Proliferation Press

A webpage devoted to tracking and analyzing current events related to the proliferation of WMD/CBRN.

Posts Tagged ‘Nuclear Weapons’

New America Foundation’s 6/29 Nuclear Weapons Event

Posted by K.E. White on June 20, 2011

New America will be hosting an interesting nuclear talk next Wednesday, with one of my favorite speakers Joe Cirincione.

Here’s more on the event, titled ‘Nuclear Weapons in a Changing World’:

The future of nuclear weapons is no longer an exclusively Russian or American affair. Nuclear powers like China, India, Israel, and Pakistan, and potentially Iran complicate the question of nuclear disarmament. How these countries view the strategic value of nuclear weapons now must be discussed along with the nuclear postures of the United States and Russia.

Please join Joseph Cirincione, author of a forthcoming American Strategy Program paper on American and Russian policy on nuclear weapons, MIT Professor Vipin Narang, and Trita Parsi, the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, for a stimulating discussion on the future of nuclear weapons.

And, for background, check out Mr. Cirincione’s 2007 C-Span Q&A on Bomb Scare: The History and Future of Nuclear Weapons.


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The Nuclear Numbers Game: Global News Wire & Keith Payne’s Worry Over the U.S. Nuclear Umbrella

Posted by K.E. White on May 10, 2011

Global Security Newswire should really contextualize their sources.

In their May 9th piece on Obama’s push to cut the U.S. arsenal, the focus is on former Deputy Aassistant Defense Secretary Keith Payne’s testimony to a Congressional commission.  His main point:  be very wary of cutting the U.S. nuclear arsenal–

Washington provides “extended deterrence” to each of its 27 NATO allies as well as Australia, Japan and South Korea. By doing so, Washington promises to defend partner states with its nuclear arsenal in the event of an attack or the threat of one.

As of one year ago, the Pentagon had 5,113 strategic and tactical warheads in its commissioned nuclear arsenal (see GSN, May 4, 2010). The recently implemented New START pact requires both Russia and the United States to reduce their stocks of deployed long-range nuclear weapons to 1,550.

Payne said the commission heard from “senior voices” in Japan that “the threshold at which point they start to become very worried about the credibility of the U.S. extended nuclear deterrent is if the U.S. starts moving down to 1,000 nuclear warheads.”

“When we start looking at numbers that potentially go well below that, we will be potentially jeopardizing the credibility” of the nuclear umbrella in the eyes of U.S. allies, he said, without detailing the reasoning behind the criticality of the 1,000-weapon count.

Yet, as Fred Kaplan documented in a 2003 article, Payne is not exactly netural when it comes to nuclear assessments:

Payne is not a well-known figure, even in Washington policy circles. But he ought to be. He is the deputy assistant secretary of defense for “forces policy”—essentially, the Pentagon’s top civilian official assigned to the development, procurement, planning, and possible use of nuclear weapons.

For 20 years before he came to the Pentagon at the start of the George W. Bush administration, Payne was at the forefront of a small group of think-tank mavens—outspoken but, at the time, marginal—who argued not only that nuclear weapons were usable, but that nuclear war was, in a meaningful sense, winnable. He first made his mark with an article in the summer 1980 issue of Foreign Policy (written with fellow hawk Colin Gray) called “Victory Is Possible.” Among its pronouncements: “an intelligent United States offensive [nuclear] strategy, wedded to homeland defenses, should reduce U.S. casualties to approximately 20 million … a level compatible with national survival and recovery.” (As Gen. Buck Turgidson, the George C. Scott character in Dr. Strangelove, put it, “I’m not saying we won’t get our hair mussed up, but 10-20 million tops, depending on the breaks.”)

Payne was in his 20s, working for Herman Kahn at the Hudson Institute, at the time he co-wrote the article, but anyone who would dismiss it as youthful extremism should look at a paper he wrote in January 2001, titled “Rationale and Requirements for U.S. Nuclear Forces and Arms Control.” Payne wrote it as president of the National Institute for Public Policy, a conservative research organization in Fairfax, Va. The paper came out of a panel that included Payne’s old colleague Colin Gray, as well as Stephen J. Hadley (who is now Bush’s deputy national security adviser) and Stephen Cambone (now an assistant secretary of defense and a member of Rumsfeld’s inner circle).

