Front and Center
North Korea is kind of like that rebellious child whose behavior never seems to get any better, no matter how many times they apologize and promise that they won’t ever do it again. A few days later, and you’re wondering how you ever fell for that same trick again.
Just a few weeks ago, North Korea announced announced that it would implement a moratorium on long-range missile launches, nuclear tests and nuclear activities at Yongbyon, including uranium enrichment activities, in exchange for food aid from the United States.
Whether the apparent deal was the result of a new policy adopted by Kim Jong-un after the death of Kim Jong Il, the leader who championed the North Korean nuclear program, or the negotiating prowess of Glyn Davies, the new U.S. envoy to North Korea, and others is unclear. And while this seemed like a promising development in the long history of negotiations with North Korea, experts warned us to be cautious.
The experts were correct. This time it’s because North Korea is threatening to launch a satellite in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founder. Despite President Obama’s warning to refrain from “bad behavior,” North Korea has stated that it will proceed as planned.
Missile technology to launch a satellite could also be used to launch a nuclear weapon. Despite the Pyongyang’s effort to separate satellite launches from missile tests, neither Washington nor the UN Security Council sees a distinction. The North Koreans have reacted negatively to the West’s insistence that they cancel the test, with a spokesman from the Foreign Ministry saying this morning that, “We will never give up the launch of a satellite for peaceful purposes.”
President Obama made it clear that if North Korea proceeds with the test, they will be jeopardizing the food assistance they were promised by the United States earlier this month.
UPDATE 3/29: A few hours after publishing this post, the administration announced that it’s “been forced to suspend our activities to provide nutritional assistance to North Korea.”
For an examination how the deal fell apart, see Jeffrey Lewis’ take here. For an assessment of why the North Koreans thought they could get away with a satellite launch, see this article. And for an explanation of why the U.S. is no worse for trying to negotiate with the North Koreans, see Center Chairman Lt. Gen. Robert Gard’s piece here
Whatever the reasons for the likely collapse of the arrangement, it does not portend well for security and stability in the near-term, as additional North Korean missile and nuclear tests could be in the offing.
President Obama was recently overheard saying to Russian President Medvedev that, assuming he prevails in the election this November, he would have more flexibility to negotiate on arms control issues. In response, some Congressional Republicans have implied that President Obama may have secret plans to aggressively pursue arms control in his second term.
Perhaps Republicans are concerned that the United States will cut its arsenal in half. Maybe they are concerned that President Obama will eliminate an entire class of nuclear weapons. Or, maybe they are concerned he would do something dramatic like try to negotiate the total elimination of U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons. Well, if he were to accomplish any of these tasks, he would be in good company. These are all feats attempted by Republican Presidents in their second terms. Every second term Republican President since the beginning of the nuclear age (i.e. Eisenhower, Nixon, Reagan, and Bush II) proposed drastic changes to the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
George W. Bush
Most recently, President George W. Bush made sweeping reductions to the U.S. nuclear arsenal during his second term. In 2007, President Bush approved a nearly 50 percent cut in the deployed nuclear stockpile and pledged to cut it by an additional 15% by 2012. Notably, the announcement of these reductions occurred while the Bush administration was simultaneously planning to cut 7,200 nuclear weapons-related jobs, arguing that the way in which the United States maintained its nuclear weapons was outdated and cost too much.
At the time, not a single prominent Republican attacked President Bush for pursuing such a policy. In fact, in 2004, Republican Chairman of the House Energy and Water Appropriations Subcommittee, which is responsible for funding nuclear weapons programs at the Department of Energy, applauded President Bush’s effort to reduce nuclear weapons, stating “it may not be to the degree of where he wants to get right now, but it’s a lot better than where we are today” and “After years of maintaining a nuclear stockpile sized for the Cold War, we are finally bringing the numbers down to a more realistic and responsible level.” In contrast, Republicans have relentlessly attacked President Obama, who has provided more money for nuclear weapons than any previous president and pursued extremely modest reductions by his predecessor’s standards, because of perceived “underfunding” or lack of commitment to the nuclear stockpile.
