Last week marked the 4 year anniversary of New START, the most recent arms control treaty responsible for further reductions to the bloated nuclear arsenals of both the United States and Russia. The treaty is a landmark agreement, demonstrating the value of diplomacy and the ability to increase security while simultaneously reducing both nuclear weapons and spending.
FRONT & CENTER
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from Mother Jones and New York Magazine, both of which offered the same conclusions: the U.S. nuclear fleet is out of date, and so is its mission.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]
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
By Lt. Gen. Robert Gard (USA, ret.)
Dealing with other nations to reduce tensions and advance mutual interests is facilitated by establishing embassies and consulates in those countries to enhance communication and increase understanding. This is a long-established diplomatic practice that has been recognized through the ages as highly beneficial in inter-state relations.
Diplomatic recognition of another country and its government is nothing more than an acknowledgement of its de-facto existence as a nation state, not tantamount to approval of its political system or its policies. In fact, it is especially important to establish diplomatic relations with governments with which we have strong disagreements to prevent unintended escalation caused by misunderstandings.
Yet the United States has failed to recognize some key nation states whose governments it finds objectionable. It took us 15 years to recognize the existence of the Soviet Union and establish diplomatic relations with it in 1933. We clung to the myth that the Chinese Nationalist regime that fled to Taiwan represented mainland China for more than 23 years, from 1949 until 1972, when President Nixon visited the Peoples Republic; and we finally established diplomatic relations with Beijing in 1979.
We have found it beneficial to maintain diplomatic relations with both China and Russia despite some major conflicts of interest and even the imposition of economic sanctions on Russia in the wake of its aggression in Ukraine. The vital New START nuclear treaty with Russia continues to function effectively, as does our logistical passage through Russia to Afghanistan; and Russia continues to supply us with rocket engines we use to enhance our national security and to ferry our astronauts to the international space station. Our diplomatic relations with China have resulted in improvements in our economic relations with the world’s second largest economy, and agreement on military contacts and exchanges hedges against increased tensions that could result from disagreements between China and some of our allies in the region.
With the recent military successes in Iraq of ISIS, the Islamic State, the United States finds itself with a vital interest in common with Iran, but without diplomatic relations that could facilitate cooperation and provide insights into the problems faced by the current Iranian administration with which we are trying to reach agreement on its nuclear program.
Why haven’t we learned the obvious lesson of the advantages to us of recognition of foreign governments and the establishment of diplomatic relations with them? We actually appear to be retrogressing in this regard. It took us 15 years to recognize the Soviet Union and 23 years to acknowledge that the Peoples Republic controlled mainland China. In Iran, the revolutionary movement solidified its control in 1979, 36 years ago; and we still have not accorded it the de-facto recognition that could lead to mutually beneficial diplomatic relations.
Yesterday the Wall Street Journal published a letter to the editor by yours truly in response to a recent op-ed by Keith Payne and Mark Scheinder’s alleging that Russia is a serial violator of arms control treaties and the Obama administration has been uniquely weak in calling out Russia’s bad behavior. Here’s an excerpt:
In addition, the claim that Russia cheats on all treaties is overstated and overlooks the national security case for arms control. Overall, the implementation record of arms-control agreements with Russia has been highly successful—which is why both Republican and Democratic presidents have pursued such agreements. Without these efforts Russian forces would be unconstrained, our ability to verify what Russia is doing would be curtailed and we would have few options but to engage in a costly arms race.
You can read the full letter here.
On the issue of arms racing, it’s certainly true that even if, for example, Russia wasn’t constrained by INF, the United States would still have powerful economic, political, and strategic reasons for not responding by building and deploying intermediate range nuclear forces. What’s more, the United States and Russia have a long history of reducing nuclear forces unilaterally without treaties. Furthermore, the current budget environment in the United States might require reductions in the US arsenal with or without Russia reciprocity.
But at the very least, the absence of constraints on Russia’s forces would increase the incentives and pressure to engage in costly worst case scenario planning that Washington would otherwise not engage in. It’s not clear what leverage we would have to reduce the Russian nuclear threat in the absence of say, INF. The United States and Russia have far more nuclear weapons than they need for their security. Negotiated limits on Russian nuclear forces can still play a role in reducing nuclear risks – especially at at a time of increased tensions between the two countries.
