Arms Control after New START

On April 8th 2010, President Obama and President Medvedev signed New START, a nuclear weapons treaty designed to increase transparency and decrease deployed nuclear forces. While tension between Russia and the U.S. has inhibited diplomatic engagement on most issues, both countries are still working towards the agreed goal of 1550 deployed strategic nuclear warheads by February 2018. But as we celebrate the national security benefits of New START, looking past the agreement towards the future of nuclear arms control requires a crystal ball.

Six Years Post-Prague

Six Years Post-Prague

Before we dig the grave on Obama’s Prague promises just yet, let us remember he has over a year and a half to make bold progress and improve his legacy of sensible nuclear weapons policies. And, from Cuba to climate change to immigration, Obama has proved he is refusing to act like a lame duck.

Humanitarian Conference: Nukes and Humanity are Incompatible

The Third International Conference on the Humanitarian Impacts of Nuclear Weapons took place in Vienna last week, and generated momentum towards the Non-Proliferation Treaty’s ultimate goal of nuclear disarmament.  The two day conference concluded with an expected “Chair’s Summary,” reflecting the main findings of the conference: nuclear weapons and humanity are incompatible, and an unexpected “Austria Pledge”, in which Austria acknowledged the inherent risk nuclear weapons pose to humanity and vowed  to “fill the legal gap for the prohibition and elimination of nuclear weapons” and “cooperate with all stakeholders to achieve this goal.” In addition, Austria called on all members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to renew their commitment to meeting the disarmament pledge and take concrete steps towards reducing the risk of nuclear detonations.  

The conference was attended by 158 countries, including four nuclear-armed states (United Kingdom, United States, India and Pakistan), alongside delegates from the United Nations, the Red Cross, and a wide array of civil society organizations dedicated to reducing the global threat posed by nuclear weapons. This was a continued improvement from humanitarian conferences of the past; the United States and United Kingdom both sent official delegations for the first time and even China sent an observing party.

While lacking in tangible policy agreements, the conference demonstrated a growing consensus around the danger that nuclear weapons pose on humanity. Survivors of nuclear attacks and tests, the Pope, diplomatic leaders, alongside various academics and celebrities all spoke out against the dangerous reliance on nuclear weapons for deterrence and stability. The crowd was particularly captivated by the remarks of Setsuko Thurlow, a survivor of the Hiroshima explosion, whose testimony highlighted the indiscriminate and widespread nature of an atomic detonation. This testimony supported the presentations by scientists and members of civil society, who agreed a nuclear detonation would have catastrophic, long-lasting effects on human existence while providing little opportunity for humanitarian organizations to mitigate the suffer.

The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and its sister organization, Council for a Livable World, signed a letter with its partners urging the United States to attend the conference. Angela Canterbury, executive director of both organizations, emphasized the importance of including the humanitarian perspective in nuclear weapons discussions: “The nuclear weapons employed today are magnitudes more powerful than their World War II predecessors and their devastating effects cannot be contained by state boundaries, presenting risks on the regional and global scale. It is the United States’ responsibility to champion smart policy that deemphasizes the role of these catastrophic weapons in national security.

Many non-nuclear weapons states, who are frustrated with the stagnation of reduction efforts by nuclear-armed states, hope to use this conference’s momentum to renew calls for nuclear reductions and disarmament. Kingston Reif, Director for Disarmament and Threat Reduction Policy at the Arms Control Association, was an attendee of the Vienna Conference. Reif commented that the conference was not just a “flash in the pan”: ““The frustration among many non-nuclear weapons states with the pace of progress on nuclear disarmament is palpable. The humanitarian consequences discussion has brought in voices and representatives that haven’t typically been part of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) review process and figures to be a major issue at the 2015 NPT Review Conference.” With the NPT Review Conference approaching in the spring 2015, we are likely to see a resurgence of calls to ban nuclear weapons, especially if the proposed efforts outlined by the Austria Pledge yield legal frameworks for pursuing those ambitions.  

Only time will tell if the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons will maintain its momentum gained during the Vienna Conference. Though with 44 states, the Pope, and scientists and celebrities from around the globe calling for a prohibition on nuclear weapons, their voices are growing stronger.

