Graham Allison published an op-ed in today’s Washington Post about Iran having “lost its nuclear virginity,” i.e. gaining enough enrichment know-how and capability to produce a bomb. We knew this already. More interestingly, Allison makes an estimation of the likelihood that the fissile material used in a future Iranian nuclear weapon test will come from a declared facility, a probability that he puts at less than 10%. Allison therefore likens the emphasis on Iran’s declared facilities to “the story of the drunk looking for his car keys under the lamppost, even though he knows he dropped them a hundred yards away, because that is where the light is.” Assuming, probably correctly, that we’re in no good position to be able to physically prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, Allison tries to sober up the drunk man.
- May 31, 2009May 31, 2009
SECDEF Gates’ remarks related to North Korea at the IISS conference had two major components: North Korea as a state having weapons and North Korea proliferating those weapons and material. While Gates answered in the Q&A that the program itself was not a “direct threat,” he said the following on North Korea proliferating material:
The transfer of nuclear weapons or material by North Korea to states or non-state entities would be considered a grave threat to the United States and our allies. And we would hold North Korea fully accountable for the consequences of such action
In reaction to this statement, Stephen Walt’s blog raised the distinction of giving nuclear material to countries versus to other terrorist groups and argues:May 28, 2009
Problems continue with efforts to refurbish the W76. According the LA Times, when the NNSA said in February
[the] first refurbished W76 nuclear warhead had been accepted into the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile by the Navy
what they actually meant was that
a federal council had decided to accept the final design of the weapon and therefore it was technically a part of the stockpile.
Technical interpretation of words aside, the important thing is thatMay 27, 2009
Wednesday, in the wake of North Korea’s recent nuclear test and subsequent missile launches, the Brookings Institution hosted a discussion on the unfolding crisis with North Korea featuring panelists Richard Bush, Michael O’Hanlon, and Dennis Wilder, moderated by Carlos Pascual. Link here: North Korean Nuclear Crisis
Richard Bush highlighted three critical factors that he believes to have influenced the decision of the DPRK. North Korea wants to set a favorable negotiating table with the U.S. and ultimately would like to see itself in a situation resembling that of India - possessing normalized relations with the United States while retaining its nuclear capacity. Additionally though, if it seeks to use nuclear weapons and missiles as a deterrent, it needs to gain some of the credibility it currently lacks in that dimension - practically necessitating the tests. Finally, with a political succession due in N. Korea at some point, it is possible that the tests are a move designed to aid in the transition.May 27, 2009
ISIS issued a statement taking issue with some of the language used in a Washington Post article by Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick. While it can be valuable to scrutinize language for inaccuracies, ISIS’s argues for some assumptions that don’t seem to be the case. Drawing from the Post’s statement that
U.S. and allied officials and experts who have tracked developments in South Asia have grown increasingly worried over the rapid growth of the region’s more mature nuclear programs, in part because of the risk that weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists.
ISIS says the followingMay 26, 2009
Wikimedia Photo by Johannes Barre using a GNU Free Documentation License
In conjunction with its recent nuclear and missile tests, North Korea amped up its bellicose rhetoric. It has made sure to condemn the imperialist United States and “declaration of war” has become a buzz phrase to pepper throughout official statements. Possible acctions tantamount to declarations of war in North Korea’s recent rhetoric include:
South Korea joining the PSI
“We consider this a declaration of war against us,” an unidentified North Korean military spokesman said Wednesday in a statement carried by the North’s official news agency, KCNA. “Any hostile act against our peaceful vessels, including search and seizure, will be considered an unpardonable infringement on our sovereignty and we will immediately respond with a powerful military strike.” The North Koreans also said in the statement that they “no longer feel bound by the armistice” that ended the fighting in the 1950-53 Korean War.May 25, 2009
Lots happening in the nuclear world. Before slogging through another wave of North Korea news, there needs to be some attention drawn to John Bolton’s op-ed in the New York Times. He runs through a pretty standard set of conservative arguments against various Obama nuclear policies, some of which need to be evaluated, but there are a few statements that are questionable representations of Obama’s policies. Examples include:
1. The timeframe for getting rid of nuclear weapons. Bolton claims:
PRESIDENT OBAMA has called for a world without nuclear weapons, not as a distant goal, but as something imminently achievable.May 20, 2009
Wikimedia Commons Photo by Mikhail Evstafiev using a Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.5 License.
Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov had the following to say about the U.S.-Russian arms control talks happening this week:
It’s impossible to achieve that without taking into account the situation in the missile defense sphere and many other factors, including [plans for] deployment of strike systems in space, plans for development of non-nuclear warheads and the situation with conventional weapons taking into consideration numerous innovative approaches
Not surprisingly, this list of grievances leads the article to conclude an agreement may not be hammered out by December 5. The two major things to keep in mind are:May 20, 2009
Ken Alterman published a piece on Foreign Policy arguing against the “Zero Nukes” vision, as he calls it. The piece is a bit catty (e.g., “If you’re spending time and effort on a goal as lofty as no-nukes, why not go full blast and spend your time and effort on no-war? Peace on Earth, everywhere, forevermore.”) but there is one statement in particular that should be discussed:
Scores of tangible steps are necessary to make our nuclear world much safer. Allocating time and effort to “no-nukes” slogans takes limited energies away from such real needs.May 20, 2009
Bush and Rumsfeld’s primary speechwriter, Marc Thiessen, wrote an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal generally criticizing the return to arms control. While he does raise an interesting point about the potentially time consuming nature of arms control, there are a couple implicit implications made that need to be addressed:
1. Bush didn’t need traditional arms control to make big reductions. The article explains:
How did the U.S. achieve such dramatic reductions so quickly? Answer: By abandoning traditional arms control . . .Instead, Mr. Bush simply announced his intention to reduce the U.S.’s operationally deployed strategic nuclear warheads by some two-thirds and invited Russia to do the same.May 18, 2009
The Washington Post picked up on an interesting new report from the EastWest Institute. The report is a Joint Threat Assessment, a promising setup for future US-Russian collaboration, about the status of the Iranian ballistic missile program and the ability of missile defenses deployed in Europe to stop it. The conclusion succinctly reaches some strong recommendations, particularly for a US/Russian consensus document:May 18, 2009
We've got the embedded video for the PONI Debates the Issues debate we had last week to make viewing it even easier:May 18, 2009
The Cross Examination Debate Association (CEDA), the governing body for intercollegiate policy debate, has adopted nuclear weapons as the topic for the upcoming 2009-2010 season. The current provisional wording (subject to a set of meetings on this question) reads:
Resolved: That the United States Federal Government should substantially reduce its reliance on nuclear weapons in its national security policy
With the amount of time that college debaters devote trying to uncover every relevant quotation, fact, or counter-argument this could be an important step in cultivating young interest and knowledge on the issue similar to what Joe Cirincione talked about at NYU in March when he said:May 15, 2009
Reading through the transcript of the Strategic Posture Commission to the SASC on 7 May, Schlesinger made an interesting remark much in line with the prepared statement he submitted:
With the end of the Cold War and the achievement of U.S. preponderance and conventional capabilities, the need for so substantial a deterrent largely disappeared. Nonetheless, the requirements for extended deterrence still remain at the heart of the design of the U.S. nuclear posture. Extended deterrence still remains a major barrier to proliferation. Both the size and the specific elements of our forces are driven more by the need to reassure those that we protect under the nuclear umbrella than by U.S. requirements alone.May 14, 2009
Last night, PONI Debates the Issues hosted the third installment of the series. The debate featured Daryl Kimball, Executive Director of the Arms Control Association, and Stephen Rademaker, Senior Counsel at the BGR Group debating the CTBT. The debate got a little feisty and trying to enforce time constraints proved futile but there was definitely a strong back and forth about some of the pertinent issues facing the CTBT debate, particularly in the wake of the recently released Strategic Posture Commission report. For those that couldn't make it, you can watch and listen to the debate here: Watch the Debate Listen to the Debate We will embed a video of the debate on the blog soon. We'd love to hear some comments on what people thought about the debate and feel free to e-mail us if you have ideas for topics, participants, and formats for future debate events.May 12, 2009
With North Korean continuing to decry injustice against its country and likely to conduct another test, according to Gary Samore, it is interesting to see how different State Department official's claims are described in the press. According to Reuters, Stephen Bosworth seems pretty upbeat:
Stephen Bosworth, special representative for North Korea policy, also said that while a threatened second nuclear test by Pyongyang was a step in the wrong direction, there was no sense of crisis regarding the six-party nuclear disarmament talks . . ."I think everyone is relatively relaxed about where we are at this point of the process. There is not a sense of crisis," Bosworth said. "Now we are going to proceed with patience and perseverance. We are committed to dialogue and we are obviously interested in returning to a negotiating table as soon as we can," he said.May 11, 2009
Beginning of the week reminder to everyone that we are hosting the third installment of the PONI Debates the Issues live debate series this Wednesday. Details:
When: Wednesday, May 13, 2009 Where: CSIS B1 Conference Center (1800 K St NW) Who: Daryl Kimball, Executive Director, Arms Control Association, and Stephen Rademaker, Senior Counsel at the BGR Group. Topic: Resolved: the United States should ratify the CTBT RSVP: By e-mail to PONI here.
