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 →
|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 →
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.
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 →
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 →
by Ivanka Barzashka
In response to sanctions, Iran’s parliament adopted the Nuclear Achievement Protection Bill on July 18. Among other things, the law requires the government to continue 20 percent enrichment and provide fuel for the Tehran Research Reactor (TRR). Although this aspect of the legislation has largely fallen below the news radar, it raises important questions about the future of nuclear talks, which Iran has postponed until September as “punishment” of the West.
Iran says it is enriching to higher concentrations to manufacture its own fuel for the TRR, but a stockpile of 20 percent enriched uranium will reduce by more than half Iran’s time to a bomb (when compared to its current stockpile of 3.5 percent LEU). Now Iran’s higher-level enrichment may have become the connection between sanctions and a fuel deal that will hinder any engagement options. However, there is still time to explore resolutions to the impasse.
Ivan Oelrich and I have co-authored an FAS issue brief that traces the history of Iranian higher-level enrichment efforts in an effort to understand Tehran’s nuclear intentions. We were driven by the question: Will Iran, at this stage, give up twenty percent enrichment? Three distinct periods were analyzed: (1) from the beginning of 20 percent enrichment to the Tehran Declaration, (2) from the Tehran Declaration to the passing of UN sanctions, and (3) after sanctions. Continue Reading →
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 →
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 →
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.
by Ivanka Barzashka and Ivan Oelrich
Iran and the rest of the world are stalemated. Obama’s deadline for Tehran to address concerns about its nuclear program passed at the end of 2009, so the White House is moving to harsher sanctions. But the US is having trouble rallying the needed international support because Iranian intentions remain ambiguous. The deadlock includes negotiations on fueling Iran’s medical isotope reactor. With no progress on that front, Iran has begun its own production of 20-percent uranium for reactor fuel, a worrying development that could put Iran closer to a nuclear weapon. Yet, even while talk of sanctions escalates, Tehran says it is still interested in buying the 20 percent reactor fuel from foreign suppliers.
The Tehran Research Reactor (TRR) deal has backfired. The offer, to trade a large part of Iran’s low enriched uranium (LEU) for finished TRR fuel elements, was meant to abate the potential Iranian nuclear threat by reducing Iran’s stockpile of enriched nuclear material. By artificially coupling two distinct problems, re-fueling the TRR and Iran’s enrichment program, the US, France and Russia have given Tehran a reason, even a humanitarian one, to enrich to higher concentrations. The move to 20 percent enrichment will reduce by more than half the time needed for Iran to get a bomb’s worth of material. Continue Reading →