The Nukes Are Getting Nuked

Josh Rogin at Foreign Policy:

American and Russian negotiators have come to terms on how to handle the thorniest point of contention inside the negotiations over a new nuclear arms-reduction treaty: missile defense.

Russia had been stalling the last stage of the negotiations over the issue, holding fast to its position that missile defense must be included in some way in the new treaty. The U.S. side has insisted the treaty be confined only to offensive systems. Meanwhile, the old agreement, known as the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), expired last December and U.S. President Barack Obama has been pushing to complete the new deal before some 44 world leaders come to Washington for a major nuclear conference beginning April 12.

Washington was abuzz Wednesday after the New York Times reported there had been a “breakthrough” in the talks, but the Times never disclosed what the breakthrough was. The Cable got the details in an exclusive interview with Senate Foreign Relations ranking Republican Richard Lugar, R-IN, who met with Obama along with committee chairman John Kerry, D-MA, Wednesday morning.

“Missile defense will not be part of the treaty, but in the preamble both parties will state their positions and there will be a mention of offense and defense and the importance of those,” Lugar said. He added that because the missile-defense statements were outside the main text, “they are in essence editorial opinions.”

That closely tracks the original understanding that Obama and Medvedev agreed upon during their July meeting in Moscow, as enshrined in the Joint Understanding they issued at the time.

There are still some final details to be worked out, Lugar said, but the president believes there will be a final deal to sign “within the next few days.”

“The president thinks we are very close to an agreement. He hopes to have a signing with President Medvedev April 8 in Prague,” Lugar said.

David Dayen at Firedoglake:

The President and key cabinet members just announced a landmark arms reduction deal with Russia, which would reduce stockpiles among the two largest nuclear nations by around one-third. Both nations would still have more than 1,500 warheads after the end of the agreement, but the trajectory is moving in the right direction.

Ending a year of sometimes topsy-turvy negotiations, Mr. Obama and President Dmitri A. Medvedev of Russia sealed the deal in a morning telephone call, confirming resolution of the last outstanding details. They then announced they will fly to Prague to sign the treaty on April 8 in a ceremony designed to showcase improved relations between the two countries.

“With this agreement, the United States and Russia, the two largest nuclear powers in the world, also send a clear signal that we intend to lead,” Mr. Obama said, appearing in front of reporters at the White House to announce the agreement. “By upholding our own commitments under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, we strengthen our global efforts to stop the spread of these weapons, and to ensure that other nations meet their own responsibilities.”

Key to the deal is the verification regime, so that talk can be backed up with evidence of action.

Tom Diemer at Politics Daily:

Obama, flanked by Secrertary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates, made the announcement after finalizing details in a Friday morning telephone conversation with Russian President Dmitri Medvedev. The “most comprehensive arms control agreement in nearly two decades,” Obama said, will help both nations leave behind the dark days of the Cold War and build “a more secure future for our children.

“We’ve turned words into action. We’ve made progress that is clear and concrete,” the president said. “And we’ve demonstrated the importance of American leadership — and American partnership — on behalf of our own security, and the world’s.”

The agreement, if ratified by the Senate, would cut America’s and Russia’s deployed nuclear warheads by about one-third, down to 1,550 each — 74 percent lower than the limits set by the 1991 START treaty, which this deal is supposed to replace. It will also substantially reduce ICBM and submarine missile launchers and heavy bombers equipped for nuclear weapons. The two leaders plan a signing ceremony in Prague, the Czech Republic, on April 8.

Obama, who set his vision for a nuclear free world in Prague last April, said the new START treaty falls short of that ambitious goal, but is “pivotal” and demonstrates that America and Russia “can cooperate effectively.”

“With this agreement,” Obama said, “the United States and Russia — the two largest nuclear powers in the world — also send a clear signal that we intend to lead … and to ensure that other nations meet their own responsibilities.” He didn’t have to say it, but the “clear signal” was almost certainly meant for the government in Iran, which is pursuing its own nuclear agenda.

With his dramatic announcement in the White House briefing room, Obama appeared to be on a political roll. In less than a week’s time, he presided over passage of the most significant health care reform since Medicare’s enactment in 1965, a complete overhaul of the college student loan program, and a deal with Russia on nuclear weapons.

Spencer Ackerman:

[...]

apparently President Medvedev made a flattering display of congratulating President Obama on the new health-care law before getting to the substance of finalizing the details on New START during their morning phone call. To be very clear: all the substance of the treaty was long in the can before the health-care vote. Every single structural argument for New START — the long-term relationship with America is in the Russian interest; any arms-reduction treaty would be better than one negotiated right before the fall of the  Soviet Union; but really one should be negotiated even though START lapsed because it shows the U.S. and the Russians can do Big Things together — matters much more. But Medvedev mentioned it, and then he told Obama, in English, “If you want to get something done right, do it yourself.”

