Posts by Ivan Oelrich

Responding to Senator Bond on New START

Senator Kit Bond, Republican of Missouri, gave a speech in the Senate on the New START treaty.  Eli Lake’s summary is in the Washington Times.  He made accusations of serious shortcomings in the treaty.  I address these points because they appear to be substantive and earnest, unlike some of the hysteria and outright silliness coming from other treaty opponents.  I believe that the Senator’s concerns are sincere but that does not make them correct.  They reflect, instead, shortcomings in understanding about the treaty, misrepresentation of exiting U.S. and Russian nuclear forces, and a mistake in statistics. Continue Reading →

START in a Lame Duck

The Senate should vote on the New START during the “lame duck” session.

The New START arms control treaty, negotiated between the United States and Russia and signed by the presidents of both countries last April, is awaiting ratification by the United States Senate.   Objections to the treaty rest primarily upon misunderstandings or misrepresentation.  In addition, though, some opponents of the treaty are arguing that, whether one supports or opposes the treaty, it is improper for the Senate to vote on the treaty during the post-election or “lame duck” session of Congress.  But there is neither a constitutional nor a commonsense reason to delay a vote.

Some of us who hope to dramatically and rapidly reduce the salience of nuclear weapons were disappointed that the treaty was rather modest, but it clearly moves in the right direction.  This treaty is not a radical departure from past treaties, it is not even a post-Cold War treaty;  it is an extrapolation of the Cold War SALT and START treaties stretching back to the days of the Soviet Union.  Given the current strategic security environment, neither Richard Nixon, nor Ronald Reagan, nor George H. W. Bush would blink an eye at this treaty. Continue Reading →

Mystery Missile: this question can be answered.

Like many techie sorts interested in military matters, I was caught up in the great California missile plume mystery.  I first heard about it when a reported called with questions and she sent a link to a video.  A traffic helicopter, an often underappreciated source of strategic intelligence, working for a local news station, KCAL, filmed what appeared to be a trail from a rocket launched off the coast of Los Angeles.  And the pictures do look like a rocket trail.  If someone showed me the still photographs and told me they were of a rocket launch, I wouldn’t think to question it.  But based on the photo, I would guess it is at least an anti-aircraft missile, like the Standard, and that is a 3000 pound missile, so this is not some amateur hobbyists flying a model rocket.  The Navy swore it wasn’t one of theirs.  The Air Force, too, denied any rocket launch and, anyway, Vandenberg, which does launch rockets, is in another direction.  No foreign government with the technical capability to, say, get a freighter close and launch a rocket from the back as some sort of demonstration would be crazy enough to do such a thing and the only country crazy enough to do it, North Korea, doesn’t have the technical capability to get away with it.  If it were some sort of secret test, then why test it off the coast of a multi-million inhabitant city and not, say, off the coast of Antarctica?  (And Vandenberg launches secret payloads all the time.  The fact of the launches obviously can’t be kept secret but the payloads are, so why go to the trouble?) Continue Reading →

Iran Fuel Negotiations: Moving Muddled Goalposts

Moving Goalposts

by Ivanka Barzashka and Ivan Oelrich

A year ago, France, Russia and the U.S.—called the Vienna Group—proposed a deal in which Iran would ship out some of its worrying low-enriched uranium (LEU) in exchange for fuel for its medical isotope reactor, called the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). These narrow technical discussions about the TRR were meant to serve as a confidence-building effort. The negotiations fell apart because of differences about timing of the exchange of material, but they may be about to restart. A year later, the facts on the ground have changed. These new circumstances may call for new negotiating terms, but changes have to make some sense. Calculations show that numbers recently floated by the State Department seem ad hoc and arbitrary and will not have the touted threat-reduction benefits.

On October 27, The New York Times reported that a senior U.S. official believed that the Vienna Group were “very close to having an agreement” on how the original fuel swap offer, made in October 2009, should be changed. One of the new terms would be an increase in the amount of LEU provided from 1,200 kg to 2,000 kg. The State Department explained a day later that “the proposal would have to be updated reflecting ongoing enrichment activity by Iran over the ensuing year.” Iran’s larger LEU stockpile changes Washington’s threat-reduction calculus, which ultimately undermines the confidence-building aspect of the deal.

Another new circumstance is Iran’s production of 20 percent enriched uranium, ostensibly to produce TRR fuel domestically.  This is a worrying development because, compared to LEU, a stockpile of 20 percent material would cut by half Iran’s time to a bomb.

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Nonsense about New START and ICBMs

Because of what appears to have been a computer glitch, a group of nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) was temporarily off-line last week and not ready to launch on a moment’s notice. According to an article in The Atlantic, some Republicans have suggested that this means that New START, the nuclear arms control treaty awaiting Senate ratification, is unwise and should be rejected. This assertion is nonsense but is a useful illustration of how much of current nuclear “thinking” is just a holdover from now irrelevant Cold War doctrine. Continue Reading →

New START and Missile Defense

I have not written here on the New START treaty, in part because everything that can be said has been said, well, almost everything…see below.  The treaty is in no way revolutionary.  I don’t think Reagan would bat an eyelash at it.  Yet, while there is widespread bipartisan support for the treaty, including almost all the leading defense specialists from former Republican administrations, there is also some opposition to the treaty, with the Heritage Foundation having taken it on as a cause.  Some of the critiques are truly bizarre, such as the treaty does not address Russian tactical nuclear weapons or North Korea.  (On that last point, would one of the critics please sketch out how we would have included North Korea in the negotiation?)  Of course, no past arms control treaty has ever covered every type of weapon and if New START is not ratified then any chance of negotiating limits on tactical nuclear weapons is off the table completely.  (The treaty does not cure world hunger either, another good cause.)