The NIPP study was intended as that “coolly reasoned response,” written for the incoming administration. In it, Payne laid out a post-Cold War rationale for the continued deployment of thousands of nuclear weapons and the development of new, specially tailored nukes. Parts of the rationale were fairly routine: to deter a potentially resurgent and hostile Russia, to dissuade rogue regimes from trying to threaten to us, and so forth. But there were some eyebrow-raising parts as well. For instance, Payne noted that, in Operation Desert Storm, allied forces had a hard time finding and hitting Iraqi Scud missiles. In a future war, he wrote, “If the locations of dispersed mobile launchers cannot be determined with enough precision to permit pinpoint strikes, suspected deployment areas might be subjected to multiple nuclear strikes.”

Note the phrasing. It’s startling enough that Payne suggests attacking (even non-nuclear) mobile missiles with nukes. But he goes further, suggesting that we attack whole “areas” where mobile missiles are merely “suspected” to be deployed. And he suggests attacking these with “multiple” nuclear weapons. Payne also argues that nuclear weapons might be needed to destroy “deeply buried facilities … such as underground biological weapons facilities.” He leaves unanswered why simply disabling such a facility—which he admits can be done with conventional weapons—wouldn’t be good enough. He then says the need to destroy these sorts of targets means we cannot afford to make deep cuts in our nuclear arsenal but should instead continue to build new types of nuclear weapons.

Payne is an expert, and should be heard.  But quoting him without any of context fails to convey the concrete costs and benefits of Obama’s push to reduce U.S. nuclear weapons.

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‘Yes, Prime Minister’ on the Cold War and M.A.D.

Posted by K.E. White on September 1, 2010

‘Yes, Prime Minister’ tackles the Cold War’s absurd nuclear logic.  Have the times truly changed?

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NPT Recap: Deepti Choubey’s Report and Chat With U.S. Representative Susan Burk

Posted by K.E. White on July 4, 2010

The Carnegie Endowment offers a stellar assessment of the NPT Review Conference.  First, Choubey offers a concise Q&A formatted report on what the conference achieved.  Second, Choubey chats with U.S. Special Representative Susan Burk, headed of the U.S. delegation to the NPT.

One interesting note, Burk notes Iran’s isolation within the conference.  Iran was the final party to agreed to the final declaration, holding up progress for hours.  On this score, the U.S. showed itself more in sync with the international community than Iran.

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START’s Tactical Short-Coming: New START’s Silence on Tactical Nuclear Weapons

Posted by K.E. White on April 5, 2010

David E. Hoffman highlights one short-coming of the new START treaty:  its silence on tactical nuclear weapons.

Hoffman’s Foreign Policy article quickly reviews the history of tactical nuclear weapons (surprise:  nuclear watermelons were around in the 1950s).  He then outlines the scale of this nuclear omission, before highlighting a way forward on this troublesome nuclear front.

But just how important are tactical nukes to Obama’s new START treaty?

First it might be useful to look at the history of U.S.-Russian arms control agreements.  If Obama’s ‘New START’ treaty navigates the Senate, it would resurrect a moribund treaty system.  Whatever its shortcomings, simply putting arms control back on the map represents a huge—and as of yet unrealized—accomplishment.

Second, as Hoffman concedes, no treaty has dealt with these pesky weapons.  So Obama’s—and apparently Russia’s—desire to tackle this topic constitutes a grounds for nuclear optimism.

And when it comes to the international significance of ‘New START’, tactical weapons aren’t the name of the game.  Iran and North Korea represent the gravest threats to the established nuclear order.  There the worry is not over tactical nukes, but conventional nuclear weapons.  Reaffirming a commitment to cut nuclear weapons provides Russia and America a trust-building exercise, and helps America’s ability to build international support around a new wave of sanctions against Iran.  Obama’s START shortcoming won’t derail his nuclear security summit this month, nor allow Iran to turn the NPT conference into a battle between nuclear haves and have-nots.

From Hoffman’s article:

The United States is believed to have about 200 tactical nukes in Europe, all of them B61 free-fall gravity bombs to be used with U.S. and allied tactical aircraft, out of 500 total tactical nukes in the active U.S. arsenal. The Russians are estimated to have about 2,000 tactical nuclear weapons, several hundred in the European part of the country and the remainder in central storage sites.

These smaller warheads have never been covered by a specific treaty, nor are they subject to the kind of verification that is used to prevent cheating in the agreements covering the long-range or strategic weapons, including the nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles. What’s more, they are relics of a bygone era, with no military usefulness. There is no longer a Warsaw Pact or a Soviet Union threatening a massive invasion across the Fulda Gap that would have to be stopped with a last-ditch decision to fire off the battlefield nukes.

The United States and others have been reluctant to unilaterally withdraw the weapons, which are believed to be based in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, and Turkey. Before any arms-control negotiation could get underway, NATO would have to come up with a common position. And others have pointed out that the concept of extended deterrence — the U.S. nuclear umbrella — can be achieved with longer-range weapons and does not rely on the tactical nukes.

