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

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Posts Tagged ‘Obama’

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 ForeignPolicy.com:

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.

Posted in Nuclear Deal | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Nuclear Posture Review | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

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.

Posted in Nuclear Posture Review, Nuclear Weapons | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Blog-On-Blog: Obama’s Missile Defense Shift

Posted by K.E. White on September 18, 2009

Nukes of Hazard and PONI offer fresh analysis on Obama’s bold move to scrape missile defense installations in Poland and the Czech Republic.

Both blogs show how the move isn’t that drastic. Nukes of Hazard emphasizes that Poland and the Czech Republic face no greater susceptibility to Russian aggression owing to Obama’s missile shield shift. PONI, on the other hand, emphasizes the alternate methods America holds to provide missile security to Poland and the Czech Republic. Both are, in effect, saying ‘chill out’ to critics who see Obama’s shift as abandoning Eastern Europe to menacing Russian designs. (And so is the White House, releasing their four-phase plan for European missile defense)

While I agree with tboth blogs, neither pay much attention to the greatest consequence of Obama’s missile shield shift. The Bush administration pursued a policy of nuclear dominance, pushing for American arms superiority as the best way to promote American security. The Bush White House viewed other powers security interests chiefly determined by their own needs, not contingent on US actions. As such any attempt to scale back nuclear superiority only put American security in the untrustworthy hands of nuclear rivals.

Obama has—to some degree—rejected nuclear dominance as a workable approach to America’s security concerns. Instead he seems to see cooperation with nuclear rivals like Russia and China key to preventing further nuclear proliferation and WMD terrorism. As such, placing bounds on America’s power projection—to allay Chinese and Russian security concerns—is actually in the interest of the United States. Why? Because we can’t have it all: without convincing—i.e. brokering a deal—with other nuclear powers (read: China and Russia) to isolate nations (read: Iran and North Korea) pursuing nuclear programs, stopping these nuclear aspirants will be impossible.

Now, of course, Obama isn’t ushering in complete restrictions on America’s nuclear hand. (Just like Bush didn’t simply reject international cooperation, as shown by PSI) Obama still supports the US-India nuclear deal, and is still willing to push back on creeping Russian influence in Eastern Europe. But he is making it clear certain U.S. actions are off the table.

Will this foster great power cooperation on today’s global dangers? Or merely be used to scale back American influence while yielding no progress towards nonproliferation? Only time will tell.

From Nukes of Hazard:

While supporters of the European proposal are attempting to characterize the Obama administration’s decision as a sign of a slackening U.S. commitment to Eastern European allies or NATO, this is false. First, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen labeled the Obama administration’s decision “a positive first step.” The U.S. relationship with its NATO allies is crucial for European security, restraining Russian aggressiveness, and retaining support for U.S. military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The United States is not abandoning missile defense in Europe; it is restructuring capabilities to better counter threats that currently exist.

Second, while Poland and the Czech Republic sought the system in order to secure U.S. support in the face of recent Russian assertiveness, the system was not designed, and the Bush administration reiterated over and over again that it was not intended, to defend these countries against Russia. The United States pledged earlier this year to provide Poland with a Patriot missile battery that will help defend against Russia. The United States also has agreed in recent years to provide Poland and the Czech Republic with F-16 fighters and unmanned aerial vehicles, a sign of Washington’s commitment to their security.

And from PONI, who just unveiled a snazzy new website:

Therefore, the effect of Obama’s decision on our alliance commitments is still up in the air.  If Russia becomes more assertive and bullies our allies (as described in the Reuters article above), without any response from the US, then certainly, our commitment to defending allies will be questioned.  However, if Obama takes other actions to show that the US is committed to the defense of Eastern European allies, it could easily reverse the perception.  This won’t be an easy task…

US commitments to reestablish assurance are underway.  First, Obama’s speech mentioned that the US would continue to work on advancing NATO missile defenses. In the future, this could include NATO capabilities placed in countries like Poland and the Czech Republic.  Second, the United States is not withdrawing all missile defense systems…

According to Lukasz Kulesa of the Polish Institute of International Affairs, these are the types of commitments that the US has to make to assure Poland that we are committed to their defense:

