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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 →

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 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.

Ivan

FAS side events at the RevCon

by Alicia Godsberg

Yesterday FAS premiered our documentary Paths To Zero at the NPT RevCon.  The screening was a great success and there was a very engaging conversation afterward between the audience and Ivan Oelrich, who was there to promote the film.  As a result of some suggestions, we are hoping to translate the narration to different languages so the film can be used as an educational tool around the world.  You can see Paths To Zero by following this link – we will also be putting up the individual chapters soon.

This morning I spoke at a side event at the NPT RevCon entitled “Law Versus Doctrine: Assessing US and Russian Nuclear Postures.”  I was asked to give FAS’s perspective on the New START, NPR, and new Russian military doctrine.  Several people asked me for my remarks, so I’m posting them below the jump.   Continue Reading →

FAS and the 2010 NPT Review Conference

by: Alicia Godsberg

The 2010 Review Conference of the States Parties to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons (or NPT RevCon) will be taking place at the United Nations in New York from 3-28 May.  You can follow the events of the RevCon here on the SSP blog, which will be updated every other day.  This Sunday FAS will be participating in an International Day of Action with a table at the civil society-organized peace and disarmament festival – if you are in New York please come visit us under the tent (see link for more info).  Our new NPT RevCon page is up and running as well for more RevCon information.  A full length report and issue brief on FAS’s recommendations for the U.S. delegation to the RevCon, as well as a podcast on the NPT and Conference, are all online and available now.  Stay tuned for more!

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.

Continue Reading →

Hardly a Jump START

Four months past a “deadline” imposed by the expiration of the old START treaty and amid much fanfare, President Obama announced that he and Russian President Medvedev had agreed on a new arms control treaty.  I am not as excited as most are about the treaty and much of the following might be interpreted as raining on the parade so let me begin by saying that the negotiation of this treaty is an important step.  While not as big a step as I had hoped for, it is an essential step.

Whatever the actual reductions mandated by the treaty—and they are modest—it was vital to get the United States and Russia talking about nuclear weapons again.  The U.S. and Russia have at least 95% of the world’s nuclear weapons and they have to lead the world in nuclear reductions.  Without this first step there cannot be a second step and there are many steps between where we are today and a world free of nuclear weapons.

The Bush administration did not simply dismiss arms control as irrelevant but argued that negotiating agreements was actually counter productive, potentially creating confrontation where it would not otherwise arise.  Avoid talking and let sleeping dogs lie was the philosophy.  The Bush administration had the best of both worlds, from its perspective, by negotiating the nearly meaningless Strategic Offensive Reduction Treaty, SORT, sometimes called the Moscow Treaty, that simply allowed each side to declare their plans for what they were going to do anyway and contained no verification provisions.

This treaty is different.  The White House has released summaries of the main features of the treaty, not the full text, but it is clear this is a real treaty with real limits and real verification.  This treaty and, more importantly, the process that produced it, gets the arms control train back on the track.

Even so, this treaty is a modest step.  Hans Kristensen has described the numbers and their implications for the nuclear force structure.  The treaty makes some modest reductions from the SORT limits but not large enough changes to make a qualitative difference in the nuclear standoff between the legacy forces of the two Cold War superpowers.  (If anyone can explain to me why we and the Russians continue to need over a thousand nuclear bombs, each five to twenty five times more powerful than the bomb that flattened Hiroshima, pointed at each other, please send me an email. I want to know what the beef between us is that makes that seem proportionate.) 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 →