Joan Rohlfing asked the big question about the 2010 NPR. Heading into the New Year, eyes and ears will be closely monitoring what the NPR has to say. Throughout 2009, the PONI blog has been involved in a few discussions with folks worried about the direction they view the NPR headed chronologically detailed here, here, here, and here. Regardless of where one comes out on what the NPR should say and will say, there is no doubt the OSD policy shop has a tough task in front of them. Squaring what the military and interagency process produce as their answer to the President’s guidance versus what some hope will be included in the NPR will inevitably leave some folks on both sides of the aisle disappointed. The difficult task for the NPR is to develop an answer that enough folks can find acceptable. There is no doubt the NPR is important but gauging realistic expectations of how much it will be able to undertake will remain critical. Once released, DoD will also have to be prepared to tackle its marketing of the NPR. With only a few months between the NPR release and the Review Conference, there will not be a great deal of time to answer questions, both at home and abroad, about what it all means.

1. “To put an end to Cold War thinking, we will reduce the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy, and urge others to do the same. Make no mistake: As long as these weapons exist, the United States will maintain a safe, secure and effective arsenal to deter any adversary, and guarantee that defense to our allies” President Barack Obama, April 5

Speaking at Hradcany Square in Prague, President Barack Obama unveiled a massive shift on United States nuclear policy within the first few months in office. While the United States has always been legally committed to disarmament under Article VI of the NPT, there have long been doubts about our commitment to that pledge. These criticisms were certainly prevalent in the previous administration that did not see a great deal of value in formal arms control and were perceived as trying to make new nukes through the RNEP/RRW process. Obama’s visionary remarks in Prague sough to turn these perception on their head and further jumpstart the momentum created by the “Gang of 4” op-eds published in 2007 and 2008 that call for a world without nuclear weapons. That said, this particular line from the speech in opened what Hans Kristensen noted are two trenches in the nuclear debate: reducing the role of nuclear weapons and maintaining a safe, secure, and effective arsenal. Some emphasize the former, some the latter. How the administration seeks to calibrate the balance between the two will be particularly important heading into 2010 with START follow-on ratification, the NPR, the Nuclear Security Summit, the Review Conference, and the beginning of CTBT discussion.

What’d we miss? Disagree with the rankings? We’d love to hear from you in the comments.