From the perspective of Central Europe’s, the greatest danger…would be to create the impression that NATO has somehow gone soft where its primary function of defending the territories of the member states is concerned…Therefore, such a move it is – if it is agreed within the alliance, would probably need to be somehow balanced by a set of decisions giving credible reassurances on the value of Article V…it’s about putting the physical infrastructure of the alliance within the member state…some of the allies would most probably expect the United States to increase its presence on their territory, though not necessarily by building new bases or new installation. I think the arrangements might be made between Poland and the United States on the nonpermanent deployment of the Patriots anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems in Poland… is an example of such an approach of seeking additional U.S. presence

Kulsea also argues that shifting control of missile defense to NATO could reduce the stigma attached to the system and reduce Russian objections.

The US could make similar commitment [Patriot anti-aircraft] to the Czech Republic or explore other options such as NATO exercises or temporary deployments of US troops that would provide tangible evidence of our commitment to their defense.

The point is that there are still options for assurance.  Obama is already starting to make commitments to make up for the “scrapped” installations.  In the next few weeks and months, Obama must continue to take concrete steps.  The US will need to make other tangible commitments and prevent Russian bullying.  If Obama follows this course, the US will appear as resolved as ever.

Posted in missile defense | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Obama Scales Back on European Missile Shield, Repudiates Bush Administration Policy

Posted by K.E. White on September 17, 2009

Today President Obama quashed Bush era plans for constructing long-range missile defense stations in the Czech Republic and Poland. Instead the White House has opted for a system aimed at preventing short-range missles through the Navy’s Aegis system.   The decision follows the recommendations of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen

The move brings back the traditional liberal-conservative divide over the merits of missile defense.

The decision, while ostensibly based on technological considerations, will be seen–by supporters and detractors alike–as a significant policy decision. Long-range missile defense, while offering the greatest security pay-off, also antagonize other nuclear powers–particularly Russia. Focusing on a short-range system suggests a security focus on emerging nuclear threats such as North Korea and Iran.

The Arms Control Association, a fierce critic of the Bush administration’s missile defense policies, welcomes the move and offers this backgrounder. The Heritage Foundation blasts Obama’s move as one of “surrender and betrayal.”

Secretary Gates today responded directly to such criticism:

“Those who say we are scrapping missile defense in Europe [as opposed to re-orientating] are either misinformed or misrepresenting the reality of what we are doing…The security of Europe has been a vital national interest of the United States for my entire career. The circumstances, borders and threats may have changed, but that commitment continues.”

From the New York Times:

President Obama announced on Thursday that he will scrap former President George W. Bush’s planned missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic and instead deploy a reconfigured system aimed more at intercepting shorter-range Iranian missiles.

Mr. Obama decided not to deploy a sophisticated radar system in the Czech Republic or 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland, as Mr. Bush had planned. Instead, the new system his administration is developing would deploy smaller SM-3 missiles, at first aboard ships and later probably either in southern Europe or Turkey, officials said.

Posted in missile defense | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Obama Administration Pushes UN Nonproliferation Resolution

Posted by K.E. White on September 15, 2009

Setting the stage for next May’s Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT) Conference, the Obama administration has circulated a UN resolution on nonproliferation. The draft resolution reaffirms the core tenants of the NPT, itself a marked departure from the last administration. The proposal thus reflects the administration’s desire to approach nuclear proliferation–especially in regard to North Korea and Iran–from a multinational perspective and recommit all nuclear-weapons states states to nuclear disarmament.

Symbolic and practical purposes lay within the proposals jargon. Symbolically it shows the United States acknowledging the interests of non-nuclear states and seeking their input in dealing with the thorny issue of nuclear proliferation. Practically the proposal ups the ante of the 2010 treaty conference and reflects the Obama administration’s push to enshrine a ‘norm’ against proliferation that applies to nuclear and non-nuclear states alike. This stands in contrast to the Bush administration that signaled its privilege for counter-proliferation–keeping weapons from ‘bad’ regimes–over the general goal of eliminating these weapons all-together, nonproliferation.

Strategic considerations related related to Iran’s nuclear activities rest behind the US proposal. Two sections in particular stand out (and can be read below). First, the proposal calls on NPT nuclear weapon states–America, Russia, Britain, France and China–to “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to nuclear arms reduction and disarmament.” The Obama administration seems intent on ‘walking the walk’ when it comes to eventual disarmament, a key clause of the NPT. No doubt it hopes that such action would reinvigorate American credibility on nonproliferation, which then could be parlayed into isolating Iran.