Some hawkish members of the House Armed Services Committee and conservative missile defense advocates are promoting a vastly expanded missile defense system that could entail huge new expenditures and be of dubious effectiveness.
That is the message of a recent House Armed Services Committee hearing on missile defense.
The current system to defend the U.S. homeland against intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) is called the Ground-Based Mid-Course missile defense system (GMD). GMD is designed to counter an attack by a rogue state with a single or very few missiles (for example a future North Korean or Iranian ICBM threat), or an accidental or unauthorized missile strike from Russia or China.
While serious questions remain about whether the existing GMD system can perform its intended mission, the proposed expanded roles for missile defense are the height of folly.
The House Armed Services Committee Strategic Forces Subcommittee hearing was entitled, “Adapting U.S. Missile Defense for Future Threats: Russia, China and Modernizing the NMD Act.”
The main question posed to the witnesses was, “Does a policy of limited missile defenses against limited threats continue to make sense in today’s threat environment?”
Here is the deal.
In 1999, Congress overwhelmingly adopted legislation endorsing a National Missile Defense system to defend “against limited ballistic missile attack.” The language also called for deployment only if the system is “effective” and “as soon as is technologically possible.”
Some of the committee Republicans, led by Chairman Mike Rogers (R-AL), now think that it is time to go beyond “limited” missile defense. So too does the conservative Heritage Foundation and others.
In other words, these members of Congress and others would like to see our missile defense system efforts go beyond the ability to defeat one or two missiles from a rogue state and instead design the system to defeat all out attacks by Russian or Chinese ICBMs.
During the hearing, Ambassador Robert G. Joseph explicitly endorsed expanded missile defense that could include directed energy and space weapons previously rejected as impractical and too expensive. He also called for shifting emphasis from theater defenses and shorter-range threats to national missile defense.
Republican Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK) also embraced space based defenses and directed energy weapons, options previously rejected by governments of both parties.
The two problems: even the limited GMD missile defense currently deployed is not “effective” as required by the legislation, and an expanded defense against the Russian and Chinese nuclear forces would be a prohibitively expensive scarecrow.
The witnesses were Philip Coyle, Senior Science Fellow, Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation, former CIA Director James Woolsey, Jr. and Former Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security and Ambassador Robert G. Joseph.
Coyle is a recognized expert on U.S. and worldwide military research, development and testing. He has served under four U.S. Presidents, mostly recently as the Associate Director for National Security and International Affairs in President Obama’s White House Office of Science and Technology Policy.
Coyle’s remarks hit the nail on the head. In his opening statement, he outlined three important reasons why it would be unwise for the United States to pursue an expanded missile defense against Russia and China.
First, the technology simply does not exist to deal with a deliberate Russian or Chinese ICBM attack. U.S. missile defenses against ICBMs can at best deal with very limited attacks—say from Iran or North Korea—and even that goal continues to be a technological challenge.
Second, the costs of trying to deploy a system to deal effectively with a Russian or Chinese attack would be staggering. In 2002, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the cost of several different proposed missile defense programs that would be integrated into one layered system in 2025. The CBO estimated that a system of ground-based interceptors would cost between $27 and $74 billion, a system of ship-launched interceptors would cost $50 to $64 billion, and a Space-Based Laser system would cost $82 to $100 billion. All of these systems are meant for only a “limited” attack. CBO has not yet estimated the costs of a system designed to defeat Russia and China’s ICBMS, but it would necessarily be considerably more expensive.
Third, if the U.S. had missile defense that could effectively defeat Russian and Chinese ICBMs without being overwhelmed, it would be strategically destabilizing and provoke military responses from Russia and China. If Russia and China perceived their ICBM arsenals had been rendered useless, Russia and China would need to respond with new forces—perhaps more attacking missiles, cruise missiles (against which our missile defense systems are useless), or perhaps even the deployment of troops areas of the world that are currently peaceful.
