Washington Post’s Pincus Nails the REAL Nuclear Threat

Washington Post’s Pincus Nails the REAL Nuclear Threat

The United States is headed for trouble, according to Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, in his recent article “War, hot or cold?” The crux of the issue: the U.S. is balancing military spending for two non-complementary styles of war. On the one hand, the U.S. is developing its intelligence and armed forces to fight a “hot war” against terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State; on the other, the U.S. is developing costly weapons programs to ensure superiority in a Cold-War-style standoff with Russia and China. As Pincus is concerned, funding both styles may not be practical or affordable, meaning “Americans have some tough choices ahead.”

These days, terrorists are the first threat,” says Pincus, “and not a single one will be deterred by a nuclear warhead.”

Spending Bills Clear Congress, Despite Delays

After more than a few budget antics this weekend, both the FY15 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA, H.R. 3979) and FY15 Omnibus (H.R. 83), or “Cromnibus,” have cleared Congress.

The House and Senate Armed Services Committees completed behind-the-scenes negotiations on the NDAA on December 1st then moved on to a vote in the House on December 5th, where the bill passed 300-119. On December 12th, the Senate lent its approval to the bill by a vote of 89-11, marking the 53rd consecutive NDAA approved by Congress.

Front and Center: 11/22-12/6


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

November 22 – December 6 WHAT’S NEW:

Diplomacy Extended: On November 24th, Secretary of State John Kerry stepped to the podium in Vienna to report that negotiations have brought the parties very close to achieving a comprehensive deal to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran, but that more time was needed. The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation released a statement praising the progress made by our negotiators, and urging Congress to stand this one out. Read the press release on our website, and read more about the extension on our blog. [12/24]

The Bulldozers in Congress: As soon as news of the extension hit, a few of the likely suspects in Congress began calling for yet more sanctions on Iran—which would effectively scuttle the negotiations. To learn more about how their plans are already backfiring, read our blog on Wednesday’s Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, which featured these bulldozers. Want to help us foil their plans to throw a wrench in diplomacy? Sign the Council for a Livable World’s petition to urge Congress to let the experts at the table do their jobs.

How Low Can We Go: The current U.S. stockpile of 5,000 nuclear weapons is an improvement compared to the 30,000 we once maintained during the Cold War. But in reality, our nuclear force is still significantly higher than what is needed for deterrence, and much more costly than what we can afford. In a recent article published in the National Interest, Center Chair Lt. Gen. Robert Gard and Scoville Fellow Greg Terryn make a convincing case for adopting a minimal deterrence strategy in order to save big both in terms of risk and in budget. [12/1]


Center & Council Board Members Defend the Extension With Iran
We’re beyond fortunate to have Council Board Member Jim Walsh and Center National Advisory Board Member Ed Levine as respected voices on the complex negotiations with Iran. Since the announcement of the extension last week, Jim has offered his expert analysis, including in this op-ed and article. For his part, Ed went live at the Brookings Institution to discuss the road ahead. Stay tuned for more from Jim and Ed as the negotiations go forth!

What You Need To Know About This Year’s NDAA
The NDAA is the single largest authorization bill that Congress considers, and gives the Pentagon and the national security programs of the Department of Energy the legal authority to fund and operate their activities. Although the House passed its own version in May, the Senate has not, and both chambers have agreed behind closed doors to a 1600-page compromise defense bill for Fiscal Year 2015. Luckily, our policy experts have put together a “Cliff Notes” version to tell you all you need to know about the final bill. Be sure to check out the NDAA FY 15 summary on our website. (You can thank us later!) [12/4]

Senator Feinstein Speaks Out on Nuclear Reductions
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), a longtime ally on our issues, has yet again proved her dedication to reducing the threat of nuclear weapons by publishing an op-ed in the Washington Post. (Spoiler alert: The current arsenal is unaffordable and unnecessary.) Not coincidentally, this week, Council for a Livable World was one of nine organizations to have had the honor of awarding the Senator for her leadership on nuclear security issues. Read more about Senator Feinstein’s article and her tremendous leadership on our blog. [12/5]