An even bigger question mark is whether Russia would be willing to reduce its pile of small nuclear weapons. Probably not any time soon. The expansion of NATO to its borders has left Russia wary, while its conventional or non-nuclear military forces are weaker than in the past. And Russian leaders are alarmed at the long-range precision-guided conventional weapons under development by the United States. Russia has demanded that the United States pull back all the tactical weapons in Europe to its national territory — as Russia has already done — before considering any negotiations.

Pavel Podvig, a physicist and research associate at Stanford University’s Center for International Security and Cooperation, points out that the new Russian military doctrine doesn’t include any specific mission for tactical nuclear weapons. “Of course, nobody in Russia is ready to get rid of them just yet, but it does indicate that the Russians realize that the utility of these weapons is highly questionable, even if they aren’t ready to publicly admit it,” he wrote recently. Podvig made a practical suggestion for moving in phases: Both the United States and Russia would first move all tactical nukes to a central storage facility deep within their national territory, then later deal with verification, transparency, and ultimately elimination.

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All Wrapped Up: U.S.-Russia Set to Sign START Treaty Replacement

Posted by K.E. White on March 24, 2010

Apparently a new U.S.-Russia arms control treaty has been finally hammered out.  While many outlets chronicle the slow pace of negotiations and focus on the signing location of the treaty (Prague), sheds some light on 1) the details of the agreement and 2) what may have been behind the delay.

The START treaty expired last December, but the United States and Russia have been voluntarily conforming to the parameters of the agreement.

Two quick notes.  First, the treaty is of considerable size–especially compared to other recent nuclear agreements.  At 20 pages, this new arms control  treaty definitely offers more detail the SORT/Moscow Treaty (3 pages) concluded under the George W. Bush administration or the legislatively-authorized US-India nuclear deal.  Related to the length, the treaty includes a verification protocol.  This, again, represents a large departure from Bush-era arms control policy.

Why is the second point important?  The key to reducing nuclear arms or restricting their use is in the verification of such efforts.  The Bush administration treaty, while obtaining a large cut in nuclear arsenals, mainly trimmed bloated stock-piles, and pegged to its verification standards to START.  Getting countries to promise to cut arsenals is one thing; forcing countries to verify they actually eliminated them is another–more complicated–endeavor.  And with the SORT treaty expiring in 2012, the expiration of the START treaty risked making SORT irrelevant.

Granted, it seems that this treaty will not represent a bold step in reining in the countries’ nuclear arsenals.  But it represents forward progress, and presumably lays the foundation for future agreements.

From the article:

The Kremlin source, speaking by telephone to The Associated Press, said the documents included the treaty and protocol. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said last week that the treaty was 20 pages long, with an extensive protocol attached.

Russian negotiators have balked at including some intrusive weapons verification measures in the new treaty. The Obama administration has warned that without these, Senate ratification could prove difficult.

Any agreement would need to be ratified by the legislatures of both countries and would still leave each with a large number of nuclear weapons, both deployed and stockpiled.

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N-Deal for Pakistan? C. Christine Fair’s Editorial in Foreign Policy Magazine

Posted by K.E. White on March 23, 2010

Update 3/24/10:  Fair’s Foreign Policy editorial post-dates a similar editorial she wrote for the Wall Street Journal last month (subscription only).

C. Christine Fair suggests the United States take preliminary steps towards a nuclear deal with Pakistan.

The reward for such a policy?  Breaking the Pakistani regime’s ties to extremist organizations.

Could such a plan work?  Perhaps.  But there are many pitfalls.  Would opening Pakistan to the nuclear market-place really strengthen America’s bargaining power?  Or would we get short-term gain, and then watch in later years as Pakistan deals with other members of the Nuclear Suppliers Group?  And what cost would America pay in its relationship with India or its efforts to strengthen non-proliferation norms if it even hinted at a U.S.-Pakistan nuclear deal?

In any case, any Obamaland discussion of this proposal seems unlikely for now.  With the State Department struggling to seal a new START treaty with Russia; Obama preparing for an international nuclear security summit latter this spring; and a once-every-five-years NPT review conference convening this summer, Obama’s nonproliferation agenda would–at best—be distracted with talk of another country-specific U.S. nuclear deal.

But Fair draws our attention to a critical and (perhaps) emerging U.S. foreign policy debate.  And any debate that links American security interests, Pakistan’s internal stability and global nonproliferation norms will expose thorny but unavoidable policy dilemmas.