Arguably, President Reagan made more progress in reducing the threat of nuclear weapons in his second term than any other President, Democrat or Republican. While his eventual support for the abolition of nuclear weapons is widely known, his ambitious efforts to reduce the dangers posed by nuclear weapons deserve more attention.
Following the 1983 incident in which Soviet leaders, interpreting a U.S. nuclear exercise as a first strike, prepared to launch nuclear weapons against the United States, President Reagan became more hands on in dealing with nuclear weapons policy. In a 1986 meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland, President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev discussed a proposal for completely eliminating Soviet and U.S. nuclear weapons. Although they were not able to agree on terms, this marks the closest any President has ever come to abolishing nuclear weapons altogether. In 1987, President Reagan signed the Intermediate Nuclear Forces in Europe Treaty (INF). The INF required the United States and USSR to verifiably eliminate nuclear missiles with ranges between 300 and 3,400 miles. Throughout this period, the United States and the Soviet Union negotiated to increase transparency and verification of nuclear testing and, despite being criticized by his own party, Reagan made significant progress in negotiating reductions in deployed strategic nuclear weapons. This negotiation process was completed by his successor, George H.W. Bush, in the form of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty.
President Nixon’s second term lasted slightly over a year and a half; yet, even he was able to make progress in reducing the threat of nuclear weapons. In 1973, Nixon signed the Agreement on the Prevention of Nuclear War, helping to reinforce détente between the United States and the Soviet Union. In 1974, he signed the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, which prohibited the United States and the Soviet Union from conducting nuclear tests greater than 150 kilotons, a precursor to the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. During this time, Nixon also pursued further restrictions on US and Soviet nuclear arms, building on the Strategic Arms Limitation Agreement (SALT I) between the Soviet Union and the United States negotiated during his first term.
President Eisenhower was certainly no dove when it came to nuclear weapons, approving significant quantitative and qualitative increases in the U.S. nuclear arsenal. However, towards the end of his presidency, Eisenhower also began moving away from his hawkish nuclear ways. In his second term, Eisenhower began legitimate negotiations on a verifiable test ban, which included working with Khrushchev to draft a treaty. In 1959, he was also the first President to establish a testing moratorium. While the moratorium expired in December 1959, neither the U.S. nor the Soviet Union tested nuclear weapons again until 1961.
This brings us to Barack Obama, who of course has yet to win a second term, but has made no secret of his goals regarding reducing the threat from nuclear weapons. In a speech President Obama delivered on March 26 at Hankuk University in Seoul, Korea, President Obama renewed his pledge to further reduce the threat of nuclear weapons by “taking concrete steps toward a world without nuclear weapons.” The speech outlined a number of goals the President first proposed in Prague in April 2009 and would seek during his second term, including ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty and further reductions in all types of Russian and U.S. nuclear weapons. Contrary to arguments put forth by critics, these goals are the continuation of decades of work by Republican Presidents in their second terms.
Below is the Fissile Materials Working Group’s response to the outcome of the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul, including reaction from Center Deputy Director Duyeon Kim.
CONTACT: In South Korea Sean Harder (email@example.com or 912-210-2862); in United States Jim Baird (firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-510-7586)
Seoul Nuclear Security Summit Delivers Modest Results
Experts Call for Bolder Action to Prevent Nuclear Terrorism
The communiqué and commitments world leaders agreed to today at the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit mark a modest but important step forward in the effort to secure vulnerable nuclear materials around the globe. However, bolder action is needed to effectively counter the threat of nuclear terrorism, according to the Fissile Materials Working Group (FMWG), an international coalition of nuclear security experts.
“Several key steps should be taken prior to the next Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands in 2014. States should institutionalize binding, comprehensive standards for security that emphasize performance and accountability,” said Ken Luongo, co-chair of the FMWG and president of the Partnership for Global Security.
“The current nuclear material security regime is a patchwork of unaccountable voluntary arrangements that are inconsistent across borders,” Luongo said. “This system is not commensurate with either the risk or consequences of nuclear terrorism. Consistent standards, transparency to promote international confidence, and national accountability are additions to the regime that are urgently needed.”