Greg Terryn is a Scoville Fellow at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation

Senator Feinstein: U.S. Should Shrink Nuclear Arsenal

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Ca.) provided a thoughtful analysis of the United States’ overstocked nuclear arsenal in the Washington Post this week, drawing attention to its costs and safety burdens. To convey Sen. Feinstein’s argument succinctly: “The current level of spending on nuclear weapons is unnecessary and unsustainable.

Among the listed concerns of Sen. Feinstein, the size and cost of the arsenal appear front and center. “We’re holding far more nuclear weapons than are necessary, and the cost is undermining other national security priorities.”, Sen. Feinstein says, citing the rising annual costs of maintaining the nuclear arsenal and the potential for $1 trillion in nuclear weapons spending within the next 30 years.  Sen. Feinstein also cites the nuclear hedge, which preserves two reserve warheads for every active duty warhead, as excessive and worthy of reduction.  

Also this week, Sen. Feinstein received an award in recognition of her leadership on nuclear security and non-proliferation. This award was presented to her by nine organizations within the arms control community, including the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation’s sister organization: Council for A Livable World.

Angela Canterbury, executive director of the Council and Center, commended the Senator: “Sen. Feinstein has been a tremendous leader, having worked in a bipartisan manner with Senator Lamar Alexander to conduct much-needed oversight of the nuclear weapons complex. No one in Congress knows these issues better, or is doing more to ensure nuclear security and the right-sizing of the role of these weapons in our overall national security strategy.”

Since 2011, Senator Feinstein has served as Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Subcommittee —the committee that oversees federal spending on most of the nuclear weapons complex, which is managed by the National Nuclear Security Administration under the Department of Energy. Next year, when the Republicans become the majority, Feinstein is expected to serve as Ranking Member of that committee while the current Ranking Member Lamar Alexander (R-TN) is expected to become Chairman. Sen. Alexander has a long history of fighting for nuclear security, including being one of 13 republican senators to vote in favor of the New START Treaty. The two have worked closely together on many issues, including issues of nuclear security.  

With an unnecessarily ambitious nuclear modernization plan and tough budgetary decisions on the horizon, the U.S. cannot afford to allow inertia to dictate nuclear policy. “It’s time we take a long look at how we can responsibly reduce our stockpile”, says Sen. Feinstein. “We live in 2014, not 1980. The world is a very different place, and we need to plan accordingly.” Indeed.

Hearing Backfires for Iran Diplomacy Bulldozers Menendez and Corker

This was a bad week for adversaries of a comprehensive deal on Iran’s nuclear program.

During a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing Wednesday entitled “Dismantling Iran’s Nuclear Weapons Program: Next Steps to Achieve a Comprehensive Deal,” Senators Bob Menendez and Bob Corker presented their respective legislative proposals in opposition to the P5+1 and Iran negotiations. Both bills threaten to undo any progress that’s been made in Vienna on a deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program.  

Menendez and Corker had a hand in selecting expert witnesses for the hearing: Michael Doran of the Hudson Institute, Gary Samore, president of United Against Nuclear Iran and of Harvard’s Belfer Center, and David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security. Given past statements from all three, the deck should have been stacked in their favor. But things didn’t go according to plan.

Republican Senator Rand Paul expressed his optimism about the negotiations based off of Iran’s compliance with the interim deal to date.

“But to my mind [inspections of Iran’s nuclear program] would be better than no negotiations. It would be better than war with Iran. Once we have war with Iran there will be no more inspections. Once the first bomb drops, you’ll never have another inspection inside of Iran,” said Sen. Paul.

He also pressed Samore to concede that our allies would not support sanctions imposed unilaterally by Congress.


Menendez, for his part, would like to move “trigger sanctions” legislation that would automatically impose new sanctions on Iran in the event that the two sides can’t come to an agreement by March 2015. In the words of David Albright, however, this type of legislation is perceived “by the Iranians as putting a gun to their heads and leads them to put together I guess what I would call trigger advancements in their nuclear program…And so there’s worry about that, that the trigger sanctions could backfire.”

Albright suggests that if the U.S. plays its ace of harder economic sanctions, Iran will too. Smothering Iran with sanctions, then, could very well press it to renew its efforts to enrich uranium to a high enough level to build a bomb—the very last thing anyone interested in U.S. national security would want.