Furthermore, Russia would certainly not agree to further reductions in its nuclear arsenal and may then use new U.S. missile defense programs as justification to withdraw from New START and other important arms control agreements that have significantly reduced the threat from nuclear weapons.
Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral James A. Winnefeld Jr., in a May 28 talk at the Atlantic Council, punctured the expansive views of those who argue for massive new missile defenses as he explained why limited defenses are in the best U.S. interest.
“As you know,” he said, “we’ve told Russia and the world that we will not rely on missile defense for strategic deterrence of Russia because it would simply be too hard and too expensive and too strategically destabilizing to even try.” Later the Admiral reiterated this point, saying, “And let me be clear once again: it’s not the policy of the United States to build a ballistic missile defense system to counter Russian ballistic missiles.”
This week, The National Interest published an op-ed by Lt. General (USA, Ret.) Robert Gard and Nickolas Roth on U.S.-Russian nuclear security cooperation. The authors argue that despite recent tensions between the two countries, it is in the United States’ interests to continue working with Russia to reduce the likelihood that nuclear material would be stolen and used by terrorists.
Spring intern Andrew Szarejko and I have a new piece on the Center homepage on the Ukraine crisis and the role of strategic forces. Here’s how we begin:
Like a bad penny that always seems to find its way back into your pocket, critics of the Obama administration are using a crisis abroad to recite their favorite talking points about the importance of nuclear weapons and missile defense to U.S. security.
Further Russian aggression toward Ukraine could be avoided, they suggest, if only President Obama would revive a Bush-era missile defense plan for Europe or at least accelerate the current plan, the European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA). If only Obama would consider deploying tactical nuclear weapons in Eastern Europe and provide additional billions (on top of the hundreds of billions already planned) to accelerate the modernization of the American nuclear arsenal, Putin would never show his bare chest again and return Crimea to Ukraine.
Some of these and other proposals can be found in the recent legislation sponsored by Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) titled “The Russian Aggression Prevention Act of 2014”. The legislation calls for accelerating implementation of the EPAA, halting nuclear weapons reductions under New START and any further reductions until Russia is in compliance with its arms control obligations and is no longer threatening Ukraine, and prohibiting overflights of U.S. territory by Russian aircraft under the Open Skies Treaty using new digital surveillance devices.
These actions may satisfy a political desire to poke Russia in the eye and make the Obama administration look weak, but they are wrong-headed and don’t respond to the threat. U.S. nuclear weapons and missile defenses are largely irrelevant to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine. While augmenting nuclear and missile defense capabilities and ditching existing arms control mechanisms will not dissuade Russia from engaging in more mischief in Ukraine, they could amount to pouring gasoline on an already large fire.
You can read the whole thing here.
Russia’s illegal invasion of Crimea requires a strong and forceful US response to support Ukraine and punish Moscow. But that fact that a meaningful response is required does not mean that we should deliberately score an own goal by taking actions that would be self-evidently counterproductive and detrimental to our security.
As former Secretary of State George Schultz and former Senator Sam Nunn wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed, “A key to ending the Cold War was the Reagan administration’s rejection of the concept of linkage, which said that bad behavior by Moscow in one sphere had to lead to a freeze of cooperation in all spheres.” “Although current circumstances make it difficult,” they noted, “we should not lose sight of areas of common interest where cooperation remains crucial to the security of Russia, Europe and the United States. This includes securing nuclear materials…and preventing catastrophic terrorism, as well as destroying Syrian chemical stockpiles and preventing nuclear proliferation by Iran and others.”
This is wise advice. But wisdom is a commodity in short supply on the GOP-led House Armed Services Committee, especially when it comes to nuclear policy. It should not be surprising, then, that the Republican leadership of the Committee is sponsoring legislation in response to the Crimea crisis that would imperil our security by stopping nuclear security cooperation with Russia.
Among the many not so brilliant ideas included in the legislation, which is titled “Forging Peace through Strength in Ukraine and the Transatlantic Alliance” and co-sponsored by Reps. Michael Turner, Buck McKeon, and Mike Rogers, is a provision that “Prohibits the contact, cooperation or transfer of technology between the National Nuclear Security Administration and the Russian Federation until the Secretary of Energy certifies the Russian military is no longer illegally occupying Crimea, no longer violating the INF treaty, and in compliance with the CFE treaty.”
