Looking Beyond New START to the Future of U.S.-Russian Arms Control Treaties

On October 1,, 2015 the U.S Department of State’s Bureau for Arms Control, Verification and Compliance released its count of U.S. and Russian strategic nuclear weapons covered under the New START treaty. For the first time since the treaty entered into force on February 5, 2011, the United States has dropped below the imposed limit on deployed strategic warheads.

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.

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.

Obama’s State of the Union: Give Diplomacy a Chance

Last Tuesday night, when President Obama delivered his State of Union address to Congress, he made it clear that his focus for the coming year and his second term would be to “give diplomacy a chance.” Diplomacy, he emphasized, is the best solution to our current conflicts; military might alone cannot get the job done.

The Heritage Foundation’s Missile Defense Fantasies

Check out my latest article responding to an op-ed by Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner on missile defense. Here’s the into:

Heritage Foundation President Ed Feulner’s op-ed in the Washington Times on April 23 muddled the history of ballistic missile defense when he blamed President Barack Obama for the inability of the United States to field anything more than a nascent missile defense system. The United States has been developing missile defense systems for almost sixty years without success. Without irony, his solution to persistent cost overruns and schedule delays would be to increase the missile defense budget by nearly 40%, adding an additional three billion dollars a year to an already astronomical price tag. Furthermore, Dr. Feulner approves of the United States’ abrogation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty that contributed to strategic stability for forty years by trying to argue that missile defense, if it actually worked, would improve relations between the United States and Russia despite repeated threats from Russian military officials regarding the future of missile defenses in Europe

Fiscal Year 2012 Briefing Book Now Online

For Fiscal Year (FY) 2012, which begins on October 1, 2011, the Obama Administration has requested a base budget of $553 billion for the Department of Defense (DOD). This is $13 billion below the Pentagon’s Future Years Defense Program (FYDP) estimate, released last year, but represents about 3 percent in real growth over the funding the department would receive for FY 2011 under the current continuing resolution, which expires on March 4.

In addition, the Administration has requested $117.6 billion for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), to fight the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. This is a 26 percent decrease from last year’s request of $159.4 billion and represents the administration’s commitment to reduce troop levels in Iraq and Afghanistan and place more strict rules on what can and cannot be included in the war spending request. In the past, additional funding has been made available through emergency supplemental appropriations, when needed. This remains a possibility for FY 2012. This brings the FY 2012 defense budget request to a total of $670.6 billion.

These numbers do not include nuclear weapons related spending in the Department of Energy (DoE) or other defense related funding.

In addition to an initial $670 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Administration has requested $18 billion for nuclear weapons activities at Department of Energy and $7 billion for additional non-Pentagon defense related activities. This brings total non-Pentagon defense related spending (053/054) to $25 billion, an increase of about $200 million over FY 2011.

Click here for the full analysis of the FY 2012 request.

How New START Was Won

I’ve got a new piece up over at the mothership outlining the key factors in New START’s success.  You can read it here.

Here’s the intro:

On February 2, President Obama officially ratified the New START treaty in a low-key signing ceremony at the White House. The eight month-long campaign to win the Senate’s approval of the treaty, however, was anything but low-key. It was a knock down, drag out fight, the outcome of which was in doubt until the very end.

The enormity of the achievement should not be taken for granted.

Sure, New START had a lot of things going for it. Substantively it was a very modest treaty and enjoyed the support of our entire military leadership and just about every national security expert on the planet. Fifty six Democratic and two independent Senators were locks to support it, meaning the administration needed to win nine Republican votes. And the treaty had the strong backing of a President deeply committed to nuclear risk reduction.

But the treaty faced enormous obstacles, the most significant being a political environment defined by extreme partisanship. In the end, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Whip Jon Kyl opposed the treaty. So too did John McCain and Lindsay Graham, both considered to be moderate Republican leaders on defense policy. No previous arms control agreement has ever been approved under such circumstances.

Below I’ve tried to identify some of the key factors that pushed New START across the finish line. I’ve divided them into four levels of analysis: the administration, the Senate, the media, and NGO and grassroots. The list is not exhaustive, nor does it seek to identify lessons learned, although there are many, both positive and negative.

In general, the administration and its allies in the Senate kept New START on the path to approval by painstakingly working to build a bipartisan majority, rather than by humiliating or shaming undecided Republican Senators. Much to the chagrin of some treaty supporters, this required negotiation, compromise, and logrolling. Equally important, the administration and its allies called on key military leaders and former Republican officials to publicly and privately stress the national security merits of the treaty and its importance for U.S. leadership. They capitalized on the other side’s mistakes. And they benefited from some luck. That is how New START was won.

Obama Signs (and Ratifies) New START

Today, February 2, 2011, President Obama signed New START!!! NoH was invited to the ceremony, but sadly had other pressing business to attend to (I kid, I kid, both about being invited and the other pressing business)! The treaty has now officiall…

Cuts are coming: Will the entire budget be on the table?

As expected, President Obama’s address last night focused heavily on the deficit.  Most points we saw coming:

So tonight, I am proposing that starting this year, we freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years. (Applause.) Now, this would reduce the deficit by more than $400 billion over the next decade, and will bring discretionary spending to the lowest share of our economy since Dwight Eisenhower was President.

This freeze will require painful cuts. Already, we’ve frozen the salaries of hardworking federal employees for the next two years. I’ve proposed cuts to things I care deeply about, like community action programs. The Secretary of Defense has also agreed to cut tens of billions of dollars in spending that he and his generals believe our military can do without. (Applause.)

(For a translation of that last part, on Defense, see Josh Rogin’s post at The Cable or mine yesterday.)

More importantly, though, in terms of the budget, the President’s speech contained lines like this:

Now, most of the cuts and savings I’ve proposed only address annual domestic spending, which represents a little more than 12 percent of our budget. To make further progress, we have to stop pretending that cutting this kind of spending alone will be enough. It won’t. (Applause.)

The bipartisan fiscal commission I created last year made this crystal clear. I don’t agree with all their proposals, but they made important progress. And their conclusion is that the only way to tackle our deficit is to cut excessive spending wherever we find it –- in domestic spending, defense spending, health care spending, and spending through tax breaks and loopholes. (Applause.)

Today, the Congressional Budget Office raised its estimate of the budget deficit to $1.5 trillion for this year, on track to beat out the previous record of $1.4 trillion, set in 2009.

House majority leader Eric Cantor, House budget chairman Paul Ryan and others have echoed the president’s insistence that the entire budget be on the table.  It has yet to be seen what, if anything, will come of these statements.  No doubt, cuts are coming.  The question is where.