Quote(s) of the Day: Non-treaty based nuclear reductions edition

REP. ROGERS: Mr. Secretary, your predecessor, Secretary Panetta, stated in here that he believed that the treaty route with confirmation by the Senate was the only appropriate way to undertake nuclear reductions with another state. Do you concur with that observation and that position?

SEC. HAGEL: Well, generally, that has been the route that we’ve taken — I mean, it’s been Soviet Union, Russia — and for the reasons treaties are important, I’ve always supported.

REP. ROGERS: Well, there was an attempt under the Bush administration to try to, outside the parameters of a treaty — as you know; you were in the Senate at the time —

SEC. HAGEL: Yes, yes.

REP. ROGERS: It was criticized soundly then for trying to get around the Senate and that it would not be verifiable. So I hope that you still feel as you did when you were a senator that the Senate should have to ratify any nuclear arms reduction agreements.

SEC. HAGEL: Well, I think all those treaties are important. That route, that process, if for no other reason than what you just noted. It brings the American people into it; it brings the Congress, that represents the American people into that process.

Now, there may well be — as we get into complicated pieces here down the road — some variables to, well, can we do something better this way than a treaty? I don’t know. But you look at all the options. You look at all the ways to accomplish the purpose and the end mean, but overall, I have not changed my opinion, as I sit here, from where I was in the Senate.

REP. ROGERS: Thank you.

General Dempsey, do you believe such an agreement would be verifiable outside the parameters of a treaty, if confirmed by the Senate?

GEN. DEMPSEY: That’s, obviously, a policy decision. What I have said as the military adviser is that any further reduction should be done as part of a negotiation and not unilaterally.

REP. ROGERS: All right. Thank you both and all of you for your service, again.

The above exchange occurred at the House Armed Services Committee’s April 11 hearing on the FY 2014 Department of Defense budget request. Note how Secretary of Defense Hagel and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Dempsey refuse to rule out possible further nuclear weapons reductions with Russia outside the framework of a legally-binding treaty.

For an excellent overview of the options available to the President for reducing nuclear arms, see this report from the Congressional Research Service’s Amy Woolf. Here’s an excerpt

Each of the mechanisms for reducing nuclear forces can possess different characteristics for the arms control process. These include balance and equality, predictability, flexibility, transparency and confidence in compliance, and timeliness. Provisions in formal treaties can mandate balance and equality between the two sides’ forces. They can also provide both sides with the ability to predict the size and structure of the other’s current and future forces. Unilateral measures allow each side to maintain flexibility in deciding the size and structure of its nuclear forces. In addition, the monitoring and verification provisions included in bilateral treaties can provide each side with detailed information about the numbers and capabilities of the other’s nuclear forces, while also helping each side confirm that the other has complied with the limits and restrictions in the treaty. With unilateral reductions, the two sides could still agree to share information, or they could withhold information so that they would not have to share sensitive data about their forces.

Quote of the Day: Fissile Materials Edition

“If we are serious about reducing the possibility that fissile material could fall into terrorists’ hands, then we must reduce the amount of such material that is available.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Remarks at the Conference on Disarmament, Geneva Switzerland, February 28, 2011

Right on, Madam Secretary.

I suppose it’s safe to assume that if the White House is serious about preventing fissile material from falling into terrorists’ hands, then it’s pulling out all the stops to persuade Congress to fund critical nuclear security programs to lesson the likelihood that fissile material falls into terrorists’ hands. Right?

Egypt’s Success, North Korea’s Distress

The Egyptian revolution has raised hopes of democracy in the region and beyond. But North Korea is a different story. Click here for the full story or click read more below.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-il may have woken up on his 70th birthday with crossed brows rather than a smile.

February 16th actually could be the first of a two-year celebration since he is either 69 or 70-years-old depending on the calculator. Still, the 70th birthday is a very special one in Korea though his are always commemorated with lavish birthday gifts and festivities.

But this year, Kim has woken up to a mix of unhappy birthday presents no 70-year-old dictator would want to accept: South Korean headlines that continue to paint a bleak picture for his health and regime; uncertainty over U.S. food aid to the North; an unstable health; urgent need to fast-forward his son Jong-un’s grooming process; unsuccessful inter-Korean military talks ending with no rice aid; and a struggling economy.

Perhaps most concerning is waking up to the reality that yet another fellow dictator and long-time friend Hosni Mubarak has been toppled by the Egyptian people. Romania, Iraq, Tunisia and now Egypt. One by one, his comrades have fallen.

Kim might have even asked himself, “Could this be my fate one day?”
But his conscience may have immediately answered, “Never!” with another pound of the iron fist.