Climbing the Ladder toward Nuclear Security
Yesterday, Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller took the stage in Prague—the same place where in 2009, President Obama announced his pledge for a nuclear-weapons free world—to announce a new disarmament project. The State Department will partner with the Nuclear Threat Initiative to bring together experts on disarmament verification from around the world to “better understand the technical problems of verifying nuclear disarmament, and to develop solutions.” On our blog, Sarah Tully points to this project as a rung on the tall ladder that Obama must climb to solidify a strong legacy on nuclear security. [12/5]

How to Save $160 Billion
Yesterday, Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller took the stage in Prague—the same place where in 2009, President Obama announced his pledge for a nuclear-weapons free world—to announce a new disarmament project. The State Department will partner with the Nuclear Threat Initiative to bring together experts on disarmament verification from around the world to “better understand the technical problems of verifying nuclear disarmament, and to develop solutions.” On our blog, Sarah Tully points to this project as a rung on the tall ladder that Obama must climb to solidify a strong legacy on nuclear security. [12/3]

Obama Tells Chuck: To the Left, To the Left
To put it simply, November 24th was a busy day at the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation office. Just as news of an Iran extension surfaced, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced his resignation. Be sure to read as Sarah Tully discusses how Hagel’s successor (likely the recently nominated Ash Carter) will be forced to deal with a tight ship at the White House, and a projected budget that’s on course to bust the caps. Stay tuned for more analysis on what Carter may do for our issues. [11/26]

Senate Committee on Foreign Relations passes authorization of use of force against ISIL

Earlier today, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations passed the Senate Joint Resolution 44 – Authorization for the Use of Military Force (AUMF) against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) by a party-line roll-call vote of 10 to 8.

The resolution authorizes the use of force in Iraq and Syria while rejecting ground combat operations already ruled out by the President.  However, it includes exceptions to the prohibition of troops on the ground large enough to drive a battalion through: except when necessary to protect U.S. military personnel or U.S. citizens whose lives are directly endangered by ISIL, and other specific circumstances. Additionally, the president must report to Congress at least once every 60 days on specific actions taken Iraq and Syria. The enemy is identified as “associated persons or forces” with ISIL, meaning “individuals and organizations fighting for or on behalf of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant or a closely-related successor entity.”

The legality of Obama’s current campaign in Iraq and Syria is contested. The president has been using the out-of-date 2001 AUMF against Al-Qaeda, passed in the wake of the September 11th attacks, to justify military actions against ISIL, or as Secretary Kerry called it in his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Daesh. The word ‘Daesh’ is a transliteration of the Arabic acronym for ISIL. Many Arabic-language media outlets prefer to use this term because it distances the terrorist organization from the practice of Islam.

In his testimony on December 19th, Kerry said he supports the three-year limitation proposed by Menendez, “subject to provisions for extension that [the Administration] would be happy to discuss.”

The Administration does not want to be hampered by any hard limitations on the duration of our involvement in the region, the ability to resort to combat operations if necessary, or an expansion of offensive actions to other countries.

The proposed AUMF against ISIL would repeal the 2002 AUMF against Iraq but says nothing about the 2001 AUMF.

During today’s hearing, Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) spoke of the necessity to define unambiguously the enemy and the objectives of this war. He also spoke out against limiting the AUMF to three years, as proposed in the Act, suggesting that this would reveal to our enemies what we are willing and unwilling to do to defeat them, and for how long. In essence, he argued to give the President a blank check.

Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-NJ) argued, “A three-year authorization creates the greatest accounting to the Congress to come back, knowing that authorization can be renewed and may need to be.”

As Menendez suggested, sunsetting the authorization after three years would force Congress to revisit the AUMF and ensure the Act stays relevant to strategic realities.

On the point of sending U.S. ground troops back to the region, Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) pointed out, “massive amount of ground forces in the middle east ends up creating more enemies than it ends up killing.”

