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.

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

Nuclear Weapons in the Next Generation: Reflections on Generation Prague

Last week, I attended the State Department’s Fifth Annual Generation Prague Conference. The conference was started four years ago as a way to highlight the important perspectives and contributions of the next generation, my generation, as we work to implement the vision President Obama set forward in his 2009 speech in Prague—a world without nuclear weapons.

The Prague Agenda on its Fifth Anniversary

On April 5, 2009, President Obama articulated a vision of a nuclear-free world in a speech in Prague, marking the start of a committed pursuit of enhanced global nuclear security. He reiterated this commitment in a June 2013 speech in Berlin, but while significant progress has been made, many aspects of this agenda have stalled or failed to get off the ground. Five years after the speech in Prague, it is time to revitalize the cause of nuclear security and non-proliferation.

The “Prague Agenda” laid out in Obama’s 2009 speech focuses on several steps to reduce the threat of nuclear weapons—reduction of the number of nuclear weapons within states that already possess them; reduction of the role of nuclear weapons in national defense; prevention of nuclear proliferation by strengthening the global non-proliferation regime and punishing those states in violation of their obligations; securing vulnerable nuclear materials and enhancing international cooperation on nuclear security; and Senate approval of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

Progress toward these goals has been made, albeit unevenly. A litany of factors, including political obstruction from domestic opposition and worsening ties with Russia, has prevented more extensive progress from being realized. Moreover, the White House has not always pursued these goals with the vigor required of such an ambitious agenda. To sustain progress on this front, Obama must advance the Prague Agenda more forcefully throughout the remainder of his second term.

The New START Treaty, which came into effect on February 5, 2011, supported the first item on the Prague Agenda—to reduce the world’s supply of nuclear weapons, starting with the United States and Russia. In his Berlin speech last year, Obama announced that the United States would pursue a reduction in the number of deployed strategic nuclear weapons by up to a third, bringing the total from the 1,550 allowed under New START closer to 1,000.

As part of an update to high-level nuclear weapons policy guidance, this proposed reduction and further changes to the US nuclear posture would reduce the role that nuclear weapons play in US defense policy. However, the administration is predicating further reductions in the number and role of nuclear weapons on a negotiation with Russia, which Russia refused. Cooperation is especially unlikely to deepen amid the crisis in Ukraine and allegations that Russia violated the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF).

With regards to the global non-proliferation regime, Obama has gone to great lengths to strengthen the regime, most obviously seen through his commitment to a negotiated settlement to the Iranian nuclear impasse. Yet despite recent progress on Iran, North Korea’s nuclear weapons program continues to expand. The 2010 Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference yielded consensus on a final document, a notable achievement given the failure to arrive at such a conclusion in 2005. The document espoused specific action designed to strengthen the three pillars of the NPT, non-proliferation, disarmament, and peaceful use of nuclear energy. On non-proliferation, a variety of proposals were put forward, many of which have seen progress since 2010–for example, strengthening export controls and encouraging states to adopt the NPT Additional Protocol. On disarmament, the final document requires nuclear weapons states to report on their disarmament activities at the 2014 NPT Preparatory Committee meeting in late April and for the first time explicitly states that the goal of the NPT’s disarmament provision is a world free of nuclear weapons. Other action plan items, such as negotiations on a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty and on a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East have stalled, and realistic steps toward nuclear disarmament post-New START have been few and far between.

The United States under President Obama deserves great praise for leading a global effort to secure vulnerable nuclear materials. Through the Nuclear Security Summit, Obama has ensured that this issue has remained at the forefront of the international community’s agenda, and a great deal of measurable progress has been made in reducing the amount of vulnerable nuclear material around the world. Beyond the planned 2016 Nuclear Security Summit, however, it is unclear how the United States will pursue global nuclear security. Furthermore, budget cuts have slowed the pace of nuclear security efforts, and many projects have been delayed or place on hold indefinitely.

Finally, the CTBT still has not been ratified despite Obama’s insistence in Prague that his administration would “immediately and aggressively pursue U.S. ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.”

Five years after Obama established an ambitious commitment to nuclear security and non-proliferation at Prague, his record on the subject remains mixed. While progress has been made in some areas, many initiatives have stalled. To make matters worse, the Russian incursion in Ukraine will be a major obstacle to political cooperation between the United States and Russia, but there are steps the administration can take that need not rest on immediate Russian reciprocity.

The fifth anniversary of the Prague speech provides the administration with a chance to intensify its efforts in support of nuclear security and non-proliferation.

Prague, revisited

In my September Bulletin column I assess President Obama’s record on nuclear threat reduction during his first term in office. Here’s the intro: Few national security issues are as important to President Barack Obama as reducing the threat posed by nuc…