The proposal also seeks to make the right of NPT members to develop civilian nuclear programs contingent on meeting their other NPT obligations–another clear message to Iran. By seeking to limit the scope of the NPT’s nuclear benefit clause, the United States seeks to stop countries from hiding illicit nuclear weapons production (read: Iran and North Korea) behind this NPT nuclear benefits clause.

Politico offers excellent coverage that includes the proposal’s text and expert commentary. From Politico:

Washington nonproliferation experts describe the draft U.S. resolution as important, including in signaling the Obama administration’s return to some international non-proliferation commitments that the Bush administration had walked back from. In particular, they note the proposal’s endorsing that world nuclear powers pledge to not attack non-nuclear states with nuclear weapons, as well as a passage that would make a nation’s “right” to pursue peaceful nuclear energy contingent upon being in compliance with other obligations spelled out in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

“What Obama is doing here, is, as he said in Prague, recommitting the United States to action on disarmament,” the Arms Control Association’s executive director Daryl Kimball said Monday. “He is reiterating U.S. and P-5 support for some things that the Bush administration walked back from.” Among them: the comprehensive test ban treaty (CTBT), which bans the testing of nuclear weapons (and which the U.S. has signed but the Senate not ratified), and what are called “negative security assurances” – guarantees by nuclear weapons states not to attack non-nuclear weapons states with nukes, Kimball said.

“This resolution is a solid piece of work, the best one could expect from the UN resolution process,” said Joseph Cirincione, president of the Plougshares Fund, which advocates nonproliferation goals. “It’s significant in several aspects,” he added, naming in particular the draft’s reaffirming a pledge that nuclear states would not use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states – a U.S. position up until the Bush administration, he said. “This could be very important later on,” Cirincione said, in making the case that the sole purpose of having nuclear weapons is to deter other states from using them.

Posted in United Nations | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

America and Pakistan: Uncertain Nuclear Security Cooperation

Posted by K.E. White on June 26, 2009

The Center for American Progress has just released this survey on Nuclear Security Ties between the United States and Pakistan from 2000-2009. The main message seems to be, ‘Thumbs up Obamaland!’ But the survey gives no evaluation of the administration’s–admittedly clandestine–policies, nor does it offer any fresh insights into securing Pakistani nuclear materials. (Correction: It does recommend against “well-publicized” questioning of Pakistan’s ability to secure its nuclear materials)

The most pertinent part of the report comes in its concluding paragraphs:

In any event, cooperation between the two countries on enhancing the security of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal appears to continue. There are recent reports that secret talks took place in May 2009 between Energy and State Department officials and their Pakistani counterparts on expanding cooperation. The United States has reportedly continued to provide additional training and detection technology for Pakistani ports, airports, and border crossings. Major initiatives considered in recent talks reportedly include shipment of Pakistani highly enriched uranium fuel to the United States for disposal and a plan to destroy risky radioactive materials. Pakistan, however, denies the talks have occurred. Pakistan has also reportedly requested assistance with redirection programs for retired scientists. The United States was apparently noncommittal.

President Obama has said that “we have confidence that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is safe.” The United States has a fundamental national security interest in ensuring that this remains the case, and it should seek to sustain its cooperation with Pakistan. Achieving this objective will require the United States to avoid aggressive and well-publicized rhetoric questioning the competence of the Pakistani military to manage its own nuclear assets, and continued behind-the-scenes negotiations with military and civilian leaders in Pakistan to share technology and advice consistent with U.S. law and the Non-Proliferation Treaty, or NPT.

But the survey gives a solid history of nuclear security ties between Pakistan and the United States. This makes it an excellent compliment to this May 2009 Stratfor report: the report fleshes out the tensions that define this area of cooperation; details Pakistan’s nuclear command-and-control system; and, finally, discusses how nuclear security fits into other US objectives in the region:

The view within the U.S. intelligence community is that there is simply no sound way to independently assess the workings of the systems with any great certainty. Obviously, for reasons of national security and sovereignty, the Pakistanis will try to keep the system as opaque as possible. This means Washington has to rely on what it is hearing from Islamabad about control over its nuclear facilities, and on unilaterally obtaining information from third-party intelligence sources and intelligence-sharing with other countries, such as India.

