December, 2008

  • Dec 24, 2008

    In Robert Gates’ October 28 speech at the Carnegie Endowment, he discussed the importance for the United States to maintain a credible nuclear deterrence and offered the reliable replacement warhead (RRW) program as a way forward. Regarding the RRW, PONI member Yousef Butt recently published a piece for the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists where he outlined a number of steps that should be taken by the Obama Administration with regards to U.S. nuclear policy. With recommendations ranging from ratification of the CTBT to de-alerting nuclear weapons, this list is expansive and covers a host of pressing issues. The lack of timeliness, feasibility, and possible negative global ramifications of RRW are cited as reasons against the program. Is the RRW the best way forward to help maintain a safe, credible, and reliable nuclear arsenal or should the United States find others ways to ensure the viability of its deterrent?

  • Dec 18, 2008

    Beginning in the Presidential primaries this year Hillary Clinton floated the idea of creating a nuclear umbrella for Israel (and perhaps other countries in the Middle East) to help deter an Iranian aggression. Ha’aretz recently broke a story citing an unnamed source close to the Obama Administration who claims that Obama will, in fact offer this nuclear umbrella to Israel. Doug Bandow recently wrote an article  for the National Interest in which he is highly critical of the idea of extending the nuclear umbrella to Israel or others. After raising a host of arguments against extending the umbrella he concludes,

    Ever since the cold war ended, U.S. foreign policy has presumed Washington’s right to meddle, promiscuously intervening in conflicts with little or no relevance to American security. Opening a nuclear umbrella over Israel and other Middle Eastern states would be more of the same. But it’s time for change that we can believe in on foreign as well as domestic issues. It’s time for Washington to begin avoiding rather than joining conflicts around the globe.

    Is there merit to Clinton’s proposal or does Bandow have it right on? Can the nuclear umbrella help prevent aggression and stop states from going nuclear, or is it a risky idea, lacking credibility?

  • Dec 18, 2008

    CSIS recently released a joint report with APS and AAAS discussing the role of nuclear weapons in United States policy in the 21st century. Authored in part by PONI member Jessica Yeats, the report identifies the range of threats facing the United States and highlights the most pressing issues for the upcoming administration. The report also outlines a centrist package of initiatives that, taken together can help simultaneously achieve the two overriding, albeit not always consistent, goals for the United States:

    The United States must re-establish its global leadership in nuclear nonproliferation, arms control and disarmament matters. AND IN PARALLEL The United States must ensure a credible nuclear deterrent for as long as is needed through steps that include continuing to refurbish and update its nuclear stockpile and infrastructure as necessary without creating any new nuclear weapon capabilities.    

  • Dec 17, 2008

    The Congressional Commission of the Strategy Posture of the United States recently released the interim report for its commissioned study of U.S. nuclear posture. While the interim report did not provide specific recommendations it identified a host of findings on a variety of nuclear issues. One of the most stark revelations was the statement that,

    We are at a “tipping point” in proliferation. If Iran and North Korea proceed unchecked to build nuclear arsenals, there is a serious possibility of a cascade of proliferation following. And as each new nuclear power is added the probability of a terror group getting a nuclear bomb increases 

    As the Six-party talks failed to get the written verification they were seeking and Arab leaders met yesterday with the West to discuss Iranian nuclear ambitions, it is clear these two countries will occupy a large part of the nuclear focus this upcoming year.  Is there a nuclear domino effect to be had and what should the United States do to stop it?

  • Dec 8, 2008

    On 5 December in the Washington Post, Walter Pincus reported that the head of U.S. Strategic Command argued for an urgent modernization program for the U.S. nuclear arsenal, especially in light of Chinese and Russian upgrades to their own nuclear warheads and delivery systems.  However, other speakers at the same Nuclear Deterrence Summit held in Washington urged caution in adopting a modernization plan, citing the need for the results of forthcoming studies.

    …[Air For Gen. Kevin P.] Chilton said he was concerned that Congress had effectively killed the Bush administration's Reliable Replacement Warhead program, which is designed to provide a modern, safer warhead with no new capabilities before the end of this decade. Expressing concern that the nation's Cold War stockpile is aging, Chilton said that "a reliable [nuclear] inventory supports nonproliferation goals…"…[Rep. Ellen O.] Tauscher, whose California district is the site of one of the nation's leading nuclear weapons labs, became a leader in Congress's effort to eliminate the RRW program. She said the Obama administration should "take the high ground" internationally by developing a comprehensive nuclear weapons policy that includes ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, extending the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia and modernizing a sharply reduced warhead stockpile... 

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  • Dec 3, 2008

    On 2 December, the Washington Post reported excerpts from the draft report of the congressionally mandated, bipartisan Commission on the Prevention of Weapons of Mass Destruction Proliferation and Terrorism, stating the increasing likelihood of a terrorist attack on a city using a weapon of mass destruction by the end of 2013, and urging the incoming Obama administration to take "decisive action" to reduce the likelihood of a devastating attack.

    “…While the panel found the risk of an attack with such weapons to be increasingly serious, ‘nuclear terrorism is still a preventable catastrophe,’ the report says. It calls for aggressive steps to secure unguarded stockpiles of nuclear weapons material such as uranium and plutonium, as well as coordinated international efforts to discover and disrupt smuggling rings that traffic in atomic technology……The United States should push for a global consensus banning states such as Iran and North Korea from adding to their stockpiles of enriched uranium and plutonium, while also ensuring supplies of commercial reactor fuel for countries that renounce nuclear weapons, the report says...” 

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  • Dec 3, 2008

    On 24 November, the WSJ published an op-ed by Brian T. Kennedy, calling for the U.S. to immediately implement space-based interceptors as part of a multilayered missile defense system.  Mr. Kennedy stresses that this is necessary in order to guard against ship launched nuclear missiles either aimed at or above a U.S. city (an EMP attack).

     “…such an attack would effectively throw America back technologically into the early 19th century…Common sense would suggest that, absent food and water, the number of people who could die of deprivation and as a result of social breakdown might run well into the millions……The only solution to this problem is a robust, multilayered missile-defense system. The most effective layer in this system is in space, using space-based interceptors that destroy an enemy warhead in its ascent phase when it is easily identifiable, slower, and has not yet deployed decoys. We know it can work from tests conducted in the early 1990s. We have the technology. What we lack is the political will to make it a reality…” 

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