Unless there is some disclaimer in the actual bill text that I have yet to see, this would bring to a halt NNSA’s nuclear security work in Russia, most of which is conducted under the auspices of the International Nuclear Materials Protection (IMPC) program. Examples of activities that the IMPC program plans to pursue in and with Russia in FY 2015 include consolidating of all category I/II fissile material into a new high security zone at a nuclear material site in Russia; completing a perimeter upgrade around two guarded areas with 13 buildings that store and process weapons-usable nuclear material in a large bulk processing facility; providing upgrades at three additional buildings in a large bulk processing facility; and completing upgrades to closed city perimeter entry points at the two primary weapons design facilities and one bulk processing facility in Russia.
As our friend Nick Roth has written, “although Russia has made tremendous progress in securing its nuclear weapons and materials, because of the size and far-flung locations of Russia’s stockpile, Russia still presents one of the most significant challenges to reducing the global risk of nuclear terrorism. Russia has the most highly enriched uranium (HEU) and plutonium of any country and the most HEU research reactors in the world. There is also a significant risk of insiders stealing nuclear material from its nuclear facilities.”
It is true that in recent years Russia has become an increasingly difficult partner on nuclear security cooperation. Moscow’s refusal last year to renew the old Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) umbrella agreement has reduced the amount of work we can do in Russia (though much of NNSA’s work will continue). Funding for nuclear security work in Russia makes up a much smaller share of the Pentagon and NNSA’s nonproliferation budgets than it once did, as Moscow is appropriately footing more of the bill to secure materials and sustain improvements enabled by US assistance.
Meanwhile, NNSA has already decided to rescind its funding request for one nuclear security activity within the IMPC program and is apparently reviewing the merits of other programs as well.
Yet it’s important to remember that we don’t cooperate with Russia on nuclear security as a favor to Moscow. We do it because it is strongly in our national security interest. Our cooperation with Russia keeps Americans safe from the threat of nuclear terrorism and this cooperation should continue (and is continuing) despite the tensions in the larger US-Russia relationship. At a time of enhanced U.S.-Russia tensions now is hardly the time to reduce our on-site presence in the Russian nuclear sector. The cost for these programs is relatively low and the return on investment is extremely high. There is more work that remains to be done and it is critical that this work get done as quickly as possible.
Fortunately, there appear to be GOP leaders in the House who understand this. At an Energy and Water appropriations subcommittee hearing last week, Chairman Mike Simpson (R-ID) highlighted the importance of nuclear security cooperation despite our concerns about Moscow’s behavior in other areas:
REP. SIMPSON: — why I ask this question. You’re probably going to see amendments on the floor to take out all funding for all of those things that have the word “Russian” anywhere in them. How much funding in your budget is a request for projects that are in Russia that probably will face amendments and stuff? And I have been and I think this committee has been supportive of the work that’s going on there. We want to be able to answer the questions that are going to come up.
MS. HARRINGTON: Thank you, sir. We view the work that we do in Russia, which focuses on the security of both the material and facilities and, in some cases, the actual weapons that were once a threat to this country, as vital to U.S. national interests. So we hope that both we and the Russians would be able to continue with that kind of work.
As you know, in past geopolitical times of conflict, there have either been carve-outs or accommodations made to allow nonproliferation and threat-reduction programs to move forward.
That said, as you might imagine, internally within the government right now, there is intense scrutiny of everything that’s being done with Russia, you know, and real concern about the path that it has chosen to take. So we are in that process of reevaluating.
In terms of the 2015 budget, there’s — out of the 1.55 billion (dollars) there’s something around $100 million for programs that work with Russia. Of that, about 25 percent goes to our own laboratories to support the technical expertise to bring into projects. So out of the total budget amount, it’s not a particularly large percentage, but we still view it as being a very important element of our ability to engage both with sensitive materials and at sensitive facilities.
REP. SIMPSON: So the short answer I would give to people is this is actually in our own interest, not just Russian interest and the world’s interest.
MS. HARRINGTON: Correct. Right, that is why we are there. [emphasis mine.]