Given the history of security concerns in Pakistan and the problematic relationship between the Bush administration and the Musharraf regime in the context of the jihadist war, Washington has a significant trust issue with Islamabad. The issue is not that Islamabad is providing false assurances; rather, it has to do with the fluidity of the situation in a country in which the government itself cannot be completely certain that all its moving parts are in synch. Even if the reality is that Pakistan’s nuclear facilities are secure from any intrusion by a nonstate actor, one cannot be sure that this is the case.

The United States works very closely with India on the issue of Pakistan’s nuclear security. New Delhi is a key source of intelligence on the status of that security, and a good — albeit imperfect — measure of valid concern is the degree to which India is worried about it, since it stands the greatest risk of being targeted by Pakistan-based nukes. And although India continues to underscore the threat it faces from Pakistan-based militants, it remains comfortable with Pakistan’s nuclear command-and-control infrastructure. This would explain to a considerable degree the current U.S. comfort level. In the past week, following media coverage of Pakistan’s nuclear security, several senior U.S. officials — Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen and Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus — all said Islamabad’s nuclear sites were secure.

The public discourse over Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal is part of an issue much wider than simply the country’s nuclear security or the Taliban threat to Islamabad. The Obama administration is in the process of downgrading expectations about the war in the Afghanistan-Pakistan theater. There is a growing realization within the White House that the counterinsurgency successes in Iraq are unlikely to be replicated in Afghanistan or Pakistan.

Therefore, the emerging objective in southwest Asia is not to defeat the Taliban, but to neutralize al Qaeda prime and help Pakistan ensure that its nuclear sites remain secure. The Obama administration’s strategy to deal with the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is to be able to demonstrate success on these two fronts, which are the most immediate of concerns regarding U.S. national security.

Posted in nuclear security, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Blog-On-Blog: Accessing Jennifer Rubin’s Charge that Obama Triangulates U.S. National Security

Posted by K.E. White on May 22, 2009

At Contentions Jennifer Rubin sifts through the aftermath of yesterday’s Obama-Cheney duel. She takes a firm line: accusing President Obama of a “triangulation game on national security” and being a “president who seems intent on getting the politics right and worrying about the policy later.”

Her specific charge? Obama seeks good politics and not good policy when calling for the end of advanced interrogation techniques and the GITMO closure. These decisions fall into Obama’s ovreall governing strategy, which Rubin describes as: “…to soothe all parties and charm even the most virulent foes of the United States has been Obama’s lifelong modus operand.”

This article will contend the following: First, Rubin fails to show evidence of actual triangulation, only that Obama is discussing security policies that she does not agree with at a time of conflicted public and partisan opinion. Second, she confuses the tools used to advance national security (e.g. what do we do with terrorists suspected of threatening America once detained) with national security priorities (e.g. how America should effectively beat back the terrorist threat).

First, her portrayal of Obama as bargaining between two extremes—hawks and doves in Congress and the public—flys in the face of commonsense, not to mention the substance of Obama’s address yesterday. When Obama evoked the ‘middle’ in yesterday’s speech he was not discussing how he chooses national security priorities, but how transparent and checked executive decisions on national security should be. (While this is a related matter, it is not tantamount to stating: ‘Well some people like GITMO, others don’t—so let’s just move it to Montana and ban torture to whip up libreal support!’) Obama’s positions presupposed the judgement that advanced interrogation techniques and GITMO’s continued operation harm American security. Accessing these decisions is separate from evoking them as triangulation.

By blurring the tools used to obtain national security with actual policies—which, admittedly, can overlap—Rubin is guilty of begging the question. She overlooks this glaring weakness with the Cheney position: the policies instituted by the Bush White House were of questionable effectiveness, controversial at home and grounded on dubious legal reasoning.

It is unquestionable that GITMO, whatever its merits, hurt America’s image around the world. Why then is Rubin so quick to portray Obama’s move to close GITMO as simply a gimmick to get Left-leaning support on other issues? By dodging the issue of whether or not moving detainees from GITMO to a Super-Max prison has any impact on American security, this implication rests on unstated, if not flimsy, assumptions.