In July, Senators Corker and Graham sponsored a separate piece of legislation called the “Iran Nuclear Negotiations Act of 2014.” The bill, which would have forced the Senate to vote on a resolution of disapproval on any final deal with Iran, was ultimately scuttled by Congress. Responding to Corker’s bill, both Samore and Albright pointed to the disconnect between what the Administration and Congress view as the fundamentals of an acceptable deal.“As long as there’s such a divergence in terms of what would constitute an acceptable deal,” said Samore, “I think it’s difficult to come to an agreement on whether Congress should put itself in the position of approving an agreement.”

Of course Menendez, Corker and Graham aren’t the only ones on the Hill trying to derail nuclear negotiations.

At a roundtable discussion with reporters this week, Rep. Mike Pompeo belligerently said, “[in] an unclassified setting, it is under 2,000 sorties to destroy the Iranian nuclear capacity. This is not an insurmountable task for the coalition forces.”

Senate-elect Tom Cotton added his own wild speculation to the mix, speaking on the possibility of Islamist extremists collaborating with Mexican drug cartels to cross the border. “They could collaborate on our southern border because it’s so porous and defenseless could easily be used by a terrorist to infiltrate and attack us,” he said.

Neither Pompeo nor Cotton backed their claims up with facts or rationale, but who needs those? Sen.-elect Cotton’s slippery attempt to tie in immigration to Islamic extremism speaks to a greater theme, a blatant Republican effort to stymie Obama’s potential foreign policy successes across the board. As James Carville points out in the The Hill this week, conservatives can’t stand the idea of a deal with Iran “because they know what Tessio says in ‘The Godfather’ is true, when he finds out Michael would be taking a different car: ‘Hell, he can’t do that; that screws up all my arrangements.’” If the Obama administration is able to strike a successful, verifiable deal (which is still no guarantee) the implications for 2016 could be huge.

A Congressional roadblock is not inevitable, however. Speaking at an event on the Iran negotiations at Brookings, Center advisory board member Ed Levine suggested Congress may be able to draft a sanctions bill tailored to the specifics of what the P5+1 is offering at the negotiating table. This would trigger sanctions only if Iran doesn’t sign on.  As it appears, Congress has room to redeem itself. But Ed points out, “That would be a very difficult piece of legislation for Congress because it would involve giving up on more maximalist goals.”

Ultimately, both sides of the debate want the same thing: to stop Iran from getting the bomb. Military action against Iran, as Sen.-elect Cotton suggests, is an irresponsible policy suggestion. Not only because the issue can (and hopefully will) be solved through diplomacy, but a unilateral attack would quickly snowball into yet another war in the Middle East. And additional sanctions, as evidenced by comments from both Samore and Albright, would likely not have the intended consequence of bettering our hand at the table. As much as Congress would like to intervene, or just hates the fact on its face, the most promise for success lies in ongoing negotiations.

Right now, it might be best for the rest of us to sit back and let the folks at the table do their jobs.

Front and Center: 11/22


An update on arms control, national security & politics from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.

November 8 – November 22 WHAT’S NEW:

The Disillusioned Babysitters of America’s Nuclear Weapons
Last Friday, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel gave a lengthy press conference in which he pledged to invest billions to repair a U.S. nuclear enterprise that’s falling apart at the seams. Hagel’s comments were made seemingly in response to in-depth assessments of the nuclear silos and personnel from Mother Jones and New York Magazine, both of which offered the same conclusions: the U.S. nuclear fleet is out of date, and so is its mission. Angela Canterbury, executive director of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation, articulates it well in the Wall Street Journal, “They’re going to throw billions of dollars at this problem, which is like saying they’re going to throw billions of dollars at dial-up Internet.”

Closing in on a Deal
With just a few days until the November 24 deadline to secure a nuclear deal with Iran, Policy Director Laicie Heeley has been busy keeping the media fully apprised of the latest on the negotiations, and of course her expert analysis. Watch her interview on Voice of America, and read her quotes in the International Business Times and Bloomberg News.