Senator Chris Coons (D-DE) highlighted the need for both a military and fiscal strategy, saying that it is “[his] hope that we will keep right in front of us how we will pay for [this] war [against ISIL.]”  He also called for the president to release a clear, in-depth strategy as to how he will degrade and defeat ISIL, how much it will cost, and the projected scope and duration of the war.

An amendment to constrain a U.S. campaign geographically was put forward by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY). An amendment to limit the authority of the AUMF to one year was proposed by Senator Tom Udall (D-NM) and co-sponsored by Senator Paul. Neither amendment passed.

So Democrats, some of whom are skeptical about a new war in Iraq and Syria, voted to authorize the use of military force because the resolution included some limits to presidential action in the region. And Republicans who most support our military involvement voted against the resolution because they felt the president’s hands would be tied.

As Congress plans to adjourn in the next few days, Congress will most likely have to start all over against in 2015 on this or another measure.

The Vote:
Democrats for: Bob Menendez (NJ), Barbara Boxer (CA), Cardin (MD) Jeanne Shaheen (NH), Chris Coons (DE), Dick Durbin (IL), Tom Udall (NM), Chris Murphy (CT), Tim Kaine (VA), Ed Markey (MA)

Republicans against: Bob Corker (TN), James Risch (ID), Marco Rubio (FL), Ron Johnson (WI), Jeff Flake (AZ), John McCain (AZ), John Barrasso (WY), Rand Paul (KY)

Rose Gottemoeller Announces New Disarmament Verification Initiative

In a speech at the Prague Agenda 2014 Conference yesterday, Undersecretary for Arms Control and International Security Rose Gottemoeller announced a new “International Partnership for Nuclear Disarmament Verification” initiative. The project will be a collaborative multi-national effort spearheaded by the U.S. government and the Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI). According to Gottemoeller, the initiative will bring together “both nuclear weapon states and non-nuclear weapons states to better understand the technical problems of verifying nuclear disarmament, and to develop solutions.”

The project will build on the Innovating Verification: New Tools & New Actors to Reduce Nuclear Risk report series published in July 2014 by NTI, which outlines a framework for their Verification Pilot Project. NTI, founded by Ted Turner and former U.S. Senator Sam Nunn, is a collaborative private-public sector partnership that aims to reduce the global threat of weapons of mass destruction.

This announcement comes just days before the United States is scheduled to attend the Vienna Conference on the Humanitarian Impact of Nuclear Weapons, December 8-9.

The State Department’s decision to attend this year is significant considering the U.S. declined to attend the last two conferences in March 2013 and February 2014. This new initiative, as well as the decision to attend next week’s conference in Vienna, demonstrates Obama’s continued commitment to nuclear safety and disarmament; however, it does not suggest a change in U.S. nuclear policy.

“We are participating [in the conference] to reinforce the messages I have put forth here – that the practical path we have followed so successfully in the past remains the only realistic route to our shared goal of a nuclear weapons- free world. We cannot and will not support efforts to move to an amorphous nuclear weapons convention or the false hope of fixed timeline for the elimination of all nuclear weapons,” said Gottemoeller.

Throughout her speech, Gottemoeller reinforced the United States’ commitment to a safe, secure and effective nuclear arsenal that is not mutually exclusive with U.S. disarmament goals.

Five years ago, during his historic 2009 Prague speech on nuclear weapons, President Obama said:

“Just as we stood for freedom in the 20th century, we must stand together for the right of people everywhere to live free from fear in the 21st century. (Applause.) And as nuclear power — as a nuclear power, as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon, the United States has a moral responsibility to act. We cannot succeed in this endeavor alone, but we can lead it, we can start it.”

Obama has made strides towards this commitment to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons and nuclear terrorism since he stepped into the White House. Since his 2009 speech, “over 3 metric tons of vulnerable HEU and plutonium material have been removed or disposed of, and 11 countries have removed all HEU from their territory,” and the P5+1 are on the brink of a historic deal with Iran on their nuclear program.

But the President has more to do in order to ensure he leaves an impressive legacy on increasing nuclear security and reducing the role of these weapons in our national security strategy.

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.