Having an unclear standard by which to hold onto detainees has clear dangers. So why when Obama outlines his desire to codify in law their continued detention–even if thise means indefinite detention without recourse to a federal or military court–does Rubin imply this as a cynical attempt at assuaging the Right? This has particular resonance when contrasted with the ad hoc and hasty basis by which the Bush White House released past detainees.

It’s easy to see where Rubin goes wrong within her own post: she uses another writer’s perception that Obama is appealing to a fractured middle ground between doves and hawks that may or may not support them as as proof that Obama has politicized/triangulated national security policy. But even that speculation, if right, fails to prove triangulation. Proving triangulation requires showing incoherent or ineffective policy coming out of the White House in response to opinion polls.

Now, admittedly, I have set a high bar. But it seems next to impossible  to even suggest this in regards to current Obama administration national security actions. Yes, decisions on whether or not to prosecute Bush administration officials and releasing certain detainee photographs have changed. But those changes do not seem the result of public or partisan pressure. They seemed, whether right or wrong, rooted within an evolving sense of what constituted the national interest. While this process can be messy, it’s understandable on issues where there is no readily apparent ‘correct’ course of action.

Furthermore, Bush White House terror prosecutions and detainee photographs do not repreesnt the core of yesterday’s Cheney-Obama debate. The main issues at play are: 1) where to treat and place current and future terror detainees and 2) whether or not to use advanced interrogation techniques on suspected or known terrorists.

On these two issues any charge of triangulation fails. (Note: by triangulation I mean creating policy out of incoherent or contradictory positions to manufacture a public mandate.) Obama started his administration by bucking against political pressure and an unsure public will in ordering the shutdown of GITMO, the cessation of advanced interrogation methods, and the designing of transparent system of detention and prosecution. In yesterday’s speech, after weeks of criticism by the Right and the failure to obtain Congressional funds to close GITMO, what did Obama do? He stuck to his guns.

This suggests a President more interested in forging a sound national security policy than worrying whether or not it is popular to stop certain tools to deliver that end (i.e. certain interrogation techniques and detainee transfers out of GITMO).

Yes, these policies require politics. Closing GITMO requires votes in Congress; ending torture policies demands a President who shows the public why this change is justified; and reconstituting military tribunals and maintaining long-term detentions require congressional action. In no way do these actions prove Rubin’s charge of “triangulation”.

But it’s hard to argue with Rubin on substance. Nowhere in Rubin’s posting is discussion over what makes up the current “national security debate” she considers so important. (I am left to assume this debate expands to detention policies, torture policies and GITMO policies, and not, for example, the US-UAE nuclear deal or current AfPak policy). By failing discuss these policies Rubin (whether by choice or shoddy rhetoric) fails to show whether or not Obama-desired policies help or hinder American security. Hence, Rubin cannot offer a set of policies Obama ‘should’ pursue but has abandoned in order to secure public approval.

But the above assumes Rubin’s post to be a reasoned and dispassionate critique of the Obama administration. Rubin’s final paragraph squashes any such illusion. There she compares Obama’s discussion and desired reform of Bush-era detention and interrogation techniques with the hypothetical case of a President going into war to quell domestic critics. This, on its face, stands as a grossly false comparison. And it only highlights Rubin’s refusal to engage in actual discussion–not to mention here comfort in passing flawed logic off as refined argument.

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Proliferation Press Round-Up: Cheney and Obama Butt Heads Over Torture and GITMO; PONI Gives START its Due; Obama Signs US-UAE Nuclear Deal; China Modernizes Its Nuclear Arsenal

Posted by K.E. White on May 22, 2009

P. Press verdict: With these considerable monitoring stipulations attached, DeThomas’ practicality wins out. While it would be preferable to grant American nuclear technology assistance by a generalizable formula applicable to all nations and keep all dangerous nuclear technology out of the Middle East, these are unrealistic policy positions.  With the NPT conference approaching and Iran’s continued nuclear defiance, strong inducements exist for America to showcase its commitment to assisting the peaceful spread of nuclear technology—especially to nations in the Middle East.

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Obama vs. Cheney: Is There A Middle Ground When It Comes to America’s War on Terror?