While the world could not escape the images of Egyptian protests and democracy taking wind in the Middle East, North Koreans were oblivious of the historic moment. State media naturally blacked out the Egyptian revolution, and instead claimed America’s latest headache is smartphones used by U.S. prison inmates to smuggle drugs and weapons.

The regime’s iron curtain has its pores and information reportedly disseminates from the growing popularity of banned South Korean dramas, those sneaking in and out of China, and the expanding number of smuggled mobile phones from China as well as increasing shipments of legitimate mobile phones serviced by Egypt’s Orascom Telecom.

As South Koreans watched Egyptians overthrow their 30-year dictator, the first thought in their minds was, “When will it be North Korea’s turn?” North Korean defectors watched with envy.

There has been news of unhappy North Koreans. Add that to doubts over Kim’s health and one could hope the scale would tip toward homegrown social instability and uproar.

The cruel reality, however, is that North Korea’s turn is unlikely to come any time soon. “Bottom-up” is not a concept that can easily be applied to the North. The fundamental constraint to any civilian protest is the sheer fact that the regime maintains a strict system of absolute power, oppression, monitoring, isolation and gulags.

The North Korean people do not have the power to assemble. Most do not have contact with the outside world. While North Koreans minus the elite are hungry and malnourished, they still worship their Dear Leader and are severely patriotic. Reports may be true that some members of the military and political crème de la crème are unhappy, but they will continue to bask in the glory and goodies of elite-hood as long as they remain loyal.

As grim as the current picture may be for Kim Jong-il, it also gives him more incentive to up the ante and strengthen internal solidarity.

Kim may see an opportune time to unleash more provocations when Seoul and Washington convene their annual Key Resolve/Foal Eagle military exercise on February 28th. Military officials say the drills will go beyond defeating a conventional attack, and will reportedly include responding to an all-out war and contingency scenarios such as the death of Kim Jong-il and a crisis during a transfer of power. The exercise may also involve a U.S. aircraft carrier while intensifying their training to search and destroy North Korean weapons of mass destruction.

Pyongyang believes the joint exercises are aimed at toppling the Kim regime, and it has often threatened grave consequences should the drills proceed. As has been the case in the past, the United Nations Command has informed the North of the upcoming exercise date explaining that they are defensive in nature.

The future course of the Korean peninsula is unclear. But what is clear is that Pyongyang will engage in more provocations given the right time and political incentive. What’s clear is that tensions must be reduced. What’s clear is that the international community still needs to feed information to the North Korean people. What’s clear is that a North Korea with nuclear weapons is destabilizing to the region and the world. What’s clear is that solving North Korea will shake the nuclear black market. What is clear is that active diplomacy must persist.

Pakistan rapidly increasing arsenal, still says no to FMCT

Last week the public learned a few new things about Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. The size of its deployed stockpile is now estimated to be more than 100 weapons.  It also is believed to possess the nuclear material for somewhere between 40-100 additional weapons, a capability which could make Pakistan the 4th or 5th largest nuclear weapon state – surpassing both France and the United Kingdom .

As David Sanger and Eric Schmitt pointed out in the New York Times and Karen DeYoung in the above article in the Washington Post—Pakistan’s nuclear-lust is a challenge to the twin goals of prohibiting the production of fissile material for weapons purposes and reducing nuclear stockpiles globally.

Pakistan is the only country publically opposing the beginning of negotiations on a Fissile Material Cutoff Treaty (FMCT) in the 65-nation UN Conference of Disarmament (CD). Their chief concern is India and the disparity between the two country’s arsenals. Even though, the latest estimates suggest that Pakistan may have more weapons than India. New Delhi does have the capacity to produce more weapons due to a larger fissile material stockpile.  

Clearly Pakistan has more than enough weapons and material to deter any potential nuclear threat from India. But, as Daryl Kimball stated in the October 2010 edition of Arms Control Today, “Pakistan’s concerns about an FMCT likely will not be alleviated as long as India’s production potential remains greater.” Note production potential. It is negligible that Pakistan has more weapons now. India can, at any time, increase the size of its arsenal and Pakistan sees that potential as a threat–even more so now because of the U.S.-India nuclear deal, which could give India even more added potential to produce bombs.

Most observers are in agreement that this will not be an easy task. Still, there is a lot that can be done to lay the groundwork for future negotiations and to put added pressure on Pakistan to change its thinking.  Kimball laid out some of the options in the Arms Control piece above.  So long as Pakistan and India continue their quest to build more bombs, it is only a matter of time before a FMCT will have to be pursued outside the auspices of the Conference on Disarmament.