The one issue that opponents consistently latch onto is the supposed limits on missile defense.  There is language in the preamble drawing attention to the connection between offensive and defensive missiles and in the text there is a limit on converting offensive missile launchers to be able to launch defensive missiles.  Administration spokesmen have addressed these criticisms by saying the preamble language is not binding.  I find it very strange that advocates of missile defense would like to argue that there is no connection between offensive and defensive missiles. Of course there is a connection between the two of them.  Isn’t one supposed to shoot down the other?  Isn’t that a connection? It is like arguing there is no connection between ships and torpedoes.  (I think the connection is actually quite weak because defensive missiles probably cannot shoot much down, but that is a different story.)  Simply saying that doesn’t seem to change much. Continue Reading →

Iran Beat Us to It.

Ivan Oelrich and Ivanka Barzashka

Back in October, when Iran put in a request to the IAEA for a new load of fuel for its medical isotope reactor in Tehran, the United States proposed that Iran ship out an equivalent amount of its low enriched uranium (LEU) in exchange. It turns out, purely coincidentally, that the amount of LEU equivalent to about 20-years worth of fuel for the reactor was almost exactly the amount that Iran would need as feedstock to produce  a bomb’s worth of material.  No one seems to question Iran’s right to purchase fuel, but the purpose of the swap was two-fold:  to get the bomb’s worth of LEU out of Iran, which would have left Iran with less than a bomb’s worth of LEU feedstock, and to provide a seed for improved cooperation and trust. Continue Reading →

FAS video, Paths to Zero, released.

As Alicia already mentioned in the previous post, in conjunction with the Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, FAS yesterday held the “big screen” premiere of its new video, Paths to Zero at the United Nations in New York.  The video will be the core of a new interactive feature on the website.  As topics are mentioned in the video, viewers will be able to click on key words to jump to additional information.  Until we get that all set up, I think the video works well as a stand-alone product so we are posting it as such.  It is 43 minutes long, so set aside some time to watch.  If you find it useful, feel free to link to it.  (It is also on Vimeo.)

What Alicia did not mention is that she did a lot of the production work and organizing, along with Rich Abott.  I wanted to thank both of them for a great job.


Documentary “Paths to Zero” Premiering at the NPT RevCon

by: Alicia Godsberg

On Tuesday May 11 FAS will be premiering our documentary, “Paths to Zero,” at the United Nations during the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT RevCon).  The screening will be part of FAS’s official UN Office of Disarmament Affairs side event for the RevCon, which will be held from 10 am – 12 pm in Conference Room A of the North Building.  To attend, you must be registered for the RevCon, but after the Conference FAS will be screening Paths to Zero in Washington, DC and we will be uploading the video to our website.

The world’s combined stockpile of nuclear weapons remains at a high and frightening level – over 24,000 – despite being two decades past the end of the Cold War. In the documentary film Paths to Zero, Federation of American Scientists Vice President Dr. Ivan Oelrich explains the history of how the nuclear-armed world got to this point, and how we can begin to move down a global path to zero nuclear weapons.

What’s Wrong with What’s Wrong with the Nuclear Posture Review

On Tuesday, the Secretary of Defense released the new Nuclear Posture Review (NPR).  I was quite disappointed in the document, thinking it is timid and gradualist.   So you can imagine how distracting it is when I am part way through writing a blog trashing the new doctrine for not going far enough that I see a flurry of articles about how the new doctrine goes way too far.  So now I have to divert my valuable time to defending the NPR.  (I will still finish the other blog, promise.)  Some of the criticism is simply inane but most comes from not reading, or perhaps not even caring what’s in, the actual report.  Still, it is probably a preview of the assaults to come.

Let’s begin with Sarah Palin, who said, “No administration in America’s history would, I think, ever have considered such a step that we just found out President Obama is supporting today. It’s kinda like getting out there on a playground, a bunch of kids, getting ready to fight, and one of the kids saying, ‘Go ahead, punch me in the face and I’m not going to retaliate. Go ahead and do what you want to with me.’”

Where does one start? Let’s begin with the big picture:  Nuclear weapons are, by far, the most destructive instruments in human history, able to blow down entire cities within seconds, to kill millions at a shot, to end—quite literally—human civilization as we know it.  Is a playground quarrel between a pair of schoolchildren a useful analogy?  If we really wish to pursue the analogy then it would be more accurate to say that the NPR’s doctrine is equivalent to a child’s saying, “Even if you punch me, I will punch you back and perhaps beat you unconscious, I may even kill you, but I will not use a hand grenade to do it.”  I believe that a no-hand-grenades-on-the-playground policy is something that many parents would endorse.

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