Outcomes of particular note from the Seoul Summit include setting a target date of 2014 for bringing the amendment of the Convention for the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials (CPPNM) into force; the addition of several nations such as Italy pledging to eliminate their stocks of fissile material; and an agreement between the U.S., France, Belgium and the Netherlands to produce medical isotopes without the use of highly enriched uranium by 2015.
“These pledges represent the most concrete results from the summit and represent some useful steps forward,” said Miles Pomper, senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies and FMWG Steering Committee member. “If they are to be realized, however, the White House will have to be more active than it has been in winning congressional support for appropriate legislation and sufficient funding.”
Duyeon Kim, deputy director of nuclear nonproliferation, at the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, lauded the inclusion of the nuclear safety and security interface in the Communiqué in the aftermath of Fukushima that demonstrated that a Fukushima-like terrorist attack is plausible.
“Notable achievements [in the Communiqué] is a consensus on and vision for strengthening nuclear safety-security as well as raising the importance of radiological security since the 2010 Summit,” Kim said. “Not only did world leaders acknowledge the overlap between nuclear safety and security, but they’ve agreed that the measures need to be incorporated in all stages including effective emergency preparedness. It’s an extremely significant first step but the key is implementing and sustaining measures that strengthen the nuclear safety-security nexus beyond 2014 as long as we opt for nuclear power to meet our energy needs.”
“Also, setting a target date to announce each country’s plans on minimizing the civilian use of HEU by the end of 2013 is a positive step forward but so far it’s an ‘encouragement’ to do so and the key is in the details, which are unclear.”
By the end of the four-year effort, there will be major progress in reducing the risk of nuclear theft and terrorism, said Matthew Bunn, co-principal investigator of the Managing the Atom Project at Harvard’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs and FMWG Steering Committee member.
“But we won’t be done – keeping nuclear materials out of terrorist hands will require a culture of continual improvement sustained as long as nuclear weapons and the materials needed to make them continue to exist,” Bunn said. “With at least two and probably three major terrorist groups having pursued nuclear weapons over the last 20 years, we cannot expect they will be the last,” Bunn said. “Despite the death of Osama bin Laden, the world is likely to be confronting the danger of nuclear terrorism as long as nuclear weapons and the materials needed to make them continue to exist.”
Post-summit reactions from other FMWG members include:
* Alexandra Toma, FMWG co-chair and executive director of the Connect U.S. Fund: “Leaders should be proud of what’s been accomplished to date, but they must also be realistic that global nuclear security cannot be accomplished in four years, as they originally agreed. A challenge as great as global nuclear terrorism requires constant vigilance and further improvements to the current system, which still remains a patchwork of voluntary agreements. Let’s keep momentum going through the 2014 Summit in the Netherlands and beyond.”
* Sico van der Meer, research fellow, Netherlands Institute of International Relations Clingendael: “Improving global nuclear security is a long-term process, the problem will not be solved in only a few years. This is why the Netherlands is fully committed to organize the third Nuclear Security Summit in 2014. These high-level summits are the best guarantee to retain international attention.”
* Sharon Squassoni, director and senior fellow, Proliferation Prevention Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies, “The Seoul meeting demonstrates that summit diplomacy can only accomplish so much. States should use the time between now and the next summit to identify and target additional gaps in protection against nuclear terrorism as a high priority.”
* Nobuyasu Abe, director of the Center for the Promotion of Disarmament and Non-proliferation at the Japan Institute of International Affairs: “A willful and targeted act of terrorism would be more vicious than the natural disasters that may hit nuclear power stations or spent fuel storages. There is no unilateral solution to the shared global threat posed by nuclear terrorism. More countries must be enlisted in this truly global endeavor. Our best defense is a strong, united front to prevent nuclear terror.”