Fair, a professor at Georgetown University, offers full-text links to a rich body of previously published works.  I particularly recommend Determinants of Popular Support for Iran’s Nuclear Program, India and the US:  Embracing a New Paradigm and Indo-Iranian Ties:  Thicker Than Oil.

From Fair’s article at

Pakistan maintains that its dangerous policies are motivated by fears of India. A phased U.S. approach will either diminish this deep-seated insecurity or call Pakistan’s bluff about the rationale for its behavior, motivating the United States to rethink its handling of Pakistan. Either outcome would be an enormous improvement over the stagnant status quo.

Washington must transform its relations with Islamabad (and Rawalpindi, where Pakistan’s military is headquartered) with the same energy and creativity as it did with New Delhi because Washington needs both South Asian states as much as they need Washington. Such a conditions-based deal will take years to come to fruition even if dubious U.S entities and inveterate U.S. foes in Pakistan don’t stand in the way. Putting it on the table now would only be a first step in a strategic gamble that may or may not pay off down the road.

And from another article Fair wrote for Washington Monthly in April 2009:

The Need for Sober Realism

The United States needs to chart a different relationship with Pakistan, relying on different instruments of influence. It needs to lessen its dependence on Pakistan so it can be bolder in applying negative as well as positive inducements to shape Pakistani behavior. It needs to develop a suite of assistance that strengthens Pakistan’s governance capacity and the country’s ability to wage counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations effectively. And it needs to support Pakistani civil society as it debates the kind of country it wants to become and seeks to hold its government to account for its crimes of commission and omission. In the end, despite continued U.S. and international support and assistance along these lines, Pakistan may remain unwilling or unable to relinquish support for militant groups within its territory or in the region. In this case, the United States must be willing to consider Pakistan an ill-suited recipient of U.S. generosity and be willing to deploy punitive measures if need be. Indeed, a credible U.S. threat to apply these sticks may encourage the state to undertake needed steps to secure its own security and that of its neighborhood in the first instance.

Although this may seem untenable at first blush, the alternatives are even worse. If the international community cannot save Pakistan, and if it cannot save itself, then the United States and its partners will have to reorient their efforts toward containing or mitigating the various threats that emanate from Pakistan. This will be a daunting task. The enormity of such efforts should motivate Washington to adopt a realistic policy approach that mobilizes all aspects of U.S. national power to secure a Pakistan at peace with itself and its neighbors.

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Deterring Iran from The Nuclear Option

Posted by K.E. White on March 23, 2010

Leonard S. Spector, of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, writes on how to deter Iran’s nuclear ambition.  His verdict?  Not too optimistic for the Obama Administration.  Without offering a clear pathway to rallying international support, hopes for deterring Iran seem to rest with Iran:  either through Iranian internal difficulties or nuclear over-reach.

From Spector’s article Can Iran’s Accelerating Nuclear Program Be Stopped?

What are the goals of the Iranian government? With each passing month a nuclear arsenal must look more attainable and the government’s hold on power more certain, notwithstanding the uproar over last June’s elections. It is hard to imagine that Tehran will curb its nuclear ambitions short of acquiring nuclear weapons. Recent political support from Brazil, Lebanon, and Venezuela, all wary of Western pressure, may make Iran more confident it can weather any sanctions regime the United States and its allies can bring to bear.

The Obama Administration is attempting to implement a set of powerful new sanctions to pressure Tehran to comply with Security Council requirements. The first step is to command Iran’s attention by placing what its leaders value at risk. The Administration has indicated it will target enterprises run by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, said to be leading the country’s nuclear program, and possibly the Iranian central bank. Sanctions that hit too hard, however, risk injuring the Iranian economy as a whole, potentially causing a backlash that could shore up support for the Ahmadinejad government and its apparent aspirations for a nuclear-armed Iran. Russian and Chinese support for an effective sanctions regime could also be undermined.

To stop a runaway nuclear program, the international community needs to push the brake pedal with both feet. As committed as the Obama Administration may be to this endeavor, without broader international support, it is difficult to be sanguine about its chances for success.

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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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Morning News Round-Up

Posted by K.E. White on December 23, 2009

Well, I’ll just underline the reason to be alarmist. If the rest of the world sees that North Korea can keep its nuclear weapons, they see that Iran is capable of defying United States and getting nuclear weapons, they see Hugo Chavez still completely unplugged and growing closer and closer to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran — let’s not forget Venezuela has its own uranium deposits — then the lesson, I think, for would-be proliferators around the world is clear. You can get nuclear weapons, and the United States and others will not act to stop you.

And if those constraints don’t have any force, then I think we’re going to see a lot more countries with nuclear weapons, and I think that raises the risk of global instability by an enormous factor.

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