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New START Treaty Has New Counting

An important new treaty reduces the limit for deployed strategic warheads but not the number.

By Hans M. Kristensen

The White House has announced that it has reached agreement with Russia on the New START Treaty. Although some of the documents still have to be finished, a White House fact sheet describes that the treaty limits the number of warheads on deployed ballistic missiles and long-range bombers on both sides to 1,550 and the number of missiles and bombers capable of launching those warheads to no more than 700.

The long-awaited treaty is a vital symbol of progress in U.S.-Russian relations and an important additional step in the process of reducing and eventually perhaps even achieving the elimination nuclear weapons. It represents a significant arms control milestone that both countries should ratify as soon as possible so they can negotiate deeper cuts.

Yet while the treaty reduces the legal limit for deployed strategic warheads, it doesn’t actually reduce the number of warheads.  Indeed, the treaty does not require destruction of a single nuclear warhead and actually permits the United States and Russia to deploy almost the same number of strategic warheads that were permitted by the 2002 Moscow Treaty. Continue Reading →

CTBT ratification and fact-twisting arguments

By: Alicia Godsberg

On Friday, February 5 the EastWest Institute (EWI) held a seminar at their office in New York to discuss its recently released report on the CTBT, entitled, “The Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty: New Technology, New Prospects?” Speaking at the event for the pro-CTBT ratification camp was Ambassador Robert T. Grey, Jr. (Director, Bipartisan Security Group and U.S. Representative to the Conference on Disarmament from 1998-2001) and against was Stephen Rademaker (Senior Council, BGR Government Affairs and Assistant Secretary of State from 2002-2006). The seminar also hosted many representatives of the NGO disarmament community as well as several diplomats from UN missions, including from Iran, Egypt, and South Korea.

Mr. Rademaker articulated familiar reasons for opposing U.S. ratification of the CTBT: it won’t ensure entry into force of the Treaty; the Treaty is unverifiable; the U.S. may need to test in the event the nuclear weapon stockpile becomes unreliable; there is no agreed definition of a “zero yield” nuclear test; and Russia (and possibly China) does not conform to the U.S. definition of absolutely zero yield, enabling them to benefit from such tests while the U.S. adheres to a stricter standard and (presumably) falls behind in knowledge. The fact that each of these assertions has been proven untrue does not stop these talking points from surfacing at every turn.   Continue Reading →

Changing the Nuclear Posture: moving smartly without leaping

Release of the Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) is delayed once again.  Originally due late last year, in part so it could inform the on-going negotiations on the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty Follow-on (START-FO), after a couple of delays it was supposed to be released today, 1 March, but last week word got out that it will be coming out yet another 2-4 weeks later.  Some reports are that the delay reflects deep divisions within the administration over the direction of the NPR.  That means that there is really only one person left whose opinion matters and that is the president.

We can only hope that President Obama makes clear that he meant what he said in Prague and elsewhere.  This NPR is crucial.  If it is incremental, if it relegates a world free of nuclear weapons to an inspiring aspiration, then we are stuck with our current nuclear standoff for another generation.  This is the time to decisively shift direction.  But we should not be paralyzed by thinking that the only movement available is a giant leap into the unknown.  We need to move decisively in the right direction, sure, but we can do that in steps. Continue Reading →

Nuclear Doctrine and Missing the Point.

The government’s much anticipated Nuclear Posture Review, originally scheduled for release in the late fall, then last month, then early February is now due out the first of March.  The report is, no doubt, coalescing into final form and a few recent newspaper articles, in particular articles in Boston Globe and Los Angeles Times, have hinted at what it will contain.

Before discussing the possible content of the review, does yet another release date delay mean anything?  I take the delay of the release as the only good sign that I have seen coming out of the process.  Reading the news, going to meetings where government officials involved in the process give periodic updates, and knowing something of the main players who are actually writing the review, what jumps out most vividly to me is that no one seems to share President Obama’s vision.  And I mean the word vision to have all the implied definition it can carry.  The people in charge may say some of the right words, but I have not yet discerned any sense of the emotional investment that should be part of a vision for transforming the world’s nuclear security environment, of how to make the world different, of how to escape old thinking.  As I understand the president, his vision is truly transformative.  That is why he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  His appointees who are developing the Nuclear Posture Review, at least the ones I know anything about, are incredibly smart and knowledgeable, but they are also careful, cautious, and, I suspect, incrementalists who might understand intellectually what the president is saying but don’t feel it (and, in many cases, fundamentally don’t really agree with it).  A transformative vision not driven by passion will die.  As far as I can see (and, I admit, I am not the least bit connected so perhaps I simply cannot see very far) the only person in the administration working on the review who really feels the president’s vision is the president.  Much of what I hear from appointees in the administration has, to me at least, the feel of “what the president really means is…”   If the cause of the delay is that yet more time is needed to find compromise among centers of power, reform is in trouble because we will see a nuclear posture statement that is what it is today neatened up around the edges.  But if the delay is because the president is not getting the visionary document he demands, delay might be the only hopeful sign we are getting.

Continue Reading →

Change at the United Nations

by: Alicia Godsberg

The First Committee of this year’s 64th United Nations General Assembly (GA) just wrapped up a month of meetings.  The GA breaks up its work into six main committees, and the First Committee deals with disarmament and international security issues.  During the month-long meetings, member states give general statements, debate on such issues as nuclear and conventional weapons, and submit draft resolutions that are then voted on at the end of the session.  Comparing the statements and positions of the U.S. on certain votes from one year to the next can help gauge how an administration relates to the broader international community and multilateralism in general.  Similarly, comparing how other member states talk about the U.S. and its policies can give insight into how likely states may be to support a given administration’s international priorities. Continue Reading →

CTBT Article XIV Conference

by: Alicia Godsberg

This past Thursday and Friday marked the 6th bi-annual Article XIV Conference, the Conference on Facilitating the Entry Into Force of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).  This year’s conference was held at the United Nations in New York and was met with a measure of cautious optimism – most states voiced their appreciation of President Obama’s pledge to work toward US ratification of the CTBT, while many states recognized the challenges of obtaining all the necessary ratifications for entry into force of the Treaty and mentioned the challenges to the nonproliferation regime stemming from the lack of the Treaty’s entry into force (despite former commitments to do so) and from the DPRK’s 2006 and 2009 nuclear tests.

Entry into force of the CTBT has been on the international agenda for thirteen years. Because the US, China, UK, France, and Russian Federation have all imposed a voluntary moratorium on national nuclear testing, many question the need for entry into force of the CTBT.  Although the Treaty would bring few new tangible benefits, the political impact of entry into force would be tremendous.  As explained below, the vast majority of sates see entry into force of the CTBT as somewhat of a litmus test for the future viability of the nonproliferation regime. Continue Reading →