Proliferation Press

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Posts Tagged ‘nuclear posture review’

Pakistan and the U.S. Nuclear Posture Review

Posted by K.E. White on April 8, 2010

Two pieces in today’s Dawn reveal the Pakistani viewpoint on Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) and their own ambiguous nuclear status—a nation possessing nuclear weapons, but still unrecognized as such by the international community.

While most US coverage has focused on the impact of the NPR on America’s nuclear arsenal and security, these two articles illustrate the NPR’s impact within foreign nations.

In short, both articles paint the picture of a nuclear armed nation that remains stuck between the categories of nuclear rogue and “recognized and respected nuclear power”.

Dawn reviews the recently released NPR, pointing out its silence on Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal.  From the article (appropriately titled ‘US nuclear policy makes exceptions for Pakistan’):

The new US policy is also critical of “additional countries” who desire to acquire nuclear weapons, “especially those at odds with the United States, its allies and partners, and the broader international community”.

This condition creates room for Pakistan as a country which is not only allied to the US and its partners but also is playing a key role in their efforts to defeat terrorism.

The document, however, makes no such exception for Iran and North Korea, and points out that in pursuit of their nuclear ambitions, the two countries have “violated non-proliferation obligations, defied directives of the United Nations Security Council, pursued missile delivery capabilities, and resisted international efforts to resolve through diplomatic means the crises they have created”.

And a Dawn editorial pushes for Pakistan to remain a prudent nuclear power, dangling the prospect of an eventual US-Pakistan nuclear deal.

But the possibility of a deal being reached even at some relatively distant point in the future will also remain a non-starter if Pakistan, terrorism/militancy and proliferation are always put in the same basket. Pakistanis should never be complacent about the country’s nuclear programme but neither do they deserve to be forever condemned for past mistakes and by exaggerated suspicions. The road to becoming a recognised and respected nuclear power is still a long way off, but at least the journey should be allowed to commence.

The message is clear:  Continuing to partner with the United States—whatever its difficulties—provides Pakistan a pathway towards acceptance from and prestige within the international community.

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Proliferation News Round Up: Sizing Up Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review

Posted by K.E. White on April 7, 2010

What does President Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review change?  The New York Times squarely answers this question—claiming that Obama has prudently constrained when the United States will deploy nuclear weapons:

The document substantially narrows the conditions under which the United States would use nuclear weapons. The last review — done in 2002 by the George W. Bush administration — gave nuclear weapons a “critical role” in defending the country and its allies and suggested that they could be used against foes wielding chemical, biological or even conventional forces.

The new review says the “fundamental role” of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear attack on the United States and its allies, and it rules out the use of nuclear weapons against nonnuclear countries, even if they attack the United States with unconventional weapons.

There is an important caveat. That assurance only goes to countries that are in compliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which leaves out North Korea and Iran. It would have been better if Mr. Obama made the “sole” purpose of nuclear weapons deterring a nuclear attack. No one in their right mind can imagine the United States ever using a nuclear weapon again. America’s vast conventional military superiority is more than enough to defend against most threats.

Assuming the NPR holds diplomatic weight, how does Obama’s revision shape-up overall? offers three takes on Obama’s Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), all worth reading.  But all the articles—whether grading the NPR or highlight its surprising results—fail to properly place the NPR within Obama’s overall nonproliferation strategy.  While the review might not be as bold as some desire, it represents one step in the administration’s nonproliferation strategy.  With an upcoming nuclear security summit and NPT conference, the last thing the administration needs is controversy within the administration or the Hill over  Obama’s nuclear weapon policies.  Hence, assessing the NPR in a vacuum does little to map-out America’s nuclear policies at the end of Obama’s first (or second) term.

Peter Feaver writes on the NPR’s significance and uncertain legacy:

On balance, the NPR seems to be a split-the-difference compromise between different factions among Obama’s advisors. In this respect, it resembles the most important national security decisions President Obama has made thus far on Iraq and Afghanistan. Critics may complain that this results in a lack of strategic clarity — and some of the confusion that has attended the Iraq and Afghanistan policies shows that this danger is a real one — but perhaps it will come to be seen as a politically deft balance of competing desiderata. It is unmistakably a step away from the compromises struck during the Bush era, but I don’t see much evidence that this is the bold leap that wins plaudits in academic seminar rooms, activist think-tanks, and Norwegian parliaments.

David E. Hoffman highlights the plan’s shorting-comings.  Among his list:  Obama’s continued adherence to the nuclear triad and keeping nuclear missiles on alert; Obama’s refusal to tackle the problem of attribution (while he reserves to right to use nuclear weapons against biological threats, what happens when the source of the threat can’t be identified?); and finally, the nuclear posture review’s silence on tactical nuclear weapons.