Posted by proliferationpresswm on May 21, 2009

The following is an opinion piece that reviews and analyzes the speeches made today by President Barack Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney. For a quick review of the various claims in each speech, check this Politico article. David Biespiel offers excellent commentary on this same topic.

Talk about night and day. President Obama and former Vice President Dick Cheney went at it today, and there dueling speeches framed the debate over America’s national security.

After adsorbing the speeches, it’s hard not to be left wondering just why Republicans see national security as their most potent weapon against President Obama. And that has nothing to do with the messenger, but rather the message itself.

Cheney, speaking at AEI, mounted an impassioned and absolutist defense of all actions undertaken by the Bush administration in the war against terror. He sought to portray the Obama administration’s current approach to national security as weak-kneed, hypocritical and politically self-serving.

Cheney brought back the pre- and post-9-11 framework that dominated the Bush White House. He implicitly argued that the Obama administration—by junking the terms ‘war on terror’ and ‘enemy combatant’  and stopping the use of advanced interrogation techniques and shutting down GITMO—put forward a “boarder misconception” of the threats that face America.

But what’s most notable in Cheney’s polemic is its unflinching refusal to differentiate between the various aspects of Bush-era national security:

So we’re left to draw one of two conclusions – and here is the great dividing line in our current debate over national security. You can look at the facts and conclude that the comprehensive strategy has worked, and therefore needs to be continued as vigilantly as ever. Or you can look at the same set of facts and conclude that 9/11 was a one-off event – coordinated, devastating, but also unique and not sufficient to justify a sustained wartime effort. Whichever conclusion you arrive at, it will shape your entire view of the last seven years, and of the policies necessary to protect America for years to come.

Cheney’s dividing line is not only false, but dangerous. A reading of Cheney’s speech reveals “comprehensive strategy” to mean  all the following as necessary parts of defending the United States from terrorism:

A. The war in Afghanistan. No one would argue against this; yet, one may wonder why the Bush administration failed for years ensure the resources required for success. But in all fairness, Cheney did give Obama credit for redoubling American efforts in Afghanistan.

B. The war in Iraq. Yes, Dick Cheney defends this war on the grounds of battling terrorism. He sneaks in mention of  Saddam’s Hussein’s “known ties to Midest terrorists” while discussing the threats America faed after 9-11. Is this still really a question?

C. Advanced Interrogation Methods. Here Cheney devotes his most attention: arguing that the still-unreleased CIA memos would show just how valuable these limited programs were. And he continues to argue that Obama’s selective release detailing these practices hurts American security. To these charges, two questions: A) Just because advanced interrogation methods worked, does that mean they were the only way forward—let alone were they justified in a way that made them legally unsustainable? B) Did releasing memos detailing (now prohibited) practices already admitted to by the Bush administration really teach current or future terrorists something new? (Answer: No.)

D. GITMO. Here Cheney focuses on the most inane aspect of this important security debate. Does he discuss the untenable legal foundation GITMO was found on? No. Does Cheney concede that mistakes were made by is administration’s ad hoc treatment of the issue—leading to the release of prisoners who then continued to actively battle the United States under his watch? No. Or how about how GITMO became a symbol for an administration wanting wishing to act above the law and our nation’s system of checks-and-balances ? No. Instead he states the following:

Attorney General Holder and others have admitted that the United States will be compelled to accept a number of terrorists here, in the homeland, and it has even been suggested US taxpayer dollars will be used to support them. On this one, I find myself in complete agreement with many in the President’s own party. Unsure how to explain to their constituents why terrorists might soon be relocating to their states, these Democrats chose instead to strip funding for such a move out of the most recent war supplemental.

On the point of US taxpayer dollars being used to “support” former GITMO detainees: American tax dollars already “support” terrorists held in GITMO. Unless Dick Cheney is arguing to cease funding GITMO, this seems a non-issue. Second, the suggestion that suspected terrorists cannot be held on American soil appears little more than politically convenient fear-mongering. Why can America not hold dangerous terrorists on American soil? We do now.  And we already have facilities specifically designed for this very purpose.

One can understand why the image of 9-11 burns so brightly for Dick Cheney. Not only was he Vice President during the attacks, but was only a month latter sent to a secret location to head-up a secret, back-up federal government. Why? The CIA feared an imminent nuclear attack on New York City. Those were scary times, and we still live in them.