The FMWG, a nongovernmental coalition of over 65 U.S. and international expert organizations, aims to provide action-oriented and innovative policy solutions to counter the threat of nuclear terrorism. For more information, visit www.fmwg.org
Fifty-eight world leaders will be in Seoul, Korea Monday and Tuesday to agree on ways to prevent nuclear terrorism.
Since when have we ever seen a nuclear terrorist incident?
True, nuclear terrorism is an extremely low probability scenario but its consequences are unimaginable.
Still, the threat is certainly real because terrorist groups including al-Qaeda are believed to pursue weapons of mass destruction. And an international consensus exists on the threat. More sobering is that there’s enough nuclear materials in the world to make 100,000 additional nuclear bombs.
Who really cares except a select group of policy wonks?
By agreeing to chair this summit, the largest Seoul has ever hosted, Korea has entered tough waters. It would, and still, puzzle many: nuclear terrorism is still a foreign concept for Koreans, they don’t have nuclear weapons or fissile materials, and security is always framed in the context of their number one threat, North Korea, which does not even make it on the Summit agenda, though for good reason. So the lack of initial interest and awareness is natural. The other problem is the lack of public outreach and education on the issue ahead of the Summit and amid this increasingly globalized and interconnect world – but this is true for all countries, not just Korea…
For a Korean president who needs to leave behind his legacy this year, the Summit may just be it in the security realm. This means the Summit needs to be successful. But success will only be determined by substantive achievements rather than the pomp and circumstance of a lavish VIP event. The same goes for all heads of state.
The barometer of success for this summit would be in the national commitments, more so than the Seoul Communiqué political agreements. That is, progress achieved since the 2010 Summit, new “gift baskets” (joint pledges by like-minded countries), and new money put down by heads of state to fund nuclear security programs.
But nuclear security and the Summit are certainly tough sells to a Korean public that’s concerned about far more pressing issues – the economy, jobs, and domestic politics.
The Summit is a tough sell to the global public too for the same reasons, and a few heads of state are in their final year, which raises doubts about their effectiveness on any policy for that matter.
The Korean media wouldn’t be too interested either because the Summit comes just days before the April 11th parliamentary elections, major media outlets are on strike for other reasons, the opposition party and anti-nuclear activists are protesting the Summit (protests are always newsy), and North Korea is making headlines again. What’s more, some may not want to “help out” a “lame duck” president in his last term by extensively covering the Summit at a time when there are some bones to pick of their own with the Presidential Office on other matters – although the point really should be on covering global nuclear security that helps protect the world instead of on one president who’s about to exit office.
International media including Korean would be far more interested in quotes coming out of bilateral and multilateral meetings on the sidelines of the Summit – the “real news” of the day – since heads of state are conveniently gathered in one location. Pre-Summit stories are already dominated by North Korea’s planned April rocket-satellite launch and Iran.
As a former Diplomacy and Security journalist, I know too well that there’s nothing sexy about nuclear security – it’s just too wonky, it doesn’t feel real, and it’s not urgent enough. We all know the world’s hot spots, economy and politics trump all other issues.
But the fundamental objective of nuclear security is prevention and protection. Most often, if not always, we wait until after a catastrophe to devise preventive measures. But when a nuclear or radiological incident occurs, we just might not be granted a chance to even clean up afterwards.
Korea should care because it’s not entirely off the Taliban’s radar. We also recently heard that Osama bin Laden had apparently advised his advisers to “target [sic] American interests in non-Islamic countries first, such as South Korea.”
As one of the world’s most wired and technologically savvy country, Koreans should care if they want to continue to enjoy the conveniences of IT since the country relies on nuclear power to provide almost 40% of their electricity.
All countries using or desiring nuclear power to meet their energy needs – or neighboring one of these countries – should care because those nuclear materials could be stolen or diverted, or become security and safety hazards if they’re not protected properly in the civilian sector. Despite Fukushima, many countries will continue to opt for nuclear power as an energy source, which means more nuclear parts and materials will be spread around the world, and one catastrophe transcends all territorial boundaries – so we should all care.
Just as locking our doors and wearing our seat belts are second nature to us, so should nuclear and radiological security and safety.