Conn Carroll at Heritage:

The full text of the new agreement has not been released, but early reports indicate that it will not adequately address three key issues and would therefore compromise U.S. national security:

Verification: The Russians have a long and well documented history of violating arms control agreements. By focusing intently on the reduction in each nation’s strategic arsenal, the U.S. has lost some negotiating ground on the issue of verification. The Senate must ensure that the new treaty is adequately verifiable. There is no reason to sign the treaty if the verification mechanisms fall by the wayside.

Nuclear Modernization: Some arms control advocates insist that the U.S. has a robust nuclear modernization program. This claim is simply inaccurate. The truth is that America’s nuclear infrastructure is rapidly aging, in deep atrophy, and is losing its reliability and effectiveness. The U.S. is not producing new nuclear weapons, and its ICBM force is shrinking and not being modernized. In contrast, Russia and China are engaged in a major modernization effort. On December 16, 41 U.S. Senators voiced their concerns and signed a letter saying they will oppose the new treaty if it does not include specific plans for U.S. nuclear modernization as stipulated in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2010.

Missile Defense: It is absolutely imperative that a new START agreement not undermine our post-Cold War defensive posture by linking offensive weapons with missile defense. But early reports indicate that the treaty does exactly that. The New York Times reports: “Administration officials describing the draft treaty said its preamble recognized the relationship between offensive weapons and missile defense, but that the language was not binding.” But the Times goes on to quote retired major general Vladimir Dvorkin who says Moscow will scrap the treaty if the U.S. pursues missile defense: “If, for example, the U.S. unilaterally deploys considerable amounts of missile defense, then Russia has the right to withdraw from the agreement because the spirit of the preamble has been violated.”

The Obama Administration’s arms control strategy has been deeply flawed. It is based on outdated 1970s arms control strategy and 1960s idealism and naivete. It will not work because it does not account for Russian nuclear strategy, which is based on approximate parity between the two sides, Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), denial of missile defenses to the U.S., and nuclear warfighting capability. The U.S. needs to reset the reset before the Obama administration is allowed to seriously undermine our national security.

James Joyner:

Now, as Josh Rogin aptly documents, this treaty is exceedingly unlikely to get the needed 67 votes in the United States Senate necessary for ratification.  In addition to an overall desire to thwart President Obama on, well, just about everything, several key Republicans have a legitimate quarrel with the treaty’s inclusion of language linking arms reduction and missile defense in Eastern Europe.  (There’s a throwaway line in the Preamble saying that offense and defense are, of course, linked. But the treaty imposes no limits on the latter.)

But the president doesn’t need a formal treaty to draw down our nuclear arsenal.  The only advantages a treaty would confer is to force Obama’s successors to continue to abide by the limit and as a show of good faith to secure Russian cooperation.   In this case, however, neither of those assurances is necessary:  It’s just too good a deal for both sides.

And it’s not because the deal will have any significant impact on nuclear proliferation or take us as a CSM headline puts it,  “closer to a nuclear weapons-free world.”   No, those remain wild fantasies.

The bottom line is that there’s simply no conceivable reason for the United States and Russia to maintain such massive stockpiles.  Both countries have, quite easily, more than twice the number of strategic weapons as the rest of the planet combined.  So easily, in fact, that it will still remain the case once we’ve cut to the new limits.  France, the third most dominant nuclear power, has 300 warheads.   China has 180 and the UK 160. Having 1550 warheads — or, indeed, 550 warheads — would still be more than adequate to meet any possible deterrent need.

As a senior White House official told me in a blogger conference call, the treaty is also important because the old inspections regime expired December 5th and we very much want to have the confidence building that vigorous inspections provide.  But, frankly, it’s in United States interests to reduce our arsenals irrespective of what the Russians do.

More to the point, the cuts are not only symbolically important in signaling reduced tension between the former Cold War superpowers but they’re pure win.  At zero loss of security or the sense thereof, the two powers shed a massive problem:  large stockpiles of rapidly decaying, obsolete weapons that must be maintained, safeguarded, and otherwise dealt with at great cost.   Cutting back by a third is better than printing money.  And both sides could use a little more cash right about now.

UPDATE: Allah Pundit

Stephen Carter at The Daily Beast

Max Boot at Commentary

Steve Benen

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Filed under Military Issues, Russia

One response to “The Nukes Are Getting Nuked

  1. Pingback: What We’ve Built Today « Around The Sphere

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