And Josh Rogin, adding an interesting wrinkle, argues the NPR gives “star billing” to missile defense:

Later on in the document, the administration points to Russia and China’s nuclear modernization and notes that both countries view U.S. missile-defense expansion as destabilizing. Secretary Clinton addressed that issue in Tuesday’s press conference.

The NPR itself was careful to mention missile defense as only one of several capabilities needed to counter non-nuclear attacks.

But Secretary Clinton was less careful.

“It’s no secret that countries around the world remained concerned about our missile-defense program,” Clinton said, explaining that the NPR weighs in on “the role [missile defense] can and should play in deterring proliferation and nuclear terrorism.”

Ok, so now missile defense can deter chemical attacks, biological attacks, proliferation of nuclear technology, and suitcase bombs?

Regardless, the document makes clear that with fewer nukes to be deployed once the new START agreement goes into effect, and with the role of nuclear weapons now limited to responding to nuclear threats, the administration is now looking to missile defense, among other technologies, to fill in the gap.

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Globe Editorial: How to Beat Back the “Deadly Current” of Nuclear Proliferation

Posted by K.E. White on March 17, 2010

James Carroll offers a skillfully concise piece reviewing the opportunities and pit-falls facing the Obama administration’s goals on nuclear non-proliferation.   Carroll argues that certain critical events in the coming months may set-off a new nuclear arms race.

While perhaps employing too dire a tone, Carroll’s editorial does make clear that the months may make or break Obama’s ambitious nonproliferation and counter-proliferation goals.

From Carroll’s editorial (with slight formatting changes and editing) in Monday’s Boston Globe:

  • The US-Russia Treaty

Negotiators in Geneva are late in reaching agreement on a nuclear arms treaty to replace START, which expired last December. Obama is threading a needle, having to meet Russian requirements (for example, on missile defense) while anticipating Republican objections in the US Senate (for example, on missile defense). Warning: Bill Clinton was humiliated when the Senate rejected the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty in 1999. Republicans’ recalcitrance on health care is peanuts compared to the damage their rejection of a new START treaty would do.

  • The Nuclear Posture Review

…the Congress-mandated report on how the administration defines nuclear needs today. This, too, is overdue, probably because the White House has been pushing back against the Pentagon on numerous issues. Are nukes for deterrence only? Will the United States renounce first use? Having stopped the Bush-era program to build a new nuclear weapon, will Obama allow further research and development? What nations will be named as potential nuclear threats? Warning: The 1994 Nuclear Posture Review was Clinton’s Pentagon Waterloo. It affirmed the Cold War status quo, killing serious arms reduction until now.

Although usually considered apart, the broader US defense posture has turned into a key motivator for other nations to go nuclear. The current Pentagon budget ($5 trillion for 2010-2017) is so far beyond any other country, and the conventional military capacity it buys is so dominant, as to reinforce the nuclear option abroad as the sole protection against potential US attack. This is new.

  • April’s Nuclear Summit in Washington DC

… but both nuclear haves and have-nots will be taking positions based on the US-Russia Treaty (and its prospects for ratification) and the Nuclear Posture Review. Warning: if China sees US missile defense as potentially aimed its way, a new nuclear arms race is on.

  • Nuclear Nonproliferation Conference

In May, the signatories to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty will hold their eighth regular review session in New York. Since the nations that agreed to forego nuclear weapons did so on the condition that the nuclear nations work steadily toward abolition, the key question will be whether Obama has in fact begun to deliver on his declared intention. If not, get ready for the cascade.

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Fred Kaplan’s Nuclear Poppycock

Posted by K.E. White on March 3, 2010

Slate’s Fred Kaplan gives his take on Obama’s nuclear policy review.  His read:  it’s smart for U.S. nuclear policy to get out of the cold-war era of of targeting thousands of missiles. The bad news?  Cutting U.S. nuclear weapons doesn’t get us any closer to nuclear abolition.

Kaplan sums this up in the article’s closing paragraphs:

The idea behind no-first-use is to “delegitimize” nuclear weapons—to announce to the world that the foremost nuclear power, the only nation that has ever dropped A-bombs in anger, has concluded that these things have no military utility, no place in wars of the present or the future.

The problem is that history reveals they do have value, whatever we might belatedly say—not necessarily in their actual use but merely in their possession. They elevate one’s standing in a region (see Pakistan); they deter others from attacking (see China in the mid-1960s or North Korea now); they can be brandished as a way of keeping others from responding to lower level forms of aggression. (If Saddam Hussein had built some nukes before invading Kuwait in 1990, it’s doubtful that George H.W. Bush and James Baker could have amassed a large coalition to push him back.)