As was first revealed in its January 26 strategy paper titled “Defense Budget Priorities and Choices,” the Pentagon plans to delay the Ohio-Class replacement program (also known as the SSBN(X)) by two years. The document stated that the two-year delay will “create challenges in maintaining current at-sea presence requirements in the 2030s,” but that “we believe this risk can be managed.”
At a briefing previewing the new strategy paper, Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter classified the delay as “a managerial decision made partly for budgetary reasons” that will place the program “on a more predictable and stable schedule.” The Navy currently plans to procure 12 SSBN(X)s to replace the current fleet of Ohio-Class SSBNs, the first of which is scheduled to be retired in 2027. The Pentagon estimates the total cost of building and operating the new subs at nearly $350 billion over the next 50 years. The need for 12 new submarines is based on an existing requirement to maintain a certain number of boats (most likely five) “on station” at any given time.
In its FY 2013 budget request released on February 14, the Pentagon stated that the two-year delay would save $502 million in fiscal year 2013 and $4.3 billion in fiscal years 2013-2017. The total 2013 request for SSBN(X) research and development is $565 million, a decrease of 47 percent from last year’s appropriation.
For more background on the sea-based leg of the U.S. nuclear triad, see our fact sheet here.
Since the formal FY 2013 budget release, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan W. Greenert has been telling Congress that the two-year delay to the SSBN(X) program will result in a strategic submarine fleet of “10 ships in the 2030s.” This is due to the fact that the procurement of new submarines will not keep pace with the retirement of older Ohio-Class SSBNs. According to the post-delay schedule, the current fleet of SSBNs will dip to 10 in 2030, but the Navy won’t be able to put the twelfth SSBN(X) in service until 2041.
At a March 15 Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the FY 2013 Navy budget request, Admiral Greenert suggested that the fleet of strategic submarines could actually dip to 9 at points during the 2030s…
ADM. GREENERT: Today, Senator, we have 14 Ohio class submarines. Two are in overhaul. So that leaves us with 12, really operational.
And with that, there are 10 or nine available at any given time for Strategic Command. We feel, due to this delay, we will ride a period where we’ll have 10 operational, sometimes nine. So we’ll have a similar risk there.
We have to watch it very closely because, at that time frame, in that future — and I’m talking about the late ’20s and the ’30s, we’ll have older Ohios. So we have to watch it very carefully.
But right now, we think that we can mitigate that risk.
It remains to be seen how this plays out. Some observers note that the Navy could avoid the dip to 10 or 9 subs by delaying the retirement of the current fleet of Ohio-Class SSBNs by two years. One way to do this would be for each boat to conduct fewer patrols.
On the other hand, by letting it slip that there may be times in the 2030s when only 9 boats are available, perhaps Greenert doesn’t want to bet all his chips that there won’t be any additional unplanned delays in the SSBN(X) or a need to speed up the planned retirements of the Ohio-Class subs.
In any event, I think it’s unlikely that the Navy will build twelve new subs for the following reasons:
- If the Navy thinks it can get through the first few years of the 2030s with 9 or 10 boats, its seems unlikely that it would build two or three additional SSBN(X)s, especially in light of their enormous financial costs and opportunity costs on the rest of the Navy’s shipbuilding budget. (UPDATE 3/29: For a stark illustration of the opportunity costs, check out the Navy’s FY 2013 30 year shipbuilding plan, released on March 28. The pressure the SSBN(X) is putting on the shipbuilding budget, especially in the 2020s, is enormous.)
- Speaking of costs, the Pentagon must decide how, on a tight budget, to replace the land-based missiles, submarines, and bombers that make up the nuclear triad, all of which are nearing the end of their service lives at roughly the same time. Gen. James Cartwright, outgoing vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in July: “The challenge here is that we have to recapitalize all three legs [of the nuclear triad], and we don’t have the money to do it.” If the Pentagon wants a new bomber, to say nothing about a new ICBM or Air-Launched Cruise Missile, it might have to scale back its current plans for the SSBN(X). (UPDATE 3/26: I’m reminded that in a letter to Senators McCain and Graham last November, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta wrote that sequestration would “Delay next generation ballistic missile submarine; cut force to 10 subs.” Even though the Pentagon says it not planning for sequestration, perhaps its planning to follow this playbook for the SSBN(X) regardless?)