Hope to see you all there.May 10, 2009
The Congressional Strategic Posture Commission report published today is definitely not the place that the President or the nation should look for new ideas on how to reduce the role of nuclear weapons and lead the world toward a world free of nuclear weapons. Even for a compromise document written by a diverse group, it is a work of deeply disappointing failure of imagination.May 7, 2009
The big news emanating from New York is the ability of the NPT PrepCom to reach an agenda for the 2010 RevCon. Reuters proclaimed, "Nuclear talks get first breakthrough in 10 years." Two interesting points to draw from this: 1. U.S. credibility does play a role-- two different unnamed diplomats were quick to admit in the article that the new U.S. stance changed the equation
"Huge obstacles remain, but the clear change of tone coming from the Obama administration has changed the equation," said one Western diplomat involved in the talks. "The U.S. is now willing to engage on disarmament. It's willing to engage with Iran. It mentions Israel. That's all new and it's helping."May 7, 2009
The Strategic Posture Commission failed to reach a consensus view on CTBT ratification. Bummer.
Time will tell what impact, if any, this has on the looming CTBT debate in Congress. VP Joe Biden, who has been tasked with shepherding the CTBT through Congress, will surely take notice of this. As for the "lead but hedge" approach the Commission embraced in principle as the U.S. strategy on balancing disarmament and deterrence goals, it is probably fair to interpret this as a significant qualification of the "lead" imperative.
Unsurprisingly, commission members disagreed on whether or not the stockpile could be maintained reliably without testing and also on the verifiability of the treaty. There is no need to revisit the entire CTBT debate here, so let's arbitrarily pick one point. One interesting thing was that CTBT opponents didn't hesitate to go on-record with their suspicions about Russia and China nuclear weapons testing.May 6, 2009
Brookings hosted a panel event this afternoon on U.S.-Russian Arms Control that included Victoria Nuland (Moderator), Strobe Talbott, Steven Pifer, and Carlos Pascual. Talbott's remarks mainly consisted of providing a background and updating of key theoretical concepts within US/Russian Arms Control (the role of nuclear weapons, the importance of bilateral arms control, offense/defense, etc.). Pifer's remarks stemmed from his May 2009 paper that provides a background of START/SORT and then argues for adopting a first step follow-on of 1500. This initial step should not be too difficult but is still daunting given some say a signed treaty would need to be on the Hill as early as September to pass before December 5. Pascual's discussion took the US/Russian relationship to a broader level and discussed the broader context on nonproliferation and the host of countries that might make a play for nuclear weapons if key issues like Iran are not dealt with (including Pakistan immediately selling Saudi Arabia a nuclear weapon). A couple of random takeaways: 1. Missile Defense- there was some good discussion both during the remarks and the Q&A about missile defense:May 5, 2009
Interfax conducted an interesting interview with Assistant Secretary of State Rose Gottemoeller about the ongoing START negotiations with the Russians. The main points picked up in the New York Times and GSN were the U.S. willingness to consider deliver vehicles, in addition to just warheads, and the prospect of moving missile defense sites to Azerbaijan or Southern Russia. While the statement for including delivery vehicles was direct:
In the presidents' instructions after London it was quite clear that the focus of negotiations will be strategic offensive armaments and that it includes delivery vehiclesMay 4, 2009
As promised last week, PDI set out to digest the new CFR report. The report does a good job summarizing and providing a succinct background on many of the key nuclear issues. It makes for a great nuclear primer, particularly because its recent release takes into account major developments like the Prague speech. One initial takeaway, admittedly not one of key points of discussion in the report itself, is the ordering of the nuclear agenda moving forward. The conclusion of the report notes
Many competing interests demand President Obama's attention, but the impending expiration of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in December 2009, the upcoming congressionally mandated nuclear posture review, and the preparation for the 2010 Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference offer the new administration an opportunity to begin to review existing treaties, revive negotiations, strengthen the global nonproliferation system, and promote best nuclear security efforts.