Which leads to the fourth point: No matter what Washington says, or how deeply the United States or Russia or the other established nuclear powers cut their own nuclear arsenals, it will probably have minimal impact on other countries’ decisions to go, or not to go, nuclear themselves. Their own interests will determine those decisions. In fact, one could argue that a U.S. pullback of this sort may make some technologically advanced countries—which have relied on America’s “nuclear umbrella” for their security—to take the leap and build their own bombs.

The true value of this Nuclear Posture Review depends, in part, on how President Obama views—and presents—its purpose. If he sees it as a way to build institutional support for drastic arms cuts, it could be very valuable indeed. If he sees it as a first step toward his grander goal of wiping nuclear weapons off the face of the earth, he’s going to be sorely disappointed.

Kaplan’s article, while offering strong arguments, needs to address two weak-points.  Kaplan avoids delving into what constitutes “national interest”.  While it is a true that a country will always desire self-protection, what that means depends on what that nation perceives to be necessary.  Also, nations always will make trade-offs:  choosing strategies that get their desired ends for the least cost.

Second, Kaplan doesn’t present a full view of the Obama administration’s nuclear strategy.   His article suggests that nuclear doves have dreamed up the following equation: a new START treaty + a nuclear posture review making deep cuts in the U.S. nuclear arsenal = the yellow brick road of nuclear abolition.

That’s poppycock.

But these steps, in conjunction with removing nuclear weapons from Europe, holding a nuclear summit in April and pushing a strong disarmament strategy at next summer’s NPT conference can further diplomatically isolate nuclear aspirants.  Will this stop would-be proliferators for all time?  No.  Could it help get current nuclear powers to pursue prudent nuclear policies, limit the amount of weapons, and foster more effective means of counter-proliferation in regards to other nations and, most importantly, rogue nations?  Yes.

Admittedly, nations may be attracted to nuclear weapons.  But I suspect that nations far more prefer keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of fragile regimes (read: Pakistan and Iran), let alone non-state actors.

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Obama’s Nuclear Count-Down: What Will the Nuclear Posture Review Yield?

Posted by K.E. White on March 2, 2010

Last fall President Barack Obama rejected the Pentagon’s first Nuclear Posture Review, suggesting that the initial plan was too timid when it came to cutting back America’s nuclear weapons stock-pile.

Six months latter a final posture review seems eminent, though some details remain to be settled.

The New York Times reveals the key sticking point: how far should the United States limit when to use its nuclear weapons?  While some suggest nuclear weapons should only used to deter other nuclear threats, the post-9/11 world has others suggesting it should be used in response to biological or chemical attacks.

But, as pointed out by NYTimes, a third option may leave both sides satisfied:

Mr. Obama’s reliance on new, non-nuclear Prompt Global Strike weapons is bound to be contentious. As described by advocates within the Pentagon and in the military, the new weapons could achieve the effects of a nuclear weapon, without turning a conventional war into a nuclear one. As a result, the administration believes it could create a new form of deterrence — a way to contain countries that possess or hope to develop nuclear, biological or chemical weapons, without resorting to a nuclear option.

But what are non-nuclear prompt global strike (PGS) weapons?  Walter B. Slocombe and Keith B. Payne offer this informative (and readable) report on the subject, which they presented to Rethinking Nuclear and Non-Nuclear Elements of Deterrence, a 2007 conference.

PGS refer to the “capability to strike any point within an hour of authorization” within a bounded set of targets.  Basically, trade the massively destructive power of a nuclear bomb for the pin-point precision of a non-nuclear missile.

Slocombe and Payne’s paper reviews the topic in depth, and points out some draw-backs of swapping nukes for PGS.  Also, this Arms Control Association 2008 article illustrates past Russian objections to such a program.

But, most pressingly, will trading one type of military superiority (nuclear weapons) for another (tactical missile strikes) really change the incentives countries may feel towards gaining nuclear weapons? If not, fewer U.S. nukes could result in spurring more nations to start nuclear programs.  (But the most likely accelerant to proliferation remains Iran and its continuing nuclear brinkmanship.)

In any case, regardless of the nuclear posture review it should be pointed out Obama has already taken steps to change U.S. nuclear weapons policy.  The Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation illustrates the funding increases the White House has proposed for threat reduction and nonproliferation programs. The biggest winner? The Cooperative Threat Reduction Program, funded through the Department of Defense.

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