- As Amy Woolf recently noted, “at one point in time, we were going to buy….24 Ohio-class submarines; dropped to 21; dropped to 18. We did buy 18, took four out, made them conventional cruise missile carriers; now at 14, dropping the next submarine to 12. It does seem that the longer you wait, the less you need.” A similar fate may await the SSBN(X).
- Finally, the administration is currently reviewing future deterrence requirements, which will ultimately revise existing presidential guidance regarding the targeting of nuclear weapons, appropriate force levels, and more. Given that policy and budgetary forces appear to suggest a smaller nuclear arsenal, all three legs of the triad are likely to shrink, including the sea-based leg.
The fewer SSBN(X)s, the better. As I’ve explained previously, the U.S. can maintain a lethal deterrent and save billions with less than twelve strategic submarines patrolling the oceans.
The United States military conducted a classified war game simulation earlier this month to evaluate the likely consequences of a military strike against Iranian nuclear facilities. The game, called Internal Look, demonstrated the potentially high cost to the United States of an Israeli attack even without direct initial American participation.
The simulation included Iranian retaliatory missile strikes against American warships in the Persian Gulf, resulting in hundreds of American casualties. Obviously, this is an estimate, as it is impossible to be sure how the Iranian leadership would react to an attack against its nuclear program or whether it will be capable of, or interested in, distinguishing an Israeli attack from an American attack.
This simulation confirmed the risks involved in an attack on Iran revealed in a similar exercise conducted by the Brookings Institution in 2010. That study examined how Israeli, Iranian, and American decision makers would react in the event of an Israeli strike against Iranian nuclear facilities.
The creators of the exercise decided to begin by having Israel attack without alerting American officials – a highly possible scenario – leading to initial tensions between the allies. When Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy in Lebanon, responded with increasingly intense rocket barrages on Israel and terrorist activities around the world, the United States was placed in the difficult position of trying to calm the Iranians while simultaneously granting Israel approval for a limited engagement in Lebanon whose success was anything but guaranteed.
Less than eight days after the start of the exercise, the United States was preparing to stage a large scale aerial bombardment campaign that would devastate Iranian military forces. Even though the Israeli strike was deemed a success, the participants debated the overall efficacy of the bombings and many expressed concerns that the Iranian program would only be delayed at most a few years.
Many politicians expressing hawkish views on Iran, including Republican presidential candidate and former Senator Rick Santorum, have advocated launching an attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities with blatant disregard for the repercussions. One commenter who has given credence to such outrageous claims has called a war with Iran the “least bad option” and has stated his belief that the American military would be able to conduct and manage a limited war.
Given the tremendous costs of America’s last “cakewalk” in the Middle East, it would behoove hawks like Senator Santorum to temper their rhetoric and develop a better appreciation for the potential costs of such a brash venture.
Although these are only war games, policy makers would do well not to ignore the dangers of the attacks they so blithely advocate. The outcomes of both exercises highlight the potential dangers of unintended consequences that could result from a preventive attack by either Israel or the United States. As former Defense Secretary Robert Gates explained to the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, “If you think the war in Iraq was hard, an attack on Iran would be a catastrophe.”
Check out my latest article about Ground-based Midcourse Defense on the Center for Arms Control’s website.
The House Armed Services Strategic Forces Subcommittee met on March 6, 2012 to discuss the Fiscal Year 2013 National Defense Authorization Budget Request for Missile Defense. One of the many topics they discussed was the U.S. Ground-based Midcourse Defense system, (GMD – formerly known as National Missile Defense). Republicans on the subcommittee appeared to criticize the slow pace at which they believe the Pentagon is maturing the GMD system. Given the long and troubled history of the program, however, deploying newer technology before it is ready doesn’t make sense…