What is not comprehensible is the former Vice President’s refusal to admit that not every policy enacted after 9-11 actually served to prevent future terrorist attacks. And his insistence that anyone who voices this position as forgetting 9-11 is ludicrous.

Obama’s speech: Finding A Middle-Ground Between Security and Transparency

Against this black-and-white approach to the war on terror, Obama offered a full-throated defense of his administration’s actions.

In discussing the use of advanced interrogation methods, Obama staked his credibility on his belief these tactics—whatever their value—caused more harm than good for the United States. Now this might be an endlessly debated question. But the President has decided. While some may disagree, Obama has staked his credibility as commander-in-chief on this issue. And it seems reasonable to believe he has done so because there are other avenues through which to obtain this information that do not carry the dangerous spill-over effects of advanced interrogation techniques.

On GITMO, Obama pitched a nuanced and comprehensive plan. The boiled-down version? Those detainees who cannot be released, transfered to other countries, or brought before federal court or military tribunals will face continued detainment. The crucial difference is this: clear standards will be created and periodic reviews made as to why these individuals should be detained and for what duration. Besides the question of where in the US these individuals should be placed—an inane, if publicly potent issue— one may be left wondering what exactly Cheney has against this move.

Unless Cheney truly believes that only the executive branch, not the US court system or US Congress, can be trusted with issues of national security. And even then, it seems that crafting standards might be needed if a President is elected who doesn’t follow Cheney’s personal viewpoint. (Perhaps this is something the Bush-Cheney White House should have done themselves)

Not only are suspected terrorists either facing justice or being detained under the Obama approach, checks-and-balances will be instituted that ensure careful decision-making. Such careful decision-making probably would have avoided the Bush-Cheney administration’s earlier and careless release of GITMO detainees.

But the most telling difference in Obama’s speech was its ability to break-out of Cheney’s binary world-view. In Cheney’s post 9-11 framework extreme actions were and still are necessary to defend the United States. If mistakes happen while prusuing this mission, they are not mistakes. Any difference of opinion must necessarily equate to a less safe America.

Obama argued for a middle-ground. A middle-ground that still recognizes America is at war and must protect itself, but also accepts that not every action considered or undertaken in this mission inherently effective. Closing GITMO and transferring prisoners to American soil does not endanger American security. And letting detainees languish in GITMO in the face of legal challenges amounts to the President picking and choosing what laws to apply. While one can argue what value GITMO is to terrorist recruiters, one pernicious truth remains: America’s system of laws in undermined while yielding no added security to American citizens.

Conclusion: Is This Really the Rallying Cry of The Right?

If conservatives really wish to base their foreign policy on maintaining GITMO and using advanced interrogation techniques, they have made themselves a party of the past. Yes, terrorists will continue to be detained and interrogated. But it’s virtually assured that any valuable information from these suspected terrorists can be obtained through other means. Furthermore, there’s no rational basis to fear placing any such dangerous individuals in super-max prisons in the United States–prisons developed actually for this purpose.

From Obama Americans heard a confident president defending his conception of American foreign policy and homeland security. In so doing, he acknowledged that these questions were difficult and that there were no easy answers. And, indeed, his plan for GITMO prisoners detainees modifies, but does not fundamentally reverse the Bush-era view on detention. Furthermore, Obama banned enhanced interrogation techniques, but has reserved the power to bring them back. But even if his approach is not perfect, he is having an open discussion over how America should protect itself and attempting to create clear and public standards for American actions.

Cheney preferred to defend every action of the Bush administration, admitting no error. By lumping all Bush-era national security decisions together and refusing to acknowledge the inherent difficulties of maintaining specific policies his White House promulgated, Cheney substituted real discussion for rhetorical flash–answers for partisan point-making.

This is not to say Obama shyed away from partisan notes himself. Or that every decision Obama has made or will make will be 100 percent correct. But in showing a willingness to reveal and discuss America’s security policies, Obama had already won. Cheney argued for a system where the ‘right’ President should always be trusted and allowed to conceal their administration’s actions. (Cheney has no answer for what contingency there is against poor executive decisions.) Obama offered a, however imperfect, conception of national security where standards are known and executive power is subject to review.

The winning argument is clear. It’s the one that actually makes sense.

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