Recognizing Our Allies on Capitol Hill
On the evening of November 18th, the nuclear security community gathered to recognize our Congressional allies in support of more sensible nuclear weapons policies. On behalf of the Center and the Council, executive director Angela Canterbury presented the award to Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), who co-founded and chairs Congress’s Nuclear Security Working Group. Other award recipients included Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL), and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA).


The Highest Priority Mission?
Watch Senior Fellow John Isaacs give his analysis of Hagel’s press conference and the Pentagon’s plans to overhaul the nuclear weapons enterprise on HuffPost Live. [11/18]



Slush Fund
Laws are made for a reason–but then sometimes the government finds a way to circumvent them: the Overseas Contingency Operations account is a poster child. Angela Canterbury and Sarah Tully take to the blog to show that, with Obama’s recent request, the Pentagon and Congress are poised to use this off-budget account as a slush fund and to evade the budget caps yet again. Is this necessary? Read more here. [11/21]

Making Good on Prague Promises
This year, Obama has gone under fire for continuing to stumble in the wrong direction over U.S. nuclear weapons policies. Last week, however, the Obama Administration finally made some forward progress by announcing the U.S. will attend the 2014 Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons in early December. Read our press release and learn more on our blog. [11/10]

Thawing the Ice
Ever since Putin’s hasty seizure of the Crimea last spring, nearly two decades of U.S.-Russia nuclear cooperation has deteriorated to an icy standstill, with diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic folding their arms and turning their backs on nuclear security teamwork. Scoville Fellow Greg Terryn provides analysis from various experts who all agree that new approaches are needed to bridge the impasse. [11/17]

Thawing the Ice
Along the same vein, this week marked the twenty-year anniversary of Project Sapphire, a major diplomatic success in removing and down-blending loose nuclear material from the former Soviet Union in 1994. Programs intern Sarah Tully writes, “Fissile material across the country was stored in rooms and warehouses easy for an amateur burglar to crack…with a Civil War padlock…The threat of nuclear war isn’t our greatest danger, loose nuclear material and weapons are.” The point bears repeating: diplomacy with Russia is our best chance of keeping the world’s most dangerous weapons out of the wrong hands. [11/21

Front and Center: An Update on Arms Control, National Security and Politics


An update on arms control, national security & politics from the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation.


We’re Hiring!
Know any accounting experts interested in working at a mission-oriented non-profit? Because the Center and Council are looking for a full-time financial controller to join our team. Please share the job description–applications are due by October 20!


Planes, Trains, and Mobile-Basing?
Cold War ideas of where to house our nuclear weapons—such as hiding missiles on trains and trucks—are beginning to re-surge. Writing on the Center blog, Scoville Fellow Greg Terryn reminds us that “mobile-basing”—like nuclear weapons themselves—is an expensive and dangerous idea that is better left in the past. [10/2]

Don’t Forget About the Other ‘Rogue State’:
For over a year, the U.S. has been all eyes on Iran, but is this distracting us from states that already have nuclear weapons—such as the ever-unpredictable North Korea? On the blog, Sarah Tully suggests that the DPRK’s nuclear program is “flying under the radar” while the U.S. spends its days engaging Iran and refusing to engage North Korea. [10/2]

Who’s Minding the Nukes?
It’s no secret our nuclear weapons enterprise has been under fire this year for a truly inexcusable culture of complacency. Katie McCarthy underlines the irony that poor management in the NNSA has arisen despite the NNSA’s initial mission: to escape poor management. However, the incoming NNSA director, Frank Klotz, may come as a ray of hope for much-needed reform. [10/3]


Almost to 5,000 Followers!
Just last week, the National Security Council’s WMD advisor cited the Nukes of Hazard Twitter handle and blog as an “expert source” at the Military Reporters & Editors Conference. Make sure you follow Nukes_of_Hazard on Twitter for all your nuclear and national security related news!

ICYMI: the Iran Talks on Buzzfeed
When it comes to these complex international negotiations, sometimes it helps to dumb down the wonk for a moment and just have some fun. That’s why we teamed up with our friends at Win Without War to break down the talks with quotes from the 2004 hit film, Mean Girls. If you’re ready for a laugh, check out our BuzzFeed article—and don’t forget to give it a share on Facebook and Twitter!