Nuclear Scholars Initiative 2010: Recap of Seminar Four

May 10, 2010

PONI recently held the fourth meeting of the 2010 Nuclear Scholars Initiative. Given the flurry of recent events, rather than focus on a single topic, the group discussion focused on current nuclear developments.

With respect to the recently-released Nuclear Posture Review report, a few criticisms were noted and discussed. First among them was the accusation from elements of the political right and the left that the document was not balanced. Second was the perception that options had been take off the table in dealing with North Korea, Iran, and other states of concern. Last came the view that this NPR sold out on the promise to modernize and upkeep the stockpile. In response, a few observations came out during discussion.

  1. If, with hard-liners on the right believing the NPR focuses too much on nonproliferation at the expense of deterrence and the triad, and the left feeling that nonproliferation and nuclear reductions have been short-shifted in the report, then this could actually be taken as a sign that a good balance was kept.

  2. The emphasis on regional deterrence architectures – theater missile defenses, conventional military balances, non-nuclear means of deterrence, and a restatement of regional nuclear deterrence – could be considered a broadened list of options rather than a narrowed field. On declaratory policy, it actually put options on the table: whereas previously, negative security assurances once depended on whether you were allied with a nuclear-weapon state, it now reflects your compliance with nonproliferation obligations.

  3. Based on the conclusions of the technical community, the U.S. can maintain its stockpile without testing. Also, the three “R”s in the NPR – Refurbishment, Reuse, and Replacement – are all available to the complex to modernize the stockpile, so it is not the case that the U.S. is simply intending to let the arsenal rot.

The group also discussed the NPR process, forging strong interagency cooperation, consulting with allies, and the importance of finding the right language to capture the U.S.’s true intent in the NPR report. Foreign reactions to the report were also touched on at various points.

In the second session of the day, we had the opportunity to discuss the New START recently agreed to with Russia. At the outset, the group considered the differences between the context surrounding the current agreement and the context of the Cold War, when suspicion and distrust were extremely high. From that it followed that the purpose and underlying logic of arms control was different today than at the time of the initial START agreement in 1991. Whereas before the U.S. engaged in arms control to avoid the arms race cycle, reduce incentives to preempt in the course of a crisis, and seek to prevent expenditures for new systems from spiraling out of control, today the incentives are different. Arms racing, crisis stability and defense expenditures seem to be less of a concern, even as the ongoing need to improve trust and the overall political relationship between the two countries remains. In addition, the U.S. and Russia both had added incentives to demonstrate completion of an arms reduction agreement prior to the NPT Review Conference and, perhaps more importantly for the U.S., to show that it was taking steps towards meeting its Article VI commitment.

The group also discussed aspects of potential follow-on agreements beyond New START and the fact that issues surrounding tactical nuclear weapons, reserve warheads, and missile defenses will combine to make the next agreement extremely difficult to negotiate. Regarding missile defense cooperation (currently a no-go politically), the group considered a few options, e.g. appointing a special envoy from the military to work the issue and lay some groundwork for more fulsome cooperation in the future.

Later in the day, discussion turned to the issue of nuclear security and the recent Nuclear Security Summit here in Washington, DC. Discussion originally ranged over the timeline of the event and commitments made by individual states, but soon branched out into the longer-term implications of the Summit. One topic brought up was the opportunity for teachable moments by developed states submitting themselves to review under the IAEA’s International Physical Protection Advisory Service, or IPPAS. Three nuclear-weapon states – the U.S., UK and France – and Finland invited such reviews, showing that they are willing to undergo a greater level of scrutiny. The importance of the NSS communiqué, with signatures by 47 national leaders, was also discussed as a tool in overcoming bureaucratic inertia on commitments to the Global Initiative to Combat Nuclear Terrorism and other initiatives. The group also discussed opportunities missed at the Summit, including statements on nuclear security as an Article IV enabler, the inability to bring states like Belarus to the Summit with concrete gains, and so on.

B-61 bomb partsThe seminar finished off with a discussion on extended deterrence and assurance, a hot topic given the newly-released NPR, the New START Treaty, and recent rumblings in Western European capitals over tactical nukes and talks among NATO states. In Western Europe, the focus on massive nuclear retaliation under Eisenhower gave way to a mixed conventional-nuclear approach to deterrence under Kennedy’s flexible response doctrine, paving the way for the massive buildup of tactical nuclear weapons in Europe. NATO cooperation was maintained in part through the political and infrastructure-sharing related to these weapons. At the end of the Cold War the U.S. eventually withdrew the vast majority of these weapons, leaving approximately 200 behind in Germany, the Netherlands, Italy, Turkey, and Belgium. However, Russia still deploys an unknown number of tactical nuclear weapons, ostensibly in response to NATO’s conventional superiority. Bringing Russia to the table on tactical weapons was discussed, including the necessity to continue public statements on the subject to bring pressure to bear on Russia, and the need to consider concerns, no matter how inconceivable, that NATO poses a conventional threat of attack to Russia. This situation was seen as reminiscent of the 1980s, when the U.S. saw Soviet concerns of a NATO attack as propaganda, only to later discover that some in the Politburo were seriously concerned by this prospect.

The difficulty of maintaining assurances to allies so that they do not pursue their own nuclear capabilities also came up. With its advanced nuclear infrastructure, Japan is seen as being “a screwdriver’s turn away” from having a nuclear capability. However, the costs and time associated with acquiring a nuclear arsenal, in addition to the contravention of Japan’s own disarmament policies make this a difficult possibility to consider, but a serious concern nonetheless. Thus, U.S.-Japan dialogue on their security arrangements, basing of troops, and other issues is an ongoing effort. Turkey was also discussed as Japan’s analogue in Europe; spurned by its allies in regards to the EU, worried about Iran, and uncertain whether the West will resolve the crisis. While not as technically advanced as Japan, it could eventually decide to acquire a nuclear capability if it felt the need (a possibility brought up by Turkish officials with Ploughshare’s Alexandra Bell in this Bulletin article).